Radical SCOTUS Eviscerates Our Rights

The radical right control of the Supreme Court turned the nation sharply right again today with its two final decisions of the term.  Both 5-4 votes they eviscerated more of our rights.  In the Hobby Lobby case they determined that closely held companies have the right to impose their extreme religious beliefs on their employees health care coverage.  The small, family owned stores decided they didn’t want to comply with the ACA mandate that their health care cover their employees birth control.  99% of all American women use birth control at some point in their lives.  Many use it because they could die if they get pregnant.  Women have been dying during birth since the dawn of man.  It isn’t a matter of choice for these women, it means life or death.

The Supreme Court decided today that their right to life is trumped by their employer’s radical religious agenda.  This opens all sorts of slippery slope consequences as Justice Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent.  If your employer in such a company doesn’t believe in immunizations, blood transfusions or other common medical practices they now have the right to impose those beliefs on you, their employee.  Be very careful if your employer is a Christian Scientist:  they don’t believe in medical care for anything.  These folks actually allow their children to die of common viruses rather than seek treatment.

Now, when you interview for a job you’d better ask hard questions about your potential employer’s religious beliefs before accepting employment offers.  I imagine this decision will make it very hard for such companies to attract and keep good employees.  I certainly hope so.  The rest of us need to be sure never to transact business with them.

In the second case home health care workers represented by SEIU in Illinois sued because they want to freeload on the system by accepting the negotiated benefits the union gets for them without paying union dues in return.  SCOTUS said they don’t.  This decision is a significant loss for unions.  These workers, who are earning higher wages because SEIU negotiated them now don’t have to pay dues to SEIU in return for this largesse.  This makes them freeloaders.

Elections have consequences and who we elect President has a direct effect on our everyday lives due to such radical right wing decisions by five Supreme Court Justices.  Chief Justice John Roberts (GW Bush appointee), Samuel Alito (likewise GW Bush), Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Anthony Thomas have shoved the nation far rights with sweeping decisions the past few years.  Worse, the two GW Bush Justices are quite young and could serve for decades.  Scalia and Thomas are getting long in the tooth and we have to hope they either die soon or decide to retire.  That isn’t likely until, if ever, a Republican gains the Oval Office again.  It is imperative to restore balance to the Court before these five drive America into third world status.  Or before a populist revolution takes their heads.  I’d be very fearful of that latter possibility if I were them or the Koch brothers.

MLK and Terror

On this Martin Luther King Jr Day I am reminded of his philosophy, some of it borrowed from the immortal Ghandi, that terror should never be met with terror.  That violence should not be matched by more violence.  Their beliefs in non violent action was successful in overcoming horrible repression. Meeting the terror of the KKK, for example, with sit-ins, prayer and song saved countless lives which would have been cut down by powerful majority forces.  Enough lives were lost practicing non-violence for crying out loud.  

It wasn’t just a strategic tactic however.  It was deeply held belief that violence simply begets more violence and the only way to break the cycle is with love.  I’m reminded of this while reading Jeremy Scahill’s shocking book Dirty Wars:  The World Is A Battlefield.  As I read about American death squads running around Asia, the Middle East and East Africa assassinating Muslims for no reason other than a suspicion that they might know someone else suspected of being a terrorist I’m shocked at what our JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) forces do in our name I can’t help but wonder how many new terrorists are radicalized through our stupid, short term tactics.

We will pay for this dearly down the road.  If only George W. Bush and Barack Obama had used those hundreds of billions of our dollars instead on humanitarian efforts…  Instead of creating blood enemies after blowing up entire villages filled with women and children (and, perhaps one terrorist) maybe we could have created something positive:  a school, a well, a hospital.  What if we’d made friends instead of enemies?

In the spirit of MLK ask yourself if our lust for war has really made us safer and if that was the smart course?

Unconstitutional NSA Searches

An unconstitutional search is an unconstitutional search.  The Fourth Amendment is very clear:  the government shall not conduct a search without a probable cause based warrant.  George W. Bush began the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens and we liberals all called for his impeachment.  Barack Obama has continued the practice and possibly expanded it.  These are impeachable offenses.  It makes no difference to me which Party the perpetrator of these crimes is from:  they are high crimes and misdemeanors conducted against the American people and in violation of the constitution.

