Saturday, April 18, 2015

Iranian Nuclear Framework Deal or No Deal: Things Are Getting a Bit Stickier

Map of Known Sites
(the unknowns are a sticking point)

Great Place to Hide and Blend In
("Iran the Fox")

Update on upcoming negotiations to try and get a final deal from USA Today.  The map and more details also from here (Alternet.org).

Based on recent comments from U.S. and Iranian leaders, as well as fact sheets on the interim deal issued separately by the United States and Iran, Congressional actions and statements, and such, glaring differences remain – the main ones are:

•  Sanctions: Iran's parliament said that when the comprehensive deal begins, “…all the U.S. and EU sanctions will be terminated, and Iran will start fulfilling” its obligations under the deal. The U.S. said the sanction would be suspended in phases as Iran meets the terms of the deal and its actions are verified by UN inspectors.

•  Centrifuges: Iran's wants to keep operating about 10,000 centrifuges used to process uranium fuel. The U.S. says the framework agreement calls for Iran to scale back to 5,060 operating centrifuges to make it more difficult to produce fuel for a nuclear bomb.

•  Fordow- the name of Iran's bunker facility under a mountain in “Fordow” that would continue uranium enrichment and research and development activities to prepare for more advanced machines in five years. The U.S. said Fordow would be converted to R&D that does not involve uranium enrichment.

•  Inspections: The U.S. says U.N. inspectors would have access to “…all of Iran's nuclear facilities, including undeclared sites.” Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has flatly rejected inspections of military sites.

•  Duration: Iran's parliament called for a five-year limit on the nation's nuclear program. The U.S. said some aspects of the deal would last 10 years, and others would last 25 years.

Aftermath of the Framework Agreement and Pressure from the Senate: The process shows how compromise and cooperation are SUPPOSED to work for good government. Enough changes were made to make the proposal acceptable for everyone and Mr. Obama also agrees.

Under the Senate-White House Compromise Legislation:

1.  A 60-day review period of a final nuclear agreement in the original bill was in effect cut in half, to 30 days, starting with its submission to Congress.

2.   A maximum 12 days the president would have to decide whether to accept or veto a resolution of disapproval, should Congress take that vote.

3.  The formal review period would also include a maximum of 10 days Congress would have to override the veto.

4.  That would mean the president could not lift sanctions for a maximum of 52 days after submitting a final accord to Congress, along with all classified material

If a final accord is not submitted to Congress by July 9, the review period will snap back to 60 days. 

That would prevent the administration from intentionally delaying the submission of the accord to the Capitol. Congress could not reopen the mechanics of a deal, and taking no action would be the equivalent of allowing it to move forward

A very wide gap still exists even as we move into the formal agreement stages with a deadline for June. So, which path? 

I say we wait and see for the final deal is, if any at all. We may have to “punt” as they say. That would not be a pretty sight for anyone and as some say not for the spread of nukes or war or worse: nuclear war!!


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Voter Suppression, Harsh Voter ID Laws, Intrusive Pressure: Relax, Have a Koch

Looking to Buy, Own, and Run America, One Election Cycle at a Time

The Koch Voter Database

As a starter is, I guess, is this, the corporate statement from the i360 homepage:

“… i360 is the leading data and technology resource for the pro-free-market political and advocacy community. With the most comprehensive view of politically active Americans, i360 can help you understand, refine and target your ideal audience. Whether you are targeting voters, activists, volunteers or constituents, i360 provides state-of-the-art data-mining, modeling and analysis tools that bring superior results to your bottom line.”

The “bottom line” in this case is not profits, per se. So, how about winning an election anyway possible.

With all the harsh voting laws and rules and other stuff out there in GOP-Conservative-TEA la-la land about win at any cost mentality and the harsh tactics we have seen since about 2010 or so, including legal help from the USSC (Citizens United, McCutcheonand the attacks on the VRA), well, this might just make your day as Dirty Harry would say, “So do you feel lucky, Mr. and Mrs. American Voter. Do you?” When someone says, "It's not about the money," a light should go off. It is about the money!! And, no it's not "politics as usual," it's ugly, nasty, and expensive politics as usual.

