Washington State reps' votes on preserving NSA surveillance

Democratic Representatives Adam Smith, Derek Kilmer, Rick Larsen, and Dennis Heck voted with 134 Republicans to help defeat the Amash Amendment to shutter the NSA’s surveillance function.  (Boo!)

Jim McDermott and Suzan DeBene voted FOR the amendment. (Hurray!)
Rep. Suzan DelBene Rep. Jim McDermott

“A majority of Democrats, 111, voted for Amash’s amendment despite the full court press while 83 Democrats voted no. The GOP vote was 94-134.”

Now for the Republican representatives. McMorris Rogers voted FOR the amendment.  Doc Hastings voted against the amendment, as did Dave Reichert.

Herrera Beutler did not cast a vote.

BACKGROUND: US now has 'parallel Supreme Court' making secret law

Is any kind of meaningful democracy possible in a régime of secret law? — This is the question raised by the lead article in Sunday’s *New York Times*, which said that the FISA court “has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come.”[1] — Its “rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny,” Eric Lichtblau reported.

“In one of the court’s most important decisions, the judges have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the ‘special needs’ doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures.” 

COMMENT: This is comparable to the U.S. national security state’s invention of a “state secrets” doctrine early in the nuclear era. — As UFPPC said in a statement in a year ago, ( http://www.ufppc.org/ufppc-statements-mainmenu-29/11025/ ) “pervasive secrecy will make democracy untenable in the long run. — Pervasive secrecy means that the American public is unable to evaluate properly the behavior of nations and groups that the U.S. regards as adversaries or enemies. — Their overtly hostile acts, which are usually presented as ‘aggressive,’ are often defensive in nature. — And all too often, the U.S. government is going so far as to consider the efforts of American citizens to maintain open government to be hostile acts as well.” — This is precisely what has happened to Edward Snowden. –Mark] In Secret, Court Vastly Broadens Powers of N.S.A.

Will the Catholic Bishops Decide How You Die?

What happens when religious institutions get to manage public funds, absorb secular hospitals, and put theology above medical science and individual patient conscience?

science_religion_070703_ms What happens when religious institutions get to manage public funds, absorb secular hospitals, and put theology above medical science and individual patient conscience?

In 2010, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an elderly woman was rushed to a local hospital called St. John. She had suffered a massive stroke and could no longer eat, drink or speak.

In 2010, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an elderly woman was rushed to a local hospital called St. John. She had suffered a massive stroke and could no longer eat, drink or speak. Mercifully, she was one of the growing percent of Americans who have prepared for such an eventuality by writing an end of life directive. Hers said that said she did not want artificial hydration or nutrition if she wasn’t going to recover. Unfortunately, St. John is a facility where the directives of the Catholic bishops take precedence over the directives of individual patients, and one such directive orders hospitals to feed and hydrate end of life patients whether they want it or not.

Americans would do well to consider what happens when theology dictates health care.

In the official language of the Bishops, St. John is a “Catholic health care ministry,” their term for all Church affiliated hospitals and clinics. Catholic health care ministries are publically licensed institutions intended to serve the general public. They are highly subsidized by public dollars. To fund them the Church uses a variety of public revenue streams including Medicare, Medicaid, county appropriations, federal dollar allocated through the 1946 Hospital Survey and Construction Act, and tax exempt government bonds. As with any hospital, additional revenues come from insurance payments and investments, with the end result that the Catholic Church contributes less than five percent of the funds flowing through their hospitals and clinics. And yet the Bishops place theological restrictions on care for all patients and sometimes forbid providers from telling patients that treatment options exist elsewhere.

According to MergerWatch, Catholic control of health dollars and hospital facilities is on the rise across the U.S. In Washington State, for example, if all currently proposed mergers go through, almost half of hospital beds will lie in the hands of religious institutions by the end of 2013. Across the U.S., as Catholic systems such as Peace Health and Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) quietly absorb secular hospitals, the Bishops are fighting in court for the religious equivalent of corporate personhood, claiming that the constitution gives them institutional conscience rights that trump patient choice. Meanwhile, Catholic owned pharmacies are suing for the right to deny services; and other Catholic owned business are demanding (and winning) religious exemptions from health insurance obligations.

