Monthly Archives: February 2017

Now In Happy Retirement, John Boehner Admits Republicans Will Never Agree on Obamacare Repeal

In today’s episode of Confess Your Unpopular Opinions, I confess that I kind of like Mitch McConnell. I’m grading on a curve, of course, the curve being “people who oppose everything that is right and good about America.” Still, I kind of like the fact that McConnell doesn’t generally get on his high horse. For example, when Republicans blocked Merrick Garland last year, most conservatives started peddling a load of nonsense about how Supreme Court justices were never confirmed in a president’s final year and they were just upholding the grand traditions of the Senate blah blah blah. But not McConnell. He basically said that Republicans were doing it because they could. That’s OK. I mean, if you’re going to screw me, don’t try to pretend that you’re doing me a favor at the same time.

Likewise, I kind of liked John Boehner too. He was just a man born too late. If he had been Speaker of the House 30 years earlier, he would have been fine. He would have logrolled and compromised and made deals and the government would have chugged along. By 2011, however, the GOP was fully tea party-ized and Boehner had more trouble with his own caucus than he did with the Democrats.

Boehner seemed genuinely happy when he finally left the House, and ever since he’s been unusually open about the reality of trying to deal with the loons in his own party. Today, he cheerfully explained that Republican plans to quickly repeal Obamacare were just “happy talk”:

He said changes to former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement would likely be relatively modest. “[Congressional Republicans are] going to fix Obamacare — I shouldn’t call it repeal-and-replace, because it’s not going to happen,” he said.

….Boehner said the talk in November about lightning-fast passage of a new health care framework was wildly optimistic. “I started laughing,” he said. “Republicans never ever agree on health care.”

“Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act … that’s going to be there,” Boehner concluded.

Yep. I wrote a piece for the magazine a couple of months ago making the same point, and it got way less attention than I thought it deserved. That’s rankled my fragile male ego ever since, so I’m taking this opportunity to highlight it again. Here’s the ending:

Obamacare’s preexisting-conditions provision provides Democrats with some leverage. Republicans need Democratic votes to repeal the provision and pass a workable law, which means that if Democrats hold out they can certainly get a far better deal than Ryan’s plan. They might even be able to stop the Obamacare repeal in its tracks. It all depends on how well they play their hand.

Boehner’s argument is expressed differently than mine, but it comes to the same thing: the best way for Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare is to compromise with Democrats. Their next best option is to somehow ram through a plan of their own and accept all the flak this entails. However, both options require Republicans to stay ruthlessly united, and as Boehner says, what are the odds of that?


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These last moments of the Standing Rock protest will break your heart.

 by  –

This is the end of the Standing Rock camp. For now.

Photo by Stephen Yang/Getty Images.

After a Trump administration executive order, the Army Corps of Engineers ordered protesters to vacate the camp by 2 p.m. local time on Feb. 22, 2017. Authorities were set to physically remove everyone in the way of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction upon sacred Native American land.

In a symbolic gesture, the protesters set fire to their camp.

Photo by Stephen Yang/Getty Images.

“People have said their last prayers, and offered cedar to the sacred fire and are also burning these structures we have ceremonially built, so they must be ceremonially removed,” Vanessa Castle of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe told the Seattle Times.

Here are some images of those last moments.

Photo by Stephen Yang/Getty Images.

Photo by Stephen Yang/Getty Images.

Photo by Stephen Yang/Getty Images.

Photo by Stephen Yang/Getty Images.

Photo by Stephen Yang/Getty Images.

Photo by Stephen Yang/Getty Images.

We can still stand with Standing Rock and help them as they take their struggle from the ground to the courtroom. For more information, visit the official Standing Rock Sioux Tribe site.

Photo by Stephen Yang/Getty Images.

Share image: Stephen Yang/Getty Images.

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#ThankYouMattDamon uses laughs to make a vital point about whitewashing.

by  –

“The Great Wall” has all the makings of an epic action blockbuster.

It had a massive budget. It attracted a global audience (at least on paper). And it boasts one of the biggest Hollywood stars on Earth, Matt Damon — which, ironically, may have been part of its great downfall.

Aside from the onslaught of poor reviews — “If ever a film was made with more money than sense, this is it,” film critic Kenneth Turan wrote for the Los Angeles Times — “The Great Wall” is taking heat for its questionable casting decisions.

“The Great Wall,” a film set in 11th century China, stars Matt Damon as the hero who saves the day. And that’s more than a little cringeworthy.

There weren’t a lot of Europeans in China during the Song dynasty (to put it lightly), so, even for a film whose premise hinges on conquering supernatural beasts, Damon’s starring role seems a little too far-fetched for many audiences.

From a historical perspective, the absurdity of Damon’s character reflects the film industry’s terrible habit of whitewashing: casting white actors in roles that were created for people of color. (See: Emma Stone portraying Allison Ng in “Aloha,” Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan in the “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” and dozens and dozens of other films.)