The Supreme Corporate Court of John Roberts disagrees in its incapacity to properly read the constitution (they are also incapable of understanding the Second Amendment as written).  They claim to be “strict constructionists” except when it suits their purposes not to.  It is impossible for any reasonable person to read and comprehend the Fourth Amendment and approve the actions of the NSA and the CIA.  

Edward Snowden, a real patriot, agreed with this assessment and was appalled at what he saw as both an NSA employee and a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton.  BAH is a giant private corporation which grew at an astounding rate after 9/11 as President Bush poured trillions into the national security apparatus.  As such Snowden discovered that any analyst with a security clearance could access any and all communications made by any American citizen.  Without suspicion of criminal conduct brought before a Judge for a warrant such eavesdropping and surveillance is unconstitutional.  Bush and Obama have done it anyway.  Bush should be prosecuted and Obama impeached.

For strange reasons though two thirds of Americans have determined they;d rather be safe than free and in a poll support the wiretapping.  Every telephone call, email and internet search is collected and stored in federal databases.  You have absolutely no privacy unless you’re either a Luddite or Amish.  We no longer live in a free society.

This is the magnitude of what The Guardian exposed with documents provided by Snowden who is now running for his life from the American government.  

News & Notes October 28, 2011

I stayed up late watching that classic World Series game.  Prying my eyes open in spite of the late hour (why must they start these games so late???) I managed to see David Freese’s home run live.  This game was like two heavyweight prize fighters going toe to toe trading punches until one finally falls.

Canada has decided not to arrest George W. Bush on international arrest warrants for war crimes.  He is due to visit our northern neighbor.  How can we support the prosecution of Serbian and other war criminals and not turn over our own?

Speaking of which Henry Kissinger was in Pittsburgh and reminded of his own war crimes.

The State legislature is debating an expansion of the red light camera program.  I have some mixed feelings about this.  While the prevalence of Pennsylvania motorists to completely ignore red light laws is downright dangerous (because of the idiotic and unenforced right on red law) is a source of concern this brings Big Brother to our street corners.  Outsourced to private companies with an incentive to make money I believe a driver can challenge these in court.  Simply citing the profit motive undermines any charge.

While on the subject of red lights I’m fed up with the right on red law.  No one obeys its requirements that a driver must come to a full stop and wait for oncoming traffic before turning.  Worse, no one enforces it.  I’ve several very close calls due to people flying through red lights directly in front of me when have green.  They don’t seem to think they even have to look.  I also see drivers routinely passing five to six cars in front of them, sometimes through people’s lawns, to turn.  This law is dangerous and should be repealed.

We’re number 3!  Pennsylvania has the third highest cost for four year public higher education in the country.  The state has steadily reduced its financial support for higher education for decades resulting in this sorry performance.

The ACLU of PA has an analysis of why the voucher program is unconstitutional here.  The evening news already is citing examples of people using these to go to Catholic schools.  Most of the voucher funds will go to parochial religious schools because the church subsidizes them.  The vouchers wouldn’t otherwise be enough to cover tuition at private schools.  Any public monies going to non-sectarian schools is unconstitutional.  Any legislator who voted for them should be impeached for violating their oath of office.

Tom Corbett’s record as Governor is that so far in his tenure Pennsylvania has lost jobs every month.  September saw a loss of another 15,000 jobs.  Didn’t he run on an agenda of job creation?  He lied.

On the federal front the House’s demands for spending cuts has now cost us 370,000 jobs.  I sort of recall them campaigning in 2010 on a platform of job creation.  Why then do they keep killing them?

Economist Jared Bernstein, who used to work for VP Biden, has created a graph showing how Herman Cain’s regressive 9-9-9 tax plan would hurt the poor and working classes and greatly benefit the rich.  I’d publish it here but the graph lines for how much the rich save is extreeeeeemly long.

