Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Space Station View of Mount Etna Erupting

Space Station View of Mount Etna Erupting: The Expedition 50 crew aboard the International Space Station had a nighttime view from orbit of Europe's most active volcano, Mount Etna, erupting on March 19, 2017. Astronaut Thomas Pesquet of ESA captured this image, writing, 'Mount Etna, in Sicily. The volcano is currently erupting and the molten ava is visible from space, at night!'

Monday, March 13, 2017

This is Google's Emergency Map: Awesome

Demand Answers From Gorsuch

Dear Senator Durbin and Duckworth:

I urge you to carefully examine and vigorously question the record of Judge Neil Gorsuch during the hearing on his nomination to the Supreme Court.

Given the current composition of the Supreme Court, the next Supreme Court justice will have the power to determine the direction of the United States for generations, dramatically affecting millions of American lives. The Supreme Court is tasked with upholding the Constitution, protecting American values, and serving as an important check and balance against any abuse of power or overreach by the president or Congress.

In 2016, the Republican Senate majority refused, in defiance of the Constitution, to provide Judge Merrick Garland—former President Obama’s pick for the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death—the fair hearing specified under the Constitution. While we are a democracy centered on majority rule, respect for constitutional precepts is essential. The failure to even hold a hearing, which was engineered by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, put politics over precedent and over the Constitution’s clear language and intent.

We believe that, to correct this breach of its constitutional duty, the Senate must consider Judge Garland’s nomination before anyone else’s.

If the Senate does act to consider Judge Gorsuch’s nomination, the standard must be very high: Will Judge Gorsuch apply the Constitution’s language and intent correctly, to ensure individual Americans their core rights and legal protections?

From our preliminary review of Judge Gorsuch’s decisions, it appears that President Trump has nominated a judge who sides with the powerful over those without power. Judge Gorsuch’s decisions show a clear pattern of favoring corporations over working-class Americans, students and consumers. He has ruled against workers’ health and safety, rejected claims of employees seeking relief from discrimination in the workplace, and denied workers’ claims for wages and benefits they have earned. His legal decisions have tended to narrow and restrict the rights of working people. Judge Gorsuch’s record raises significant concerns about his ability to be fair and to respect and follow the law rather than his own ideology.

In addition, President Trump’s actions during his early days in office—rolling back rights and disregarding aspects of the Constitution and American democratic tradition he disagrees with—require a stronger allegiance by the Senate to an independent judiciary than ever before. Statements like this one from Citizens United (the organization behind the Citizens United v. FEC case, which opened the money spigot in federal elections) suggest that Judge Gorsuch’s ideology trumps his judicial independence: “President Trump promised the American people that he would nominate a conservative judge to the high court in the mold of Justice Scalia and that’s exactly what he did.”

Below are areas in which we have significant concerns about Judge Gorsuch’s record, his ability to exercise independence, and his willingness to apply the law in a way that protects America’s workers, educators, students and consumers.

Judge Gorsuch has denied students the full protection of the IDEA.
Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P. involved a student with autism whose parents argued that he needed placement in a private residential school program because the public school system was unable to address his needs. Before the case reached the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, an impartial hearing officer, an administrative law judge and a federal district court judge all agreed that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act required that this accommodation be provided to the student. Judge Gorsuch issued an opinion reversing the district court decision. In doing so, he applied a very narrow standard of review to determine that the district had met its obligations under IDEA. The narrow standard applied by Judge Gorsuch in this case is now under review in a case before the Supreme Court, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.

Judge Gorsuch has argued in favor of outcomes that put the rights of corporations over the health and safety of American workers.
His dissent in TransAm Trucking, Inc. v. Administrative Review Board is notable for its callous disregard for a worker’s health and safety. This case involved an Illinois truck driver whose brakes froze due to subzero temperatures. After reporting the problem to his employer and waiting several hours for a repair truck to arrive (without heat in the cab), the driver began to experience serious health problems. He unhitched his truck from the trailer and drove away, leaving the trailer unattended. He was terminated for abandoning the trailer. In an administrative proceeding, a Department of Labor Administrative Review Board found that whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act made it unlawful to discharge an employee who refused to operate a vehicle due to reasonable threat of serious injury. The majority of the 10th Circuit panel that heard the case deferred to the Administrative Review Board’s finding on the whistleblower issue. Judge Gorsuch, however, disagreed and would have allowed the truck driver, who was sincerely concerned for his health and safety, to be terminated by his employer with no further recourse. Judge Gorsuch has sided with employers 21 out of 23 times in disputes over the U.S. pensions and benefits law (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act or ERISA), and in employment discrimination cases, he has sided with employers 66 percent of the time.

Judge Gorsuch has acted to deny American women the right to contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Judge Gorsuch may be best known for his concurrence in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, the case involving the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive-coverage mandate. He wrote a concurrence in which he sided with the company and its owners, who argued that the ACA substantially burdened their religious exercise, in violation of federal law.

Judge Gorsuch is an ideological extremist opposed to allowing the federal government to protect vulnerable Americans.
In Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, Judge Gorsuch made a troubling argument to do away with the important legal doctrine known as Chevron deference, which says courts should defer to a government agency’s interpretation of a statute it administers. In Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., the Supreme Court held that courts should defer to agency interpretations of such statutes unless they are unreasonable. This commonsense approach requires judges to defer to the expertise of the National Labor Relations Board on labor issues, the Environmental Protection Agency on environmental issues, and the Food and Drug Administration on food and drug safety issues, rather than imposing their own views in highly technical areas in which even the most learned judge could not hope to attain expertise. If Judge Gorsuch were to join the Supreme Court and issue a decision doing away with the Chevron precedent, other ideologically minded judges like him would be able to put people’s rights, and their health and safety, at risk, without paying any mind to the views of federal agency officials who have dedicated their careers to building their technical expertise and applying it to protect all Americans.