If all races were seen frequently and fairly on screen, and if actors of color were cast more often in roles that aren’t defined by the color of their skin, maybe whitewashing would be less of a problem. But that’s not the case. Last year, researchers at at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that women, minorities, and LGBTQ people were severely underrepresented among the over 21,000 characters and behind-the-scenes workers it analyzed in its study.

Unsurprisingly, the internet was not about to let Damon off the hook.

On Feb. 16, 2017, the day before the film’s release, the hashtag #ThankYouMattDamon started trending, sarcastically thanking the star for his role in “The Great Wall” and all the other things he’s contributed to Asian history and culture.

The trending phrase — created by comedian Jenny Yang — reached far and wide.

I’m glad everyone has caught on to this ludicrous film where a white guy saves all of China. Oh yeah, and builds a wall 💁

For saving my ancestral homeland, my name backwards actually translates to

Such a shame all 1.5+ billion Chinese people in the world have gone extinct and we need white people to portray them 😪

Forget Mulan, Matt Damon is the only one who could save China

for telling me how to write “WHITE SAVIOR” in Chinese for my new Chinese tattoo.

If it seems like the internet really has it out for Damon on this issue, it’s because of his recent mishaps when it comes to speaking up about diversity.

In December 2016, Damon compared the casting criticisms of “The Great Wall” to fake news, then proceeded to defend the film by confusing whitewashing with race-bending (when white actors wear makeup to appear as a different race).

That came after a 2015 episode of HBO’s “Project Greenlight,” in which Damon caused a few jaws to drop for interrupting successful producer Effie Brown, a black woman, to explain to her how diversity works.

Except he got it wrong: “You [promote diversity] in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show,” he told her, trivializing the importance of having people of color working behind the camera as well as in front.


Although whitewashing may seem like a trivial issue — particularly in the uncertain era of President Trump — we shouldn’t overlook its effect.

Not only does whitewashing sideline actors of color, limiting and typecasting the roles available to them, it prevents stories from marginalized groups and characters from being told authentically to a wider audience. And when people of color are represented on screen — like in recent films “Hidden Figures” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” for instance — it makes a big difference to the people watching.

The diverse cast of 2016’s “Hidden Figures.” Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.

#ThankYouMattDamon laughs aside, actor Constance Wu captured the seriousness of whitewashing in “The Great Wall” — as well as creating narratives that solely celebrate white men as the heroes — in a viral post last summer.

“We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world,” Wu wrote. “It’s not about blaming individuals. Rather, it’s about pointing out the repeatedly implied racist notion that white people are superior to [people of color] and that [people of color] need salvation from our own color via white strength.”

Let’s hope Damon’s somewhere taking notes right now.


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Top Ranking General Makes Historic Stand Against Donald Trump


Donald Trump’s scandalous administration is causing great concern among America’s military leaders. One top general is now saying that enough is enough.

General Raymond Thomas was promoted to lead the U.S. Special Operations Command a few years back, so he knows a thing or two about running a tight ship. Now, he’s saying that Trump’s reckless and chaotic administration is threatening America’s safety.

“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil,” General Thomas said. “I hope they sort it out soon because we are a nation at war.”

“As a commander, I’m concerned our government be as stable as possible,” General Thomas said. And with Trump, our nation has experienced the OPPOSITE of stability.

These are bold words from one of America’s greatest military minds. But he makes a great point: the United States is only as prepared as its executive leader.

And Trump is so clearly in over his head right now. He can spend his time watching TV all day, but he’ll never be able to escape the fact that he’s the sorriest excuse for a president the world’s ever seen.

It’s not just General Thomas either, some of America’s other great military leaders are just as concerned. For one, Obama’s ex-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is totally alarmed at Trump’s ineptitude as well.

“I’ve never been so nervous in my lifetime about what may or may not happen in Washington,” Panetta said. “I don’t know whether this White House is capable of responding in a thoughtful or careful way should a crisis erupt.”

And that sounds about right. Panetta has spoken previously about how Trump will have blood on his hands if a terrorist attack occurs during his absent-minded leadership.


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Hawaii wants to ban chemical sunscreens to save its coral reefs

by Katherine Martinko 

When sunscreen chemicals wash off beach-goers, they bleach coral, stunt its growth, and sometimes kill it outright.

If you’re heading to Hawaii, or any other tropical paradise, to soak up the sun this winter, you might want to leave the sunscreen behind. It sounds counterintuitive after years of being told to slather on sunscreen to protect our skin from dangerous UV rays, but now research is showing that human use of sunscreen could be seriously damaging tropical coral reefs.

Senator Will Espero presented a bill to the state congress on January 20 that would ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate (except under medical prescriptions) in Hawaii. Espero argued that a ban is crucial to maintaining the health of coral reefs – an tourist attraction on which Hawaii relies.