In an effort to standardize the rules of Catholic institutions and the advice that priests give lay people, the Bishops have created what they call “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care,” called ERDs for short. When secular and religious institutions merge, the Bishops’ directives often restrict services in both. Patients may not realize that a once secular institution named Swedish or Highline is now subject to theology and could impose religious beliefs at odds with those of the patient. Following mergers, changes often are gradual, occurring slowly as staff leave and are replaced with believers, which makes the shift even harder for patients to detect. (Religious hospitals are exempt from non-discriminatory employment practices, somewhat remarkable given that so much of their funding is public.) Hospital administrators may state that they do not interfere in the doctor-patient relationship, while at the same time advertising for staff who are “deeply familiar” with the Bishops directives.

From a consumer standpoint, one problem with putting religion rather than science in charge of healthcare is that patients may not know they are being denied the full range of medically appropriate options. They may have no idea when institutional rules prevent doctors and nurses from honoring end-of-life wishes or discussing services that are available in secular settings, services like contraception, abortion, tubal ligation, vasectomy, fertility treatment, or death with dignity. For example, one woman tells of being diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy at a religious hospital. She was advised that she needed to have her fallopian tube removed. Fortunately, she consulted her smart phone and realized that elsewhere she could simply obtain a medication to end her nonviable pregnancy. The medication is safer and leaves fertility intact, but the Catholic directives treat this as a direct abortion, while the surgery (which damages long term fertility) kills the fetus indirectly and so is acceptable.

Other countries where Catholic theology limits health options offer a dire warning of what might happen here if the Church had an equal hold on the levers of power. In El Salvador, Catholic theology was written into law in 1998, banning all abortions, even those intended to save the mother. As a consequence, a twenty two year old mother named Beatriz, who carries a nonviable fetus, lies in a hospital bed with her kidneys failing, hoping to be granted an exception by El Salvador’s Supreme Court. She has been waiting for over a month. In Catholic Ireland last October, a young dentist, Savita Halappanavar, died after being refused an abortion.

In an ironic twist, the extremity of Catholic directives leads many people to believe that they couldn’t possibly be implemented here. Consider the case of Beatriz. She is the mother of a young child. Her fetus is anencephalic, meaning it has no brain and never will be a person under any circumstance. (Note: Somewhere between sixty and eighty percent of human fertilized eggs self-destruct naturally before a full-term gestation, most before a woman knows she is pregnant, and many because they are defective.) In other words, the Salvadorian anti-abortion law risks the life of a young mother for an incomplete fetus that is a normal failed reproductive product rather than a potential child. For someone who thinks that morality is about wellbeing, this just sounds crazy. Of course this could never happen in the US, right? You may be astounded to learn that a Phoenix nun was excommunicated and her hospital was forcibly disaffiliated from the Catholic Church for allowing an abortion under similarly hopeless circumstances.

In Ireland, after Savita’s unnecessary death, thousands of men and women demanded medical services based on scientific evidence and individual conscience. Savita became the tragic face of an international movement. Even so, given the power of religious institutions and traditions, legal change in Ireland is likely to be minimal. The largely Catholic Irish Medical Association has declined to request abortion rights even in cases of incest, rape and nonviable fetal anomalies. Currently Irish law allows abortion only when a mother’s life is threatened, which is not good enough for a case like Savita’s. A leading obstetrician testified that Savita probably would have survived if she had gotten an abortion during the first three days of her hospital stay. But at that time, there was not a “real and substantial threat to her life.” By the time she met the legal criteria, it was too late.