This fine run down from Salon.com with this headline on top of everything else the Koch’s have been into and continue to get into:

"9 signs the Koch’s have created their own national political party"

The heart of this post today is a focus on Item #2 on the list of 9:

#2.  Better voter data than the GOP: One of the most significant political developments in recent years has been the way political parties have created vast files about voters, rivaling what private-sector giants like Google and Facebook offer their advertisers. But on the political right, there has been a data-gathering war between the Koch Party and Karl Rove’s Republican National Committee. The Koch Party “has developed in-house expertise in polling, message-testing, fact-checking, advertising, media buying, dial groups and donor maintenance,” Politico recently reported.

I’m not trying to be sinister or like a conspirator, or worse. That is not my nature, but I do want to raise flags (red flags work just fine) about the goals of the Koch’s brothers and I mean for the country, not their own industrial empire expansion, although those two things may run hand-in-hand now that I think about it. 

But, it is painfully clear about anyone paying much attention that their intention appear to be: fund, pay for, buy, and acquire America for their own satisfaction, like the nearly $1 billion they recently pledged to raise and spend (more probably) to put their candidate in the White House in 2016.  

Are my concerns the same as yours, are mine out of whack or out of line, just off the mark, or just plain silly and needlessly worrisome? Hardly, I surmise. The Koch efforts and actions are clear. At least to me and what lies ahead is truly worrisome.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How Much More Wrong Can the GOP Be About President Obama

GOP: Obama Never Flies in Helicopters 
(I just added that one as intro)

Obama has Lousy Jobs Record
(How about a Rick Perry "oops" moment??)

GOP Plans For: Job Creation; Cuts in SNAP (food stamps); More Attacks on Unions
(all are real and not hyped)

Three sources were used to gather info for this post: 

1.  GOP Basic Plan (Restoring the American Dream) - don't you just love those labels? Their Bullet Point List (click item to see details):

2.  From a “leading GOP presidential hopeful” – Sen. Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz (R-TX). His vision for America after the November 2014 election with the GOP in total control of Congress (which BTW, they achieved) are contained in this is statement of purpose (I guess):

“Republicans are poised to take control of Congress. We should set our sights on three big goals to make Americans feel confident in their futures once again: (1) jumpstart the economy, (2) safeguard constitutional liberties, and (3) strengthen our national security.”

Here are ten critical priorities for the 2015 Congress (click article to see each one). I didn’t really want to post them here – so check them out. Ironically, many GOPers subscribe to those same items in one form or another, so it should be interesting between now and November 2016.

3.  Now the biggie from the GOP Song and Dance page: (1) Obama is a lousy president, (2) his policies and especially ACA (Obama-care) is a “job killers, (3) ad

Intro to that piece and as the above jobs chart reflects, shows clearly that the GOP does not know their collective ass from a hole in the ground, i.e.., Republicans have consistently said that a president cannot take responsibility for a strong economy — unless of course he’s a Republican.


A weak economy, however, is always a Democratic president’s fault. And if a Republican president presides over the worst financial crisis in a half-century after seven years in office that is clearly the fault of poor people.

President Obama is in an awkward position when it comes to the economy. It’s only great if you compare it to the last 14 years. But with 50 percent of America now saying in the latest CNN poll that his presidency is a success, and he figures he’s allowed to “take a well-earned victory lap” by answering the question Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) asked for four years: “Where are the jobs?”

Um, … (1) after 12 million new jobs, (2) a stock market that has more than doubled, (3) deficits that have been cut by two-thirds, (4) health care inflation at the lowest rate in nearly 50 years (and the uninsured rate is less than 10%), (5) manufacturing coming back, (6) the auto industry came back, and (7) clean energy doubled, etc., etc., etc., well, the GOP is still beside itself with excuses and blame – but they really should glance in the nearest mirror.

Thanks for stopping by. Oh, yeah, sorry Mr. and Mrs. Gee Old Poops for being so tough, but you earned every thing I have said and then some … congrats.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

GOP With 100% Control: No Sweat, No Biggie, Right? Ha ... Think Again!!!

GOP's Biggest Target (albeit a bogus target): Voting Rights
(ranks next to repeal Obama-care, fewer rights for women, public schools)

Their M.O. (L: Modus Operandi)
(win at any cost, no matter who is stomped on along the way)


As the post title asks: Do you think there’s no harm in the GOP taking over state governments, the Congress and the White House? Two graphic examples from here on top of plenty more examples across the country say since 2010:

1.  NORTH CAROLINA: In 2010, one single GOP-Conservative multi-millionaire, Art Pope, bankrolled a Republican takeover of North Carolina state government when they won 18 statewide legislative races that turned NC red for the first time since 1870.

