Detroit elites declare: “Water is not a social right”

from http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/07/18/detr-j18.html

The shut off of water service for tens of thousands of Detroit residents has generated national and international attention. The scenes of young mothers, children, the elderly, the sick and low-income workers deprived of water for drinking, cleaning and cooking—in what is supposed to be the richest country of the world—have provoked astonishment and revulsion.

This barbaric policy has become a major political question in Detroit. Earlier this week a federal judge overseeing the city’s bankruptcy case complained that the shutoffs were producing “a lot of anger” and giving Detroit “a reputation not only in this country but around the world.” Opposition generated by the shutoffs, he warned, could threaten the city’s plan to impose deeply unpopular cuts to city worker pensions and health care benefits.

The near universal condemnation, which included charges by the UN that the shutoffs were a violation of international human rights, has not led to any shift in policy. In an interview published in the Detroit News Thursday, the city’s unelected emergency manager Kevyn Orr, defended the shutoffs.

“I’m very supportive of the water department’s and the Board of Water Commissioners’ decision to do what every other regulated utility does in the United States, which is, if you use water you’ve got to pay for it,” Orr told the Detroit News .

Orr scoffed at the “hysteria out there that we are cutting off water to tens of thousands of people” and insisted “less than five percent” of those being shut off “had legitimate needs.” He slandered the majority of the victims of this inhumane policy as “drug addicts, illegal squatters, scofflaws and the people gaming the system.” These people, he insisted, should not be “provided with a free service.”

Orr repeated the lie that the “scofflaws” were causing rates to go up for paying customers. In fact, the water department has admitted that rising rates—which have shot up 120 percent in the last decade—are chiefly due to the disappearance of federal funding to repair the antiquated water system and the high cost of debt servicing. Fifty cents of every dollar in revenue goes directly to the Wall Street banks and wealthy bondholders who have used the municipally owned water system as a cash cow.

Behind all the lies and cynicism, the message was clear: people do not have the right to water any more than they do for food, shelter, health care or any other vital necessity. In capitalist America if you do not pay for something, even something as essential as water, you will have to do without it.

This brutal outlook of the American ruling class was made explicit by Nolan Finley, the right-wing columnist for the Detroit News, whose opinion piece Thursday was headlined: “There is no right to free water.”

Finley has long been a shameless mouthpiece for the corporate and financial interests that dominate Detroit. He has previously called for the destruction of the “entitlement mentality” in the city—that is, the view that workers should expect decent wages, pensions and health care. Two years ago, he declared that “democracy has failed” in Detroit and called for a “short-term dictator” (later arriving in the person of Kevyn Orr) to “create a sustainable operating model.”

Looking for a higher authority to justify the inhumane shutoff policy, Finley turns to the Old Testament in his more recent column, writing, “Ever since Adam and Eve got booted out of Eden, people have devoted most of their energy and labor to meeting the basic needs of food, water, clothing and shelter. It’s the origin of work—you’re hungry, you’re thirsty, you need some decent threads and a roof over your head, you have to get up in the morning and do something constructive.”

With unabashed arrogance and contempt for the population, Finley accuses residents of squandering money on cable television and cell phones. Once the shutoffs began, he asserts, many households paid up their bills, “suggesting that they could have been paying all along.” What existed in Detroit, he declared, “is not a humanitarian crisis” but a “forced reordering of priorities.”

There is little doubt many residents stopped paying for food, medicine and other daily necessities to get their water turned back on. Thousands of others, however, continue to live without water or are hauling buckets from their neighbor’s homes and fire hydrants or relying on bottled water from volunteers.

According to the corporate and financial elite and their political and media henchmen like Orr and Finley, workers have no social rights. Pensions, health care, public education, access to culture will only be available to those who can afford it. If the capitalists could privatize the air people breath, it would not be a right either.

The shutting off of water in Detroit is part of a national and international process in which the gains won in over a century of struggle by the working class are being destroyed as part of a vast transfer of wealth into the hands of the super-rich. Whether it is in Detroit, Athens or Madrid, hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters, transit and other public workers are losing their jobs and having their pensions stolen to pay off the banks responsible for the financial crash of 2008.

The Detroit bankruptcy is being used to spearhead this assault in the US. The financial dictator, Orr, and the federal bankruptcy court are setting a precedent for the gutting of constitutionally protected retirement benefits, while selling off and privatizing water, street lighting, art museums, parks and other publicly owned treasures.