Patients count on their doctors to know and suggest their best options to protect health and wellbeing. But as medical options increase, especially at the beginning and end of life, the range of services excluded for theological reasons also increases. Catholic “ethicists” devote millions of dollars to analyzing biomedical technologies in the pipeline and then advocating policy based on theological priorities. They block certain lines of research and prevent affiliated hospitals from participating in clinical studies that require participants to be on contraception, for example a cancer treatment that might cause fetal defects. Procedures opposed by the theologians are likely to be absent altogether from patient-doctor conversations.

Some patient advocates say that mandatory disclosure is part of the solution: Pharmacies that refuse to fill some prescriptions should post the fact that they are not full-service. Church-run abortion diversion centers known as crisis pregnancy centers, should post that they are not medical providers. Treatment consent forms should list the scientifically and medically accepted practices that a doctor or hospital refuses to provide so that patients know that these services are available elsewhere. Conversely, providers who sign onto a “Patients’ Bill of Rights” promising to base care only on medical science and patient conscience could get the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

But disclosure alone won’t ensure state-of-the-art health care for many Americans, especially those living in small towns or rural settings. Sometimes one clinic or pharmacy serves a wide area, or all nearby services are managed by the same religious institution. In these cases, a woman with a painful and life-threatening ectopic pregnancy might not be able just to get in her car and drive to another clinic. Denial of service hits low income communities hardest because members often have less flexible time off work, transportation, and childcare. The right of religious doctors and institutions to deny services obstructs the right of patients to receive timely care that meets normal medical practice standards, which are designed to maximize wellbeing.

That is because Catholic theology isn’t necessarily about wellbeing; it is about submitting to the perceived will of God. Sometimes these two align, and sometimes they don’t. To serve God’s will, Catholic theologians attempt to derive moral principles that are about the inherent goodness or evil of certain beliefs and behaviors, regardless of their consequences. In this way of thinking, contraceptives or abortions should not be provided because they are “intrinsically evil,” even when contraception or abortion may save a woman’s life.

To make matters worse, Catholic theology values passive submission to harm when it is believed to serve Catholic practice or faith. Saints are heralded for their commitment to theological principle even in the face of outrageous and foreseeable outcomes, including martyrdom. In fact, Catholic theology sees pain as having positive soul-purifying benefits. This is called redemptive suffering. In the ERDs, it is offered up as an alternative for patients whose unbearable pain leads them to seek death with dignity:

Dying patients who request euthanasia should receive loving care, psychological and spiritual support, and appropriate remedies for pain and other symptoms so that they can live with dignity until the time of natural death. . . . Patients experiencing suffering that cannot be alleviated should be helped to appreciate the Christian understanding of redemptive suffering.

Former nun Mary Johnson (author of An Unquenchable Thirst) spent twenty years working with Mother Teresa’s organization, the Missionaries of Charity, who have been accused of providing substandard treatment and pain management. She explains the sometimes abysmal conditions in their facilities thus:

Most people today would say that we help the poor by helping them out of poverty. That was never Mother Teresa’s intention. Mother Teresa often told us that as Missionaries of Charity we did not serve the poor to improve their lot, but because we were serving Jesus, who said that whenever service was rendered to one of the least, it was rendered to him. Jesus promised eternal life to those who fed the hungry and clothed the naked.

The point, in other words, is not necessarily to solve the problem but simply to perform service. Ultimately, it isn’t about real world outcomes for the person on the receiving end but about eternal outcomes for the person on the giving end. The difference is important. And although Johnson doesn’t mention it, the passage she quotes mentions the ill as well as the hungry and naked. The Jesus of the gospel writer promises eternal life to those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit prisoners, and care for the ill. When religion and healing are at odds, the way to get to heaven is to offer theologically principled care, even when more compassionate options are available.

This difference in objectives seems like reason enough to separate religion from medicine. Thanks to science, fertility treatment has come a long way from the mandrakes and dove blood prescribed in the Bible. Victims of sexual assault now have options other than being forced to bear rape babies (also the Biblical solution). As we face death, we have alternatives to convincing ourselves that suffering is redemptive. Do really we want theology at the helm of our biggest hospital and clinic systems?

