HOT BUTTON ISSUE: Religious Liberties

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Religions as businesses poster

From time to time I want to address some of the key Hot Button issues that both political parties use to divide us and distract us from their real agendas.

The king of all Hot Button topics is Religion, and more specifically, what special liberties, exemptions and exclusions should our laws allow for religious worship and institutions?

The U.S. Constitution boldly states:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof…”. (Amendment 1).  Seems simple enough…..until you dig under the surface.

The “Establishment Clause” seems (to me) to imply that our Government should neither establish a religion (like England had done in the 1530’s under Henry VIII) nor favor one religion over any other.

The “Free Exercise Clause” seems (to me) to imply that our Government should not pass any laws that restrict individuals or religious institutions from exercising their right to follow their beliefs and doctrines.

Beautiful words, but they haven’t always been applied fairly.  While our government has never taken the drastic steps to establish or impose a state religion; the de facto religion of America is Protestant Christianity.  Christians immigrated to this country and took over.  Native Americans were certainly not given free exercise of their religion.  Nor were Catholics, or Jews, or African-Americans, or Chinese or Mormons.  Or even today, Muslims aren’t as free to exercise their religious beliefs as Christians.  And what about the fastest growing segment of the American religious scene:  Non-believers (unaffiliateds, secularists, humanists, agnostics or atheists)?  Are our rights not-to-believe just as free as theists?   Not even close.

Protestant Christians have pretty much run the show in this country since colonial times.  In fact, Christians are unabashed about claiming America as a “Christian nation”.   They contend that Christians built this country and we are a great nation because of Christian leadership, ingenuity and work ethic.

Some of that last sentence is true.  Most of the Founding Fathers were Christian of some sort or another, but not all.  George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Madison and Thomas Payne all tended more towards Deism than orthodox Christianity.  This included a healthy dose of skepticism about the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity and even much of the Bible.  Thomas Jefferson wrote his own version of the Bible, in which he removed all references to miracles, talk of Jesus’ divinity and the Resurrection.  No way he could win the Republican nomination these days.

Christians were clearly the driving energy behind America’s modern transformation.  But to see them as nothing but God’s Force for Good, is just plain bat-shit crazy.   Christians enslaved at least 10,000,000 innocent Africans.  Once here Christians separated family members, beat and whipped them, lynched them, worked them to death, imprisoned, murdered and raped them on a level the world had never seen.  They exterminated Native Americans, enslaved Chinese immigrants and interred Japanese Americans.  They committed unspeakable crimes against others just because they were Catholic or Jewish.  These unfortunate people were given little to no freedom to exercise their religion beliefs.
Religious LIberty cartoon
Christians, you own your whole legacy….the good, the bad and the ugly.  But to a larger point,  in America, freedom to exercise one’s beliefs has primarily meant freedom for Christians, at every one else’s expense.

Let me give some examples:  Can Christians determine school curriculum and book choices in public schools?  Apparently so, it’s been going on for a 100+ years.  Can Christians require Bible reading and reciting Christian prayers in public schools?  Absolutely, it’s been going on just as long.    Can Christians use public spaces upon which to place their religious symbols and celebrate their religious holidays — at the exclusion of any other religion.  Sure they can!  And boy, they get really pissed when you tell them they can’t.

Are Christians immune to our laws about discrimination?  Sometimes I think they are.  They want a religious exemption from our most important cherished notion:  that all men (and women) are created equal.  They claim their religious freedoms are violated if they can’t discriminate against the LBGT community.  They also claim their precious religious liberties are threatened if they have to provide coverage for women’s reproductive health care services on their corporate insurance policies.

Name one other non-religious group that is allowed such powers of discrimination or ability to deny people legal services or health care benefits.  You can’t, there aren’t any.  Christians are one of the most over-privileged groups in America.
Religion and fascisim Sinclair Lewis
This recent (last two decades +/-) push to further immune Christian religious beliefs from laws of our government has come at a time when those same Christians believe that there is a “war” against them by secularists in this country.  But it’s not a “war”,  it is simply push-back from the unmistakable fact that America is becoming less religious than it ever has in its past.  It’s about equality and fairness under the law.

There was a legal case that made big headlines in 2015.  After the Supreme Court decision that paved the way for legal, LBGTQ marriages, a county clerk in Kentucky continued to refuse to issue marriage licenses to anyone but heterosexual applicants because doing so would violate her religious beliefs.   She was an elected public official and she was the only person in that county with the legal authority to issue marriage licenses.   But as an off-the-deep-end Christian, she felt entitled to pick and choose who got licenses and who didn’t.  A classic case of Christian entitlement.

Two years later and the clerk is still on the job!  Instead of firing her for discriminatory behavior and failure to perform her sworn duty, Kentucky resolved the matter by passing a law that the County Clerk’s signature was no longer required on the marriage certificate for it to be legal.   A civil suit against the clerk is still working its way through the courts.

What incredible and outrageous lengths we go through in this country to guarantee religious privilege.  The most disgusting example is a legal case known as Burwell v Hobby Lobby — a Supreme Court decision from June of 2014.  A brief background:

A previous, seemingly innocuous, legal case known as Employment Division v Smith (1990) started the uproar.  Smith, two Native American plaintiffs, sued the Employment Division of the State of Oregon, for denying them unemployment benefits when they were fired for testing positive for mescaline (the psychotropic ingredient of the peyote cactus) while working at a rehab clinic.  The men claimed that they used mescaline for religious purposes and therefore this violated their religious liberties.

The court ruled against the plaintiffs.  Somehow this case got the attention of politicians, and being good religious men, they saw a grave inequity here.  Their response was the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in Congress by an overwhelming bi-partisan vote and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

The RFRA significantly increased protection for religious groups from Federal legislation.  Now such legislation is subjected to a higher level of scrutiny:  “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”[5]   Specifically, 1)  any burden upon religions must be for the “furtherance of a compelling government interest” and 2) it must be the least restrictive way in which to further the government interest.

Translated:  Federal legislation intended for “general applicability” (i.e. applies to everyone) can potentially be disregarded by the religious community if it places a burden on their right to exercise their religion.  Talk about establishing a privileged class!  And exactly what creates a burden??

Well the Supreme Court answered that question in 2014 and the RFRA was at the heart of it.  The case is called Burwell vs Hobby Lobby.  The case involved a lawsuit by the Hobby Lobby corporation (and others) against the Federal government (namely Sylvia Burwell the Secretary of Health and Human Services, whose department oversees the Affordable Care Act (ACA also known as Obamacare)) over a provision in the law which mandated for-profit corporations employing more than 50 people to provide health care to their employees including contraceptives.

The owner of Hobby Lobby Inc. is David Green and his family from Oklahoma City, devout Evangelical Christians who believe that life begins at conception.  Hobby Lobby is a for-profit corporation that employed approximately 21,000 people at the time.  The crux of the suit was that Hobby Lobby claimed that having to provide contraception coverage for its employees imposed a religious burden on the company and its owners that violated their religious rights under the RFRA and the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Now the ACA had already allowed for exemptions on providing contraceptives to religious organizations, non-profits, and companies with no more than 50 employees.  But never before had a for-profit corporation been granted such religious privileges.

                                                               Religious hypocrisy poster
A 5-4 Conservative majority ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby citing  that a) due to Hobby Lobby being a “closely held corporation” with strong religious (Christian) beliefs, providing contraception in the employee health care plan was an undue burden upon the exercise of the owners religious beliefs and b) per the RFRA, the ACA law was not the least restrictive way to further the government interest (the majority suggested that it would be less restrictive if the Government provided and paid for contraceptive coverage instead).

Judge Ruth Ginsburg wrote in her dissent:  “”In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”  And also, “”Until this litigation, no decision of this Court recognized a for-profit corporation’s qualification for a religious exemption from a generally applicable law, whether under the Free Exercise Clause or RFRA. The absence of such precedent is just what one would expect, for the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities…[60“.  She ended by saying:  “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield …”[63]
Indeed, how far can this go?  Can a “closely-held Muslim corporation” force female employees to wear burkas to avoid violating the corporation’s religious beliefs?  Can a “closely-held Jewish corporation” fire an employee who brings a pork sandwich for lunch?  Where does this stop?

