A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Saturday, July 04, 2015

No Mention Of God


33% Of Public Are Willing To Trash The Constitution


For me, this was a very troubling poll -- and I think it should be troubling to everyone who believes in the sanctity of the Constitution. It shows that 33% of Americans now think that the individual states should be able to ignore Supreme Court decisions -- and for Republicans and conservatives that percentage rises to 50%.

I'm sure this comes from recent decisions that some people disagree with (like the same-sex marriage decision for evangelicals, the Obamacare subsidy decision for teabaggers, and the Citizens United decision for liberals and Democrats). But they're obviously not thinking through what they're saying.

They Supreme Court is the governmental body that defines the Constitution. That is their primary purpose. If a state is able to pick and choose what decisions they will follow, then that means they are able to pick the parts of the Constitution they will follow and the parts they won't follow. It would make the Constitution a useless piece of paper, and it would rip this country apart -- because the law and citizen's rights would be different from state to state.

We tried something like this before -- the Articles of Confederation. And it didn't work. We found very quickly that we needed a strong Constitution, and every state must be required to abide by that Constitution.

Their will always be decisions of the Supreme Court that people don't like. But those decisions must be the law of the land. If they are wrong, then we have a method to change them -- amend the Constitution. That's not an easy process, and it shouldn't be -- but it works. And until the Constitution is amended, all states must obey Supreme Court decisions.

The chart above was made from a new Rasmussen Poll -- done on June 30th and July 1st of a random national sample of 1,000 likely voters, with a margin of error of 3 points.

Burning Churches

Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Clinton Raises Record Amount In Campaign's 1st Quarter


In the first quarter of her candidacy, Hillary Clinton raised a whopping $45 million. That's a new record for American politics, breaking the record set by President Obama after announcing his re-election plans in 2011. Obama had raised $41.9 million in the first quarter.

Bernie Sanders was able to raise $15 million in the first quarter of his candidacy. That's a very credible amount, considering that most voters know very little about him, and most consider him a long-shot at best for the nomination.

The Clinton campaign said 91% of their donations were amounts less than $100, while the Sanders campaign said 99% of their donations were in amounts less than $250.

Christie

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Texas Attorney General To Be Charged With Stock Fraud

It looks like Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's legal troubles may be much more serious than previously thought. Paxton (pictured in photo by WFAA) had admitted during the campaign that he broke the law by selling securities with registering as a broker -- and the voters elected him anyway (showing the iron grip the GOP has on this state currently).

But Texas Rangers have uncovered evidence that Paxton's crimes were much more serious than just failing to register. He seems to have committed securities fraud -- a first degree felony punishable by up to life in prison.

Here is how Tanya Eiserer of WFAA describes Paxton's new legal problem:

The criminal investigation against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has taken a more serious turn, with special prosecutors now planning to present a first-degree felony securities fraud case against him to a Collin County grand jury, News 8 has learned.
Special prosecutor Kent Schaffer told News 8 Wednesday afternoon that the Texas Rangers uncovered new evidence during the investigation that led to the securities fraud allegations against the sitting attorney general.
"The Rangers went out to investigate one thing, and they came back with information on something else," Schaffer told News 8. "It's turned into something different than when they started."
Schaffer, a Houston criminal defense attorney, said the securities fraud allegations involve amounts well in excess of $100,000. He declined to comment specifics of the fraud allegations.
A first-degree felony conviction is punishable by up to life in prison.

Social Hypocrisy

Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Universe


Friday, July 03, 2015

Be Kind


Unemployment Rate Fall To 5.3% For June


The Labor Department has released its labor statistics for the month of June. It shows that 223,000 jobs were created in June, and the unemployment rate fell by 0.2% -- to 5.3%. The number of unemployed workers dropped by 375,000, but that was due mainly to people leaving the workforce, as the civilian workforce decreased by 432,000. In other words, most of the drop in the unemployment rate is due to people leaving the workforce than finding a job.