Sunscreens use filters, either chemical or mineral, to block out the sun’s radiation. The chemical filters are most damaging, washing off the skin into the water while swimming, surfing, spearfishing, or even using a beach shower. Researchers have measured oxybenzone in Hawaiian waters at concentrations that are 30 times higher than the level considered safe for corals. According to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources:

“[These chemicals] cause deformities in coral larvae (planulae), making them unable to swim, settle out, and form new coral colonies.  It also increases the rate at which coral bleaching occurs.  This puts coral reef health at risk, and reduces resiliency to climate change.”

Says Craig Downs of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia, whose research on stunted coral growth has heavily influenced Espero’s bill:

“Oxybenzone — it kills [coral]. It turns them into zombies if it doesn’t kill them outright. It makes them sterile and you do not get coral recruitment.”

This problem is not unique to Hawaii. Approximately 80 percent of the corals in the Caribbean Sea have died over the past 40 years. While there are many compounding factors, such as temperature anomalies, overfishing, coral predators, coastal runoffs, and pollution from cruise ships and other vessels that affect coral health, the fact that an estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen wash off annually into the world’s oceans is a serious matter.

Not surprisingly, Espero has met resistance from sunscreen manufacturers, such as L’Oréal, which say the evidence is not yet strong enough to justify a ban; but Espero insists the public support is there. Scientific American quotes him:

“We have advocates and science on our side. Fishermen, boat owners, sailors, ocean-sports enthusiasts, ocean-tour operators and environmentalists rely on the ocean for recreation and jobs. Opponents will be out there, but supporters as well.”

If you’re wondering how not to burn in the sun, check out the Environmental Working Group’s 2016 guide to safe sunscreens, and consider its advice: “Sunscreen should be your last resort.” Use clothing (long-sleeved shirts or special UV blocking clothes), shade, sunglasses, and careful timing to minimize exposure to sunshine.


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Trump family’s lavish lifestyle could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions over 4 years


Drew Harwell, Amy Brittain, Jonathan O’ConnellThe Washington Post

On Friday, President Donald Trump and his entourage will jet for the third straight weekend to a working getaway at his oceanfront Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.

On Saturday, Trump’s sons Eric and Don Jr., with their Secret Service details in tow, will be nearly 8,000 miles away in the United Arab Emirates, attending the grand opening of a Trump-brand golf resort in the “Beverly Hills of Dubai.”

Meanwhile, New York police will keep watch outside the Trump Tower in Manhattan, the chosen home of first lady Melania Trump and son Barron. And the tiny township of Bedminster, New Jersey, is preparing for the daunting prospect that the local Trump golf course will serve as a sort of northern White House for as many as 10 weekends a year.

Barely a month into the Trump presidency, the unusually elaborate lifestyle of America’s new first family is straining the Secret Service and security officials, stirring financial and logistical concerns in several local communities, and costing far beyond what has been typical for past presidents – a price tag that, based on past assessments of presidential travel and security costs, could balloon into the hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of a four-year term.

Adding to the costs and complications is Trump’s inclination to conduct official business surrounded by crowds of people, such as his decision last weekend to host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a working dinner while Mar-a-Lago members dined nearby.

The handful of government agencies that bear the brunt of the expenses, including the Defense and Homeland Security departments, have not responded to Washington Post requests for data laying out the costs since Trump took office.

But some figures have dribbled out, while others can be gleaned from government documents.

Trump’s three Mar-a-Lago trips since the inauguration have likely cost the federal treasury roughly $10 million, based on figures used in an October government report analyzing White House travel, including money for Coast Guard units to patrol the exposed shoreline and other military, security and staffing expenses associated with moving the apparatus of the presidency.

Palm Beach County officials plan to ask Washington to reimburse tens of thousands of dollars a day in expenses for deputies handling added security and traffic issues around the cramped Florida island whenever Trump is in town.

In New York, the city is paying $500,000 a day to guard Trump Tower, according to police officials’ estimates, an amount that could reach $183 million a year.

Earlier this month, The Post reported that Secret Service and U.S. embassy staff paid nearly $100,000 in hotel-room bills to support Eric Trump’s trip to promote a Trump-brand condo tower in Uruguay.

“This is an expensive way to conduct business, and the president should recognize that,” said Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, which closely tracked President Barack Obama‘s family vacation costs and said it intends to continue the effort for the Trump administration.

“The unique thing about President Trump is that he knows what it costs to run a plane.” Fitton added, noting that Trump should consider using the presidential retreat of Camp David, a short helicopter ride from the White House, or even his golf course in northern Virginia. Of Mar-a-Lago, Fitton said, “Going down there ain’t free.”

For Trump, the costs come with an additional perk: Some of the money flows into his own pocket. While Trump has removed himself from managing his company, he has refused to divest his ownership, meaning that he benefits from corporate successes such as government contracts.

The Defense Department and Secret Service, for instance, have sought to rent space in Trump Tower, where leasing a floor can cost $1.5 million a year – though neither agency has disclosed any details. In addition, Trump’s travel to his signature properties while trailed by a press corps beaming images to the world allows the official business of the presidency to double as marketing opportunities for his brand.