On a separate case, a judge in St. Louis has helped us define one boundary.   A St. Louis man arrested on heroin distribution charges claimed that he was “a student of Esoteric and Mysticism studies” saying he had created a religious non-profit that aims to get the powerful narcotic to “the sick, lost, blind, lame, deaf and dead members of God’s Kingdom.”  He further claimed that his indictment violated federal protections of religious rights because his heroin peddling was an exercise of his “sincerely held religious belief.” (Associated Press).  This judge decided the defendant’s claims were illegitimate and he was found guilty.  It seems mescaline is acceptable for religious ceremonies, heroin is not.

I predict the “Hobby Lobby” defense will be used hundreds or maybe thousands of times in attempts to push the limits of what does and what doesn’t qualify as restrictions upon religious liberties.  How absurd!  Either laws apply to everyone, equally or get rid of the law entirely.  In a society where special interests can use power, money and influence to usurp our laws, lawlessness will reign.  This is the “minefield” cited by Justice Ginsburg.

Same goes for taxes.   IRS rules pertaining to churches allow exemptions from paying property taxes, sales taxes and ability to deduct certain “expenses” that businesses and individuals cannot .   In exchange, churches are supposed to refrain from endorsing/opposing political candidates and referendums (Johnson Amendment — 1954).  But not only have many churches violated this “agreement” but worse, the IRS almost never enforces the rule.  Recently, the Trump administration has pushed to repeal this amendment but without requiring churches to pay their share taxes!

The solution isn’t more laws and special classes, it’s less.  In my opinion churches are businesses, they are selling a product and often making a profit.  And while there are thousands of churches that operate on shoe-string budgets, many churches generate huge wealth for their founders, owners or administrators.  Let’s stop the charade.  Tax churches like the businesses that they are.  Pay your income, sales and property taxes and you can speak freely about political issues if you wish.  According to a 2013 study(https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/08/22/you-give-religions-more-than-82-5-billion-a-year/?utm_term=.5e0d78c0a36e) religions in the U.S. receive at the very minimum over $80 billion dollars a year in Federal tax subsidies and own at the very minimum $600 billion dollars worth of real estate.
subsidies_table
“When people donate to religious groups, it’s tax-deductible. Churches don’t pay property taxes on their land or buildings. When they buy stuff, they don’t pay sales taxes. When they sell stuff at a profit, they don’t pay capital gains tax. If they spend less than they take in, they don’t pay corporate income taxes. Priests, ministers, rabbis and the like get “parsonage exemptions” that let them deduct mortgage payments, rent and other living expenses when they’re doing their income taxes. They also are the only group allowed to opt out of Social Security taxes (and benefits).”

Talk about special treatment under the law!  What this means is that all Federal income taxpayers heavily subsidize U.S. religions.  That violates my non-religious rights!  This tax-free custom originated in medieval Europe because the Church was the wealthiest and most powerful landowner.  The tradition has continued to this very day.  It is time to end these religious “liberties”

Religious Liberties Martin Luther King quote
The RFRA legislation and the Hobby Lobby decision represent yet another religious grab for even more extra-judicial rights and liberties, that the rest of us don’t enjoy.  In the majority opinion of the Hobby Lobby case it was determined that for-profit companies could be considered persons under the RFRA.   Which means that there is no separation between religious beliefs of owners and the corporation itself, even though the corporation is a separate legal entity.

I agree with Justice Ginsburg, “How can a corporation have religious rights?”   A corporation is strictly a legal entity formed by completing and filing proper paperwork with the state and the Fed.   How can filed paperwork have religious beliefs?  Owners voluntarily form corporations to benefit from an extra layer of legal protection and to allow them to qualify for lower income tax rates.

How is it possible for a corporation to act as an entirely separate entity from the owners in the event of legal malfeasance while the religious beliefs of the owners are allowed to flow freely back and forth between the two entities?  Either they are separate on all accounts or they are not.  Apparently religious (read Christian) people once again get a big and exclusive exemption from the law.

The chart below does a much better job than the Supreme Court or even the First Amendment of determining when religious rights have been infringed:
Religious Liberties chart
In the Employment Division vs Smith case the most equitable and fair solution would have been to simply legalize mescaline and peyote.  That way there would be no religious privilege — all adults could use the drug without fear of prosecution or discrimination.  In the Hobby Lobby case, the Justices should have laughed that case right out of court.  The Hobby Lobby corporation has legal rights but shouldn’t have religious (or political affililation) rights — it’s a piece of fucking paper for Christ’s sake.

And how exactly does providing health insurance that might include contraception a burden on the owner’s religious beliefs?  No one is forcing them to take contraceptives and the health care decisions of their employees are private.  The owners remain unrestricted in practicing their faith and the corporate entity should not be allowed to impose any religious or political beliefs on its employees.  Otherwise the rights of the employees are being burdened.

This horrible, narrow-minded, religiously motivated decision must be overturned as soon as possible.  It allows religious people special privileges under the law that NO ONE ELSE may claim.  Do we as Americans stand for equality, justice and freedom for all?  If so, then creating a special class of people, whether it be by religion, wealth, race or gender, is (or should be) unconstitutional and it undermines American democracy.   Our greatness will not last long as a nation divided by classes with unequal rights.

We, as Americans of all denominations and beliefs, must fight against the perpetuation of special privileged classes.  Religion, in my opinion, is a particularly undeserving candidate for special exemptions.  It is, after all, a belief in invisible magical beings for whom there is no physical evidence or proof.  If you wish to believe in fairy tales, angels, demons, or elves in the forest that’s your prerogative but at the very least, that type of belief should not entitle you to extra rewards from our government.

Religious liberties should not be a Hot Button issue with which politicians are able to  divide us.  We already have generous religious protections in the First Amendment.  Adding more causes deep rifts in our society.   All religions, as well as non-belief,  should enjoy equal standing under the law.  I will defend your right to believe in whatever you wish, no matter how absurd, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my rights.   Will you, religious believers, in kind, defend my rights to believe (or not believe) whatever I wish, as long as it doesn’t interfere with yours?  If so, then neither you, nor I, should be able to use our personal beliefs to be exempted from laws of general applicability.

  • REGISTER AND VOTE — 2018 ELECTIONS ARE ONLY 14 MONTHS AWAY.
  • VOTE AGAINST CANDIDATES THAT INSIST UPON USING RELIGION TO DIVIDE US.
  • VOTE AGAINST CANDIDATES THAT BELIEVE THAT RELIGIOUS GROUPS DESERVE MORE SPECIAL PRIVILEGES AND EXEMPTIONS UNDER THE LAW.
  • AMERICAN GREATNESS IS DEPENDENT UPON FAIRNESS AND EQUALITY.

 

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Please Don’t Applaud Or Encourage The Master of Distraction!

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Trump has demonstrated that, as a politician, he is good at three things:

  1.  He is very good at whipping up fear and hate.
  2. He is even better at lying.  He does it so naturally because it’s pathological.
  3. He is a master of distraction.

I’ve written extensively about his first two talents (see The Successful Republican Election Strategy …..Divide And Conquer!”   Part 1 — Wedge Issues. and The American Pluto-Kleptocracy).  So, this article is about Trump’s Art of The Distraction.

Chapter 1.  Whatever I Call You,  I Am Times Infinity.

Trump gives his opponents nicknames that are a manifestation of some of his own worst qualities.  During the campaign he called Marco Rubio “Little Marco”, specifically referencing the size of Rubio’s hands – and thereby implying Rubio had a little dick.  Now that we all unfortunately know Trump better,  he sure acts like a guy trying to overcome multiple insecurities — one of which probably involves his unusually small penis.

Marco Rubio Little

Trump’s nickname for Jeb Bush was “Low Energy Jeb”.  During the campaign, Trump didn’t come across as a low energy guy.  But since becoming President, Trump has been the laziest bastard to ever inhabit the White House.   Trump doesn’t read policy papers, daily briefings or books, instead he watches Fox News.  Trump didn’t vet Circuit or Supreme Court nominees, he used the list that the Heritage Foundation handed him.  He hasn’t invested any measurable time into healthcare, a more comprehensive immigration plan, infrastructure or really even JOBS.

Trump fat

Clearly his greatest priority is his own self-interests followed by those of his family and a small fraternity of ruthless billionaires.  He really has no macro, long-term vision for a greater America; instead he tweets his morning brain farts. He has played golf 15 times in 16 weekends on the job (politifact.com) and has spent 10 weekends at his Mir a Lago Resort in Florida.  That’s a lot for a man who said, “I would rarely leave the White House because there is so much work to be done.  I would not be a President that takes time off”  (June ’15, thehill.com).  Trump is a fat lazy fuck.

