Thursday, October 29, 2009

David Plouffe's Audacity to Collect

David Plouffe managed President Barack Obama's successful bid for the White House last year. Next week, his book, "The Audacity of Hope" will officially be unveiled. One can expect Mr. Plouffe to sign up for every morning and evening talk show to plug his book.

We are told that the book will offer some insights into the president's running mate decision process. Senator Clinton, it is asserted, was one of the final six vice prospects to serve as President Obama's running mate. In fact, he might have gone for her if not for her even more crass and politically opportunistic husband, who was himself a former president. Mr. Clinton, the president believed, would be the third person in the room. Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) made it onto the list of the final three but was beat out by the more informed and union-worker favored senator (then) from Delaware).

The president no doubt picked one of if not the most qualified candidates to serve as his vice presidential running mates. Biden knows foreign policy and he knows his way around the senate. His connection with the average white, middle-aged working to middle class American was probably an asset, particularly since the president had a difficult time winning in the primaries where they were the constituency.

Mr. Plouffe's book might not reveal anything unflattering or anything that might embarrass the president. Or then again, it might. But whatever the case, the book could not have been released at a worse time.

The president is in the middle of some intense negotiations with his former colleagues on the hill over health care reform. Senator Bayh, a moderately conservative Democrat who had as of yesterday threatened to filibuster any attempt to let the health care bill get debated on the floor, might not like any passages that suggest that Obama considered him a lightweight who lacked the experience and command of the issues which his former colleague from Delaware had. After hearing the excerpts played and then replayed on the talk shows, Bayh might not be in the mood to put his political career on the line for the president who did not pick him to serve as his running mate.

It wouldn't be the professional, let alone, right thing for Senator Bayh to do but politicians do look after their own personal interests first.

Nor would the president benefit from any passage concerning the president's relationship with the vice president and secretary of state. The vice president and the Secretary of State no doubt should be able to look beyond and ignore any political gossip coming from former political aide's book but any major revelations concerning the president's stronger degree of confidence in one of those two political players might undermine the other.

Obama's former campaign manager no doubt has the right to write a book about the campaign and his book may offer some insights into the campaign which any reporter would find interesting. Nevertheless he should have waited and given the president an opportunity to push major legislation forward without having to explain away passages that his cabinet members, close political advisers and former colleagues on the hill might find embarrassing or offensive.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"No More Matthew Shepards"

Isn't The Huffington Post exaggerating a little bit?

look, I'm glad this bill made its way to the White House, even if it had to be added to a Defense Appropriations Bill to do so and I'm glad it was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The president promised he would sign the bill into law if it reached his desk and it did reach his desk.

This bill gives prosecutors a new bargaining chip and, should they request it, federal assistance to charge defendants for crimes committed against minorities. And, should state and local officials fail to prosecute defendants for crimes committed against people because those victims are minorities, it gives the federal government the authority to exact justice. This bill does not save any lives.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reid and Lieberman Dance Around Public Option

Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said his caucus will back a health care bill that include a public option even though he did not have, at that time, the 60 votes he would need to overcome a filibuster. Senator Reid, who is up for re-election in 2010, has been roundly criticized by the liberals he will need in his campaign for re-election for his failure to press for a public option and for his failure to rally the Democrats behind some other popular liberal causes like the closing of the constitutionally dubious war detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. The senate majority leader said he would not let the Obama administration detain war combatants on U.S. soil.

His Democratic constituents were pleased with yesterday's announcement. Though the public option would not be provided to everyone who wanted to opt for it, and though states would be free to opt out, Mr. Reid's support for the public option emboldened them. Mr. Reid, they thought, would not come out for a public option he would fail to obtain.

Today, however, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut), one of two independents who officially caucuses with the Democrats, undercut the reformers' efforts by announcing his intent to filibuster any motion to close the debate on this public-option inclusive health care reform bill, thereby denying them an up or down vote on the bill.

Mr. Lieberman had proven himself to be a disappointment to say the least. He unsuccessfully urged Connecticut Democrats to opt for him over Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary even if they disagreed with his support for the war in Iraq, then he endorsed Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) largely because of his support for the war in Iraq. The senator who, only three years ago, said he was a good Democrat who supports the Democratic Party some 85+% of the time. Today, however, the Senator has decided to back the health insurance industry that fills his campaign coffers when he is up for re-election. That he threatened to oppose this bill shouldn't be all that surprising since the state capital, Hartford, is "insurance capital of the world." Aetna is headquartered there.

Senator Reid should have, and perhaps has, seen this coming. The "independent Democrat" wasn't going to anger his backers within the insurance industry and when Mr. Lieberman downplayed Lieberman's announcement, he (perhaps?) showed his cards by suggesting that the "independent Democrat" would eventually vote for the bill once some unspecified modifications are made. Cynics would question Mr. Reid's commitment to the public option. Mr. Reid's announcement, they would assert, was designed to win some favor from the liberal base he would need in the upcoming election so if and when the public option went down into defeat they would turn their ire to the other senators who voted against it when Reid claims he couldn't help it since the votes were not there. I can't say those skeptics are wrong.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dithoconservatives

Conservatives who support dithering speak out.

Fixing Afghanistan is not only unnecessary, it’s also likely to prove impossible. Not for nothing has the place acquired the nickname Graveyard of Empires. Of course, Americans, insistent that the dominion over which they preside does not meet the definition of empire, evince little interest in how Brits, Russians, or other foreigners have fared in attempting to impose their will on the Afghans. As General David McKiernan, until just recently the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, put it, “There’s always an inclination to relate what we’re doing with previous nations,” adding, “I think that’s a very unhealthy comparison.” McKiernan was expressing a view common among the ranks of the political and military elite: We’re Americans. We’re different. Therefore, the experience of others does not apply.


Andrew Bacevich
. (well, this is an oldie but a goodie)


George Will
on "This Week"

Joe Scarborough "Morning Joe" today. (Clip will be linked to when provided).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Simple Notion: Liberty Applies to All.