Iraq: Just Another War Without an End

by Walter Brasch

We know the names of every one of the 4,479 Americans who were killed and the 32,200 who were wounded, both civilian and military, between March 20, 2003 and Oct. 21, 2011, the day President Barack Obama, fulfilling a campaign promise, declared the last American soldier would leave Iraq before the end of the year.

We know Second Lieutenant Therrel Shane Childers was the first American soldier killed by hostile fire in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

On March 21, 2003, less than a day after the U.S.-led invasion, Childers was shot in the stomach by hostile forces while leading a Marine platoon to secure an oil field in southern Iraq.  His father, Joseph, told NPR that it was his dream to lead Marines into combat.

Childers, from Gulfport, Miss., had enlisted in the Marines 12 years earlier, was a security guard at the Geneva consulate and the Nairobi embassy, fought in the Persian Gulf War, and then attended the Citadel on a special program that allows enlisted personnel to be commissioned upon graduation. He was a French major and on the Dean’s List. Childers, who had wanted to be a horse trainer when he retired from the Marines, was 30 years old when he died. The Marines promoted him to first lieutenant posthumously.

On the day Childers was killed, 12 men-seven from the United Kingdom, one from South Africa, and four from the U.S.-were killed in a helicopter crash near Umm Qasr, a port city in southern Iraq. At the time, the Marine Corps called the crash of the CH-46E Sea Knight accidental, but didn’t elaborate.

About the time the helicopter crashed, Lance Corporal José Antonio Gutierrez, a 22-year-old Marine, was killed by what is euphemistically known as “friendly fire.” He was an orphan from Guatemala who had illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico, lived on the streets of San Diego and Los Angeles, was granted a temporary visa, lived with a series of foster families, graduated from high school, and began attending college, hoping to become an architect. The U.S. granted him citizenship posthumously.

On the second day of the war, three more Americans and six from England were killed. On the third day, 30 more Americans and four British were killed. By the end of March, 92 were killed.

One month before the invasion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had declared the upcoming war, which he warned would be a “shock and awe” strategy, might last “six days, maybe six weeks; I doubt six months.”

On May 1, 2003, aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln off the coast of San Diego, President George W. Bush, decorated in flight gear, declared “Mission Accomplished.” Official military records show that when President Bush made his announcement, 172 Coalition troops had been killed. More than 4,600 American and allied soldiers would die in Iraq after that declaration; more than 31,500 Americans would be wounded, many permanently disabled, after that bravado proclamation.

We know the oldest American soldier to die in combat was 60; the youngest was 18, of which there were 34. We know that 476 of those killed were from California; Pennsylvania and Florida each had 176 deaths by the time the President announced full withdrawal from Iraq.

There are names we don’t know. We don’t know the names and life stories of the 4.7 million refugees, nor the two million Iraqis who fled the violence caused by the Coalition invasion. We don’t know the names of the orphaned children, one-third of all of Iraq’s youth. We don’t know the names of the 100,000-150,000 civilians killed. We don’t have accurate records of more than a million who were wounded. It no longer matters who killed or wounded them, who destroyed their lives and property-American, allied, Shia, Sunni, insurgent, criminal, or al-Qaeda. It doesn’t matter if they died from IEDs, suicide bombers, gunshots, artillery, bombs, or missiles. In war, they’re simply known as “collateral damage.”

In Afghanistan, 2,769 Coalition troops have been killed, 1,815 of them American, by the day that President Obama announced the withdrawal from Iraq. There are already 14,343 wounded among the Coalition forces. Between 36,000 and 75,000 Afghani civilians have been killed by insurgents and Coalition troops during the past decade, according to the United Nations. President Obama told the world that the war in Afghanistan would continue at least two more years.

You can try to sanitize the wars by giving them patriotic names-Operation Iraqi Freedom; Operation Enduring Freedom. But that doesn’t change the reality that millions of every demographic have been affected. War doesn’t discriminate. The dead on all sides are physicians and religious leaders; trades people, farmers, clerks, merchants, teachers, and mothers.  And they are babies and students. We don’t know what they might have become had they been allowed to grow up and live a life of peace, one without war.