 

Which brings me to Ted Cruz, better known as “Lyin’ Ted”, his chief primary opponent and the only man I wanted to become President less than Trump.  The fact that Cruz received the second most primary votes says as much about the state of the Republican party as nominating the Orange Buffoon.  But no one trumps Trump on telling lies.  He doesn’t lie like a normal politician, making promises that he can’t keep and selling his soul to Big Donors for $$$.  Trump lies pathologically, about EVERYTHING:  little things, like the size of his inauguration crowd to huge things, like “Obama wiretapped Trump Tower”.  His lying is so pervasive that it may well be, in the end, the very flaw that sends his Presidency crashing down.  No one is a more accomplished liar than Trump, not even Cruz.  See How To Spot A Pathological Liar

And “Crooked Hillary”.  Trump knows crooked — he’s made a career out of it.

Trump liar

From contractors he stiffed, to landowners he bullied and intimidated, to banks he defaulted on, to the Trump Foundation’s funds he illegally misused, to Trump University students he scammed.  In retrospect, Hillary’s email issue seems petty and partisan compared to Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors.  He is a criminal that has, until now, escaped prosecution.  He makes Richard Nixon look like a Boy Scout.  See It’s Time to Revisit the Watergate Scandal.

Finally, the “Fake News”, “Alternative Facts” mainstream media.  Trump’s attacks on the independent media have sent the chills of Fascism down millions of spines.   And true to form, no one is a bigger phony than Trump — from his lies, his conspiracy theories,  his contentions about his wealth, his hair, his whole campaign shtick of bullshit and snake oil that 60 million gullible Americans consumed as a magic elixir.  Trump has no conscience, no real policies, no substance, he was surprised how “hard” it is to be President and was shocked that issues like healthcare and tax reform were so “complicated”.  “Who knew?” he tweeted.  Everything that doesn’t directly serve or benefit Trump is either “fake” or “false” until his deluded, addled brain decides otherwise.

By using nicknames in this fashion, he deflects his own worst flaws onto someone else.  He uses simple, 4th grade level, derogatory name-calling as a distraction.  And for many Republicans voters, it was quite effective!

Chapter 2:   If You’re Going to Distract…..Distract Bigly!

Trump’s campaign chants, “Lock Her Up”, “Build The Wall”,  “America First”, “Fake News” were simple, yet whopper distractions to overcome the fact that Trump had no policies, no real practical knowledge of governance or no long term goals.

He just couldn’t let go of the fact that he lost the popular vote by roughly 3,000,000; so he invented a distraction that “3-4 million” votes were cast fraudulently in the 2016.

Trump illegal voting

He doubled down and said proof would be coming in 2 weeks.  It’s now been 2 months and not a shred of evidence has been produced; secretaries of states from all 50 states have certified their election results and found virtually zero cases of in-person voting fraud.  Not dissuaded, Trump has recently appointed an advisory panel to investigate the non-existent fraud.

After being “forced” to fire Michael Flynn and in the wake of snowballing news on the Russia/Trump controversy and Jeff Sessions recusal, Trump tried to avert the firestorm by claiming “Obama Wiretapped Trump Tower” and demanding an investigation.

Trump Flynn

And once again he claimed that supporting evidence would be “released very soon”.  Days later he even went so far as to ask the Congressional Intelligence Committees to begin an investigation into the wiretapping — without releasing one whiff of evidence to back up his claim.  That was 2 months ago.  The FBI has said they have seen no proof nor have the Congressional Committees received anything upon which to launch an investigation.  In this author’s opinion, this claim is more than a fabricated distraction; it is liable and slander of the highest order and proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that Trump is mentally unfit to continue in the office of President of the United States.

In early April the heat in Trump’s hellkitchen was becoming uncomfortable.  Michael Flynn offered to testify before Congress; leaks were popping up everywhere; and the FBI was not corroborating Trump’s claims that “he wasn’t under investigation”.  At this sensitive moment, U.S. intelligence reported that Bashar Al-Assad had used chemical weapons against innocent civilians in Syria.  This gave Trump the opportunity to pull off one of his biggest distractions yet — he ordered a missile strike on the Syrian air base from which the chemical attack had originated.

To my horror, many people, even some who had been very skeptical of Trump, applauded the move and publically praised Trump.  Brian Williams, the MSNBC anchor, described the event:

Brian Williams syrian missle strike

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”

“They are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them what is a brief flight over to this airfield,” he added.

Shame on you Brian Williams.  I thought you were better than that….

Why are people cheering this mental patient for potentially committing an act of war?  Trump really doesn’t give a damn about Syrian children caught in hell-on-Earth.  We know this because he hasn’t said “boo” about it since then, hasn’t promoted any plan to change the children’s plight, has proposed a budget that significantly reduces foreign humanitarian aid and is in neck-deep with the Russians who are propping up the thug Assad.  This was just an excuse for Trump to try out his very dangerous new toys and redirect people’s attention from his Russia scandal.  Stop cheering!  This isn’t a good thing.

Chapter 3 (and Moral To The Story):  Don’t Encourage The Master Distractor.

The absolute LAST THING we should be doing is giving Trump praise and adulation when he carelessly and without proper notification/authorization uses American military power.  I almost hesitate to print this but military strikes, military build-ups and war have traditionally been the most effective distractions for an otherwise, unpopular President.  Most recently, “W” Bush (with the help of Darth Cheney) used 9/11 to pass the Patriot Act curtailing individual freedoms and to justify torture and illegal rendition against enemy combatants in direct violation of the Geneva Convention.  And clearly the on-going Afghan and Iraq wars helped Bush win a second term.

WE CANNOT NOR SHOULD NOT APPLAUD PRESIDENT TRUMP FOR LASHING OUT MILITARILY AGAINST ANYONE AT THIS JUNCTURE OF HIS PRESIDENCY.  He is a reckless and disturbed man who has become increasingly isolated and desperate as scandals of his own making are threatening to undo everything he has accomplished.  INSTEAD, WE SHOULD REACT IN HORROR AND PROTEST WITH OUR LOUDEST VOICES AGAINST THIS MANIAC.

Resist

More recently Trump has provoked North Korea using tough talk and sending an “armada” to Australia instead of Korea.  This has done nothing but fueled talk of retaliation from North Korea, followed by an aggressive series of missile tests.

Most recently, Trump attempted another massive distraction by firing the director of the FBI and gave a series of conflicting and nonsensical reasons for doing so.  The real reason behind Director Comey’s firing is all too obvious.  Comey was leading a growing, and potentially very damaging investigation into the President and his campaign aides over their involvement in the Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.  In Trump’s deluded mind he thought this would side-track or maybe end the investigation.  Instead, he may have just added ‘obstruction of justice’ to the list of crimes he has committed.

As Trump becomes more deeply mired in scandal and possible treason, his attempts at distraction could become increasingly ominous.

drumpf-crazy-face4

I would not put it past this deranged man to do something genuinely terrifying.  Trump is unfit to remain as President and he MUST BE REMOVED either by impeachment or by invoking the 25th Amendment (Sec. 4) to the Constitution.  Unfortunately, Republicans are recklessly slow-walking the Trump/Russia investigations and have yet to stand up to this spreading cancer.  For a party that ran on the slogan “America First”, it’s time they set aside their real agenda, “Party First”, and commit to the constitutional rule of law.

In the meantime, We The People must remain vigilant and encourage our Representatives to keep Trump in check over the next few weeks and months — especially our Republican Representatives, until he can be legally and permanently removed from the office of the Presidency.

Trump impeachWrite your Congressmen and Senators today.  Demand that they hold Trump accountable and allow these investigations to move forward post-haste, and if they don’t, we will not-so-kindly show them the exit door come 2018.  Leaving Trump in power one extra day might be too long.  What other acts of desperation is Trump capable of before he is removed from office?

To Contact Members of the House Of Representatives:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/

To Contact Members of the Senate:

https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

 

“The Power Of The People Is Greater Than The People In Power”   Wael Ghonim

 

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Life Under A Republican Regime

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  • Now that Republicans control all the major branches of government as well as a majority of statehouses, their governing priorities are becoming clear.  Here’s what we know so far:

CORPORATIONS AND BUSINESS INTERESTS TAKE PRIORITY OVER THE ENVIRONMENT AND PROTECTION OF OUR HUMAN HABITAT.  One of the very first pieces of legislation passed by the Republican Congress abolishes the Office of Surface Mining Streams Protection Rule — reversing an Obama era regulation to protect waterways from coal mining waste.  Republicans are in favor of more toxic coal ash in our streams!  Brilliant!  Profits are now more important than pollution.  Republicans are willing to sacrifice the quality of our water, air and soil in order to supposedly “create jobs” which, if it happens at all, will likely be temporary.  Corporations may see a short term increase in profits, but again, for how long?  And at what long term cost to all of us?