Two years later, Pope helped fund Pat McCrory (R) who was successful at winning the big office: Governor. (Note: Gov. McCrory later named Pope as his state budget director).

With Republicans in full control of North Carolina, quickly instituted a rash of conservative legislation: (1) strict voter ID laws, (2) various other forms of voter suppression, and several other red meat GOP causes like (3) regressive taxes on the poor, (4) blocking Medicaid expansion under the ACA, and (5) cutting pre-Kindergarten funding.

2.  NEVADA: Now, just a few years later after those moves in NC, we see Nevada about to play that same sill-ass game. 

In 2014, Nevada Republicans won control of both chambers of the state legislature, and with a GOP governor who was already in place they won the “trifecta” – total state power they had not enjoyed since 1929, and just like NC, they wasted no time in implementing harsh laws like several bills to restrict voting rights that require voter IDs, and that are seen as a move that could have a significant discriminatory effect among Nevada’s high minority population. They even have moved to amend the state constitution to implement voter ID laws. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has also expressed support for those voter ID laws.

Worse, Nevada Republicans aren’t just trying to push voter ID laws, but have a pair of bills that will require many voters to present proof of citizenship or else their registration will be canceled.

Note: Requiring people to find documents like their birth certificate or possessing a passport to show U.S. citizenship in order to vote would discourage huge swaths of potential voters from voting, let alone register to vote, and that is the GOP aim: keep the opposition base tied up in knots while holding your base in tow and thus: win anyway possible – by hook or crook, no matter what or how.

It is worth noting that similar laws in Arizona were struck down by the USSC (7-2 ruling). But, that has not stop Nevada Republicans from trying to move ahead with their own flavor of that same idea.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

GOP-Conservatives-FOX Are Correct: Damn Biased "MSM Leftist Media"

Ah, the good old days...
(oops)

But, here we are today
(whoopee)

Here, take your pick
(a lot more off stage right)


Reading the New York Times front-page dispatches about the emerging Republican field of 2016 candidates, we have learned the following by some of the “leading candidates” for example:

Well, Surprise, surprise, surprise, and golly (as Gomer Pyle would say).

Ironically, Republicans are already bashing the so-called MSM complaining about how they cover GOP candidates via the supposedly biased prism of their fav label: “liberal media” which is the cat call of conservatives for decades: To hell with the “liberal/MSM” just listen to Limbaugh and watch FOX.

Actually, right now GOP White House hopefuls have received better and more sympathetic press coverage than say Hillary Clinton, whose page-one coverage to date is been almost devoid of positive Times treatments except about those damn emails. So, what about those Clinton emails and all that entails from the GOP latest stunt run by Rep. Trey Gowdy about digging up whatever.

Since the beginning of 2015, Republicans are routinely given positive characterizations and compliments, while Hillary Clinton is often not so lucky. More often than not she is depicted on the Times' front page as either mired in setbacks, or certain to face daunting political challenges like seen here, here, and here.

The email system that she used as Secretary of State certainly tilts stories against her. But as noted, the Times did not put on its front page recently, the March 13 revelation about old JEB using his private email account to conduct government business while the Gov. of FL in a near similar way that Mrs. Clinton did.

Not only did JEB personally own the email server for his emails the way Clinton did, but that when it came time to release emails from his governorship, old JEB self-selected which ones were private and which one would be released, and again, just like Clinton did with her explanation. Maybe worse, old JEB may have violated FL law by waiting seven years to release all of his official emails. So, how about another Rick Perry “oops” moment?

One thing is for certain in all this: Hypocrisy takes no backseat to anyone and sure knows no limits (left or right)!!!...

Monday, April 6, 2015

FOX Manages Rightwing Thoughts and Deeds: Unfair and Unbalanced

The Sky is Falling: Obama is a Failure; Iran Nuke Deal Sucks; DEMS Hate Acorns



Conservatives Trash Iran Deal Framework That Experts Call “A Very Convincing Agreement”

A few examples from the piece in this short summary:

Conservative media figures are lashing out against tentative framework for a historic deal on Iran's nuclear program as a surrender to Tehran while ignoring the widespread approval among diplomats, foreign relations, and nuclear weapons policy experts of the agreement between the United States and five other nations (P5+1) aimed at limiting Iranian nuclear ambitions and production and thus spread of nuclear weapons in the volatile ME…”