Low-income residents are being kicked out of the city, as Orr implements a plan to essentially shut down whole areas of Detroit, which are deemed too poor for investment. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies are being handed over to real estate developers who have snatched up land and skyscrapers for pennies. This is the “restructuring of priorities” that Finley advocates.

Finley directs his immediate complaints to a demonstration planned by Netroots on Friday. The demonstration is part of a conference organized this weekend in Detroit by a coalition of Democratic Party officials, unions, publications like the Nation magazine and other organizations oriented to the Democrats. Netroots is seeking to divert attention from the responsibility of the Democrats who run Detroit, including Orr himself. The water shutoffs are in fact a bipartisan policy, and the restructuring of Detroit enjoys the full backing of Obama and both big business parties.

Significantly, however, the actual target of Finley’s column is a position that no section of the political establishment, including the groups organizing Friday’s rally, raise: that water should be a social right, freely available to all. What Finley and the ruling class as a whole fear is that the demand for these rights will become a rallying cry of a mass movement, and that workers will come to understand that these rights are incompatible with the capitalist system.

Concluding his editorial, the newspaper columnist writes: “Charitable minded citizens have never objected to helping care for neighbors who are unable to care for themselves. But they understandably don’t have much appetite for carrying on their backs those who choose to indulge their wants before their needs.”

Here Finley says perhaps more than he intends. The true “scofflaws” are not the workers of Detroit, but the financial parasites that Finley speaks for. It is this social layer that workers can no longer afford to “carry on their backs.” The outrageous, inhumane and barbaric policy dictated by Orr, Finley and their political co-conspirators is only making this fact all the more clear.

rest at http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/07/18/detr-j18.html

Rachel Maddow Explains Why The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Ruling Is Such A Major Blow

from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/01/rachel-maddow-hobby-lobby-scotus_n_5547211.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000018

Rachel Maddow was dismayed by the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision on Monday.

The court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other "closely held" corporations cannot be required to cover contraception for their employees if doing so would contradict religious beliefs. Maddow pointed to two cases where organizations cited religion as the basis of their business practices in the past, but the courts did strike those practices down.

One was the case of restaurant owner Maurice Bessinger, who believed that segregation was justified by the Bible. In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled that he had to desegregate his Piggie Park restaurant chain. Years later, a federal appeals court also ruled that the Fremont Christian School in California could not withhold health benefits to their married female employees.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday was "very, very different" from those two other decisions, Maddow lamented Monday.

“The five members of the conservative majority voted that the religious beliefs, or lack thereof, of a company’s employees — those are effectively overruled by the religious beliefs of the boss,” she said. “The boss’ religion determines what laws apply to his or her employees and his or her business, at least on this issue.”

rest at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/01/rachel-maddow-hobby-lobby-scotus_n_5547211.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000018

Congress Quietly Deletes a Key Disclosure of Free Trips Lawmakers Take

from http://www.nationaljournal.com/congress/congress-quietly-deletes-a-key-disclosure-of-free-trips-lawmakers-take-20140630

It’s going to be a little more difficult to ferret out which members of Congress are lavished with all-expenses-paid trips around the world after the House has quietly stripped away the requirement that such privately sponsored travel be included on lawmakers’ annual financial-disclosure forms.

The move, made behind closed doors and without a public announcement by the House Ethics Committee, reverses more than three decades of precedent. Gifts of free travel to lawmakers have appeared on the yearly financial form dating back its creation in the late 1970s, after the Watergate scandal. National Journal uncovered the deleted disclosure requirement when analyzing the most recent batch of yearly filings.

"This is such an obvious effort to avoid accountability," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "There’s no legitimate reason. There’s no good reason for it."

Free trips paid for by private groups must still be reported separately to the House’s Office of the Clerk and disclosed there. But they will now be absent from the chief document that reporters, watchdogs, and members of the public have used for decades to scrutinize lawmakers’ finances.

Related: Nancy Pelosi Says Decision to Delete Reporting Requirement for Free Trips ‘Must Be Reversed’

"The more you can hide, the less accountable you can be," Sloan said of lawmakers. "It’s clear these forms are useful for reporters and watchdogs, and obviously a little too useful."

House Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, did not return a call for comment; ranking member Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., referred questions to committee staff. The committee declined to comment.