We also don’t yet know who will be the last American soldier to be killed in Iraq. We don’t know how Post-Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) will affect the one million soldiers who were called for as many as seven tours of duty, nor when the last Iraq War veteran will die from permanent injuries. And we will never know how this war will affect the children and grandchildren of the veterans.

But there is one more thing we do know. A year before José Antonio Gutierrez was killed, he had written a “Letter to God” in Spanish. Translated, it read: “Thank you for permitting me to live another year, thank you for what I have, for the type of person I am, for my dreams that don’t die. . . . May the firearms be silent and the teachings of love flourish.”

[Walter Brasch first began writing about war in 1966. He wishes he didn’t have to. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a novel that focuses upon America between 1964 and 1991, the eve of the Persian Gulf War.]


Meanwhile In Iraq…

President Obama announced yesterday the withdrawal of the final 39,000 American troops from Iraq.  He had pledged to do this and had previously set the end of 2011 as his deadline.  This brings us to the end of an error, a huge foreign policy blunder by George W. Bush which resulted in the invasion and occupation of a foreign nation which held no threat to our strategic national security.

I have written this column since the onset of this glob five and a half years ago.  I am glad to see it come to an end, hopefully. 4,469 American soldiers died, over $800 billion spent (thus far, veterans benefits will take it to $3 trillion), a country’s treasury depleted, massive budget deficits created and a nation’s image tarnished as the result of this folly.

At least 4500 private security forces (mercenaries) will remain to guard U.S. facilities.  The massive embassy and two consulates are all that will remain of our presence in Iraq.  Iraq is the second longest war in American history next to Afghanistan and now it is time to also withdraw from that region.  I asked Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications, what our current mission in Afghanistan is and he stated it in the same terms as this White House has answered me before:  to establish a stable national government which can defend itself and the eradication of Al Qaeda.

Here’s the trouble with that mission statement:  the White House has stated there are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  The government of Hamad Karzai has no legitimacy and never will.  Americans are dying to protect a puppet President whose government is so rife with corruption no one in that country supports it.  It is time to bring them home too.

Hunger In America

Fifteen per cent of Americans now live in poverty.  Food stamp use is at record levels as the effects of the 2008 global economic collapse continue to reverberate through the nation.  Today is Blog Action Day and this year’s topic is food.  This is a major topic and encompasses the monopolies of major corporations now controlling our food system, the use of genetically modified foods, fair trade, locally grown foods, community supported agriculture and the effect of poverty on food stamp use.

We are what we eat.  The American diet has traditionally been high in fat, protein and short on vegetables, grains and other healthy foods.  The results are high incidences of cancer and heart disease.  There are things each of us can do to improve our diets.  We joined a csa, a community supported farm which uses natural and organic methods to raise food.  I shop at a local meat market which also uses these time tested methods and when I buy at a supermarket I pay extra for chicken raised naturally instead of filled with chemicals.  I attempt to buy as much as possible from area and regional producers to minimize the carbon footprint of my shopping.

We are fortunate that we can do these things.  Urban deserts exist everywhere where millions of people have no access to supermarkets for fresh food, where they can get vegetables and fruit.  Those living in poverty depend on inadequate amounts of food stamps to tweak out an existence.  The economic failures of conservative voodoo economics turned too many of us into users of food stamps.  Eight million people lost their jobs under George W. Bush and though the job situation has improved the underlying issue of loss of manufacturing has yet to be addressed.

Twenty million manufacturing jobs were lost since the Reagan Revolution began to transform America as we knew it.  These middle class, family supporting jobs were outsourced to the third world and began descending the United States into third world status.  This globalization includes the food industry which has increased the use of proprietary seeds, genetically modified foods, control of markets and the driving of family farmers both here and around the world, out of business.  A few major corporations now control most of our food supply.

The reaction to this has been a rise in fair trade food, locally grown and produced food, csa’s and farmer’s markets.  Know where your food was produced, how and when.  We’ve grown accustomed to having fruits and vegetables available year round instead of eating what’s in season.  These foods are picked before ripe so they can be shipped halfway around the world, often from southern hemisphere nations like Chile.