Mr. Obama’s announcement on April 2, 1015, in part: The key parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear program, which “reflect the significant progress that has been made toward ensuring the continued pursuit of a peaceful nuclear program in Iran through a strategy of inspections for 25 years, limiting enrichment capacity for 10 years and reducing their nuclear stockpile by 97 percent. These parameters are meant to form the foundation" of a final JCPOA to be written and agreed upon by June 30, 2015.” [The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 4/2/15]

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said: It's a good deal because it has “Cut Off Iran's Path to a Nuclear Weapons Program.”  She stressed that by setting up an international inspection program and stalling Iranian uranium and plutonium enrichment processes, the deal “accomplished what was wanted.”  [MSNBC, Morning Joe4/3/15]

Former Bush-era Ambassador and State Undersecretary, Nicholas Burns: We've got the entire world with us ... President Obama sas done very well.  Burns applauded the nuclear framework as “a sensible step forward toward reducing Iran as a nuclear threat,” and noted that “we  have got the entire world with us in pursuit of this nuclear framework, and that President Obama has done very well to forge ahead with a process that stalled during the Bush administration.” [MSNBC, Morning Joe4/3/15]

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Fellow, Michael Levi: Elements of deal surprisingly Strong.  Levi described the nuclear limits as “particularly those on the Iranian supply chain, in the deal as surprisingly strong and significant. [Council on Foreign Relations, 4/2/15]

Nuclear Proliferation Expert, Aaron Stein: If final deal adheres to this framework, it will be excellent. Stein is both a nuclear proliferation and Middle East expert at the Royal United Services Institute. He added that he would give it an “A rating” because of “the inspections and transparency.” [Vox, 4/2/15]

Director of East Asia Nonproliferation Center, Jeffrey Lewis: Inspection provisions amazing. Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at Middlebury's Monterey (Calif) Institute of International Studies added: that the “inspections and transparency on the rotors, and the bellows, and the uranium mines is more than I ever thought would be in this agreement.”  [Vox, 4/2/15]

Ploughshares President, Joe Cirincione: This is a very convincing agreement and will likely find broad support.  Cirincione concluded that is a very convincing agreement, and will likely find broad support among national security professionals. [MSNBC, 4/2/15]

Then from various rightwing nitwits, et al:

The National Review says: Nuclear deal is a surrender to Tehran.  In that April 2 editorial they also claim that President Obama “wanted a deal with Iran so badly that he accepted a truly awful bargain,” then went on claim that President Obama's “zeal for an agreement at any cost forced the United States and its international partners to cave in to Iranian demands on nearly every substantive point.” Then they demanded that Congress “do everything it can to scuttle it.” [National Review Online, 4/2/15]

FOX’s Sean Hannity describes the deal as capitulation. On the April 2 edition of his FOX program, Hannity described the framework as “Munich 2.” [Fox News, Hannity4/2/15]

FOX’s Greg Gutfeld said Obama met Iranian demands on bended knee. On the April 2 edition of The Five, Gutfeld claimed Iran had “forced the US "to the table,” and that President Obama's “longing for legacy” meant he had simply figured out the other guy's needs and met them on bended knee.” [Fox News, The Five4/2/15]  

FOX’s Jonah Goldberg said Iran deal is a disaster and terrible. On the April 2 edition of Special Report, Fox contributor Goldberg also described the deal, while a political success for the president, was disastrous.” [Fox News, Special Report4/2/15

FOX’s Zez Chafets calls Iran deal dangerous step in wrong direction. In an opinion piece published at Fox News.com, Chafets slammed the deal as “a triumph of diplo-babble designed to conceal the real intentions of its framers and was a dangerous step in the wrong direction.” [Fox News.com, 4/2/15]

Washington Times (the Rev. Moon rag), Wesley Pruden said everything about the so-called deal with Iran ... is a lie.  In an April 2 op-ed, Pruden denounced the agreement framework, claiming “everything about the so-called deal with Iran, including the reputations of the men who negotiated it, is a lie,” and then he attacked Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama for “enabling Iran to continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons while purposefully diminishing the power and influence of the United States.” [The Washington Times4/2/15]

The Rightwing via FOX: working hard to insult, degrade, and undermine everything decent and just in the country, one broadcast at a time.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Christians in America Are Not Being Persecuted: It's a Myth, Hype, Self-Pity

View from One Side
(the persecuted side)

The Other Side 
(more rational side)

Updated (provided via Vox.com - thanks for this video - it's about 4 minutes):



Headlines about a “hot” topic these days: Fearful American Christians, who happen to be in the majority, yet feel persecuted and powerless.”