"If you do not believe in same-sex relationships, don’t engage in them." - Judi Edwards, urging Washington State's voters to uphold gay residents' domestic partnership protections.

Her Argument: Let gay people do what they are going to do. Don't use the state to punish those whose religious precepts differ from your own. Don't make life unbearable for them and if you don't agree with what they do, don't hang out with them. How simple is that?

Friday, October 23, 2009

From Time Magazine: Geisenger's Doctor Reimbursement Experiment

from Time Magazine

In the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania, the Geisinger Health System is trying something different. The 726 physicians and 257 residents and fellows who work there don't do piecework. They are paid a salary — benchmarked against the national average — plus potential bonuses based on how well their patients do under their care. ...

... A doctor's pay is not fixed in advance. Salaries are pegged so that they stay within 80% of the national average, but up to 20% of income is based on teams' achieving performance goals. If the cardiac group keeps its complication and readmission rates below a certain level, paychecks get fatter because costs decrease. Ditto for the pediatric orthopedic team, which must successfully treat kids for, say, spinal curvature without being too quick with the knife for those who don't need surgery or too slow for those who do. "We keep cash compensation flexible and incentivized," Steele says. "That takes away some of the insane piecework."

Other Ways to Reimburse Doctors:

"There's pay-for-performance: compensation depending on doctors' success in keeping costs down and getting patients well. There's episode care: a fixed price for a procedure like a heart bypass that covers everything from pre-op to surgery to full recuperation. Most broadly, there's global care, which provides access to a diverse team of caregivers who cover all of a patient's needs for a single premium over the length of a policy — essentially episode care writ large."

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act Continued

So that the lies concerning religious censorship can be debunked here is the actual text, located in Section E. of the Defense Authorization bill:


Pay particular attention to the parts I highlighted in bold.

SEC. 4701. SHORT TITLE.

This division may be cited as the `Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act'.

SEC. 4702. FINDINGS.

Congress makes the following findings:

(1) The incidence of violence motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim poses a serious national problem.

(2) Such violence disrupts the tranquility and safety of communities and is deeply divisive.

(3) State and local authorities are now and will continue to be responsible for prosecuting the overwhelming majority of violent crimes in the United States, including violent crimes motivated by bias. These authorities can carry out their responsibilities more effectively with greater Federal assistance.

(4) Existing Federal law is inadequate to address this problem.

(5) A prominent characteristic of a violent crime motivated by bias is that it devastates not just the actual victim and the family and friends of the victim, but frequently savages the community sharing the traits that caused the victim to be selected.

(6) Such violence substantially affects interstate commerce in many ways, including the following:

(A) The movement of members of targeted groups is impeded, and members of such groups are forced to move across State lines to escape the incidence or risk of such violence.

(B) Members of targeted groups are prevented from purchasing goods and services, obtaining or sustaining employment, or participating in other commercial activity.

(C) Perpetrators cross State lines to commit such violence.

(D) Channels, facilities, and instrumentalities of interstate commerce are used to facilitate the commission of such violence.

(E) Such violence is committed using articles that have traveled in interstate commerce.

(7) For generations, the institutions of slavery and involuntary servitude were defined by the race, color, and ancestry of those held in bondage. Slavery and involuntary servitude were enforced, both prior to and after the adoption of the 13th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, through widespread public and private violence directed at persons because of their race, color, or ancestry, or perceived race, color, or ancestry. Accordingly, eliminating racially motivated violence is an important means of eliminating, to the extent possible, the badges, incidents, and relics of slavery and involuntary servitude.

(8) Both at the time when the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution of the United States were adopted, and continuing to date, members of certain religious and national origin groups were and are perceived to be distinct `races'. Thus, in order to eliminate, to the extent possible, the badges, incidents, and relics of slavery, it is necessary to prohibit assaults on the basis of real or perceived religions or national origins, at least to the extent such religions or national origins were regarded as races at the time of the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

(9) Federal jurisdiction over certain violent crimes motivated by bias enables Federal, State, and local authorities to work together as partners in the investigation and prosecution of such crimes.

(10) The problem of crimes motivated by bias is sufficiently serious, widespread, and interstate in nature as to warrant Federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes.

SEC. 4703. DEFINITION OF HATE CRIME.

In this division--

(1) the term `crime of violence' has the meaning given that term in section 16, title 18, United States Code;

(2) the term `hate crime' has the meaning given such term in section 280003(a) of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (28 U.S.C. 994 note); and

(3) the term `local' means a county, city, town, township, parish, village, or other general purpose political subdivision of a State.

SEC. 4704. SUPPORT FOR CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS AND PROSECUTIONS BY STATE, LOCAL, AND TRIBAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS.

(a) Assistance Other Than Financial Assistance-

(1) IN GENERAL- At the request of State, local, or tribal law enforcement agency, the Attorney General may provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial, or any other form of assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution of any crime that--

(A) constitutes a crime of violence;

(B) constitutes a felony under the State, local, or tribal laws; and

(C) is motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim, or is a violation of the State, local, or tribal hate crime laws.

(2) PRIORITY- In providing assistance under paragraph (1), the Attorney General shall give priority to crimes committed by offenders who have committed crimes in more than one State and to rural jurisdictions that have difficulty covering the extraordinary expenses relating to the investigation or prosecution of the crime.

(b) Grants-

(1) IN GENERAL- The Attorney General may award grants to State, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies for extraordinary expenses associated with the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.

(2) OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS- In implementing the grant program under this subsection, the Office of Justice Programs shall work closely with grantees to ensure that the concerns and needs of all affected parties, including community groups and schools, colleges, and universities, are addressed through the local infrastructure developed under the grants.

(3) APPLICATION-

(A) IN GENERAL- Each State, local, and tribal law enforcement agency that desires a grant under this subsection shall submit an application to the Attorney General at such time, in such manner, and accompanied by or containing such information as the Attorney General shall reasonably require.