The White House did not address broader concerns of the costs and potential conflicts inherent in Trump’s early travels. But White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told The Post this week that Trump is always working, even when he’s left Washington behind.

“He is not vacationing when he goes to Mar-a-Lago,” Grisham said. “The President works nonstop every day of the week, no matter where he is.”

Trumps’ frequent travel belies his repeated criticism of Obama as a “habitual vacationer” enjoying taxpayer-funded golf getaways. It also follows his own promises: He told the Hill newspaper in 2015, “I would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done.”

Presidential families have for decades been guaranteed round-the-clock protection, no matter the expense or destination. Every presidency has brought new operational challenges and lifestyle habits, from George W. Bush’s frequent stays at his remote ranch in Texas to Obama’s annual trips to Martha’s Vineyard and his native state of Hawaii. Judicial Watch estimated Obama-related travel expenses totaled nearly $97 million over eight years.

But based on the first four weeks, Trump’s presidency appears on track to cost hundreds of millions of dollars more.

The burden is especially acute for the Secret Service, the presidential protection force that has endured years of budget shortages, low morale and leadership shake-ups, including the announcement this week that its director, Joseph Clancy, is stepping down.

Agents are now tasked with guarding multiple homes and protecting Trump’s four adult children, including the globe-trotting sons running the family business and daughter Ivanka, whose family recently moved into a Washington, D.C., neighborhood.

“There was an anticipation of how stressful it was going to be on the agency, but the harsh reality is that the stress is just overwhelming,” said Jonathan Wackrow, a 14-year Secret Service employee who served in Obama’s detail and now works as executive director of the risk-mitigation company RANE.

Even veteran agents, Wackrow said, are feeling the pressure of the “monumental” task, including manning high-security perimeters in Washington, Florida and New York, along with protecting family member’s private-business travel across three continents.

“It’s a logistical nightmare,” Wackrow said. Agents are “at severe risk of burnout, and the very last thing you want is to have your agents burnt out.”

A Secret Service spokesman said the agency is equipped to handle the demands of a Trump presidency. “Every administration presents unique challenges to which the Secret Service has effectively adapted,” according to an agency statement. “Regardless of location … the Secret Service is confident in our security plan.”

Experts and local officials have pointed to a string of security and logistical concerns surrounding Mar-a-Lago, the lavish estate Trump turned into a club in 1995 and now calls the “Winter White House.”

Club members pay $200,000 to join – a fee that has doubled since his election – and $14,000 a year to belong, giving them access to the beach, tennis courts, a spa and, now, on occasional weekends, to the president.

But Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., who represents Palm Beach, said Mar-a-Lago is a poor choice for a president’s long-term home: an exposed oceanfront club on a narrow, busy island, where traffic problems were already routine.

“Mar-a-Lago is no Camp David,” Frankel said. “It’s not set up with the intention or the forethought of keeping the president safe.”

The challenges for Mar-a-Lago as a presidential home were apparent from pictures posted on social media last weekend by club guests – including close-up images of the presidential limousine and a picture of a military official carrying the nuclear “football.”

In one Instagram video recorded Friday night outside Mar-a-Lago, a woman fawns as men with earpieces inspect under the hood of a line of cars heading into the club, “The Secret Service is so hot.”

The weekend brought the presidential entourage to two other Trump properties, as Trump and Abe golfed 27 holes at the president’s courses in Jupiter and West Palm Beach. The events meant global publicity for the Trump brand – and even more security complications.

The federal and local governments have spent considerable sums to help safeguard the sprawling estate on items big and small.

In advance of Trump’s Super Bowl weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago, the Secret Service paid for a bevy of security costs, including more than $12,000 for tents, portable toilets, light towers and golf carts, purchase orders show.

The bills have racked up outside the club, too. Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said Trump’s 25 days in the county since the election have cost local taxpayers about $60,000 a day in overtime police payments.

Local officials said the U.S. Coast Guard has run round-the-clock shoreline patrols alongside Mar-a-Lago when the president is in town. A Coast Guard spokesman declined to share costs or specifics, citing security concerns.

The Town of Palm Beach recently implemented a “presidential visit seasonal traffic mitigation plan” in hopes of stemming the island’s worsening traffic woes. Running every weekend until May, the plan includes a town order demanding sanitation and public-works crews leave the island every Friday by 3 p.m.

Local officials usually only learn a few days in advance that the president is coming, said Kirk Blouin, the town’s director of public safety. “We plan as if he is going to be here most weekends,” Blouin said, “because otherwise it’s too hard to plan.”

Overseas travel by Trump’s adult sons is adding to the burden on taxpayers.

Eric Trump and his security detail flew earlier this month to the Dominican Republic, during which the president’s son met with developers proposing a Trump-brand luxury resort. Purchase orders showing government expendtires for that trip are not yet available, but records show that Secret Service officials traveled there in advance to scope out the area – staying at the five-star, oceanfront AlSol Del Mar hotel at a cost of $5,470.