Sub-line: Why do all those Christians — most populous religious group in the country feel victimized?

First from here – good read. Seven “tales of horror” (as it were):

1.  Two middle school girls are forced into a lesbian kiss as part of an anti-bullying program.
2.  An Air Force sergeant is fired because he opposes same-sex marriage.
3.  A high school track team is disqualified from a meet after an athlete thanks God for the team’s victory.
4.  A Veterans Affairs hospital bans Christmas cards with religious messages.
5.  A man fixing the lights in a Christmas tree falls victim to a wave of War-on-Christmas violence.
6.  An elementary school student is punished for praying over his school lunch.
7.  A little boy is forced to take a psychological evaluation after drawing a picture of Jesus.

Horrible stories, just horrible I tell you – how about a Rick Perry “oops” moment? None of these stories is true. Each one like this has become a stock tale for Religious Right broadcasters, activists, and in some cases elected officials. These myths – which are becoming ever more pervasive in the right-wing media – serve to bolster a larger story: That the majority religious group in American society (Christians) is fast becoming a persecuted minority – who are being driven underground in its own country and worse, by its own government. Wow – heck, double wow!!!

Putting any and all historical records and examples aside regarding past persecution of any Christian or group of Christians, who can these days resist the temptation (no pun intended) of
the deliciousness of having both the upper hand of power (for your side) and the righteousness (self or otherwise) of being the oppressed? The conflicts over gay rights and contraception and such are polarizing the country and actually endanger religious and other liberties more generally than being helpful to either side in the fights wherein they seem to not have any respect for the liberty of the other side.

For sure, there are Christians in the world who face persecution, from Copts in Egypt to Catholics in northern Nigeria. But, NOT in the U.S. per se. Consider these facts:

  • Christians in America and their institutions have never been more pampered by government t (at both the Federal and state levels).
  • 75 percent of the U.S. identifies themselves as Christians.
  • 57 percent believe in the devil.
  • 8 in 10 believe the Bible to be the “inspired or literal” word of God.
Even with the separation of church state idea, under President Geo. W. Bush social welfare programs were out sourced to tons of faith-based organization, with more than 98 percent going to Christian churches and religious schools who were largely Christian who also, BTW, have long enjoyed a de facto public subsidy as tax-exempt 501(c) 3 organizations funded by tax-deductible contributions.

Also, consider these:

1.  On March 2, 2015, three Baptist ministers in Akron, OH arranged for the local police to mock-arrest them in their churches and haul them away in handcuffs for the simple act of preaching their faith all captured on their pre-arranged video stunt. It was then posted on YouTube to drum up buzz and well over 24,000 who saw the video in Ohio alone took the stunt as reality — and thus a confirmation of their wildest fears about a government clampdown on Christianity.

2.  On February 26, 2015, AZ Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse services to people who violate their religious beliefs like being opposed to gays and lesbians as one FOX News pundit, Todd Starnes, tweeted that Christians have been demoted to second-class citizens in AZ.

3.  Coming out in May is a feature film titled: “Persecuted” – it is a political thriller about a federal government plan to censor Christianity in the name of liberalism that features former Sen. Fred Thompson and FOX News host Gretchen Carlson. The movie received a rapturous reception at the annual C-PAC Conference this last March 10, and it ties into other Christian film like “God’s Not Dead” – a story about a college freshman bullied into proving the existence of God by his atheist professor.

Related (some further research sites):

Here from Alternet.org  — extract: There’s been a lot of media attention recently to the changing demographics of the United States, where, at current rates, people who identify as “white” are expected to become a minority by the year 2050. But in many ways, the shift in national demographics has been accelerated beyond even that. New data from the American Values Atlas shows that while white people continue to be the majority in all but 4 states in the country, white Christians are the minority in a whopping 19 states. And, nationwide, Americans who identify as Protestant are now in the minority for the first time ever, clocking in at a mere 47 percent of Americans and falling.

Here from Pew Research — extract: The Landscape Survey confirms that the United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country; the number of Americans who report that they are members of Protestant denominations now stands at barely 51%.