Here are the relevant statistics for June:

OFFICIAL UNEMPLOYMENT RATE BY DEMOGRAPHIC GROUP

Adult men...............4.8%
Adult women...............4.8%
Teenagers (16-19)...............18.1%
Whites...............4.6%
Blacks...............9.5%
Hispanics...............6.6%
Asians...............3.8%

SIZE OF CIVILIAN WORKFORCE

157,037,000

OFFICIAL COUNT OF UNEMPLOYED WORKERS

8,299,000

OFFICIAL UNEMPLOYMENT RATE

5.3%

NUMBER OF WORKERS MARGINALLY-ATTACHED TO WORKFORCE (and no longer counted since they didn't look for work in the last 4 weeks)

1,914,000

MORE REALISTIC NUMBER OF UNEMPLOYED WORKERS

10,213,000

MORE REALISTIC UNEMPLOYMENT NUMBER

6.5%

NUMBER OF UNDEREMPLOYED WORKERS (working part-time because they can't find full-time work)

6,505,000

NUMBER OF UNDEREMPLOYED / UNEMPLOYED WORKERS

16,718,000

UNDEREMPLOYMENT / UNEMPLOYMENT RATE

10.65%

Christie

Political Cartoon is by Rob Rogers in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

First Same-Sex Marriage License Issued In Amarillo

Yesterday, I informed you that Amarillo clerks (Julie Smith of Potter County and Renee Calhoun of Randall County) had loaded the new marriage license forms in their computer, and were ready to follow the Supreme Court decision and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Now the ice has been broken.

On Wednesday afternoon at about 12:30pm, Potter County issued the first same-sex license. The recipients (pictured) were Jimmy Healy (47) and David Miller (55). The couple said they were surprised that they were the first, figuring some others had already done it. They have been a couple for about six years.

I congratulate the happy couple -- and I hope they have a long and very happy marriage.

Joints

Political Cartoon is by Adam Zyglis in The Buffalo News.

NRA


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Fold It Up


Cuba And U.S. To Re-Establish Embassies


A few weeks ago, President Obama announced that Cuba and the United States would be engaging in talks designed to normalize diplomatic relations between the two countries. It looks like those talks have been successful, because yesterday President Obama announced the two countries would open embassies in each country this month. A simultaneous announcement was made on Cuban television, as an announcer read a letter from Raul Castro.

The two embassies are scheduled to open on July 20th, and Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Cuba to open the U.S. embassy. This is long past due. There is absolutely no reason why the United States and Cuba shouldn't have normal diplomatic relations.

Now Congress needs to do its part, and end the silly and ineffective trade embargo that has been in effect for more than 50 years. Cuba poses no danger to the United States, and all other nations ended there part in this embargo long ago. If we can trade with nations like China, then there is no reason why we shouldn't trade with our neighbor to the South.

The Mouth

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Trump Moves Into Second Place In New National Poll


A new national CNN / ORC Poll has been released, and it shows the volatility of the Republican race. They queried 407 Republican (with a 5 point margin of error) and 490 Democrats (with a 4.5 point margin of error). Several Republicans who had polled well in previous polls have dropped back into single digits -- Huckabee (8), Paul (7), Rubio (6), Walker (6), and Cruz (3). Meanwhile Trump has raced up to second place with 12 points, and Bush leads with 19 points.

Trump seems to have struck a chord with the xenophobic teabagger in the GOP base. They like his attacks on Mexico and immigrants, because they like to blame immigrants for the economic problems caused by their own party leaders (lack of jobs, low wages, sluggish economy, etc.).

I'm still not sold on Trump being a credible candidate though. Can he appeal to elements in the party other than the xenophobes? I don't think so. His favorable/unfavorable rating is upside down among Republicans. But we'll see as this race progresses.

Hillary Clinton is the clear leader, and this poll has Joe Biden in second place (four points ahead of Bernie Sanders), even though Biden has not indicated whether he is a candidate or not. The Democratic numbers are below, along with a breakdown of support for Clinton and Sanders.



NRA

Political Cartoon is by John Cole in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Amarillo Is Ready To Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

There's been a lot of talk in the last few days about whether County Clerks in Texas counties will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Attorney General caused some consternation with his rather muddied opinion saying individuals could refuse to issue licenses if it violated their religious beliefs, but most clerks now understand that someone in each office must issue those licenses (or the office will be subject to legal action and fines).

And that includes the clerks serving the city of Amarillo. Amarillo is in two separate counties. The northern half is in Potter County and the southern half is in Randall County. The clerks of both counties say they took Monday to download the new license forms from the state, and had worked out any glitches by late Tuesday. Both Potter County Clerk Julie Smith and Randall County Clerk Renee Calhoun say they have not yet had any licenses requested, but they stand ready to issue the licenses when asked to do so.

Amarillo is in one of the reddest areas of Texas -- an area that votes overwhelmingly Republican. So, many of us wondered how these clerks would react to the court decision. It is gratifying to see that they were not willing to waste taxpayer money by getting the counties engaged in silly lawsuits.