After this weekend’s trip to Dubai – during which early Secret Service hotel bills have already surpassed $16,000, records show – the Trump brothers will travel to Vancouver for the Feb. 28 grand opening of another Trump-brand skyscraper.

The State Department has declined to provide details related to its expenditures for Trump family travel around the world, including the participation of embassy staff when Eric Trump and Don Trump Jr. travel on behalf of the family business.

The best public estimate for the full cost of Trump’s presidential getaways may come from a U.S. Government Accountability Office report in October, which estimated that a four-day trip for Obama cost taxpayers more than $3.6 million.

During that Presidents’ Day weekend trip in 2013, Obama flew to Chicago to give an economic speech, then to Palm City, Florida, to golf with Tiger Woods and the owner of the Houston Astros baseball team.

That money went toward operating aircraft flown in from 10 states – including Air Force One, which costs an estimated $200,000 an hour to fly – as well as assorted watercraft, military working dogs, rental cars, hotel rooms and a Coast Guard rescue helicopter.

The trip drew the ire of many Republicans in Congress, including U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who requested the GAO review Obama’s costs. Asked whether Barrasso would file a similar request for Trump’s trips, his spokeswoman said equating the two presidents’ trips would be “misleading at best.”

“Former President Obama flew to Florida for the express purpose of a golf lesson and a round of golf with Tiger Woods. President Trump was in Florida with the Prime Minister of Japan,” press secretary Laura Mengelkamp said in a statement. “Regardless, every level of the federal government needs to be mindful of the way it spends taxpayer dollars.”

In November, when Trump spent a weekend at his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, the 8,000-resident township received just 48 hours’ notice demanding an all-hours security detail of six police officers from its 16-officer force.

Township officials have begun preparing for the possibility that Trump will make up to 10 visits this year, including a potentially extended summer stay for the first lady. Officials there offered a projection, based on seven Trump trips, that could cost the township more than $300,000.

“Bedminster is a small municipality with a small police force and a small budget,” Mayor Steven Parker wrote in a letter asking for federal help in recouping security costs. “We want to welcome President Trump with open arms, but we don’t wish to burden our taxpayers disproportionately for these visits.”


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Missouri Republican cuts mic as NAACP leader explains how new bill guts workplace protections


by  –

Perhaps aiming to show instead of tell, a Missouri House Republican leader literally silenced the president of the Missouri NAACP — as he attempted to testify against a bill that would gut protections against workplace discrimination at a public hearing on Monday night.

Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel was speaking against a set of bills that he described as “an expansion of discrimination.” Chapel wasn’t hyperbolizing. Currently, under the Missouri Human Rights Act, a plaintiff must prove that their race, religion, sex, or age was a “contributing factor” to their termination.

Under Springfield Republican Rep. Kevin Austin’s bill, the burden of proof would be raised so that the plaintiff’s race, religion, sex, or age is a “motivating factor.” In other words, if you’re fired just because you’re Black that’s good old fashioned discrimination. If you’re fired because you’re Black and get to work late, while your white co-worker isn’t fired for arriving late, that’s not discriminatory wrongful termination. The bill also caps the amount of money people could receive if they were able to prove they had been discriminated against. So, it’s pretty fair to call it an expansion of discrimination.

In a video of the exchange, which you can find below, Chapel testified that he was “dismayed” that universities, schools, and businesses had testified on behalf of the bill and were therefore “all united in favor of expanding discrimination.”

Committee chair Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, saw all of this discrimination talk as irrelevant to bills pertaining to discrimination. So, he instructed Chapel to “contain [his] speech to speaking on the bill.”  Chapel responded, “Oh, but I am, because this is nothing but Jim Crow. Because this is nothing but Jim Crow. You cannot legalize discrimination on an individual basis and call it anything else.” So, Lant did what any white lawmaker would do when an African American leader of the nation’s largest civil rights organization indicts racism: by cutting off his mic.

Lant “allowed” Chapel to speak for a few more seconds before he interrupted Chapel, and said, “thank you for your testimony, sir.” Chapel replied, “I’m not done,” and Assistant House Minority Leader Rep. Gina Mitten, a St. Louis Democrat, pointed out that witnesses had five minutes to speak, which Chapel hadn’t been given. Lant once again said Chapel wasn’t “speaking on the subject.” Chapel said, “I am speaking on the subject.” Mitten tried once again to step in for democracy, imploring “I would ask you to please allow,” Chapel to finish speaking. ” Lant replied by saying if there was “no other witness that would like to speak I will cancel this hearing.”  A silenced Chapel got out of his seat. Mitten then asked if she could ask Chapel questions. Not surprisingly, Lant said, “no ma’am, you may not.”

In a statement released after the hearing, Mitten wrote, “Jim Crow is alive and well in Missouri and Rep. Lant just proved it.”

Chapel also released a statement that, “the Chair’s refusal to let me speak ensured that not only my voice, but all voices of those protected by anti-discrimination laws in the state were silenced.”