(B) DATE FOR SUBMISSION- Applications submitted pursuant to subparagraph (A) shall be submitted during the 60-day period beginning on a date that the Attorney General shall prescribe.

(C) REQUIREMENTS- A State, local, and tribal law enforcement agency applying for a grant under this subsection shall--

(i) describe the extraordinary purposes for which the grant is needed;

(ii) certify that the State, local government, or Indian tribe lacks the resources necessary to investigate or prosecute the hate crime;

(iii) demonstrate that, in developing a plan to implement the grant, the State, local, and tribal law enforcement agency has consulted and coordinated with nonprofit, nongovernmental victim services programs that have experience in providing services to victims of hate crimes; and

(iv) certify that any Federal funds received under this subsection will be used to supplement, not supplant, non-Federal funds that would otherwise be available for activities funded under this subsection.

(4) DEADLINE- An application for a grant under this subsection shall be approved or denied by the Attorney General not later than 180 business days after the date on which the Attorney General receives the application.

(5) GRANT AMOUNT- A grant under this subsection shall not exceed $100,000 for any single jurisdiction in any 1-year period.

(6) REPORT- Not later than December 31, 2010, the Attorney General shall submit to Congress a report describing the applications submitted for grants under this subsection, the award of such grants, and the purposes for which the grant amounts were expended.

(7) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS- There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this subsection $5,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

SEC. 4705. GRANT PROGRAM.

(a) Authority To Award Grants- The Office of Justice Programs of the Department of Justice may award grants, in accordance with such regulations as the Attorney General may prescribe, to State, local, or tribal programs designed to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles, including programs to train local law enforcement officers in identifying, investigating, prosecuting, and preventing hate crimes.

(b) Authorization of Appropriations- There are authorized to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary to carry out this section.

SEC. 4706. AUTHORIZATION FOR ADDITIONAL PERSONNEL TO ASSIST STATE, LOCAL, AND TRIBAL LAW ENFORCEMENT.

There are authorized to be appropriated to the Department of Justice, including the Community Relations Service, for fiscal years 2010, 2011, and 2012 such sums as are necessary to increase the number of personnel to prevent and respond to alleged violations of section 249 of title 18, United States Code, as added by section 4707 of this division.

SEC. 4707. PROHIBITION OF CERTAIN HATE CRIME ACTS.

(a) In General- Chapter 13 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

`Sec. 249. Hate crime acts

`(a) In General-

`(1) OFFENSES INVOLVING ACTUAL OR PERCEIVED RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, OR NATIONAL ORIGIN- Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person--

`(A) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and

`(B) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if--

`(i) death results from the offense; or

`(ii) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

`(2) OFFENSES INVOLVING ACTUAL OR PERCEIVED RELIGION, NATIONAL ORIGIN, GENDER, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY, OR DISABILITY-

`(A) IN GENERAL- Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B) or paragraph (3), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person--

`(i) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and

`(ii) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if--

title, or both, and shall be subject to the penalty of death in accordance with chapter 228 (if death results from the offense), if--

`(i) death results from the offense; or

`(ii) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

`(2) OFFENSES INVOLVING ACTUAL OR PERCEIVED RELIGION, NATIONAL ORIGIN, GENDER, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY, OR DISABILITY-

`(A) IN GENERAL- Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B) or paragraph (3), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person--

`(i) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and

`(ii) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, and shall be subject to the penalty of death in accordance with chapter 228 (if death results from the offense), if--

`(I) death results from the offense; or

`(II) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

`(B) CIRCUMSTANCES DESCRIBED- For purposes of subparagraph (A), the circumstances described in this subparagraph are that--

`(i) the conduct described in subparagraph (A) occurs during the course of, or as the result of, the travel of the defendant or the victim--

`(I) across a State line or national border; or

`(II) using a channel, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce;

`(ii) the defendant uses a channel, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce in connection with the conduct described in subparagraph (A);

`(iii) in connection with the conduct described in subparagraph (A), the defendant employs a firearm, dangerous weapon, explosive or incendiary device, or other weapon that has traveled in interstate or foreign commerce; or

`(iv) the conduct described in subparagraph (A)--

`(I) interferes with commercial or other economic activity in which the victim is engaged at the time of the conduct; or

`(II) otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce.

`(3) OFFENSES OCCURRING IN THE SPECIAL MARITIME OR TERRITORIAL JURISDICTION OF THE UNITED STATES- Whoever, within the special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the United States, commits an offense described in paragraph (1) or (2) shall be subject to the same penalties as prescribed in those paragraphs.

`(b) Certification Requirement-

`(1) IN GENERAL- No prosecution of any offense described in this subsection may be undertaken by the United States, except under the certification in writing of the Attorney General, or his designee, that--

`(A) the State does not have jurisdiction;

`(B) the State has requested that the Federal Government assume jurisdiction;

`(C) the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence; or

`(D) a prosecution by the United States is in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice.

`(2) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION- Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to limit the authority of Federal officers, or a Federal grand jury, to investigate possible violations of this section.

`(c) Definitions- In this section--

`(1) the term `bodily injury' has the meaning given such term in section 1365(h)(4) of this title, but does not include solely emotional or psychological harm to the victim;

`(2) the term `explosive or incendiary device' has the meaning given such term in section 232 of this title;

`(3) the term `firearm' has the meaning given such term in section 921(a) of this title; and

`(4) the term `gender identity' for the purposes of this chapter means actual or perceived gender-related characteristics.'.

(b) Technical and Conforming Amendment- The analysis for chapter 13 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

`249. Hate crime acts.'.

SEC. 4708. STATISTICS.

(a) In General- Subsection (b)(1) of the first section of the Hate Crime Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. 534 note) is amended by inserting `gender and gender identity,' after `race,'.