Trillions of dollars were lost in the financial collapse triggered by unregulated securities manufactured by Wall Street to create a huge global casino.  That casino crashed taking people’s homes, jobs, retirements and savings along with it.  The increase in poverty created by this debacle has hit every single community.  Food stamp use has ameliorated some of the hunger caused by these failed economic policies but is not enough to really feed people.  Here are a few numbers:

In 2010, 17.2 million households, 14.5 percent of households (approximately one in seven), were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States 1,2 (Coleman-Jensen 2011, p. v.)

In 2010, about one-third of food-insecure households (6.7 million households, or 5.4 percent of all U.S. households) had very low food security (compared with 4.7 million households (4.1 percent) in 2007 (). In households with very low food shecurity, the food intake of some household members was reduced, and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because of the household’s food insecurity (Coleman-Jensen 2011, p. v., USDA 2008, p. iii.) .

In 2010, children were food insecure at times during the year in 9.8 percent of households with children (3.9 million households.) In one percent of households with children,one or more of the children experienced the most severe food-insecure condition measured by USDA, very low food security, in which meals were irregular and food intake was below levels considered adequate by caregivers (Coleman-Jensen 2011, p. vi).

Interestingly those who were the architects of this economic failure in Washington are now blaming President Obama for their failures.  Newt Gingrich who served as Speaker of the House in the ’90’s when much of the deregulation of the financial markets happened, said this:

“The most successful food stamp president in American history”

This is passing the buck for failures he engaged in and is a reversal of his philosophy of personal responsibility.  This is like blaming the man who follows the horses in a parade to clean up their manure for putting the debris on the road himself.  The hypocrisy of the statement smells as badly as the horse manure.

Too many Americans live in hunger in the richest nation on earth.  The richest 1% now own 40% of all our wealth and get 24% of all new income produced.  Meanwhile the rest of us grown poorer and hungrier.  The urban poor are trapped in food deserts and those on food stamps struggle to eat at the end of each month.  School lunch programs are being cut and hungry children deprived of necessary nutrition.

We need to turn around our thinking on food, nutrition and its supply and distribution.  Begin by eating healthier yourself and learning about food, how it is grown and how it comes to your plate.  Help provide food for the poor and vote for those people dedicated to ending poverty and hunger.

Bin Laden Won

Osama Bin Laden may be dead and his remains dispersed in the sea but he has won his war against America.  When the United States defaults on its debt August 15th (this is when $500 billion of Treasury Bonds come due) he will have succeeded in his goal of bankrupting our country.  At that point “backward” Afghans and Arabs will have brought down both world superpowers.

The Al Qaeda attacks on September 11, 2001 were aimed precisely at particular targets chosen because of their significance:  The Pentagon and the World Trade Center.  The Defense establishment was a target because the U.S. had been initiating numerous wars and invasions (Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, etc) and stationed troops in Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia.  America’s history of military adventurism, something Republicans call “American Exceptionalism, from Cuba to the Philippines to Mexico have angered the rest of the world’s people’s to no end.  Osama’s choosing of The Pentagon for one of his targets was not by accident.

The economic and financial imperialism and tyranny centered in New York and forced on dozens of countries through IMF and World Bank austerity is why the World Trade Center was attacked.  Wall Street bankers have a long record of enabling American companies, backed by the CIA, to destabilize and take over foreign nations and make thousands of progressives, labor union leaders and others “disappear” (read The Shock Doctrine for details).  Standing very high on the southern tip of Manhattan Island the twin towers were a far better particular target for Bin Laden than, say, the Goldman Sachs building.

The long range goal of those infamous planes was the American economy.  Osama wanted to bankrupt the United States.  George W. Bush readily cooperated by launching not one, but two, wars which he stupidly chose to finance rather than raise taxes for which to pay.  Americans at the time would have willingly agreed to pay but the moron in the White House told us to go shopping instead.