(Just to get more of a sense of Lant, he’s the gentleman who thought it would be a good idea to write on his own website about a former crush’s allegedly low-hanging breasts. Lant and his wife had a real laugh at his high school reunion when they encountered a woman who had been the object of his affection or ogling: “Wow! Time has not been kind to that girl! What was stretching the cardigan 50 years ago is now bumping the belt. Jane was laughing so hard she was turning blue.” They sound like a really fun couple to hang out with.)

It’s heart warming to see that Republicans are being so equal opportunity in their silencing of a white woman like Elizabeth Warren or a Black man like Nimrod Chapel.

Read a transcript below:

Chapel: My name is Nimrod Chapel, and I’m the president of the Missouri State Conference for the NAACP. I appreciate you coming back this evening to give people an opportunity to be heard. That’s important. We as Missourians believe in our Constitution and our ability to participate in government. We believe that we are patriots when it comes to American values that’s equality and justice and that’s for everyone. I have to tell you, I’m kind of dismayed at the groups that have come forward today, I see that the entire University of Missouri system is in favor of expanding discrimination, my alma mater, Wash U is also in favor of expanding discrimination. Schools, where we send our children, are in favor of expanding discrimination. Places where we buy our merchandise and buy our food have united here in favor of discrimination.

Rep. Bill Lant: Please contain your speech to speaking on the bill, sir.

Chapel: Oh but I am because this is nothing but Jim Crow. This is nothing but Jim Crow. You cannot legalize discrimination on an individual basis and call it anything else.

Did my mic go out?

Lant: Yes

Chapel: We have been a laughing stock for way too long. If you look at Ferguson, we can’t get along in the streets, we have problems with law and order. If you look at MU, we don’t listen to the students when they complain that they are being mistreated, called names, and nothing is done about it.

Lant: Thank you for your testimony sir.

Mitten: Excuse me, Mr. Chair.

Chapel: I’m not done.

Rep. Gina Mitten: We had five minutes for each witness and he’s not done.

Lant: I asked the man to speak on the subject and he’s not speaking on the subject.

Chapel: I am speaking on the subject…

Lant: Is there another witness that would like to speak

Mitten: Mr. Chairman, I would request that you allow…

Lant: Is there another witness that would like to speak, or I will cancel this hearing.


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Paul Krugman Issues A Warning About What We All Know Is Coming.

By Dartagnan  –

In September of 2001 the Administration of George W. Bush was running into trouble. A President who had lost the popular vote, installed into office only through a hotly contested Supreme Court decision, had nonetheless behaved from the start as if he possessed a mandate, eagerly dismantling his predecessor’s achievements and turning the country on a hard rightward course, following a strategy that had been carefully concealed from the public during the campaign.

The public reaction was swift and negative—Bush’s own popularity tanked precipitously as the public reacted to an agenda most had not realized they had voted for. Prior to September 11th his approval levels had dropped to the lowest of his still-young Presidency.

All of that was transformed in a matter of hours, as the nation witnessed the worst terror attack America had ever experienced. Before the rubble had even been sifted to identify the bodies, Bush’s popularity skyrocketed to 90%. Within a matter of weeks he began the process of lying us into an unnecessary war that had been planned prior to the attacks, using those same attacks as his justification.  That war destabilized the entire Middle East and resulted in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pointless deaths.

Meanwhile, here at home, dissent was shouted down as unpatriotic. The Right Wing media outlets labeled protesters as traitors, and nearly all the so-called conventional news sources either abetted or encouraged the Administration’s efforts, which soon instigated torture as an accepted practice, threw out the Geneva conventions, and instituted a web of foreign and domestic surveillance, the parameters of which are still undisclosed. Despite the fact that we were spending a trillion dollars for war, massive tax cuts were instituted benefitting only the wealthy.

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, writing for the New York Times, believes the situation we now find ourselves in, with Donald Trump holding the levers of power, is incomparably worse than anything the country faced with Bush or Cheney:

We’re only three weeks into the Trump administration, but it’s already clear that any hopes that Mr. Trump and those around him would be even slightly ennobled by the responsibilities of office were foolish. Every day brings further evidence that this is a man who completely conflates the national interest with his personal self-interest, and who has surrounded himself with people who see it the same way. And each day also brings further evidence of his lack of respect for democratic values.

The one positive thing that can be said about the Bush Administration is that it did not provoke the attacks of 9/11. Despite clear and well-documented early warning signs (which were ignored by Bush), the attacks, however carefully planned, were a shock to everyone, Bush included. And when the Courts began to rein in Bush and Cheney’s abuses of power, while they were surely displeased—even irate–they never stooped so low as to undermine the basic institution of the Judiciary.  As a result, the country slowly returned to a sense of normality because our institutions held up against the onslaughts.