(b) Data- Subsection (b)(5) of the first section of the Hate Crime Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. 534 note) is amended by inserting `, including data about crimes committed by, and crimes directed against, juveniles' after `data acquired under this section'.

SEC. 4709. SEVERABILITY.

If any provision of this division, an amendment made by this division, or the application of such provision or amendment to any person or circumstance is held to be unconstitutional, the remainder of this division, the amendments made by this division, and the application of the provisions of such to any person or circumstance shall not be affected thereby.

SEC. 4710. RULE OF CONSTRUCTION.

For purposes of construing this division and the amendments made by this division the following shall apply:

(1) RELEVANT EVIDENCE- Courts may consider relevant evidence of speech, beliefs, or expressive conduct to the extent that such evidence is offered to prove an element of a charged offense or is otherwise admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Nothing in this division is intended to affect the existing rules of evidence.

(2) VIOLENT ACTS- This division applies to violent acts motivated by actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of a victim.

SEC.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr . Hate Crimes Protection Act

Tonight the Senate voted for a conference report for the nation's defense appropriations bill that includes a provision extending hate crime protections to the disabled and sexual minorities. Five Republicans - Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and outgoing Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, voted for the bill. The bill now heads to the president's desk, allowing him to fulfill the first of several promises he made to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community. President Obama said he would sign a hate crimes bill into law.

As it stands, the federal government may investigate crimes committed against those who are victimized on account of their perceived race, ethnicity, religion or gender if but only if they were engaged in a federally protected activity. Sentencing for those who are convicted of a bias-motivated assault with a deadly weapon can be higher than those who are convicted of any other assault with a deadly weapon. Supporters justify the enhanced sentencing guidelines by noting how these crimes may have a greater impact on those living in the neighborhood. Any and every gay American will fear for their welfare when confronted with the news of another gay person's demise.

The Act, which was named for a Wyoming college student who was beaten to death 11 years ago, and an African American who was dragged to his death by a pickup truck, builds upon laws already on the book in three important ways.

First, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act adds three new categories - sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability - to the list of protected categories warranting federal intervention.

Second, the Act requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation to collect data relating to bias-motivated crimes perpetrated against transgendered victims, paving the way for their future inclusion at some future point.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, it lifts the restrictions on the federal government's involvement so that it can investigate crimes which state and local authorities either choose not to or cannot afford to investigate, whether the victim was engaged in a federally protected activity or not.

Religious conservatives say this bill could (and will) be used to silence Christians who oppose homosexuality on religious grounds. "Hate crime laws force the court to guess the thoughts and beliefs which lie behind a crime," Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council said in his written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. ""Hate crime" laws put the perpetrator's thoughts and beliefs on trial. Hate crime laws are tantamount to federally prosecuting "thought crimes." The Family Research Council believes that all crime should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and that every violent crime has some form of hate behind it." Mr. Perkins notes that some pastors have been threatened by prosecution for violating hate speech laws in Western Europe and Canada.

The incidents which Mr. Perkins refers to have no bearing on the hate crimes statute which the president said he would sign in the near future. Those priests and ministers were cited for hate speech violations in countries where free speech isn't valued as strongly as it is valued in this country. The hate crime statute that will head to the president's desk does not outlaw speech. No priest can be tried for condemning homosexual conduct, whether it is done on a tv program or at the altar. A priest, minister, rabbi, or imam can, however, be tried for robbing, killing, or otherwise beating a person, whether he or she is gay or not and if, during the assault, the priest calls him a "sodomite" or a "faggot" the new act allows the federal government to try the priest for a hate crime.

Those who seriously fear for their free speech rights should look at how the law or laws like it has been applied to religious minorities and women. Like the homosexual, a feminist does not adhere to the evangelical preacher's code. The minister might, on occasion, condemn the woman who does not seek fulfillment in the home, raising the kids. An evangelical who fears that his anti-gay preaching can be used against him if and when he verbally accosts and then beats a gay man should in theory, fear that his anti-feminist preaching can be used against him if and when he verbally accosts and then beats a career-oriented woman. That same evangelical priest should, i theory, fear that his prior anti-Jewish (only Christians can be saved) or anti-Muslim rantings could be used against him.

Do they fear for their speech rights in these other, equally plausible scenarios? No. Of course not. Hate crimes are rarely prosecuted as such and to the extent that they are they've had no bearing on a priest or minister's ability to condemn homosexual conduct. California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Texas have passed hate crime statutes that include sexual orientation among their listed categories and yet priests and ministers in each of those states still preach against homosexuality.

I believe this failure to stifle anti-gay preaching can be attributed in part to the average minister's belief that he or she won't assault, maim, or kill a fellow human being. The minister, priest, rabbi, and imam who opposes gay rights should have no reason to fear criminal prosecution unless he or she plans to, let's say, bash any gay entering or leaving a gay establishment in the head with a baseball bat.

The president said he would sign this bill should it reach his desk. He should fulfill that promise quickly, and then move on to the other promises he made to the GLBT community on the campaign trail.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Compensation at Bailed Out Companies

The Obama administration will be releasing its plan to slash the compensation for the highest-paid employees at companies bailed out by the American taxpayer. The devil of course is in the details but it sounds good. I do wonder if the administration is providing corporate executives with a loophole since they did not foreclose approval f $25,000 + worth of perks.

Don't feel sorry about Kenneth D. Lewis at Bank of America. Though he is being forced into early retirement, Mr. Lewis still gets a $53 million pension.

Conservative Says Obama Should Legalize Pot

"Arguments for and against decriminalization of some or all drugs are familiar by now. Distilled to the basics, the drug war has empowered criminals while criminalizing otherwise law-abiding citizens and wasted billions that could have been better spent on education and rehabilitation." - Kathleen Parker offering the readers one of her saner thoughts.

but oops I found a blooper:

"While many Republicans nurse a libertarian streak, the party has been selective in its support of federalist principles. George W. Bush's administration refused to honor states authorizing medical uses of cannabis, for instance, but aimed to return abortion and marriage issues to state jurisdictions."