Now the bills for these wars is coming due and Americans are refusing to pay.  Is it just because Bin Laden is dead and we think we can walk out on the obligation?  Do we think we’re too good to pay our bill?  The massive deficit run up by the last three Republican presidents (Reagan, GHW Bush and George W Bush) with tax cuts and adventurous wars comprises 93% of our total national debt.  Republicans refuse to tax the rich to pay for their wars though and are preparing to default.

The poor already paid for those wars, “exercises”, invasions and actions.  They paid with their lives, their limbs, their sanity, their blood.  Each one brought new investment opportunities for American corporations and their rich shareholders.  The bill is now due and it is time to pay.  You however are being shouldered with the bill.  You, if you aren’t filthy rich, will be taking the brunt of the bill through decreased government programs, educations cuts, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cuts and even Veteran Services.  Those poor souls crippled in Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada, Panama and elsewhere will see less care and coverage for their war injuries.  Heck, someone has to pay and the rich refuse.

Osama Bin Laden is smiling somewhere.

Bush/Cheney Made 9/11 Political

The killing of Osama Bin Laden Friday and announced last night is political.  Though it is a victory for America George W Bush and Dick Cheney also made it a victory for Obama and Democrats.  They did it by politicizing 9/11.  Their 2004 presidential campaign was all about making 9/11 political and in one infamous campaign stop VP Cheney told the nation that the election of Democrat John Kerry would endanger us all.

“If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we’ll get hit again — that we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States,” Cheney said.

Even today Karl Rove took credit for the kill for Bush claiming that he gave the kill order.  His faulty logic is based on the assumption that President Obama simply “reaffirmed” the order.  Obviously George W Bush wasn’t in the Oval Office last week to give the command order to launch the Navy Seals operation which killed Bin Laden aka “Geronimo.”  The message “Geronimo KIA” went to Obama, not Bush.  If you use Rove’s insane logic then one must credit Bill Clinton with the kill since he first gave an order to kill OBL.

Democrats didn’t politicize 9/11 Bush and Cheney did.

Bush didn’t prioritize getting Bin laden after allowing his escape in Tora Bora.  “I don’t spend much time on him” was this quote in 2002:

Bush was mostly interested in creating endless war to provide as total a control package for himself as Commander in Chief, enrich his rich campaign donors in the defense industry and funnel those profits back to GOP campaigns.  killing Bin Laden was counter to his agenda so it didn’t happen.  Barack Obama made getting the Al Qaeda leader the foremost priority of the war in Afghanistan.  In doing so he proved Cheney’s lie.  It took a Democratic President to get Osama.  He’s no longer Bin Forgotten.

The End of “Compassionate Conservatism”

George W. Bush called himself a “compassionate conservative” while running for President in 2000.  No one believed him, of course, because conservatives have been defined as people who care only about themselves.  Regardless he convinced a lot of voters he cared about the elderly, the poor, the downtrodden and others enough to win the White House twice.  In 2008 John McCain ran on the slogan “Country First.”

In 2011 we’re witnessing a raw brand of conservatism which harkens back to the days of robber barons, monopolies, near serfdom and corporate control of our lives.  There is nothing compassionate about Tea Party conservatism and the wave of attacks on the poor, the elderly, teachers, unionists, women, working people and those masses deeply concerned for community rather than self.

It is the end of the charade perpetrated by Bush and McCain that conservatives would think of others or put their country first.  The ultra rich and the corporations are what these conservatives put first in their war on the middle and lower classes.  Women, especially, have been in their sights, literally in the case of Gabrielle Giffords.  Proposed legislation in statehouses across the nation and in Congress seek to roll back a century of progress against child labor, back alley abortions, workplace safety, living wages, health care, overtime, the forty hour work week and education.  There is nothing compassionate in these reactionary policies and nothing compassionate in the hearts of Governors, state legislators and Members of Congress who seek to take this country back…to the nineteenth century.

Compassionate conservatism is so dead no one even pretends to call themselves by the term any longer.  Following this wave of repressive legislation and rhetoric no one ever should again.  If George W. Bush had any balls he would speak out against this hatred of working people.