Crowded Clown Car

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Public Supports Court Decisions On Obamacare & Marriage



Last Thursday, the Supreme Court upheld the giving of subsidies to buy health insurance in all 50 states, and on Friday, that court then legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 state. Since then, right-wing Republican officials have been loudly complaining and whining. To hear some of them, you would think the end of the world is upon us.

But the truth is that they are only speaking for a small minority of Americans -- the teabaggers and evangelicals within their own party's base (which is understandable since those are the people they need to keep happy to survive their party's primaries next year). It turns out that fairly substantial majorities of the public at large disagree with the Republicans. About 63% of Americans support the Supreme Court decision to keep the insurance subsidies, and 59% support the decision to legalize same-sex marriages.

Those are some fairly large percentages, and show that the position taken by right-wing Republicans might be popular with their own base, but are not going to be winning positions to take in next year's general election.

The numbers are from a new CNN / ORC Poll -- taken between June 26th and 28th of 1,017 nationwide adults (with a 3 point margin of error).

Our Land ?

Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

It's Legal In Oregon


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Hunter S. Thompson


Texas Will Provide Benefits To Same-Sex Spouses

(Image is from the blog of Michelle Thrall.)

Texas Republicans have whined loudly ever since the Supreme Court declared last Friday that marriage was a constitutional right, and therefore could not be denied to same-sex couples. The Governor and Lt. Governor have both declared their opposition to the Supreme Court decision, and the Attorney General issued a legal opinion -- an opinion that has raised a furor in the public.

I think that furor was because many people misunderstood exactly what the opinion said. It was reported that the opinion would allow County Clerk offices to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious freedom grounds. What it actually said was that individual employees could do that -- but went on to say if an office issued opposite-sex couples licenses but refused to do that for same-sex couples, or refused to issue any licenses at all, it could be in legal trouble (and subject to sanctions or fines).

County Clerks across the state understood the opinion, and are already starting to issue licenses to same-sex couples -- and if there are a few hold-outs, they won't last long. In short, Texas will go along with the Supreme Court's ruling. The Republicans just had to engage in one of their favorite pastimes before obeying -- performing a bit of political theater to appease their base

On Monday, there was more evidence of Texas falling in line with the new law. The announcement was made that starting today (Wednesday), the Employee Retirement System (ERS) would begin providing benefits to the same-sex spouses of Texas employees. The ERS is the agency that provides benefits for most employees of the state and retirees. They are to be joined in providing those benefits by the University of Texas system and the Texas A&M University system.

The Republicans don't like it, and they have complained loudly, but Texas will comply with the law.

$10 Bill

Political Cartoon is by Rob Rogers in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Trump Is Among The Leaders In Michigan


Yesterday, I showed you a poll from Kentucky that had Donald Trump in the top four of Republican presidential candidates in that state. Now we have a poll from Michigan -- and surprisingly, it shows the same thing. Trump garners 14% in that state, giving him a tie with Bush and Carson, and only one point behind leader Scott Walker. It's starting to look like Trump could actually be a real player in the GOP race. I have to admit this surprises me a bit. I thought even extremist Republicans could see Trump was a buffoon.

The poll also surveyed Michigan Democrats. Clinton has a firm lead of 57% in that state, but Sanders does seem to be getting some traction there. He came in at 25%.

The survey was done by Public Policy Polling between June 25th and 28th, and queried 465 Republicans and 413 Democrats. The margin of error for Republicans is 4.5 points, and for Democrats is 4.7 points.


No Celebration

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Supreme Court Allows Texas Clinics To Stay Open

In the 2013 session of the Texas legislature, a law was passed that would place onerous and unnecessary on abortion clinics in the state. At the time, there were about 35 clinics scattered around the state. Currently, that number has been reduced to 19 -- and if the law is not overturned, will be reduced to only 5.

This would place a severe burden on Texas women wanting to exercise their right to control their own body -- forcing many to have to travel hundreds of miles to get to a clinic. That might not be bad for some women, but for the poor (especially those without their own transportation) it could be prohibitively expensive.

A request was filed with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the law going into effect, but it was turned down. Plaintiffs then appealed to the Supreme Court. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay to allow the Texas clinics to stay open. The order gives plaintiffs time to prepare and file a petition for a hearing on the law before the Supreme Court. It's not guaranteed the court will then hear that petition, but it's very unlikely they would have issued the stay unless they were going to hear the case.

Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas opposed issuing the stay, while Kennedy (picturedP joined Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor to allow the clinics to stay open. It looks like Justice Kennedy will once again be the swing vote when the case is heard. It's anyone's guess as to which way he will vote, but he did vote for the stay and has been unwilling to vote to overturn Roe vs Wade in the past.

Heritage (Of Hate)

Political Cartoon is by Jim Morin in The Miami Herald.

Right-Wing = White Supremacy


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

GOP Candidates On Equal Pay


The Preference Of Kentucky Voters For President


With a recent Public Policy Polling survey (done between June 18th and 23rd of 610 Democratic voters and 413 Republican voters) we get our first look at how the voters of that state view the presidential race. The margin of error is 4 points for Democrats and 4.8 points for Republicans.

Recent polls in New Hampshire have shown that Bernie Sanders is within 8 to 10 points of Hillary Clinton. Kentucky is different. It shows no real movement for Sanders, at least not yet, and he trails Clinton by 44 points.

Rand Paul leads the other GOP candidates in his home state, which is good news for him since he has not been doing real well in recent polls elsewhere. Still, he only registers about 19%. The surprise of this poll is Donald Trump, who finishes with 12% (and trailing only Paul and Bush.


Scalia

Political Cartoon is by Clay Jones at claytoonz.com.

21st Century Internet Use In The United States


This doesn't need much discussion from me. I just thought it was interesting. The Pew Research Center has been surveying Americans on whether they use the internet since 2000. The chart above shows how that usage has climbed from about 52% in 2000 to a current level of 84%. The usage seems to have leveled off, and has been at 84% for the last three years.

The chart below shows the usage by each demographic group. Generally, the usage rises as youth, wealth, and education.


Religion Only Matters When The GOP Says It Does

Political Cartoon is by Matt Wuerker at Politico.com.

Media Guide To Violent Offenders


Monday, June 29, 2015

A Helpful Guide


Public Gives Emphatic NO To Flying Confederate Flag


The state of South Carolina (and some other Southern States) displays the Confederate flag on state property -- and after the tragic murders in Charleston, this has once again become an issue across the country. Some still try to claim that flag is a symbol of Southern heritage -- neglecting the fact that the heritage represented is one of white supremacy, slavery, and hate.

So what does the country as a whole think about that flag being flown on government property? The YouGov Poll surveyed Americans to find out. Their survey was done between June 23rd and 25th of 1,000 randomly chosen national adults, and the survey has a margin of error of 4.7 points.

It turns out that the public is overwhelmingly against flying that flag on any government property. Only 20% think it should be permissible, while 65% say it should not happen. And that opinion holds across gender, race, political, and regional lines -- and that includes 53% of Republicans and 64% of Southerners.

It's time to take those flags down.

Toxic

Political Cartoon is by Clay Bennett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Texas Attorney General On Same-Sex Marriage Licenses


Same-sex marriages have been legal in the state of Texas for four days now -- since Justice Kennedy read his opinion last Friday. Some may think there is a waiting period before it goes into effect. That is not true. No stay was issued, which means the ruling went into effect immediately -- and any county clerk's office that refuses to issue a license is breaking the law (since they are required to issue all licenses that are legal, and same-sex marriages are legal everywhere in the United States).

At least one county has already got itself in trouble. Smith County Clerk Karen Phillips has already refused to issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple. Her excuse was that she didn't have the proper forms. She said the forms her office had still listed spaces for a man and a woman -- and that she would be breaking the law to alter those forms.

That, of course, was an outrageous lie. Shortly after the decision, the Texas Department of State Health Services put the new form online, and it was available to all 254 County Clerks in Texas. All they had to do was go online and download and print the new form. The form is available at

http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/vs/field/Local-Registrar-and-County-Clerk-Forms/

This county clerk has already had a lawsuit filed against her office -- and it is good, because she has violated the law. I suspect she was using the "forms excuse" as a delaying tactic, while hoping an opinion from the Texas Attorney General would allow her office to keep from issuing those licenses.
If so, she going to be disappointed. The Attorney General has issued his opinion, and it is not as all-compassing as some right-wingers had hoped. Her is the part of the opinion applying to County Clerks:


Marriage licenses in Texas are issued by county clerks, and one may obtain a marriage license from any county clerk regardless ofwhere the applicant resides. See TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 2.00I(a) (West 2006) ("A man and a woman desiring to enter into a ceremonial marriage must obtain a marriage license from the county clerk of any county of this state."). The Family Code provides that the "county clerk shall . . . execute the clerk's certificate on the application" if the application complies with the statutory requirements. Id. § 2.008(a). But the county clerk may delegate this duty to others. Under the Local Government Code, a deputy clerk "may perform all official acts that the county clerk may perform." TEX. Loe. Gov'T CODE ANN. § 82.005 (West 2008). Thus, under state law, a county clerk may delegate duties to deputy clerks, and deputy clerks have the authority but not the mandatory duty to perform the acts ofthe county clerk.2

With this background in mind, the question is whether a clerk or a clerk's employees may refuse to issue a same-sex marriage license ifdoing so would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. Such a question necessarily involves a variety of rights. The Supreme Court has now declared a right under the Fourteenth Amendment for same-sex couples to be married on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex. County clerks· and their employees possess constitutional and statutory rights protecting their freedom of religion.3 And employees possess rights under state and federal law to be free from employment discrimination on the basis of religion.4 The statutory rights protecting freedom ofreligion are known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts and require the government to use the least restrictive means to further a compelling government interest when substantially burdening a person's free exercise of religion.5 Employment discrimination laws further provide that an employer must make a reasonable accommodation for an individual's religious beliefs or exercise so long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer.6

A county clerk has a statutory right to delegate a duty to a deputy clerk, including the issuance of same-sex matTiage licenses that would violate the county clerk's sincerely held religious beliefs. Regarding deputy clerks and other employees, state and federal employment laws allow them to seek reasonable accommodation for a religious objection to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. And under the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, deputy clerks and other employees may have a claim that forcing the employee to issue same-sex marriage licenses over their religious objections is not the government's least restrictive means of ensuring a marriage license is issued, particularly when available alternatives would not impose an undue burden on the individuals seeking a license. See Slater v. Douglas Cnty., 743 F. Supp. 2d 1188, 1192-95 (D. Or. 2010) (refusing to grant summary judgment to a county that only offered to reassign an employee of a county clerk who refused on religious grounds to issue same-sex domestic partnership registrations rather than accommodating her request to not issue the registrations). Importantly, the strength of any claim under employment laws or the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts depends on the particular facts o f each case.

Courts have balanced similar competing rights in other contexts, and I believe they would likely do so here.7 See, e.g., Stormans Inc. v. Selecky, 844 F. Supp. 2d 1172, 1188-93 (W.D. Wash. 2012) (holding that a state law mandating the issuance of drugs violated pharmacists' religious beliefs, and that refusing to issue the drugs and referring to another pharmacist was a sufficient practice); Brady v. Dean, 790 A.2d 428, 435 (Vt. 2001) (holding that a town clerk appointing an assistant clerk to issue same-sex marriage licenses did not impose a substantial burden on the town clerk's religious beliefs).

Factual situations may arise in which the county clerk seeks to delegate the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses due to a religious objection, but every employee also has a religious objection to participating in same-sex-marriage licensure. In that scenario, were a clerk to issue traditional marriage licenses while refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, it is conceivable that an applicant for a same-sex marriage license may claim a violation of the constitution.

I f instead, a county clerk chooses to issue no marriage licenses at all, it raises at least two questions. First, a clerk opting to issue no licenses at all may find himself or herself in tension with the requirement under state law that a clerk "shall" issue marriage licenses to conforming applications. TEX. FAM. CODE ANN.§ 2.008(a) (West 2006). A court must balance this statutory duty against the clerk's constitutional rights as well as statutory rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. Second, a court must also weigh the constitutional right ofthe applicant to obtain a same-sex marriage license. Such a factually specific inquiry is beyond the scope of what this opinion can answer.

In short, county clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may provide for certain accommodations of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses--or issuing licenses at all, but the strength of any particular accommodation claim depends upon the facts. 

This does NOT give County Clerks offices the right to deny same-sex marriage licenses. It says that individual clerks may refuse to issue a license (quoting a religious exemption), but someone in that office must issue the license. There is little doubt that forcing a couple to go to another county would be considered an undue burden by any federal court.

This is NOT a blanket immunity. The office must issue all legal licenses, or they are violating the law. If there is no one in the office who will issue the license (due to all clerks claiming a religious exemption), then that office had better hire someone quickly who will issue the licenses. Failure to do so is a violation of both state and federal law.

Warning Labels

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.