Here from Politicususa.com — extract: There is a gross misconception among incredibly ignorant Americans that this nation was founded on the tenets of the Christian bible and is therefore a Christian nation. It is this willful lack of information about the nation’s founding that, in large part, is why Americans are not the smartest people on the planet. Maybe they believe that because white Christians make up the majority of the population, the Founding Fathers were wrong in creating America as a secular nation. White Christians who believe they own the right to control politics and culture in America are “losing their majority status” across the country.

My bottom line: No state should ever be allowed to legalize discrimination, period. And, for my GOP-rightwing Christian friends; stop the hype. You are not being persecuted. Two final thoughts:

1.  Needless to say this “movement” about persecuted American Christians floats far and wide minus one key element passed over skillfully: Reality. No, not like a “reality show” on TV – but minus the truth based on facts.

2.  Just saying something or someone is against you, or that something is true, or the country and government are out to get you and your religious beliefs just because you can’t win an argument on public policy or political debate is not democracy; not one bit or any stretch.  

Thanks for stopping by - enjoy further research. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Making Discrimination Legal in the U.S. — How Did We Fall Into This Abyss

Erasing Common Sense Lines
(re: Making discrimination legal)

A Brand New Uniform
(long overdue)

I spent extensive time and effort for this post ... it's long, but I hope is serves as a basis for your further research on this timely topic: Gay rights in America. Two quotes to introduce this post both worth remembering:

Thomas Jefferson:Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”  

Marcus Aurelius:The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.”

Introduction and Background: The question is often asked is the proper used in Declaration of Independence unalienable or is it inalienable? The final version of the Declaration uses the word unalienable. Some earlier drafts used the word inalienable, which is the term our modern dictionaries prefer.

FYI: The two words mean precisely the same thing. The unalienable rights that are mentioned in the Declaration of Independence could just as well have been inalienable, which means the same thing. Inalienable or unalienable refers to that which cannot be given away or taken away.
______________________________________________________________________________

The First Amendment states that governments cannot interfere with the free expression of religion, a position that sounds fairly straightforward but has been the subject of ongoing debate from inception.

Over the years, for example, the Supreme Court instituted laws that restrict a religion's expression like human sacrifice is not permissible even if it were arguably related to a person’s religious beliefs.

The compelling interest test helps determine where to draw the line at the government’s ability to restrict or not restrict free expression of religion. It is one test with four parts:

The compelling interest test emerged in 1963, during the Supreme Court case Sherbert v. Verner.

* Adeil Sherbert, was member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She was fired from her job after she refused to work on Saturday, the Sabbath Day of her faith. The South Carolina Employment Security Commission denied her benefits, finding unacceptable her religious justification for refusing Saturday work.

The Question Before USSC was:  Did the denial of unemployment compensation violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments? 

Yes: the 7-2 Ruling Written by Justice Brennan for the Majority: The Court held that the state's eligibility restrictions for unemployment compensation imposed a significant burden on Sherbert's ability to freely exercise her faith. Furthermore, there was no compelling state interest which justified such a substantial burden on this basic First Amendment right.  

The test contains four parts. Each part helps determine whether the government can intervene to restrict the free expression of religion. 

  1. The first step includes determining whether a person has a claim involving “a sincere religious belief.”
  2. The second element of the test includes determining whether government action would place a “substantial burden” on that person’s ability to act on his religious beliefs.
  3. Third, the government must prove that it is acting on “compelling state interest” in intervening.
  4. Last, the fourth, government must prove that it is acting in a manner that is “least burdening” or “least restrictive” in terms of impacting the person’s religious beliefs and actions.
Over the years, the Supreme Court has intervened in various situations which were determined to have “compelling interest” for the state. For example, Eugene Volokh, Professor of Law at UCLA, notes that “maintaining a stable political system, preventing racial or sexual discrimination, and preserving the integrity of the tax system” have been used to justify intervention. In these instances, freedom of religious expression was curtailed or restricted to prioritize the aforementioned interests of the state.

The federal government passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 (RFRA). It was authored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). It passed with nearly unanimous support from both parties, and signed by President Bill Clinton. The legislation was needed after a Supreme Court ruling delivered by Antonin Scalia limited religious freedom for Native Americans who smoke peyote as part of their religion. A later Supreme Court ruling ruled that the RFRA didn't apply to state or local governments. Since then, states have rushed to pass their own laws (map and list provided at the end of this page for you to see your state).

Professor Volokh added this: “The conflicts over gay rights and contraception are polarizing the country and endangering religious liberty more generally with neither side in these fights seeming to have any respect for the liberty of the other side.”