Coal Mining Pollution

 

This is a coal waste pond.  I’d like to fill the water coolers at the House of Representatives and the White House with this sludge.  Would they reverse their decision then?

 

MAKE AMERICA HATE AGAIN/MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN.  Unlimited money pouring into political campaigns and their surrogate organizations have made elections infinitely more divisive and given them a nastier and uglier tone.  This alone spells danger for American greatness.  But the U.S. has never seen an election like this last one.  The Republican candidate for President ran a campaign of open and naked contempt for people of color, women, minority religions, the poor, the disabled, our judicial system, our free press, and voices of dissent in general.  As disgusting and embarrassing as that was, he also tragically won.  Trump’s first executive order was a poorly thought out, completely unconstitutional ban on people coming to the U.S. based solely on their religious affiliation.  He has since ordered mass deportations of Latino/Hispanic immigrants, many whose only crime is being here without full documentation — even children brought here by their parents.  Trump is an admitted sexual predator who views women purely as objects for his manipulation and pleasure.  As President he has moved to block reproductive health care for American women who need it the most.  He has signed an executive order making it easier for businesses and “Christians” (my choice of word) to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation.  His Attorney General, a previously avowed racist, wants to bring back the failed “law and order” tactics of the Reagan/Bush/Clinton era, such as abandoning consent decrees already in place with numerous metropolitan police forces who have a long, sordid history of abusing, intimidating and persecuting citizens, especially citizens of color.  And the Republican party has largely supported and encouraged these barbaric and primitive practices.  They have spawned a new level of hate in this country unseen since the Civil Rights victories in the 60’s and 70’s.  Hate crimes, hate speech, intolerance, discrimination, politically motivated violence are rising to the highest levels in decades.   This is life under the Republican Regime.

White Supremacists overwhelmingly endorse Republican candidates.  But never before have they endorsed a candidate so openly, so loudly and with such vigor as they have Trump.  Steve Bannon is Trump’s Chief Strategist.  Vote Republican and help enable the extreme right wing agenda.

THE RIGHTS AND PRIVILEGES OF THE WEALTHIEST, MOST FORTUNATE AMERICANS VASTLY EXCEEDS THOSE OF THE REST OF US AND REPUBLICANS ARE INTENT TO SEE THOSE ADVANTAGES EXPAND.  On the political front Republicans have pushed an aggressive campaign of voter suppression targeting people who typically vote Democratic  (minorities, college students, elderly).  They have supported unlimited campaign donations and worse, dark (anonymous) contributions to Political Action Committees (PAC’s) and “527” groups (the tax code ID) enabling rich Americans to have an oversized and unequal voice in elections.  Republicans have quickly moved to roll back citizen protections against Corporate market manipulation, production of unsafe or dangerous products, predatory lending and sales practices, high-risk security trading, and capping monetary compensation for corporate malfeasance.  See my post The Successful Republican Election Strategy…..Divide and Conquer! Part 2: Voter Suppression.  for the full indictment.

The recent Trump tax code proposal spells out the Republican priorities in black and white — a “Trickle Down” tax cut where billionaires like Trump (if he actually is one) will save $10’s of millions on their taxes while the other 90% of us get a pittance.  Read my recent post,  The American Pluto-Kleptocracy  (dated 4/17) for an in-depth report.  Republican tax cuts have been the greatest driving force in creating income inequality in this country.  Mad about stagnating wages?  Pissed off that CEO’s and Financial company VIP’s make more money in a day that you make in a year?  Feel like you can’t get ahead?  Keep voting Republican and you are insuring it will get worse.

Income Inequality Cartoon

The only problem with this cartoon is that the “90%” don’t disappear, they just get angry and desperate.   That leads to civil unrest and possibly revolt.  If our path to a comfortable life is blocked or unattainable then one day, we’ll rise and overthrow the wealth hoarders.   Not a good thing if you want a stable society.

 

CAN’T AFFORD HEALTH CARE?  HAVE PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS?  WORRIED ABOUT A LIFETIME CAP ON BENEFITS?  REPUBLICANS DON’T GIVE A SHIT.  They proved it this week by passing what could only be described as the cruelest, most draconian, and worst health care bill that the House of Representatives has ever dreamed up.  They passed this nightmare bill so quickly, most of the Republicans that voted for it NEVER READ IT AND HAVE NO CLUE what the real consequences are.  They purposely chose not to allow time for an in-depth review or to wait until the Congressional Budget Office “scored” the bill (the non-partisan CBO evaluates a projected cost and effect of each major piece of legislation).  The previous Republican failed attempt at a health care bill was “scored” by the CBO to increase deficits by $337 billion and 24 million people would lose health care by 2026.  This recent bill will, by most estimates, be WORSE.  Are these legislators human?  Do they have any compassion or empathy for people?  Didn’t Candidate Trump promise “Everybody’s going to be covered….and it’s going to be GREAT!”  Well that’s more Trump bullshit.  Fewer people will be covered, more people will go bankrupt, Americans will be sicker and it’s going to cost us all more money.   That’s not great.  That plain sucks.  How do these people get elected?

My, my, aren’t all of those states above RED states??

ANTI-SCIENCE, ANTI-INTELLECTUAL, ANTI-FACT, ANTI-EDUCATION IS THE WAY TO AMERICAN GREATNESS.  Republicans scoff at book-learning, science and intelligent people.  They call them “Elites” who are not to be trusted.  If you don’t read books, you couldn’t know that this is EXACTLY the strategy used when Fascists take over a government.  Authoritarians perceive that educated, critical-thinking people are their biggest threat.  Same with a free press.  It starts with the press being vilified and labeled as enemies of the state because they are criticizing the government.  That’s where we are now.  Only selected and sympathetic media outlets are given full access to the White House.  Republicans are slashing higher education funding in many red states.  They are proposing school voucher programs that will defund public schools in favor of private, less regulated and often for-profit schools.  They are breaking up teacher’s unions and freezing teacher’s pay.  Republicans know they will perform better if the electorate is less educated, more ideological and fearful.  They deny the very real, measurable, observable facts about Climate Change .  Trump has called Climate Change a “Chinese hoax” and threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement ratified by 197 countries in a rare moment of global unity.  Instead, he wants to ramp up production of coal and oil.  This could lead to the U.S. becoming the “Energy Pariah” of the world, not unlike N. Korea is the “Nuclear Pariah”.  Trump has filled his lower Cabinet positions with completely unqualified appointees:  Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (for which he has zero qualifications);  Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy (he had no idea what the Energy Department did); Scott Pruitt as Director of the EPA (because as OK Attorney General he literally tried to sue the EPA out of existence).  Scott, like his boss, is a Climate Change denier.  Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education — despite the fact that she had never stepped foot in a public school in her life and she and her husband donated large sums of money to the Trump campaign.  And most dangerously, Jeff Sessions as Attorney General – an evil and bigoted little elf who is a throwback to the “Stop & Frisk” days of the 80’s and who has chosen as one of his first law & order campaigns to prosecute, intimidate, harass and threaten states that allow legal recreational and medical marijuana.  What about States Rights you fucking hypocrites!  29 states currently have legal medical marijuana,  8 states have legal recreational marijuana.  These programs are heavily regulated and taxed by the State and as such become a rare win-win opportunity:  increasing tax revenues (Colorado generated $200 million in tax dollars in ’16 on $1 billion in sales) and reducing law enforcement, judicial and incarceration expenses at the same time.  Hard to see the rationale here — could it be that marijuana is legal in mostly blue states that didn’t vote for Trump?  Trump promised that he would hire the best and the brightest.  If this is the best the Republicans have, we’re all in deep shit.  And these bozos shouldn’t be governing this country.

Ignorance

 

If that is so, then nothing is more dangerous than Donald Trump and the Republican agenda.

 

 

Let’s recap, these are the principles of our new Republican Regime:

Corporations over Individuals.

Profits over Habitat.

Hate, Fear, Bigotry and Divisiveness over Unity, Compassion and Tolerance.

Wealthy Privilege and Income Inequality over Middle Class Opportunity.