During the nomination process, we urge you to thoroughly examine Judge Gorsuch’s record and views on the above issues, as well as his views on voting rights, immigration, police misconduct, women’s rights, LGBT rights, money in politics and workers’ rights. If his record proves he is unable to uphold Americans’ constitutional rights or is unlikely to be an independent voice who would give a fair hearing to all, we urge you to reject his nomination.

Thank you for your consideration of my views on this matter.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

In Response to Today's National Prayer Breakfast


Dearest William,     

In this moment, when so many of our communities are under attack by one executive order after another; when are fighting death, running in fear, and quickly becoming exhausted and numb; it is essential to our survival that we name what we know.

We are at war.

So many of us who are not straight, white, rich, male and/or Christian find ourselves on an unanticipated battlefield in our own home; the ammunition is live and the consequences deadly.

Our bodies are engaged in mortal combat.... and so are our souls.

We are so inundated with news of the latest decrees and targets of this neo-fascist regime that we do not fully attend to the rapid fire assaults on our spirits.

Beyond the endless noise of political warfare, there is a deeper crisis going unaddressed.

What is at stake is far more important than national unity, even more important than justice... for it is only in defeating the spirit of a people, that tyranny and death can ever truly reign.

What is happening now is nothing short of spiritual terrorism. And if we lose ourselves in this struggle, if we let those messages of dehumanization, coercive violence, and all-consuming power eat away at our souls, then our bodies will have little left to fight for.

This is spiritual warfare, and we must resist the death that seems to be coming at us from all sides. We must do the profound internal work of keeping our spirits alive alongside the critical communal work of saving our peoples from violence.

Spiritual violence is physical violence. It propels, reinforces, and antagonizes physical violence that leads to our death. The mosque burning in Victoria, Texas just hours after the signing of the executive order for the Muslim ban is a relevant example.

A distorted and corrupt version of Christianity moralizes these attacks and reinforces the systems of domination that say it is justified and acceptable for us to be murdered in the streets, attacked in our homes, and slaughtered on mass in our spirits.

One fundamental problem is the nature of power itself. Because of Christian Supremacy, we have come to equate power with control and domination, both of which are fear driven. "God-fearing" has long been a way to describe Christians, but it is a very specific version of God, i.e. Father-God-Patriarch-Judge-King, that uses divine power to intimidate and coerce submission. This is toxic theology.
This particular political moment is not one to get lost in our hurt feelings about losing the election or the exposed reality of the depth of racism, greed, sexism and xenophobia that is present in the hearts of our countrymen. We need to understand this is war, and a struggle between death and life, not just at a legal or cultural level.

What is at stake is the far more lasting than a political regime. It is the future fate of our eternal souls. Will we die on this capitalist altar of greed? Or will we save our souls and live?

There is a legacy of evil that has come to reign. It is oriented towards death and despair, and it could lead to destruction for many of us. How we fortify ourselves and our peoples to actually engage in spiritual warfare is essential.

We must train ourselves spiritually to be ready and prepared to combat these forces of evil that are encroaching on our people's ability to live. We must resist these deaths not only in a physical way, but also in our spirits. Because these forces lead to our harm and annihilation by our own hands, as well as by the State and its allies.

So at this particular moment, it is not about combatting that power of brutality with another more brutalizing power. The nature of power as we understand it must change.

Claiming our own agency, cherishing our own power and nourishing it in our own bodies and souls is a commitment all of our freedom fighters must make.

Power over others that requires their subjugation leads straight to death for the oppressor and the oppressed. If we have learned anything from our history, I hope it is that lesson.
We must now reorient ourselves to understand true power as the antithesis of fear-based domination.

May we come to know and love and grow in ourselves the omnipotent power that comes through Creator to Creation, through the earth, through our bodies, through our bloodlines and our breath, through our histories and our ancestors that leads us all toward life abundant.

La lucha continua,

Rev. Alba Onofrio and the Soulforce team

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Betsy DeVos Will Not Oppose Guns In Public Schools Because You Know, Grizzly Bears

As she did with most questions, she waffled.
Murphy asked, "Do you think guns have any place in or around schools?"
DeVos fell back on her usual deflection that it is for states to decide, which set Murphy off.
Incredulously, he asked, "You can't say definitively today that guns shouldn't be in schools?"
With disingenuous wide-eyed misunderstanding, DeVos replied, "I will refer back to (Wyoming) Senator (Mike) Enzi and the school he was talking about in Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies."
Murphy ended his questioning by telling her he looked forward to her visiting his state to discuss guns in schools with a disgusted tone. I was seriously surprised that he didn't throw all of his papers on the floor while walking out.

RE: Please do not support the nomination of Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA

RE: Please do not support the nomination of Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA

Dear Senator Durbin.

As your constituent I am gravely concerned about Scott Pruitt heading the Environmental Protection Agency and I am asking you not to support his nomination.

As Attorney General of Oklahoma he has abused his power as an elected official to attack charities on behalf of agribusiness interests -- specifically attacking The Humane Society of the United States because of their work to crack down on cockfighting, puppy mills, and intensive confinement of animals on factory farms.

I have concerns about Scott Pruitt leading the federal agency responsible for a number of important animal issues, including animal testing for pesticides and chemicals, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution from factory farms.

I urge you not to support Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA. He has abused the power of his office as Oklahoma's Attorney General in order to attack and silence animal welfare groups because he disagrees with their political views.

Thank you,
Lombard, IL 60148