And yet here we are now today with the newest law in Indiana.  They passed legislation that the entire media characterizes as nothing more than a bigoted anti-gay bill along with celebrities and activists and a whole bunch of other calling for a boycott against the state, including the NCAA. Is it or not. A lot of tap dancing and backpedaling now ongoing there with Gov. Pence and others scrabbling to undo the damage.

What do RFRA laws do anyway? They simply allow religious people to challenge government activities that encroach on their beliefs. They must show that the government action substantially burdens a religious belief that they sincerely hold, and if they prove all that, it falls to the government to show that the challenged action is justified as the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest (see 4-part test mentioned above). Having a RFRA doesn't mean that you know which side wins, it just sets the terms of the debate.

A lot of people are asking: “If Indiana’s law is not some newfangled invention designed to hurt gay people, then what is it about?” There is no better way to learn than by looking at some recent RFRA cases at the state and federal level, and ask, “… if you oppose RFRA’s, then these are real people you are hurting along the way (8 examples):

(1)  Most recent RFRA winner Lipan Apache religious leader Robert Soto:  Just a few weeks ago, on March 10, 2015, the federal government returned the eagle feathers it had seized nine years ago from a Native American religious leader and famed feather dancer Robert Soto. He had appealed the seizure of the eagle feathers, items central to his religion, for which he faced 15 years in a federal penitentiary and a $250,000 fine, on Religious Freedom Restoration Act grounds. The federal government prohibits possession of eagle feathers without a permit and only grants permits to museums, scientists, zoos, farmers, large power companies and federally recognized tribes. Even though the Lipan Apaches are recognized by Texas, historians and sociologists, they're not recognized by the feds.

(2)  An arbitrary ban: Sikh federal employee Kawal Tagore:  After being baptized in the Sikh faith, Kawal Tagore began carrying a kirpan, “an emblem resembling a small knife with a blunt, curved blade.” It's one of five articles of faith baptized Sikhs are supposed to carry.
She was told to go home from her job with the IRS in a federal building in Houston and not to return. The building allowed scissors, knives, box cutters and other items with sharper blades. After working from home for nine months, she was fired. She sought protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and on November 4, 2014, the government agreed to settle the case.

(3)  A necessary goat sacrifice: José Merced, Santeria priest:  José Merced moved to Euless, Texas, in 1990. A Santeria Oba Oriate, or priest, Merced had performed certain animal sacrifices essential to Santeria for 16 years. But in 2006, Euless said he had to stop. This practice is in conflict with all sorts of generally accepted city codes in Texas.  There are only a couple Santeria temples in the world and none of them are in the United States, so worship takes place in the home. On special occasions such as ordination the worship calls for sacrifice of four-legged animals such as a goat. Merced sued and won his case in 2009.

(4)  When the ACLU supported state RFRAs: Adriel Arocha, long-haired Native American kindergartner:  In order to enter kindergarten in the Needville, Texas, schools, Adriel Arocha, the son of Kenney Arocha and Michelle Bettenbaugh, was told he'd have to cut his hair. The school had general grooming policies, including that “boys' hair shall not cover any part of the ear or touch the top of the standard collar in back.” The policy's stated design is “to teach hygiene, instill discipline, prevent disruption, avoid safety hazards, and assert authority.” The parents applied for an exemption but because their religious practices were handed down orally, they couldn't provide the necessary written documentation of their religious practice. The boy and his parents won their case.  

(5)  A halfway house: Richard Barr and Philemon Homes:  Philemon Homes is a Christian non-profit in Sinton, TX. It provides housing and religious instruction to petty offenders released from state prisons. Richard Barr ran the non-profit, which was located across the street from Grace Christian Fellowship, the church he also attended.  Sinton had no restrictions on such an operation when it first began but in 1999, the city council enacted an ordinance that banned the organization from existing within the city limits. According to the group that represented Barr and Philemon, “the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA), passed in 1999, which provides much needed protection for people of faith, churches, and faith-based organizations” was an important part of that victory.

(6)  Muslim prisoner fights to wear short beard: Abdul Muhammad:   Abdul Muhammad is a Muslim incarcerated in Arkansas. He was not allowed to grow the 1/2 inch beard his religion commands even though Arkansas permits beards for other reasons.
And the same beard would have been allowed in 44 state and federal prison systems in the country. In 2011, he filed suit. He won the suit using the “RFRA for prisoners” — the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). That bill was also signed by Bill Clinton.  Earlier this year, Muhammad won his case unanimously at the United States Supreme Court. They held that he'd shown the restriction was a substantial burden on his religious exercise.