If not, it may be time for ordinary men and women to speak our minds. In Washington State, where the battle over Catholic hospital mergers is heating up, the state constitution specifically prohibits the use of public funds to support religious institutions. Despite that prohibition, one district actually has a line-item in the property tax code to subsidize a Peace Health facility, leaving the local community with no secular alternative. With the Peace Health clinic newly open the local bishop has already tried to block the now Catholic system from providing lab work for Planned Parenthood, as was done in the past. Legal challenges may play out in court thanks to a patients’ rights campaign by the ACLU and grassroots groups, but the broader question is this:

When it comes to medical options, whose beliefs count, the Bishop’s or the patient’s? Who gets to say whether one woman is forced to incubate a pregnancy gone wrong or another is force fed at the end of life? Whose version of god gets to dictate how you live and how we die?

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington.  She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

This article first published at Truthout:  http://truth-out.org/news/item/16391-will-the-catholic-bishops-decide-how-you-die-or-whether-you-live

Weapons of Mass Distraction – Freedom of the Press? US Activists and Journalists Face Surveillance

By Mark Taylor-Canfield

(From Mark’s  Syndicated Monthly Column – “Weapons of Mass Distraction”)

Thank you to the editors for allowing me to tell the truth without censorship! Here’s another of my honest efforts to do just that. I only hope this piece doesn’t get me into trouble with my own publishers at other websites and/or the folks who control social media networks.

let’s face it, in the land of the free and the brave the press has suffered from corporate media consolidation and lack of funding for alternative media. Witness the recent demise of the progressive national radio network Air America. Many of those broadcasters are still lamenting their lack of access to the national airwaves, so many of them have gone to the web and started their own shows, sometimes livestreaming from their own bedrooms or basements. Al Gore’s experiments in alternative news coverage went under and was purchased by Al Jazeera, prompting numerous outraged remarks by right-wing pundits who accuse the cable network of being disloyal to America.

Reality check: Reporters Without Borders ranks the US as 47th on the world press freedom index. This number represents a slip from 19th in previous years. According to RWB this drop in status is a result of the arrests of journalists at Occupy Wall Street protests. It is a well known fact among occupiers that live video streamers have been targeted, raided and arrested by police at major OWS events around the country, including demonstrations in New York City during the OWS anniversary, and in Chicago during protests at the NATO summit last year.

Although freedom of the press is protected by the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution, it appears that the “fourth estate” has been placed under duress while trying to report major political news stories.

The latest insult to press freedom is the story of Shannon McLeish, a journalist and broadcaster from Daytona Beach, Florida. In December 2012, Shannon says she found out through Freedom of Information Act documents that her name is included on a “terrorist watch list.” Except for Chris Hedge’s column @ Truthdig or my own article @ Truthout, this story is not being reported by the national media.

A recent guest on Shannon’s radio program was Noam Chompsky. (Disclaimer: I have also been a guest on “AIr Occupy”.) I found the broadcasting crew to be authentic, altruisitic advocate journalists trying to get at the truth about what’s happening around the world and in this nation. Recent shows featured guests who discussed fracking, attacks on the power of labor unions and the civil rights implications of the National Defense Authorization Act. According to Liz Myers, co-host of  the “Air Occupy” program, Youtube deleted their channel after they did the program on the NDAA. Youtube claimed the program had “violated community standards” but apparently they presented no specific complaint.

Add to this information the fact that at least a few other US activists have had their Twitter accounts deleted, and some folks have been banned from posting on any Facebook sites besides their own. The irony of indy activists using corporate owned social media platforms is not lost on me. Try criticizing Facebook or Twitter and see how long it takes to attract their attention. These are profit motivated websites – commercial enterprises that do not necessarily support freedom of political expression. One man banned from Twitter claims his account  was deleted after he tweeted a statement made by Indian non-violence advocate Mahatma Gandhi!