The change occurs as free travel, which critics have criticized as thinly veiled junkets, has come back into vogue. Last year, members of Congress and their aides took more free trips than in any year since the influence-peddling scandal that sent lobbyist Jack Abramoff to prison. There were nearly 1,900 trips at a cost of more than $6 million last year, according to Legistorm, which compiles travel records.

Now none of those trips must be included on the annual disclosures of lawmakers or their aides.

The tabs for these international excursions can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. One trip to Australia earlier this year cost nearly $50,000. Lawmakers are often invited to bring along their husbands or wives, fly in business class, and stay in plush four-star hotels. In the wake of the Abramoff scandal, lobbyists were banned from organizing or paying for these travels. But some of the nonprofits underwriting them today have extremely close ties to lobbying groups, including sharing staff, money, and offices.

rest at http://www.nationaljournal.com/congress/congress-quietly-deletes-a-key-disclosure-of-free-trips-lawmakers-take-20140630

Mexican ‘germ invasion’ is “the right’s latest anti-immigration myth.”

from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/02/border-patrol-diseases-anti-immigration-myth

One hundred years ago, the KKK accused migrants of spreading disease. Fox News picked up where they left off

fox news diseases border ‘Measles and chickenpox and leprosy?!’ To which Fox’s medical correspondent responded: ‘Absolutely.’

Late last week, before President Obama gave up on pressuring Congress on comprehensive immigration reform in favor of his familiar executive actions, media outlets began pressing a familiar non-news item.

The local CBS station in Dallas/Fort Worth reported that "four or five [US Border
Patrol] agents have tested positive" for illnesses such as chicken pox or tuberculosis, ostensibly contracted at their border posts. With over 18,500 agents stationed along the Mexican border, the headline probably should have been something like "Border Patrol Agents Unusually Healthy Among Americans". Matt Drudge preferred, as usual, a more pernicious threat: BORDER PATROL AGENTS TEST POSITIVE FOR DISEASE CARRIED BY IMMIGRANTS.

Channel 11 in Dallas also reported that one of the children among the 52,000 who have crossed US borders in the last few months has been diagnosed with H1N1 virus (also known as "swine flu"). Congressman Henry Cuellar blamed the potential problem on "some of these countries where they don’t have great health care systems." Perhaps he was talking about the United States: Now that H1N1 is the predominant flu strain in the US and Canada, the Centers for Disease Control reports that 2,008 of the 2,815 reported cases of the flu in the US this season have been identified as H1N1. That means that if you had the flu in the US in the past nine months, it is more than 70% likely that you were infected with the swine flu, just like the sick child trapped in Texas.

A little informed comparison can be helpful: a study of mortality among US school teachers suggests that they contract autoimmune illnesses at a rate disproportionate with the general population. Also: the subway is a major conduit for the spread of influenza, including swine flu.

rest at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/02/border-patrol-diseases-anti-immigration-myth

Hobby Lobby Funded Disgraced Fundamentalist Christian Leader Accused of Harassing Dozens of Women

from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/07/hobby-lobby-bill-gothard-institute-basic-life-principles

"The crafts store chain and its owners gave millions in backing to controversial evangelical Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles.

For a decade or so, Hobby Lobby and its owners, the Green family, have been generous benefactors of a Christian ministry that until recently was run by Bill Gothard, a controversial religious leader who has long promoted a strict and authoritarian version of Christianity. Gothard, a prominent champion of Christian home-schooling, has decried the evils of dating, rock music, and Cabbage Patch dolls; claimed public education teaches children "how to commit suicide" and undermines spirituality; contended that mental illness is merely "varying degrees of irresponsibility"; and urged wives to "submit to the leadership" of their husbands. Critics of Gothard have associated him with Christian Reconstructionism, an ultrafundamentalist movement that yearns for a theocracy, and accused him of running a cultlike organization. In March, he was pressured to resign from his ministry, the Institute in Basic Life Principles, after being accused by more than 30 women of sexual harassment and molestation—a charge Gothard denies.