(7)  The right to drink hallucinogenic sacramental tea: União do Vegetal:  O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (UDV) is a Christian Spiritist sect with origins in the Amazon Rain forest, which had at the time of its case about 130 members in the United States.
The group receives a sacrament by drinking ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic tea banned by the federal government. The government seized 30 gallons of the tea when it was shipped to a Santa Fe congregation. The group sued to block this enforcement on the grounds it violated their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Remember, the government isn't to substantially burden a person's exercise of religion unless it can demonstrate applying the burden represents the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling interest.
One thing that's interesting about this case is that everyone agreed that the ban was a substantial burden on the congregation. But that didn't mean that the congregation necessarily won their case. As Professor Volokh also explained: “…finding of substantial burden on sincere religious beliefs simply shifts the burden to the government: The government may still justify the burden by showing that applying the law to the objectors is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.” The Feds argued it must uniformly apply this law with no accommodations for the Brazilian church to advance its drug prohibition interest but the Supreme Court disagreed. União do Vegetal won.

(8)  Florida denies prisoners kosher meals: Bruce Rich: Bruce Rich is an Orthodox Jewish prisoner in Florida, one of the last remaining states in the country that doesn't provide kosher food for Jewish prisoners. He argued this violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, RFRA for prisoners. Florida claimed it limited food options to control costs and maintain security. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which took Rich's case, noted that 35 states and the federal government provided kosher meals without it posing a problem. During the appeals process and after his appeals court victory, Rich withdrew his case once Florida began providing the necessary meals.

ENDA Myths (ENDA: Employment Non-Discrimination Act) BTW: Still not law due top harsh and well-planned GOP resistance:


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Poor, Poor Persecuted White Christian Americans Who Happen to be GOPers

Bully O'Lielly: Smokescreen to get pressure off of him ... 
(shrewd, slick, savvy, but quite shitty)



Wow!!! White America and by extension, White Christian America are being persecuted. Easy and especially vulnerable target: GOPers from “Red” states. Did not know that!!!

Quick, man the moats, hoist the drawbridges, and fill up the ditches with more 'gators. We have to rescue, save, and preserve them. Po' whittle devils.  

Err ... why should we do that anyway? Just to reinforce the old tried and true rock solid RNC platform plank for 2016. Sure, why not. Now that makes sense. Pander to the red meat base anyway possible.

Monday, March 30, 2015

"We Have a Deal" (New York Budget): Strong on Education and Ethics Reform

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)
(is kinda happy, if ...)

If State Legislators Pass a Bill
(leaders agree, now let's see


Two related articles and moving pieced to this budget “deal” story - the one that the Gov and Party Leaders have agreed on. We still need it to be a law to have any meaning:

Syracuse.com here (highlights): A New York state budget deal was announced Sunday night by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Legislature leaders that included education reforms and increased school aid, ethics reform rules that require legislators to disclose outside income, and a $1.5 billion pot of money that Upstate cities can compete for.

The Gov and party leaders said the budget includes $23.5 billion in school aid, an overall school aid increase of approximately $1.4 billion, or 6.1 percent. 

Spending on all state operations grows by only 2 percent, the leaders said. 

Some $1.5 billion will be available for Upstate cities comes from $5.4 billion in lawsuit settlements. 

Continue at the Syracuse link.

From the NY Times here (also in part):  Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders on Sunday night (March 29, 2015) reached an agreement on the next state budget, capping weeks of deliberations over issues like deterring public corruption and improving public schools. The budget, which still needs the formal approval of lawmakers, would be the state’s fifth in a row passed by the April 1 deadline. 

Key parts in addition to education reform measures include: 

Administration officials said the ethics changes would require lawmakers to disclose more about the income they earn on top of their government salaries, including broader disclosure of legal clients. Mr. Cuomo’s effort to seek more disclosure had rankled some legislators who work as lawyers.

The budget also expands a pension-forfeiture law; further restricts the use of campaign funds for personal expenses; and puts in place new oversight for lawmakers’ travel expenses. Legislators, who earn base salaries of $79,500 and have not received a raise since 1999, also could see that change: The budget creates a commission that would study raising their pay, though no pay hike could take effect until 2017.

Continue at the NY Times link.