Sickness and Suffering over Health and Vitality

Ignorance and Ideology over Education, Critical Thinking and Innovation.

Over 90% of Americans should be disgusted and embarrassed by these unfair, discriminatory, suppressive practices.  So why is Trump’s approval rating still around 40%?  (Historically one of the lowest ratings for a new President after 100 days, but still 30% too high!).  Wake up Republican voters — You’re Being Conned and Manipulated!

I can’t see how any of these policies keep America great.  Not a one.  In fact, the longer Republicans control our government and pursue this ideology, the more damage they will do.  Divisive, ignorant, fearful and delusional is not a path to greatness.

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The American Pluto-Kleptocracy

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America’s biggest problem is not illegal immigrants, or radical Islamic terrorists.  It’s not Planned Parenthood, it’s not guns, it’s not even religion.  These are issues that powerful special interests use to divide us and pit us against one another so they can further tilt the economic and legal playing field to their advantage.

Our biggest problem?  The political structure of the United States has become (once again) a plutocracy and most recently has devolved into a kleptocracy.

A plutocracy?  A government by the wealthy (Meriam Webster).  Ploutos is Greek for “wealth”.

A kleptocracy?  A government or state in which those in power exploit natural resources or steal; rule by a thief or thieves (Dictionary.com).  Klepto is Greek for “thief”.

Most of the significant problems that exist in American society today are at least in part attributable to the Plutocracy:  income inequality; excessive money dominating our elections; voter suppression; social inequality; criminal injustice; corporate welfare over human welfare; environmental pollution; our contribution to carbon dioxide waste and climate change; lack of a comprehensive immigration plan; the suppression of women’s reproductive freedom; a ridiculously expensive and horribly inadequate health care system; reductions in essential social services; our outrageous level of military spending; and war.

We haven’t always been a plutocracy but it has happened many times before.  It could be argued that our country started out as a plutocracy — after all only white, male landowners could vote and run for office.  During the Industrial Age of the late 1800’s , the “Robber Barrons” (powerful and wealthy corporate monopolists) controlled and manipulated many essential U.S. markets and exploited cheap labor.  J.P. Morgan was so wealthy that he famously rescued the U.S. economy in the Panic of 1907 when asked by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt.

The Roaring 20’s were a time of unprecedented monetary gains for the wealthy.  They were also a time of high anti-immigrant sentiments, alcohol prohibition (that went over well!), low taxes rates (see chart below) and rampant stock speculation. It was the Great Gatsby decade — our most recent fling with a plutocracy.

And how did things end?  With the Great Depression of 1929 that brought this country to it’s knees.

The really scary part is the similarities between the ’20’s and the 00’s. (See the chart Figure 1 below. )

Middle America, wake up.  When the plutocrats start talking about cutting taxes; what they really mean is they give us a little “teaser” cut and their tax savings will be HUGE.  Significant reductions in income tax rates, creates an even bigger and wealthier plutocratic class.  The chart below (Figure 1) shows who benefited most from the 1920’s tax cuts (represented by the  column on the left).

Income Distribution 1920's70% of income growth went to the top 1%.  The bottom 90% split up 17%.

Notice too that after the Great Depression and well into the 60’s and 70’s, we were able to neutralize the plutocracy and produce income gains amongst the 90% that well out-stripped gains for the upper 1%.  Income tax rates went back up too;  in the 1950’s & 1960’s the highest income tax bracket was 80-90%.  In the 1970’s, it had dropped a little to 70%.

Then came the so-called Reagan Revolution.  The top tax rate, paid by the fattest of cats, fell from 70% in 1980 to 31% in 1992 (see chart below) after 12 years of Republicans in the White House.  The fat cats were keeping over 2 times as much income!

 It was a revolution all right, a wealth windfall for the richest and most powerful people and corporations in the country.  They called it  “Trickle down” economics.  And that’s exactly what it did, wealth gushed in for the top income earners and everyone else had to live on a “trickle”.  The Plutocrats had returned to power!

Once the economic playing field becomes tilted to the rich and powerful, it’s very hard to level it out again.  Power and money generate more laws favorable to the wealthy:  caps on interest rates are lifted; restrictions on financial institutions are dropped; corporate tax loopholes multiply; tax rates are cut; politicians are bribed with dark money; lobbyists and lawyers run amok; safety net programs are defunded;  environmental consequences are ignored in favor of profits; huge advertising and PR budgets are used to mask corporate and political crimes and lies;  CEO’s of receive huge bonuses even while crashing the economy.  Plutocrats rarely go to prison.

After Reaganomics, the next big coup for the Plutocrats came in 1999 with the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act or the Financial Services Modernization Act.  It removed prohibitions on financial and insurance institutions to acquire or merge with commercial banks, investment securities firms and insurance companies.  This opened the floodgates for banks to move into higher risk security trading, investments and insurance on security transactions.

When you give plutocrats an inch they will, through their armies of lobbyists, lawyers, friendly politicians and other henchman, take a mile.  Within a few years the financial industry was playing fast and loose with a whole array of new, lucrative investment “toys” such as derivatives and hedge funds.  But it would be the sub-prime mortgage market (mortgages issued to borrowers whose credit was less than perfect or who could get a mortgage with no income documentation) that would ultimately create the next big blow to the U.S. economy.

   

The chart (above Fig 1.11) illustrates how subprime mortgages were a relatively minor part of the overall mortgage industry before the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (1999).  But within a few years after the Act was passed the subprime market exploded from just over $100 million dollars in 1999 to $600 million in 2005.  Many of those loans were short-term adjustable rate loans, meaning that 2-3 years after origination, the interest rates on these loans would jump as much as 2-3% instantly.  On the chart above right, we can also see that in fact, mortgage delinquencies took off by 2007.

The Great Recession of 2008 was, by far, the most dangerous, most threatening event in our country in recent memory. It cost America 8.5 million jobs and trillions of dollars in lost wealth.  The NY Times reported in 2010, that the loss in wealth was equivalent to each and every American losing $20,000.  No other problem facing the United States has had anywhere near that kind of negative effect on the entire population.  What caused the Great Recession? A de-regulated and insatiably greedy financial industry run by?….. you guess it, plutocrats.  If you haven’t read or seen The Big Short, it’s a must.

In the years following the Great Recession, laws were passed by a Democratic Congress regulating the thieves and shysters that had robbed middle America of its wealth, retirement funds, homes, stock and real estate portfolios.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was established to protect the general public from the predatory practices of the financial industry.  Many economists (Thomas Friedman amongst others) warned that these laws and regulations hadn’t gone far enough and we could easily see a repeat once the economy rebounded.  None the less, the Republicans refused almost unanimously to vote for these regulations and attempted to obstruct this legislation at every turn.  After financial companies took us to the brink of another Great Depression, Republicans staunchly refused to reign them in.  If you can’t count yourself as one of the 1%, you should be mad as hell.

The latest blow to economic opportunity and greater income equality for 90% of America came with the disastrous Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission case (2010).  The case itself was a relatively narrow challenge concerning the rights of a corporation or organization to use its funds to criticize a candidate running for office.  But the Conservative Justices on the Court saw the case as a bigger question of campaign donations, political action committees (PAC’s), and free speech.  The 5-4 (Conservative majority) ruling that was handed down was a huge win for the Plutocrats for it basically stated that “money = free speech” allowing unlimited amounts of money to flow into PAC’s with very few restrictions on what they did with that money.  Now the wealthy Plutocrats of America could set up their own PACs, and raise, in some cases, $100’s of millions of dollars to spend on almost any cause and for or against any candidate, with very little accountability or transparency.  Prior to Citizens United there was massive amounts of money spent on political campaigns.  After Citizens United the amounts of money became obscene.  You and I can’t afford to donate hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to a cause or campaign.  But the Plutocrats can.  How is this possibly a fair way to run and finance an election??  Free speech should also be relatively EQUAL speech, otherwise the rich can drowned out everyone else.  Then it’s not really free speech for the 90% at all.  And at what point do unlimited donations become bribery?

Citizens United Unpopular

Unfortunately the attention span of the average American voter is very short — a fact upon which Plutocrats rely.  In the 2016 Presidential elections the Republicans ran the biggest, baddest Plutocrat in recent memory.  He easily bamboozled the Republican middle class by convincing them he was a “populist” and using rough, tough language and a 4th grade vocabulary.  He distracted these voters with bullshit, knee jerk slogans such as  “Make America Great Again“, “Build The Wall”, “Ban Muslims”, “Drain The Swamp”, Fake News Media”, “Only I Can Solve It”  to cover up the fact he was snake-oil salesman, pathological liar, provocateur, predatory scum-bag named Donald Trump.  Those voters drank his Kool-Aid.