The Institute traces it origins to 1964, when Gothard designed a college seminar based on biblical principles to help teenagers. The ministry says it was established "for the purpose of introducing people to the Lord Jesus Christ" and to give individuals, families, businesses, and governments "clear instruction and training on how to find success by following God’s principles found in Scripture." The group, which operates what it calls "training centers" across the United States and abroad, says more than 2.5 million people have attended its paid events, which have brought in tens of millions of dollars in revenue. Gothard and the Institute have drawn support from conservative politicians, including Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. The Duggar family, the stars of the reality show 19 Kids and Counting, have been high-profile advocates of Gothard’s home-schooling curriculum and seminars. (One of Gothard’s alleged victims has called on the Duggars to break with Gothard and the Institute.) Don Venoit, a conservative evangelical who has long been a critic of Gothard, contends that Gothard’s approach to Christian theology emphasizing obedience to authority creates a "culture of fear." In 1984, Ronald Allen, now a professor of Bible exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, observed that Gothard’s teachings were "a parody of patriarchalism" and "the basest form of male chauvinism I have ever heard in a Christian context." He added, "Gothard has lost the biblical balance of the relationship between women and men as equals in relationship. His view is basically anti-woman."

rest at http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/07/hobby-lobby-bill-gothard-institute-basic-life-principles

Butter coffee, the world’s latest wonder beverage, arrives in Chicago

from http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2014/07/01/butter-coffee-the-worlds-latest-wonder-beverage-arrives-in-chicago

"According to the Bulletproof website, Upgraded Coffee is essential to the Bulletproof mix: regular coffee contains toxins that make you all jittery, but Upgraded Coffee, the result of a decade-long search, does not. (A canny businessman, Asprey does not divulge the origin of the beans that make up Upgraded Coffee. The website, however, describes it as well-balanced, with a full body and creamy finish, with hints of apple, cherry, and vanilla.) So maybe if I’d had my butter coffee with Upgraded Coffee beans, my leg would not be jiggling right now as I type this. (Or maybe he’s full of shit, since regular coffee doesn’t contain threatening levels of toxins either.)

Anyway, Asprey writes that he was inspired to put butter in his coffee during a freezing trek through Tibet, when, cold and weary, he stopped at a guesthouse to drink tea flavored with yak butter and was "literally rejuvenated." (The snotty former English major in me wants to say, "So he actually died and came back to life, like a vampire?" But who am I to question a revolution in warm beverage technology?) Butter, he writes, contains "all the benefits of healthy milk fat with none of the damaging denatured casein proteins found in cream.""

rest at http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2014/07/01/butter-coffee-the-worlds-latest-wonder-beverage-arrives-in-chicago

5 myths about the Hobby Lobby case, debunked #hobbylobby

from http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/hobby-lobby-case-myths-debunked

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which said for-profit businesses can get religious exemptions to insurance coverage of contraception, you’re probably hearing a lot of dubious assertions about contraceptive access. Here are some facts.

1. “What’s the big deal? Contraceptives are cheap.” Not many of the most effective ones, which save money over time but have high up-front costs. For example, the IUD, to which Hobby Lobby objects, can cost between $500 and $1,000, including the care surrounding its insertion. The monthly cost of the hormonal pill can be low, but doesn’t make sense for all kinds of women, including those who experience side effects. Under the regulations Hobby Lobby objects to, the out-of-pocket cost for any FDA-approved contraceptive should be zero.

According to the brief from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Lack of insurance coverage deters many women from choosing a high-cost contraceptive, even if that method is best for her health and lifestyle, and may result in her resorting to a method that places her more at risk for medical complications or improper or inconsistent use.”

Women are already saving money under the contraceptive coverage requirement, which began going into effect in August 2012; an average of $269 per woman, according to a recent report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, or $483 million total in 2013.

2. “But Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood only object to four forms of contraception.” That is true. (As the Guttmacher Institute’s Adam Sonfield points out, in their formal complaints, they also object to counseling for those forms for contraception. No one knows what that will mean in practice.) But there are dozens of other plaintiffs in cases pending before federal courts who object to all birth control. For example, the owners of Freshway Foods object to all forms of birth control coverage. They already got a preliminary injunction at the D.C. Circuit, where Judge Janice Rogers Brown described the coverage requirement as “the compelled subsidization of a woman’s procreative practices.”

Here’s a list of the 149 for-profit companies whose cases are already pending, including several that object to all forms of contraception. Now that the Supreme Court has sanctioned their standing to make those claims and classified the coverage requirement as a substantial burden, they only have to show the sincerity of their beliefs to win.

3. “Anyway, those forms of contraception are actually abortifacient.” The baseline question here is whether potentially and intentionally preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg constitutes abortion. That’s not the medical definition of abortion, which is ending a pregnancy. But let’s say your sincerely held belief is that interfering with the implantation of a fertilized egg is tantamount to abortion, as it is for the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood owners. There is very little evidence showing that the objected-to methods – two forms of intrauterine devices and two forms of emergency contraception – even work that way, with the exception of the copper IUD.