I came within a hair’s breadth of being banned from writing at Daily Kos after I wrote an article about Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Luckily, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas decided not to allow me to be ostracized by outraged Democratic Party readers. The Democrats reminded me that Daily Kos is a pro Democratic Party website that is not interested in articles about the Greens. Obviously many Democrats still see the Green Party as a threat to their vote counts and they still blame Ralph Nader for the election of George W. Bush. Of course the editors have the right to choose the topics on their website, but I must admit I felt I had been censored. I can no longer write about the Greens at Daily Kos without running the risk of banishment. The site which Time magazine readers voted as “2nd best blog” in the US is not a completely open forum for discussion.

Besides the fears of banishment and government surveillance, reporters also have to face the very real threat of legal retribution from social network sites if they are courageous enough to criticize their policies. Calling Facebook or twitter “undemocratic” will not win you the admiration or respect of the administrators or owners. I will admit that I am very careful what I post these days. I was banned by Facebook from posting anywhere but on my own website for two months allegedly due to “spamming” activity. The truth is, I posted many political articles on sites around the world which are dedicated to politics and activism. I have never tried to recruit anyone for a campaign; I have never offered anything for sale; I have never endorsed any commercial enterprise.

And now, in an ironic turn of events, I may qualify as a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed against Facebook. The suit claims that FB included user’s posts and photographs in their ads without permission from the authors and photographers. By the way, Facebook completely denies this claim.

I take these issues very seriously because last year I won a major federal class action lawsuit against the Washington State Patrol after I was illegally detained and banned from covering protests at the state capitol in Olympia. Federal District Court Judge Robert J. Bryan ruled in my favor. According to his decision, the WSP had violated my freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Now I am corresponding with Reporters Without Borders, the Committee To Protect Journalists, and the Society For Professional Journalism. My task – document these abuses!

To me it really comes down to a simple question: “Should US journalists be proud and satisfied with their status in society at this time?” As I have stated in my article at Truthout, these restrictions (along with the perceived harassment and threats) has silenced some editors, publishers, producers and reporters who are now afraid to cover controversial stories. I maintain that the result is self-censorship from folks who don’t want to lose their jobs or find their names on a government watch list.

Just a reminder – my favorite journalists Greg Palast, Glenn Greenwald and Chris Hedges have been forced to give up lucrative positions at major US media corporations in order to report the truth without restrictions. Palast now does investigative journalism for the BBC and Greenwald writes for the UK Guardian. It’s amazing that we still have a few strong independent voices left in this country – Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill, Aaron Glantz and Arun Gupta, Matt Taibbi to name a few who deserve our praise for standing up against the establishment at a time when doing so could be very detrimental to both your psychological and financial health…

Mark Taylor-Canfield writes @ Huffington Post and Daily Kos.

His Op-ed @ Truthout – Press freedom?


Mark’s Testimony Before The FCC – Effects of Corporate Media Consolidation


Mark’s Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit



Ron Paul Invites Neo-Confederate Witness to Testify in Congress

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports: Ron Paul Invites Neo-Confederate Witness to Testify in Congress

This morning, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) hosted his first hearing as chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the Federal Reserve, the nation’s central bank. Paul wants to look at the institution’s impact on job creation and the unemployment rate. Paul, a vicious opponent of the Fed, in the past has called for its abolition.

One of the witnesses invited to testify was Thomas DiLorenzo, a longtime activist in the neo-Confederate hate group, League of the South (LOS). The LOS advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by “Anglo-Celts” – that is, white people. LOS leaders have called slavery “God-ordained” and described segregation as necessary to the racial “integrity” of black and white alike. DiLorenzo also is an economics professor at Baltimore’s Loyola College.