The Trump Administration has not only brought back the bad-old-days of Plutocracy, they have, with the help of the Republican Party, devolved our political system in to an outright Kleptocracy.  The simple act of refusing to release his income taxes defines Trump as a kleptocrat.  He does not want us to know how much he makes, how much he owes and to whom, where he has his investments, nor who his partners might be.   This has already raised conflict of interest questions in regards to his ties with other kleptocracies such as Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan to name a few. He refuses to completely divest himself from his various companies and investments that are making more money now that he’s the Predator In Chief.

Instead of “Draining the Swamp”, he has brought in super-sized Alligators and Snakes in the form of the wealthiest cabinet in American history.  But wealth isn’t necessarily the worst of it.  As Brooke Harrington points out in a 1/19/17 Washington Post article titled “Yes, Trump’s Cabinet is super rich.  That’s not why we should be worried.”:

“On the whole, Trump’s picks are more renowned for enriching themselves than for giving to needy causes or serving others. For secretary of labor, we find the chief executive of a fast-food company who opposes a higher minimum wage and other labor regulations that cost him money. For leader of the Department of Health and Human Services, the nominee is an orthopedic surgeon who as a member of Congress built a track record of opposing policies that cut into physicians’ profits — including programs such as Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, which limit reimbursements for medical services.”

Trump has now been in office for almost three months.  His “Populist” Kool-Aid voodoo is wearing off even to some of his base.  Now we can judge the man-child by his actions not just his bombast.  He’s making money off of being President: higher membership fees at Mira Lago; higher prices at Trump Tower; and countless businesses and financial entanglements that he refuses to reveal; his sons, Uday and Qusay (Bill Maher’s nicknames for them) are travelling the world, making deals with oligarchs and kleptocrats alike because the Trump brand is now worth even more — and we, the taxpayers are picking up the tab, so far $100,000’s, for their Secret Service contingent while the family enriches itself.  If this isn’t illegal it sure as hell should be.

Back on the homefront,  Trump and his fellow Republican Plutocrat lovers are passing legislation to aid and abet his wealthy friends and donors:  removing environmental regulations so energy companies can pollute more and profit from it;  attempting, but failing, to pass a health care bill that would strip health care from some of the neediest 24 million people, while giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy; defunding and neutralizing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau whose one and only goal is to protect us, the consumers, from predatory lending practices, payday loans and risky investment schemes;  Defunding Planned Parenthood that offers a variety of women’s health services and tests to an estimated 4,000,000 mostly middle and lower class, women.  And coming soon a income tax overhaul that will include big tax cuts (remember the real meaning of that word when it comes from a Plutocrat).

The 90% is getting completely shut out of the big wealth transfer planned by the Republicans.  We can’t take this sitting down.  Stop making excuses for these pricks.  Don’t let them distract you with wedge issues while they pick your pockets, toxify your air and water and steal our future.

There are two ways to stop a Plutocracy/Kleptocracy:

1) In the 1920’s the Plutocracy came to a screeching halt because of the Great Depression.  After the collapse, government policies, laws and programs (like the New Deal) were created to aid the real victims and the neediest and most vulnerable in society.  Thanks to these measures, it took 50 years before the Plutocrats could gain the upper hand again.  So, one way to end the Plutocracy is total economic collapse.  This is not the preferred solution because while the Great Depression hurt rich and poor alike, middle and lower income earners always suffer more and endure economic hard times longer.

2)  The second way to end a plutocracy can be done without an economic meltdown — it requires a massive shift of voter consciousness.  The 99% of us must suspend our ideological war against one another over zero-sum wedge issues and vote as the cohesive economic block that we are.  Economic conditions that deny minorities decent wages, health care and wealth accumulation also deny white Americans from similar economic status the same opportunities.  Remove consumer protection regulations from the financial/insurance industry and it won’t be long before they are raiding and pillaging the middle class again.  Cut funding and enforcement for clean air and water and the 90% gets it the worst.  The recent Michigan water crisis happened in Flint, a prototypical middle class city, not in well-to-do Bloomfield Hills.  Deport undocumented workers and prices on many staple goods and services will go up.  That hurts the 99%, not the 1% that pass the laws.

We are the 99% and despite Citizens United, unlimited contributions, dark money to political entities and a Kleptocrat in the White House, we can absolutely overwhelm the Plutocrats with voting power.  This is exactly why the Republicans (the more pro-plutocratic party) depend upon spreading unsubstantiated fear, exploiting racial issues and using wedge issues to divide the 99% and dupe roughly half of us into voting against our own economic self-interests.  See my previous posts “The Successful Republican Election Strategy Parts 1 & 2” — 1/23/17 and 3/14/17 for a more detailed report on this phenomenon.

A prophetic quote from the movie “The Big Short” (2015):  “I have a feeling, in a few years people are going to be doing what they always do when the economy tanks. They will be blaming immigrants and poor people.”

The Republican Plutocracy

I encourage all voters earning under $250,000 to set aside their never-ending battles over social issues and in 2018 (or before if there are special or local elections) and 2020, VOTE TO END THE KLEPTOCRACY!.  Hold elected officials and candidates accountable for their positions on vital issues such as health care, reasonable environmental regulations, tax cuts and budgeting that hurts us and aids the wealthy, full disclosure of their financial entanglements and tax returns, their stance on reasonable Consumer Protection Laws, ethics laws, Citizens United and dark money in politics and the power and influence of lobbyists and foreign governments.

We have tried “Trickle Down” economics and it has been a complete failure for everyone except the super rich.   A Plutocracy is not a stable way to run our country.  Sooner or later it will produce a catastrophe of greed and avarice.  It weakens America, not make it stronger.  A Kleptocracy is even worse.  We, the 90-99%, are allowing thieves, swindlers and sociopaths to run roughshod over us, manipulating markets, bilking tax payers, destroying our environment, and selling us hot steaming shit and telling us it’s caviar.

We can stop them.  And all we have to do is vote.  Vote smart, vote your pocketbook, vote for the 90-99%.  The way America becomes stronger and ‘greater’ economically is from the middle class out — the exact opposite of “Trickle Down”.   The tax laws, economic opportunites, job growth, health care, educational decisions must be designed to help the middle class first and foremost.  Should we be successful, the fat cats won’t suffer too much.  But just remember, the Plutocrats will always be lurking, waiting and watching for us to drop our guard, become too apathetic or easily distracted.   For a better, more prosperous America, we can’t let that happen.

 

The Successful Republican Election Strategy…..Divide and Conquer! Part 2: Voter Suppression.

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In Part 1 (Jan. 23, 2017) of this post we discussed how Republicans, using wedge issues like abortion, contraception, immigration, LBGT rights, guns and religion, successfully motivate their voting base to turn out in large enough numbers to make their candidates competitive.  In dark red states this is all they need.  But it is not enough to win Presidential elections or to control Governorships, Senate seats or state legislatures in the all important swing states.  So they have adopted another tried and true strategy to manipulate elections: Voter Suppression.

http://progressiveissue.com/voter-suppression-could-stop-1-3-million-from-voting-in-swing-states/ :

The United States has a long and ugly history of denying citizens the right to vote and fair access to polling places.  Women could not legally vote until 1920. African Americans gained the right to vote via the 15th Amendment in 1870 but in many, particularly Southern states, additional obstacles were imposed on those new voters such as literacy tests, poll taxes, complicated registrations processes and physical and mental intimidation.  Native Americans were given citizenship in 1924 but full voting rights for all Native Americans had to wait until 1957!  Chinese Americans were not granted the right to vote until 1943.

And even after these groups won the right to vote, often after a long and bruising struggle, many states and organizations continued to do their damndest to stop them.  The NAACP was founded primarily to combat these ongoing discriminations against African Americans and was instrumental in pursuing legal challenges to many state laws.

These abuses and intimidations were so horrific that finally, after many decades, the sentiments of the country began to change and the federal government passed the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) along with other voting rights measures.

The tipping point for passing the VRA was the famous Selma to Montgomery (AL) civil rights march in 1965 protesting violence and intimidation of both African American voters and voting rights activists (See the movie “Selma“).  Barricaded from entering the city by state troopers, the marchers refused to turn back.  The police unleashed tear gas, dogs, nightsticks and whips, seriously injuring many.