Mrs. Parker must be referring to the president's advocacy for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. States are deciding on their own whether and to what extent they would recognize gay marriages as families. The constitutional amendment she refers to would have removed that decision from the states.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Another Catholic Priest Scandal

Your church donations at work.

Sensible Shift on Marijuana Policy

Obama's Justice Department issued a memorandum providing federal prosecutors new guidance concerning the respect they should afford to those who are using and distributing marijuana in accordance with those states' laws permitting the use of it for medical purposes.

The new memorandum does not forbid prosecutors from pursuing those who use it for medical uses but it does suggest that they should focus their attention on drug trafficking as well as the sale and use of marijuana for recreational use. The law, it was asserted, should not be used against those who are seriously ill nor, it is asserted, should it be used for those caregivers who provide medical marijuana if it is done in conformance with state law.

Senator Lamar Smith, according to The New York Times, condemned the Justice Department in its shift of priorities. He accused the administration of "tacitly condoning the use of marijuana in the United States. “If we want to win the war on drugs," he continued, "federal prosecutors have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute all medical marijuana dispensaries and not just those that are merely fronts for illegal marijuana distribution.”

The Justice Department isn't really "condoning the use of marijuana" for if it was, it would have lifted the ban on medical marijuana in every state. If anything it is respecting the right of states that have opted to allow those who are severely sick to acquire and use medical marijuana for medical purposes. Obviously, for those of us who believe this opportunity should be extended so that everyone in every state could seek pain relief from medical marijuana this is a needed but insufficient step in the right direction.

Senator Alexander says our government "cannot win the war on drugs" if federal prosecutors do not "investigate and prosecutors all medical marijuana dispensaries." Perhaps not, but it could be asserted that we don't need to win the war on all drugs. We make exemptions for prescription and over-the-counter drugs used to help us get well after we are sick. And we do make exceptions for three drugs that are socially accepted in our country - nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine - even though they have no medical value. In its memorandum, the Justice Department is giving federal prosecutors an opportunity to treat marijuana as a prescription drug in states that treat it as a prescription drug. In sum, it discourages prosecutors from going after those who have added marijuana to the pharmacy shelves behind the counter.

Interracial Marriage

I can't believe this still happens in the United States. Yes, I know racism still exists. I know there are white Americans who can't believe we have an African American president and I know there is some tension over school busing, affirmative action, and racial profiling by the police but this is unheard of. This judge clearly violated the couple's civil rights which, as we have found out in Loving v. Virginia.

For New Jersey: Daggett

As a general rule the Political Heretic endorses in national elections or on matters of national importance (situations when civil rights or civil liberty claims are implicated). He will make an exception for a gubernatorial election in his/his neighbor's backyard.

In two weeks, New Jersey residents will go to the polls to vote for one of three major candidates seeking to lead the Garden State out of its fiscal crisis.

The embattled incumbent, Governor Jon Corzine faces two challengers. Chris Christie, the Republican, gained political brownie points and state-wide recognition prosecuting mayors, township committeemen, and local developers embroiled in political corruption scandals during his stint as a U.S. District Attorney. Chris Daggett, who is running as an independent, once served as a regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

New Jersey pundits view Daggett as a spoiler whose entry into this race may cost Chris Christie his chance to unseat a very unpopular sitting governor who until recently was trouncing the incumbent in the polls and if, in fact, Daggett costs the Republican challenger the election the Political Heretic won't be too disappointed since Corzine is, in his view, the lesser of two evils. New Jersey had its spate of exceptionally poor governors. Corzine wasn't the first gubernatorial failure and he probably won't be its last.

But the Garden State and and must do better and he urges New Jersey's voters who might otherwise settle for Chris Christie or Jon Corzine to give Mr. Daggett a second look. As an independent, Daggett faces an uphill battle against an uphill battle against the two-party system but these are not insurmountable. Mr. Daggett can win a three-way race against an unpopular incumbent who cannot be saved by his Democratic party label and a conservative Republican challenger in a Democratic and progressive-leaning state. Former Governor Jesse Ventura, a professional wrestler with virtually no experience in government did it by running against two establishment candidates in Minnesota's gubernatorial election.

Disenchanted Democrats who want to punish Corzine but cannot find themselves voting for the candidate who caters to the religious nuts will find Daggett's culturally libertarian platform more palatable. Daggett supports abortion rights and says he would sign a bill allowing gays to marry. In this respect his views are more in line with the views expressed with The Political Heretic. The Sierra Club endorsed him so it must not have too many problems with his environmental record. He says he supports the second amendment but his wording is vague enough to allow for some gun regulation.

Socially moderate Republicans who want a reform-oriented, fiscally conservative alternative might like his plan to cut property, income and corporate taxes.

The Political Heretic urges voters to send Daggett to the governor's mansion for two reasons. First, his candidacy provides them with the opportunity to declare their independence from the corrupt, county fiefdoms and local party bosses that control New Jersey's Republican and Democratic parties.

Corzine promised change when he ran for governor four years ago but has failed to deliver. Christie promises change but will owe the party bosses that backed him, but Daggett, by running as the independent in the race, however, is the embodiment of change.

New Jersey needs change. Residents face high property taxes but the state has little to show for the money it has collected. Abbott funding hasn't saved the urban school system that is failing its students. The state's Transportation Fund is depleted but New Jersey's voters wouldn't have known it while driving on the state's poorly designed and out-dated road system. Public employees and politicians can dip into the state's pension fund two or three times if they hire themselves into two or three no-show government jobs and the remaining public employees receive compensation packages that far exceed in value the packages they would receive in the real world. New Jersey has too many layers of government. We don't need to pay for the village councils for the police departments serving 2.1 square mile boroughs. Nor should we force the average taxpayer to pay for separated K-8 and 9-12 regional school districts when they can be merged into one school district. Smaller school districts should be merged into one.