Actions, and thoughts on derivatives

Upcoming Actions:
  • 6:00 PM, Tues., Nov. 6:  ELECTION PARTY at Bethany!!! Lot’s of food and drink. If you’d like to bring along a potluck, please let us know.
  • 5:00 PM, Fri., Nov. 9:  Demand Delivery. SAFE will march into a bank and present a letter demanding the bank reduce the mortgage principal and interest to fair market value for one of our member families. More details will be presented at our Nov. 6 Election Party.
  • Last week in Nov.: Another mailing to all Seattle families going to auction in Dec. and Jan.
  • 1st week in Dec.:  Mass phone calling to Seattle families to tell them about SAFE.
  • 2nd week in Dec.: Mass meeting of families in foreclosure and their supporters.
  • 3rd week in Dec.: We anticipate engaging in direct actions.

Other Upcoming & Ongoing Events:

  • 4:30 – 5:30 PM, Tuesdays:   Please join us for a SAFE Banner Drop on the skybridge over the intersection of Rainier Ave. South and MLK Way.
  • 7:00 – 8:30 PM, Tuesdays:   Organizational Meeting at Bethany UCC.  All are welcome.
  • 3:30 – 5:00 PM, Wednesdays: Door-to-Door Canvassing. All are welcome. No experience necessary; we’ll train you!
  • 3:00 – 5:00 PM, Saturdays: More door-to-door canvassing.

This Past Week:

  • On Thursday, SAFE members addressed, stuffed, and stamped envelopes, then mailed them to 250 Seattle families whose homes are scheduled for auction during the month of November.
  • On Thursday, members presented information on SAFE at a UW conference called Rethinking Marxism. Several attendees signed up to volunteer.
  • During the week, other homeowners contacted us looking for support to fight the banks.

Questions?  Comments?

You can reach us at info@SAFEinSeattle.org or 206-203-2125.  Please visit our web site:  www.SAFEinSeattle.org

Thoughts on Derivatives

Part of the reason for the economic crash in 2007-08 was the unregulated, opaque, activities of Wall Street’s banking industry as it gambled our money on derivatives. Derivatives are one step away from stocks. When you buy stocks, you are buying shares of a company, and you are hoping the stock’s price will go up over time. When you buy derivatives, on the other hand, you are not buying stock in a company, instead you are making a bet, often but not always, about the stock. You might, for example, bet that the stock’s price goes down, or you might bet that the corporation’s creditworthiness improves or falls. Or you might bet that certain interest rates will go up or down. Further, when you buy derivatives, you can decide to buy insurance against your bet going sour. But even more bizarre, you can buy insurance on other people’s bets, bets that you otherwise have nothing to do with! In reality, there is little difference between this sort of betting and placing a wager at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace on whether the Seahawks will beat the Giants on a given Sunday.

Well, actually, between Wall Street and Las Vegas there is a difference, a big difference. Compared to Wall Street, Vegas is nothing more than a game of penny-ante poker. The current derivative market — which, remember, is barely regulated and done largely in secret — is valued around $700 trillion. (I say, “around,” because no one knows for sure.) Further, over 95% of this business is run by only five banks: JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.

The reason that’s often spouted as to why we even need a derivatives market is that it allows investors to spread their risk by buying insurance on a bet or by “swapping” one bet for another . The question is why do they need to be making bets in the first place? Who asked them to gamble with our pensions? our mortgages? Does a rational economy need a derivatives market?

$700 trillion, by the way, is over ten times the annual gross product of the entire world! And not one cent of this $700 trillion dollars produces anything we can use. It builds no homes, grows no food, weaves no clothes. On top of that, the world’s ten largest banks hold $25 trillion in assets, so compared to $700 trillion they are betting with money they don’t have.

Since the crash, there’s been a feeble attempt to regulate the derivatives market. Regulators want the banks to put down collateral when buying derivatives, like making a downpayment when you take out a mortgage. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association, a group representing the banks, claims that if these regulations are enacted, the banks will have to come up with $30 trillion in collateral, money they don’t have. Their recommendation (Surprise! Surprise!) is we should leave the banks alone.

The US cannot employ all of its people, cannot feed, clothe, house, educate and care for the health of all of its people. But it can gamble trillions of dollars like nobody’s business.

Housing is a Human Right!