                       

Photo above:  Edmund Pettus Bridge Selma, Alabama March, 1965

Photo upper right: Not from Selma.

Within days, President Johnson outlined the voting abuses in a speech to Congress:  Black voters wrongly turned away at the polls, being forced to fill out extra paperwork, take literacy tests, forced to recite the entire Constitution or explain complex laws.

The Act passed months later on a vote of 77-19 in the Senate and 333-85 in the House — a bipartisan Congressional recognition of the voting llegalities committed in many, but primarily Southern, states.  The VRA was credited with significantly increasing African American turnout; in Mississippi alone, in five  years, it went from a pathetic 6% to 59%!  (All data from History.com/Voting Rights Act).

Fast forward 48 years to 2013, the US Supreme Court heard a case known as Shelby County (AL) v. Holder (as in U.S. Attorney Gerneral Eric Holder).  The county sued to have the court declare two vital sections of the VRA unconstitutional.  A District Court in Washington DC and an Appeals Court had ruled the sections constitutional.  But in a 5-4 Conservative majority decision the Supreme Court ruled against the key sections of the VRA.  Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the majority opinion stating  the disparate treatment of the states is “based on 40 year old facts that have no logical relationship to the present day” and the country “has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must insure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”  Roberts acknowledged the success of the VRA, but declared that the voting record of jurisdictions covered by the VRA today did not demonstrate the ‘pervasive’, ‘flagrant’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination as in 1965.

The dissenting opinions from the four more Liberal justices also noted the vast improvement in voting rights and access in the covered jurisdictions but said these successes were precisely because of the VRA and there was sufficient evidence that removing the determination section of the Act (determining which jurisdictions must be in compliance) would set the stage for a renewal of voting discrimination.

Chief Justice Roberts must have overlooked the following statistics (from brennancenter.org 6/24/14):  “In the 15 years before its operation was halted, Section 5 (the main enforcement clause of the VRA) blocked 86 laws through its administrative process[1] and several more through litigation.[2] At least 13 of these laws were blocked in just the final 18 months before the Shelby Court’s ruling.[3]

Its effectiveness went beyond the laws it blocked. In one recent six-year period, 262 voting changes were withdrawn or altered after the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the jurisdictions for more information to assess whether they were discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act (VRA).[4] That figure does not include the hundreds of voting changes that were deterred because jurisdictions knew they would not withstand VRA review.”

If that’s not an attempt at ongoing discrimination on a “pervasive, flagrant and rampant” level, I don’t know what is.  But that’s not all.

In the immediate aftermath of  Shelby Co. v Holder, the Brennan Center also noted the following.

The state of Texas moved immediately to implement a strict photo ID law that had been previously blocked by the VRA.  An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 Texans did not have photo ID’s of which approximately 300,000 were Latino-Americans.

In North Carolina, the state legislature passed a strict photo ID requirement effecting  300,000 voters in the state, including a large number of African Americans.  In addition they also cut back on early voting options and reduced voter registrations times.

Alabama also moved swiftly to implement a strict photo ID law.  Not only were African American voters disproportionately effected, but nearly 30% of the state’s voting age population lives more than 10 miles from the nearest driver’s license office and in 11 counties those offices were only open once or twice a week!

Mississippi also quickly passed a photo ID law.  Again, nearly 35% of the state’s voting age population lives more than 10 miles from the nearest license office.   13 counties, all with sizable African American populations, lack even a single full-time driver’s license office.

Florida used a different tactic.  In 2013 they attempted to purge 180,000 people from the voter’s roll on suspicion they were non-citizens.  Turned out that 58% of those had Latino surnames but Latinos only comprise 13% of Florida voters.  On final review Florida found fewer than 40 non-citizens that could have voted illegally.

Please notice that at the time the Brennan Center article was written, in all the above examples, the state’s legislatures and governors were in the hands of Republicans.

A report in The Sandbox News from 11/13/12 describes the situation in Florida from a local’s point of view:

“The main source of voting problems can be traced to Republicans, who have tirelessly attempted to convince the state that massive voter fraud is constantly underway (Even though a study by the Justice Department showed the average voter fraud at .00000013 percent of the vote). This time, Republicans came swinging from every angle. Politicians like Governor Rick Scott, Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff, and Senator Don Gaetz fought to restrict early voting hours. Some conservatives actually fought to keep lines long on voting day. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez (R) closed doors on early voting days. As a result, voters faced 6 hour long waits on Election Day, leaving some people to stand in line until 1 am.”

Full article at:  https://sandbox.spcollege.edu/index.php/2012/11/a-third-world-voting-system

The list of abuses and attempted abuses goes on and on, further rendering Justice Roberts’ argument mute.  To read the full Brennan Center article, go to: http://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/shelby-county-one-year-later

In 2013 and 2014 at least 10 of the 15 states that had been covered wholly or partially by the VRA introduced new restrictive legislation that make it harder for minority voters to cast a ballot.  Shelby Co. v Holder makes it much more difficult to track, fight or block these laws.

This is nothing short of a crime against democracy.  How can this vial, discriminatory, disgusting practice be legal?  The Republican party, its candidates, donors and legislators have conspired to suppress and disenfranchise millions of Americans from voting.  Why would a major American political party be engaged in such an un-American activity?  It is definitely not because of in-person voting fraud.  That is the greatest Republican hoax of all time.

There are so many studies that have been conducted regarding in-person voter fraud that it is truly mind-boggling that Republicans and their minions continue to spread this blatant lie and get away with it.  See this website for a list of recent studies:

https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/debunking-voter-fraud-myth

The study that I have seen most quoted is the 2014 study published in the Washington Post.  From 2000 to 2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast, only 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud was uncovered. 

Not only does this demonstrate incredible integrity in American elections (contrary to Predator Drumpf’s “rigged election” claim) but it begs the question:  Why are we disenfranchising millions of American voters and forcing states to spend millions of dollars to provide photo ID’s for a non-existent problem??

Republicans whine like little bitches when Democrats talk about registering all gun sales and mental health background checks.  They call this government overreach and an unnecessary invasion privacy.  But when it comes to the right to vote, more ID requirements and more government intrusion is perfectly acceptable.

Remember Republicans love to spread unsubstantiated fear to motivate their base….and it works!  The real reason behind their voter suppression campaign is because they know they can’t compete head-to-head in enough statewide and national elections if registration is convenient and can be done right up to election day, there are several options to prove voter identity, polling places are open for days (and at least one weekend) before the election, are conveniently located and well staffed, and sufficient voting machines are available at all polls.  High voter turnout is the worst possible scenario for Republican candidates.

We have the power to end the Republican crimes against democracy.  We do it by VOTING.  Voting in such overwhelming numbers, in every election, from school board to President of the U.S., that the true majority in this country cannot be denied a voice, cannot be discriminated against and will no longer be unequal in the eyes of the law.

Historically the United States has one of the worst percentages of voter turnout among the developed countries of the world.  We rank 31st out of the top 35 most developed and democratic countries (the OECD — Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development). In recent elections, we have had turnouts of between 50-60% of the voting age population, that average (54%) puts us right behind Poland and just ahead of Chile. Counties with mandatory voting, like Belgium and Turkey lead the pack with high 80’s-90%. France averages about 71%, Germany 64%, Canada 62%. Mexicans vote at 65%.

The full OECD graph:

Why does the U.S. lag so far behind?  Because voter intimidation, suppression and disenfranchisement is an integral part of our history.  If Americans would vote at 65-70% turnout during every election, this country would look and behave very differently that we do now.  We would vote out candidates that supported obvious voter suppression and disenfranchisement schemes.  We would give the boot to politicians who were blatantly discriminatory or who were beholden to the rich and powerful.  Candidates who promoted lies and conspiracy theories, or who instigated racial or gender hatred would never get elected.  It would force our elected officials to more responsive to the actual needs of the people.

Talk about American greatness!  This is the way forward.  Can we visualize such an America?  We must, because our greatness is being threatened by an ideology that wants to DIVIDE AND CONQUER us for their own selfish purposes.  They stir hate against African Americans, immigrants, Muslims, Jews and women to motivate middle-class whites, who consistently have the highest voter turnout rates, to vote against their own economic self-interests!  Middle class values are very similar regardless of race or ethnicity.  But if you are consumed by false threats of gun-stealing liberals or bad hombre immigrants or serial abortion feminists then you’ll vote out of fear rather than voting for better middle-class opportunities.