Corzine had four years to deliver and has failed. Yes, he signed into law a bill that limits double dipping but it was grandfathered in to exempt most politicians now serving in Trenton. The governor has wisely pushed back against the public employees unions by imposing furloughs and one of the 14-recognized state holidays but this is small change when most public employees aren't forced to contribute to their health insurance premiums or when part-time workers are entitled to pension benefits, or when public workers are entitled to 13-to-14 paid holidays.

Yes, the governor has faced some stiff opposition from the public unions which represent a public workforce that is so far disconnected from the economic reality facing most workers. Yes, the governor would benefit from a legislature that is filled with reformers and yes, the governor inherited the fiscal mess that was created by the governors that preceded him and yes, the governor is required, by law to balance the budget.

But he brought some of the criticism on himself. Corzine's negotiating position and claim to be a taxpayers' advocate was compromised by his intimate relationship with Carla Katz, the president of a local Communications Workers of America which was negotiating for the state workers' behalf and when he supported a 5% raise in judges salaries one year after a substantial pay raise.

The Republicans have used his predicament to score some cheap political points even though they have failed to cut spending when they were in power. Its easy to criticize the administration in power on government spending when the opposition doesn't have to propose the cuts that need to be made. And its easy to propose ethical reform when you don't represent the party that is in power.

The Republicans rightly criticized the governor for efforts to lease the state's authority-run limited access highways but failed to offer an alternative means to fund the roads' infrastructure. The money that is needed to fund transportation projects has to come somewhere. If the agencies which run the limited access highways aren't going to be merged, if employees will not be fired and if higher-level positions aren't cut, the state has to raise taxes or fees to pay for road and bridge repairs.

Christie promises the world. He promises corporate tax cuts, income tax cuts, and property tax cuts to some unmentionable rate (you won't find it on his web site) and promises to offset the obvious loss in revenue (how much is dependent upon how much those tax cuts are cut) by (a) creating several fiscal watchdog groups while eliminating patronage positions and (b) cutting the compensation programs offered to public employees utilizing some of the above-mentioned reforms and by streamlining the bargaining process.

The Political Heretic supports the modifications Christie promises to make on public employee contribution reforms but questions whether the state could afford tax cuts that benefit the wealthy while the state is in this dire fiscal mess. Income tax cuts provide relief for everyone but they substantially provide more relief to those in the higher income brackets than they provide those in the lower income brackets. Providing tax relief to the average lower-to-middle-class worker is understandable. Providing that relief to someone who could afford to pay those taxes is not if and when that money is needed to provide for the government services we all take for granted - road repair, education funding, environmental cleanup, disaster-relief, etc. But as a whole Christie offers the generic Republican platform. You can substitute Chris Christie with any Republican and you will get the same thing. A return to former Governor Whitman's fiscally imprudent borrow and spend, tax cut and borrow formula.

Daggett promises property tax relief, corporate and income tax relief too but he at least puts some numbers on the latter two and offsets his taxes in part by expanding the sales tax's reach to include vacation home and condominium rentals, among other services not yet taxed and by linking such tax relief to a cap imposed on local government spending. Towns and school boards that exceed the tax would forfeit their residents' shot at property tax rebate. The Political Heretic questions whether the state can afford to cut any taxes but believes that we could benefit more from modified tax cut plan that mirrors Daggett's on property taxes (minus the corporate and income tax cuts) without borrowing as much as we would under Christie's plan.

Both, Daggett and Christie promise education reform. Both support charter schools (Corzine does not) and both, to varying degrees, support school vouchers. The arguments for and against school vouchers are overrated. School vouchers save some of the more disciplined students from failing school districts. Conservatives say they promote competition.

They do not since they are too few in number to offer their services to every student who otherwise trapped within the known failing school districts. Liberals say money that is given to the private schools is diverted from the public schools that could use the money. They could, but the school boards don't know how to spend that money properly anyway and to the extent that the tax payer is spending the money it is better utilized in schools that are teaching their students how to read and write than on schools that aren't teaching them how to read and write.

Christie supports school vouchers across the board but money shouldn't be diverted to pay for a student to go to a private or religious school when he or she can receive a good education in a successful public school. Daggett would properly limit his school voucher program to several pilot programs in failing districts. Specifically he would push for legislation to have such programs set up in Newark, Camden, Elizabeth, Trenton, Passaic, Orange, Jersey City, Paterson, Lakewood and Perth Amboy.

Mr. Daggett also, to his credit, proposes public school reform - something Christie does not. Daggett would have the state abolish teacher tenure and replace it with five-year contracts with extensive supervision for mediocre teachers and encourage merit pay. Chris Christie does not.

On two social issues, the Political Heretic favors the governor and Chris Daggett over the Republican nominee - abortion and gay rights. Both support a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy and both said they would have no problem signing marriage legislation. In our country, people are allowed to engage in activities that others would find abhorrent. The state cannot penalize behavior that does not conform with popularly-held religious beliefs. In this respect, Christie's opposition to abortion rights and gay marriages is antithetical to religious liberty.

New Jersey's voters should oust Corzine. His views on tax cuts may be far more superior than the views expressed by either Daggett or Christie but he has done nothing to warrant a second term and Chris Christie has done nothing to prove he would be anything but the generic Republican proposing generic solutions that will not solve New Jersey's complicated problems. New Jersey's politicians need a wake up call that can only be delivered by the mass repudiation of the two-party system that has failed this state under Republican and Democratic governors alike. Daggett provides New Jersey with an imperfect but suitable alternative for change in a political environment most conducive for change. Garden State voters should pull the lever for Daggett.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Note to My Readers

I currently wanted to let any potential readers know that I will be on vacation this week and will return to my regularly scheduled blogging next Monday. Reliable internet usage is spotty so regular updates, even when there may be a developing news story, cannot be expected.

Thanks for your patience. I hope to see you back here on Monday.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What Andrew Sullivan says about Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese is so obvious I can't believe it had to be said.