Trump has already gone out of his way to provoke another terror attack on this country. By vilifying and demonizing not just Muslims by attempting to bar their entry into the country, but even equating those those who cross the Mexican border with the worst types of criminals imaginable, he has deliberately  laid the groundwork for some type of retaliation. He has, in fact, invited it. And, as Krugman notes, he seems to want it:

The really striking thing about Mr. Trump’s Twitter tirade, however, was his palpable eagerness to see an attack on America, which would show everyone the folly of constraining his power:

Krugman is referring to this “Tweet”:

Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!

What Trump has done in attacking the very Judges and Courts that have (thus far) placed restraints upon his arbitrary abuse of power is to tie those restraints directly to the potential for further acts of terrorism against the country. He is telling us, in a very cold, cynical way, that he will consider himself blameless if we are attacked, with the unmistakable implication that such an attack would justify abandoning any constraints or limitations on his own powers:

Never mind the utter falsity of the claim that bad people are “pouring in,” or for that matter of the whole premise behind the ban. What we see here is the most powerful man in the world blatantly telegraphing his intention to use national misfortune to grab even more power. And the question becomes, who will stop him?

It is abundantly clear that the malevolent cast of characters who make up his “inner circle” will do nothing to stop Trump from taking full advantage to exploit the public’s fear and grief in the event of a large-scale terror event.  His closest advisors, a white supremacist with a history of anti-Islamic hatred, and a general obsessed with Islamophobia in charge of the military,  appear absolutely thrilled at the prospect of provoking an attack.  They will not help us. In fact they would author the Orders that would attempt to initiate deportations and surveillance, limit speech and assembly, or otherwise revoke or “suspend” Due Process for certain “targeted” groups.

Neither will the Republican-dominated Senate, which, for all its phony pretensions of disapproval, is well on the way to confirming the most abominably incompetent President’s cabinet in the nation’s history.  Neither they nor their ideological compatriots in control of the House of Representatives are going to lift a finger to help us.

The Judiciary does stand in his way, for now. But the nature of the Judiciary is not to be proactive but to react, most often after the damage has already been done. Trump is doing his best to undermine the Judiciary by his now-constant attacks on Judges who stand in the way of his exercise of arbitrary power.  Ultimately they can only do so much.

No, when the terror attack comes—and Trump and Bannon are making damned sure that it does come—it will only be the common people, banding together, that will be able to stop him. If we let fear affect our judgments, an aftermath with rules imposed by people who have nothing but contempt for our institutions will be worse than anything terrorists could do to destroy us.

In the end, I fear, it’s going to rest on the people — on whether enough Americans are willing to take a public stand. We can’t handle another post-9/11-style suspension of doubt about the man in charge; if that happens, America as we know it will soon be gone.

We need to be ready. What is coming will literally be the fight of our lives.


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16-Year-Old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez Is The Environmental Activist The World Need

45893ca2271b0e63696ff72d7fba9fa7-500x300x1He’s suing the US Government over their lack of action on climate change.

On paper, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a pretty impressive 16-year-old. His achievements are almost too long to list, but let’s give it a go.

By age 12, Xiuhtezcatl had already organised more than 35 protests and rallies. In 2013, President Obama gave him a national community service award. In 2014, he performed a TED Talk which also showcased his hip hop skills. In 2015, he borrowed a suit to address the UN on environmental policy and the future of his generation. He is the youth director of a worldwide organisation that inspires and unites young people in the fight against climate change. It’s called Earth Guardians.

There’s more, but nothing about his demeanour makes you feel inadequate. In fact, seeing his face light up as he tells the story of suing the US Government for their inaction over climate change is inspiring.

“In 2015, myself and 20 other young plaintiffs sued the US government. We’re holding the US Government accountable for violating our constitutional right to life, liberty and property by failing to take action on climate change and for passing laws to protect the very industries who created this crisis in the first place,” Xiuhtezcatl told The Huffington Post Australia.

“We are demanding the government puts climate recovery plans in place to massively reduce and cut our greenhouse gas emissions until we’re at a safe level in the global climate.”

The greatest mass extinction since the time of the dinosaurs is happening. Right now. We’re facing that.

A motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied last year, and the lawyers now plan to take it to the federal court in the coming months.”I believe we have a chance to win and if we do, even though Donald Trump doesn’t believe in climate change, it will force his administration, it will force his government to make massive leaps towards cutting greenhouse gasses,” Xiuhtezcatl said.

“That could be one of the greatest wins in the climate movement. Ever. So I have a lot of hope in this movement.”

“It’s a very innocent ask. We’re asking that the politicians do their job, to protect our future from climate disaster.”

And what about the facts?

Well, for starters, there’s nothing ‘alternative’ about them.

“The greatest mass extinction since the time of the dinosaurs is happening. Right now. We’re facing that.”

“All the politicians and leaders in the world are largely responsible for letting humanity get to a point where we are no longer living in balance with nature. I think the politicians have a responsibility to see that climate change is not an issue that is separate from fighting for human rights.

I don’t think yelling at people for not agreeing with you is a successful way to get them to be on your side.