There are two kinds of emergency contraception on the market: an over-the-counter one generally known as Plan B and a prescription-only one known as Ella. According to the amicus brief filed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and several other medical associations, “there is no scientific evidence that emergency contraceptives available in the United States and approved by the FDA affect an existing pregnancy.” Instead, they prevent ovulation, so there is no egg to fertilize. That includes the longer-acting Ella: “There is no evidence that [Ella] affects implantation.”

One form of the IUD, known on the market at the Mirena, includes hormones that prevent ovulation. The other, preferred by women who experience side effects from artificial hormones, doesn’t. “When used as emergency contraception” – i.e., after unprotected sexual activity – “the [non-hormonal IUD] could also act to prevent implantation,” according to the amicus.

If you’re keeping count, that’s one out of four that maybe does what the plaintiffs say it does, in the rare instances it’s inserted after unprotected sex – and that’s still not the medical definition of abortion.

4. “But the government can just pay.” This one comes right from the majority, which said the Obama administration had failed the test of finding the least restrictive means to accomplish its goal. Justice Samuel Alito, writing the majority opinion, suggested “the most straightforward way” of filling the gaps would be for “the government to assume the cost.” He doesn’t have to care that this is, under current political realities, laughable. Senate Democrats have said they’ll introduce a legislative fix to the gaps left by the Hobby Lobby decision, but no one seriously thinks such a bill would become law.

There is an existing family-planning funding program for low-income women, Title X, and nearly all House Republicans have already voted to gut it. In the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney promised he would kill the program altogether.

Title X funding has gone down more than two-thirds since 1980, after adjusting for inflation,” said the Guttmacher Institute’s Adam Sonfield. “It is far less funded than it needs to be to fully meet the needs of low-income, uninsured people in this county,” he added. “Adding all of these privately insured people would overload it even more and make it even more vulnerable to political attacks.”

Some commentators have argued that contraception is cheaply available at Planned Parenthood. That would be largely due to the same federal funding that’s under attack, or state administration of it. In numerous states, most notoriously Texas, access to contraception has been sharply curtailed by politicians looking to punish Planned Parenthood for separately provided abortion.

Alito also says the government can just add female employees of religious objectors to the same accommodation the objecting non-profits got, where coverage comes directly from the insurer. He is aware, of course, that 122 religiously-affiliated non-profits are already suing over that accommodation, with one of their attorneys calling the opt-out form a “permission slip for abortion.” Mark Rienzi, the same attorney (who also represented Eleanor McCullen in her successful challenge to Massachusetts’ buffer zone law), wrote yesterday that he believes the court’s reasoning in Hobby Lobby paves the way for the nonprofits to win the same full exemption churches got – in other words, the employee gets no insurance coverage at all.

Even if private employers do agree to the nonprofit accommodation, it’s based on an administrative regulation that can change when the occupant of the White House does.

5. “It’s just contraception. It’s not vital health care.” This also comes straight from the majority opinion, though more implicitly. Alito holds at arms’ length the government’s claims that “public health” and “gender equality” are compelling interests, because, he says, they’re too broad. Whether the law serves a “compelling government interest” is part of the test under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was the crucial law in the case. But it’s sufficiently unclear that Alito believes contraceptive access matters at all that Justice Anthony Kennedy felt the need to write separately to “confirm” it.

Believing women’s equality matters is a value – one that, clearly, not everyone holds. But contraceptives’ public health benefits are inarguable. Just ask the leading group for obstetricians and gynecologists, who wrote in their brief, “Pregnancies that are too frequent and too closely spaced, which are more likely when those pregnancies are unintended, put women at significantly greater risk for permanent physical health damage … The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified family planning as one of the greatest public health achievements of the twentieth century, finding that smaller families and longer birth intervals contribute to the better health of infants, children, and women, as well as improving the social and economic roles of women.” They added, “Contraception also helps to protect the health of those women for whom pregnancy can be hazardous, or even life-threatening,” which Justice Kennedy does note in his concurrence.

There are also benefits unrelated to pregnancy, the ACOG amicus points out: Hormonal birth control “helps address several menstrual disorders, helps prevent menstrual migraines, treats pelvic pain from endometriosis, and treats bleeding from uterine fibroids.”

Is all of that “compelling”? Justice Alito declined to explicitly say.