The Wahsington Post Takes on the Unions

"So what is really the cause of the continuing rift between school and union leaders? Is it Ms. Rhee's blunt style and her budget-mandated reduction in force? Or is it that the union cannot abide, above all in the nation's capital, a contract under which schoolteachers -- like employees throughout the private sector -- might have their work judged, and their compensation awarded, in part on how well they do their jobs?" - editorial from The Washington Post

There is this hope within me that the teachers unions are the only organizations that is dead set against reforming our public system in any meaningful way. But nope. the rant was from the AFL-CIO president.

Don't Ask Don't Tell Reax: A Conservatives Wants His Ideological Soulmates to Outbid the President

Zac Morgan would have the conservatives "outbid the talker" on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Don't hold your breath.

Reax to Obama's HRC Campaign Speech

"I'm fresh off of SiriusOutQ's coverage of the HRC Dinner, and I have to tell you, the low expectations I had regarding LGBT policy were unfortunately met on that account. If you're an activist or citizen looking for timelines, actions, use of the bully pulpit, ANYTHING that would indicate to the community that our President was serious about moving on the laundry list of LGBT issues any time soon, you would call it a fail.

However, I have to agree with Sean Bugg, my fellow commentator on the coverage tonight, who made a great point that if you aren't a wonk or activist clued in to the messy politics going on behind the scenes, this speech is a huge home run of support from the President of the United States to a kid out in the sticks who watches it can now feel he is part of the American fabric. In our cynical view of the political system, jaded by the hypocrisy and spinning we see each day, as well as outright lying by pols and advocates, you have to remember how this speech can resonate with non-political LGBTs and straight America. The President actually engaged with a segment of our community in his first term to affirm support for the LGBT community. I doubt you'll see him endure sane, rational criticism from the right on this other than the usual whines from the fringes who already think he's Satan/Hitler/Muslim terrorist, etc. That's progress on its own and it should not be minimized."
- mixed assessment offered by Pam Spaulding on her blog Pam House Blend

"What's particularly disturbing is how President Obama contradicts himself, and his own administration, when talking to a gay crowd. The president claimed that he's for treating gay couples just like married couples. Then why is he against letting gay couples marry? The president claimed that it doesn't matter if we're at war and working on health care and lots of other important issues, we must forget ahead on gay civil rights. Then why is Obama's own administration putting out the talking point that they can't move ahead on gay rights until the wars are over, until health care is over, until Obama has less on his plate? Even General Jones last week said we can't do DADT because we're at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But President Obama claimed today that precisely because we're at war it is important to lift the ban now." - John Aravosis on his blog, AMERICAblog.


"But the sad truth is: he is refusing to take any responsibility for his clear refusal to fulfill clear campaign pledges on the core matter of civil rights and has given no substantive, verifiable pledges or deadlines by which he can be held accountable. What that means, I'm afraid, is that this speech was highfalutin bullshit. There were no meaningful commitments within a time certain, not even a commitment to fulfilling them in his first term; just meaningless, feel-good commitments that we have no way of holding him to. Once the dust settles, ask yourself. What did he promise to achieve in the next year? Or two years? Or four years? The answer is: nothing." - Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish hosted at The Atlantic

We have heard all of this before from Obama during the campaign -- he supports us, he will sign certain bills. He can crack jokes about Lady Gaga. But what we are lacking is that "fierce advocate" he promised to be. No timetables. No words of support for those fighting in Maine. And no news. We've heard this speech before and nearly a year into his administration, nothing has changed.

As for the Human Rights Campaign, its president, Joe Solmonese, expects us to wait until 2017 before we judge President Obama's tenure. That's too long to wait for LGBT members of our military being expelled. That's too long to wait for those being fired from their jobs for being gay. That's too long to wait for couples being financially destroyed because our relationships are deemed inferior to those of our staight counterparts. That's too long to wait for me and it should be too long to wait for you and all of us. The Eashington Blade

This speech brought us nothing new. And I give it an "F."
"I guess it was a good speech — a great one considering that it reflects the sentiment of a sitting president. “My commitment to you is unwavering,” he said, and I actually believe it as far as the speech goes. Which makes it a home-run of a speech when compared to previous Presidents’ speeches I can name. And I really like the way he promised to stand behind his LGBT appointees against a blistering attack by the right.

And we must not lose sight of the fact that he is speaking before a major LGBT advocacy group. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall a president speaking before, say, Focus On the Family or at the Values Voter Summit. Obama’s presence at the HRC made for about an hour’s worth of video tape to be used by his opponents in 2010 and 2012. These are no small things. Let’s take a moment to be grateful for it.

..

..

Okay. Moment’s over. I think we’ve all heard this speech before. It’s an oldie but goodie. I’ll never tire of hearing it. But the great thing about being President is that he can do a whole lot more than just give speeches to the diehard faithful. Now that, you know, he’s actually President, he has a tremendous bully pulpit with Congress — and with voters in Maine and Washington (which, by the way, he didn’t mention). There are some Executive Orders he can sign on DADT, and some DOJ briefs on DOMA he can influence. You know, Presidential executive-type stuff. Action-type stuff."
Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin

"My reaction: a friend has been sending me ecstatic emails about the speech. I just watched it—the speech is every bit as good as the ones candidate Obama gave, as the performance candidate Obama delivered at the HRC/Logo Democratic Primary Debate, as the open letter to the LGBT community that candidate Obama released before last November's election. Imagine all the wonderful things this guy is going to accomplish if he ever actually gets elected president. In other words: sorry, folks, nothing new to see here. Pledges, promises, excuses. Lip service." Dan Savage writing on the Slog hosted by The Stranger

The panel on CNN. Hillary Rosen has his back. Dan Coi. Michael Signorile and Dan Savage do not.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

President Barack Obama's said he would be a "fierce advocate" for gay rights but his record up to date has been spotty at best so many of us in the gay community who were closely following the president's speech to see if it could give us any indication of what we can expect within the months ahead.