“Turning your back on climate change is turning your back on every climate refugee, on every family that has lost their home, their community and their life because of the climate crisis. Floods, typhoons and tornadoes, heatwaves and droughts — those things are real. Those things affect people. Climate change is not just an environmental issue for the left greenies, it’s an issue that affects every human being on the planet.”

For someone who has faced his fair share of climate change deniers, Xiuhtezcatl has an extremely calm and positive presence.

“I don’t think yelling at people for not agreeing with you is a successful way to get them to be on your side.”

“I like to try to find a mid-ground with people who don’t believe the science and the reality of climate change. There are certain instances where my energy is better spent giving hope and inspiration to people who do care than people who aren’t going to turn around.”

So that’s how he spends his time — inspiring young people, just like him, to give a damn about their future.

“When young people see that their voices have power, that their actions can make a difference and the world needs them to be engaged citizens now, that empowers them to be part of something bigger than themselves.

“We have to continue as a society to give power back to the youth because they will be the ones to fight for change and in a lot of instances, more so than I believe our leaders will.”

And when you see our leaders yelling about this…

And this…

And even a bit of this…

You start to think he might be onto something.

Xiuhtezcatl is currently in Australia doing a series of talks. More details on how to catch one of his shows available here.


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Crime Against Persons with Disabilities: The Facts


by Audrey Demmitt –

Crime against people with disabilities, including those with visual loss, is a reality that calls for our attention.

A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) about violent crimes against people with disabilities has been published, and there are some disturbing findings. It presents estimates of nonfatal violent crime (rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault) against persons age 12 or older with disabilities. Disabilities are classified by types: hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, and independent living.

The report details the victimization of persons with and without disabilities living in noninstitutionalized households and provides comparisons by age, sex, race, disability type, and other victim characteristics. It also includes crime characteristics, such as victim-offender relationship, time of a crime, reporting to police, and use of victim services agencies.

Findings are based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) from 2009 to 2014, combined with data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Age adjustment was used to standardize the rate of violence against persons without disabilities to show what the rate would be if persons without disabilities had the same age distribution as persons with disabilities.

For the purpose of this article, methodologies will not be discussed. We will just take a look at some unsettling findings and ask ourselves “What does this mean?” and “What does this mean to me?”

Highlights from the Report

Crime Against People with Vision Disabilities

  • Visual impairment is the only disability category within which women are significantly more likely than men to have been victims of violent crime (especially striking because, among people with and without disabilities, women are typically less likely than men to be victimized). Females (31.9 per 1,000) had a higher rate of total violent victimization than males (22.8 per 1,000). In all other disability groups, victimization rates for males and females were similar.
  • Visual impairment is the only disability category within which people are significantly less likely than people without disabilities to report to police when they have been the victim of a violent crime.

Crime Against Persons with All Disabilities

  • The rate of serious violent crime for persons with disabilities (12.7 per 1,000) was more than three times the rate for persons without disabilities (3.9 per 1,000) in 2010 to 2014.
  • The age group with the highest victimization rate was the 16- through 19-years-old group followed by 12- through 15-years-old group with no statistically significant difference between the groups.
  • The age group with the lowest victimization rate was the 65 and older group for persons with and without disabilities.
  • For both males and females in 2010 through 2014, the rate of violent victimization was higher for persons with disabilities than for those without disabilities. In the non-disabled population, the rate is higher for males.
  • Persons of two or more races had the highest rates of violent victimization among persons with disabilities (101.4 per 1,000) and without disabilities (30.4 per 1,000).
  • Those persons with cognitive disabilities had the highest rates of total violent crime (56.6 per 1,000), serious violent crime (24.0 per 1,000), and simple assault (32.6 per 1,000) among the disability types measured.
  • A higher percentage of violence against persons with disabilities (40 percent) was committed by persons the victim knew well or who were casual acquaintances than against persons without disabilities (32 percent).
  • Other relatives (including parents, children, and other relatives) accounted for a higher percentage of total violence against persons with disabilities (11 percent) than persons without disabilities (7 percent).
  • Persons with disabilities (59 percent) experienced a higher percentage of total violence during the daytime than persons without disabilities (53 percent).

Being Aware

I live in a relatively safe community and have never feared for my safety or been threatened physically. I have probably erred on the side of being too comfortable with a false sense of security and neglecting personal safety measures. But as a woman who is visually impaired, I wonder sometimes just how vulnerable I am in different situations.

This report has served as a conversation starter among the VisionAware peer advisors and a wake-up call to me personally. It has brought up other related topics like domestic violence and elder abuse among people with disabilities. And it begs the question, “What can we do to protect ourselves from violence and victimization?” Be sure to read stories and articles on these important issues to help increase awareness of the problems and provide strategies and resources to address them. Watch for upcoming posts on personal safety tips, the benefit of taking self-defense classes, and more.

Consider this report and think about your own safety and what you can do to protect yourself.

Related Articles

Crime Against Persons with Disabilities, 2009-2014

Please Take Our 2017 Survey

Personal Stories

Blog Posts


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