Think about this: Improved middle class opportunities include reliable, affordable health care; fair tax rates and advantages compared to the wealthier classes; a growth of job opportunities that offer fair, livable wages and long term employment; a superior public education system; affordable higher education options; better job training programs; protection against predatory industries and actions like payday loans, high pressure credit card and insurance scams, risky lending and investment practices by financial institutions; and reasonable and effective regulations to protect us from corporate abuses of our environment.

If you agree that these policies would lead to a better, healthier and more financially secure middle class — then STOP VOTING OUT OF FEAR and STOP VOTING REPUBLICAN!  Liberal, progressive and Democratic candidates are much more likely to be supportive and protective on such issues.

If the idea of deliberate Voter Suppression policies disgust you, as they should, we need HIGH VOTER TURNOUT to FIGHT BACK!  We fight suppression by voting. Please register to vote.  Petition your state legislators to offer early voting, same-day registration and adequate polling places and voting machines in your district.  Have your legislators prove significant instances of in-person voting fraud before you allow them to enact mandatory voter photo ID laws.  If your state already has voter photo ID laws, start a petition to have a referendum placed on the ballot to overturn the law.

Most of all, find 10 relatives or friends that aren’t registered or don’t usually vote and get them to register and get them off their asses to vote.  Organize transportation for your neighbors to get to the polls.  Volunteer to help register voters.  There’s so much you can do.  We must be pro-active.

From http://www.seanamcelwee.com/tag/voter-turnout/

“’If everybody in this country voted,’ the economist John Kenneth Galbraith said, ‘the Democrats would be in for the next 100 years.’ There is strong evidence to support his claim. A 2007 study by Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler found that nonvoters are more economically liberal than voters, preferring government health insurance, easier union organizing and more federal spending on schools. Nonvoters preferred Barack Obama to Mitt Romney by 59 percent to 24 percent, while likely voters were split 47 percent for each, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll. Nonvoters are far less likely to identify as Republican, and voters tend to be more opposed to redistribution than nonvoters.”

The only way to force the Republicans (and any political party that relies on unsubstantiated fear to motivate its voters) to change their ways is to defeat them, overwhelming, at the polls.  We have the numbers, we can do it.  We must exercise our right to vote.  As long they can get away with their DIVIDE AND CONQUER strategy they will continue to use it.  It’s all they have.  By forcing Republicans to change and become more responsive to the needs of the majority of people, we can once again be a country that succeeds by embracing our diversity, by benefitting from bi-partisan, forward thinking solutions, and America can continue to lead the world in promoting democracy, equality and justice.

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Welcome to La Resistance American!

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Are you sick to your stomach over the recent election results and impending inauguration?

Are you disgusted that in 2016, a man, with the backing of a major political party, ran a campaign for President of the United States that openly and notoriously focused on white supremacy, chauvinism, conspiracy theories, anti-immigration, fact and science denial, anti-media and locking up his opponent?

More to the point, are you shocked and angry he actually WON?

You should be. The party that nominated and backed him has used a “DIVIDE AND CONQUER” political strategy for the last 20 years that has succeeded in an almost complete takeover of our government!  The fact that Republicans are now in firm control of Congress and soon to be the White House and Supreme Court, means that there are very few checks and balances against the whims of our President-elect Buffoon or a right wing agenda from Congress.

Worse yet, a significant majority of Americans voted AGAINST this scum-bag. Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million.  She has the distinction of having beat her opponent by the most votes in American history and still lose the election.  Prior to 2000 there had only been three Presidential elections in American history in which the popular vote loser became president (1824 by 38,000 votes; 1876 by 250,000 votes; 1888 by 90,000 votes).  Now two have occurred in the last 16 years!  (2000 by 540,000 votes).  Something is dreadfully wrong with our electoral system (more on this in a later post).  Drump’s electoral win came from a razor thin majority of 130,000 votes over three swing states (OH, MI, WI).

But even that slim victory was tainted by two unprecedented events.

There is now clear evidence that Russia illegally hacked and released emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign manager for the express purpose of aiding and abetting the Drumpf campaign. Never before has there been such blatant interference from a foreign government in an American election.  This is even more significant in the context of the following: Drumpf’s public admiration for Russia’s dictator, I mean, President “Vlad the Impaler” Putin; the yet uninvestigated business ties between the Kremlin and Drumpf’s previous campaign manager, Paul Manafort; and most recently the nomination of Exxon President Rex Tillerson, known to have very deep business relationships with the Russian oligarchy.  Drumpf has, of course, dismissed the evidence of this interference despite agreement by all three major intelligence agencies.  Congressional hearings are already in the works. Let us hope that partisanship won’t suppress the truth and all of the facts will come out.

Can you imagine how loud the Republicans would have howled if there had been one whiff of coziness between Hilary Clinton and the Kremlin or China?  They would be screaming bloody murder!  They would have their pitchforks sharpened, torches lit and calling for her head on a pike!.  And they have would tried to lock her up if they didn’t have a rope and a stout tree branch handy. Fucking hypocrites!  Obama said it best:  “Ronald  Reagan is rolling in his grave.”

The second event was the October surprise sprung by none other than our own FBI.

FBI director James Comey, prematurely and, in this author’s opinion, unethically, announced publicly, 12 days before the election, that additional Clinton emails had been found BEFORE a full investigation had been done on their content.  Then, four days before the election, he revealed the emails were simply duplicates of ones they had already investigated.  Comey should and could have waited for the investigation results in which case NO ANNOUNCEMENT AT ALL would have been necessary!  But the damage had already been done.  Clinton’s poll numbers took a dive from which she never recovered.

This is much more than a case of sore loser-ship.  We accept that Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate with high unfavorable ratings.  She failed, by a small margin, to excite and motivate enough Democrat voters despite improving economic conditions, low unemployment numbers and record stock prices.  But at the same time it was, and still is, almost incomprehensible to those of us who voted against Drumpf, that the Republican party could not only nominate such a sleazy,  shyster bully, but vote for this fool in large enough numbers to allow him to win!

So please Conservatives, spare us the “Drumpf won, get over it!” Or “We all need to get behind the President Elect now”.  You disrespected Obama for eight years simply because of his skin color and slightly left of center politics.  We will not “get over” or “get behind” a man who ran a hateful, ugly campaign of fear-mongering stoked by billions of dollars of dark money.  Your candidate demonstrated to the majority of American voters  that he is a temperamental sociopath who habitually denies facts and science in favor of knee-jerk, simplistic conspiracy theories.  And the majority of voters have very limited governmental checks and balances over this whiny, provocable man-child.  Damn right we’re concerned.  We should all be very concerned!

But we do have one check and balance that all of the Republican voter suppression, disenfranchisement and election trickery can’t stop.  We have the numbers.  Not only did more Americans vote for Clinton but, of the huge silent minority of voting age people who did not vote, we know that the majority of them lean Democrat:  they tend to be young, non-white, female and middle income older people.  Precisely why Republicans have worked so hard to discourage them or make it more difficult for them to vote.

We are the majority in this country.  But we have been way too complacent and passive.  Politically the Republicans have outfoxed, out hustled and been more aggressive than the Democratic Party in the last 20 years.  Shame on the Democrats for being asleep at the wheel and allowing the Republicans to successfully use redistricting, suppression, unlimited campaign bribes, fearmongering and wedge issues to distract the masses.

The Republicans control the House, the Senate by a couple of votes, and will have at least a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court.  For the remaining majority of non-Republicans, we must:

— BE VIGILANT!  Stay engaged with real news sources.  Check those sources against truth-telling, non-partisan websites like Politifact, Snopes.com, FactCheck.org, or OpenSecrets.  Read more, inform yourself.  Follow this La Resistance American blog.  When you hear about or see actions and/or policies coming from Washington or red-state governments that you feel are harmful, unjust or downright cruel — YOU MUST SPEAK OUT!  March, protest, Tweet, Post, Blog, email your representative in the Congress.  Let’s flood Washington with our dissent.  We must let them know WE ARE STILL HERE AND WE’RE WATCHING!

— STAY INVOLVED!  This is not the time to move to Canada or flee to the woods.  Now is the time to step up and double down.  Block the wall; stop detention camps; fight militarization of our borders; oppose war; demand equal access to voting; equal justice for everyone especially minorities; insist on non-partisan redistricting; reject discrimination, bullying and intimidation; defend women’s reproductive freedom; protect our environment; cherish and preserve our natural resources; and most of all, let’s try to play nice with others.

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Much more to follow………