In some important respects the president new. The commitments he made tonight were made when he was stumping on the campaign trail. He renewed his commitment to sign into law the Matthew Shepard Act, which extends hate crime protections to gay, lesbian and transgendered people, and to "push for" the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would ban employers from considering one's sexual orientation when making personnel decisions. He made the case for lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military and said his administration is consequently "moving" to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And he called on Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and spoke of a day "at some time" in the future, when gay families would be treated like any other family.

The gay Americans at the Human Rights Campaign dinner gave him a warm reception when he spoke to their issues. They applauded when he said that the Matthew Shepard Act would be signed into law shortly (as soon as the Senate passes it next week) and when he promised to "push for" ENDA. The cheers got louder when he said his administration was "moving" to repeal the ban on gays serving in the military and when he called on Congress to repeal the "so-called Defense of Marriage Act."

(Referring to the "Defense of Marriage Act" as the "so-called Defense of Marriage Act" is also appreciated, for the act does not protect or buffer straight marriages one iota).

But the crowd was noticeably silent when the president attempted to suggest that we all had a stake in some of the priorities which the president is focusing on - job expansion and health care. Job expansion, the president asserted, affects us all. We all need to make a living in order to pay for the cars we financed, the mortgages on our homes, and the food on the kitchen table. In some respects this is true. ENDA would provide us no relief if there are no jobs to be fired from but the reverse is also true. A job-saturated environment would not serve us well if our application for a job or a promotion can be turned down merely because it is known we are gay.

The president also rightly asserts that we have an interest in meaningful health care reform but we live in a country where one's access to health insurance depends upon one's ability to hold onto a job. Health insurance reform will not help the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered person who is fired because his or her employer does not want him or her in the workplace. The inclusion of the public option could mitigate this problem as would restrictions that forbid insurance companies from discriminating on account of one's sexual orientation or HIV status (this would I gather be treated as a precondition) but again affordability will always be an obstacle when the gay worker is at his or her employer's mercy.

In this respect the push for ENDA isn't a diversion from but an important aspect of the president's commitment to put Americans back to work and his commitment and to help them make health insurance more affordable. It isn't merely a "social issue" that could be pushed to the side when other, supposedly more "important" issues come up but a prerequisite for demonstrating the president's commitment to help ALL Americans make a living.

Ending the ban on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," likewise, furthers this nation's goals. Currently we are fighting two wars with an overstretched military. As it is, the military is recruiting people who have criminal records because it is desperate for troops. Discharging American soldiers from the military because they happen to be gay isn't just wrong from a civil rights perspective; it is counterproductive.

The president understandably has to pick his battles since this country faces many problems, most of them not of his own making. Some issues can be pushed to the side and revisited during a period of economic expansion and I believe many within the gay community would have given him more deference if they didn't feel he was abandoning everything that he said on the campaign trail. Had the president expended some of his political capital on two of the issues facing the gay community, they might have forgiven him for pushing the rest to the side until we were facing better times. The Political Heretic would have advised the president to move on the Matthew Shepard's Act and the Employment Nondiscrimination Act within the first three months of his term.

Insult, however, was added to injury.

Gay Americans were insulted when Reverend Rick Warren, the popular but anti-gay author of "The Purpose Driven Life," deliver the invocation, and the fiasco surrounding the intentional/unintentional communication surrounding the hastily-arranged decision to invite Bishop Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, deliver the Benediction, didn't help either. HBO would point the finger at the Obama transition team while the Obama administration blamed HBO for the failure to air Reverend Robinson's Benediction live. We were insulted when the president failed to acknowledge the losses we felt in Arkansas, California, and Florida. Soothing, comforting words were not offered by our president-elect during our moment in need.

Prominent gay bloggers raised the alarm when commitments which the Obama administration made to gay people were being removed or otherwise revised on the White House's own web site. Then of course, there was the gratuitously insulting DOMA brief that one would expect from a theo-conservative apparatchik within a Republican administration.

One must note the language Obama used when addressing these issues tonight. The president said he will sign the hate crimes bill into law and he said he is "pushing hard" for the job discrimination bill. "We will put a stop for it," the president said. His language on both of these matters was strong, and as such we can expect his commitment to these two matters to be strong.

He said he "will end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'" but he described it in words that suggest it will be a work in progress. The president would not commit to a self-imposed deadline.

The president spoke approvingly of gay families. He referred to "a time" (whether it is in the distant or not-so-distant future is anybody's guess) when the relationships between two men or two women would be valued and treated as the equal to the relationship established between one man and one woman. Implicitly the president was making the case for the gay marriages he does not approve of (he supports civil unions) and implicitly (perhaps even cryptically and tepidly) stated his opposition to the campaigns that seek to devalue the relationships made by gay, bisexual, lesbian and transsexual Americans (by "writing discrimination" in their constitutions )now underway in Washington and Maine. I In Washington, our opponents successfully petitioned to get Referendum 71 on the Movember ballot before same-sex families could sign up and make use of the various domestic partnership benefits that were signed into law. And in Maine our opponents successfully submitted enough petitions to let Maine's voters overturn Maine's new, fully-inclusive marital law.

In both cases the opposition has a a significant advantage over those who are fighting for equality. These questions will be appearing on the ballot of an off-year election when their base will turn out to work. Our base, generally does not turn out as well during off-year elections. They also have the institutional support of their respective churches. The Catholic Diocese of Portland, in fact, has taken up a second round of collections to raise money for the campaign to repeal their state's marriage law.

Whether it was intentional or not, President Obama's failure to specifically mention the opponents divisive campaigns to repeal the domestic partnership and gay marriage laws provides them with the green light to continue their dirty practices, to, in both cases, "bear false witness against their neighbors" by suggesting that the marriage and domestic partnership laws have anything to do with the "promotion of homosexuality" in our schools.

Gay-straight alliances are formed in states with and without fully-inclusive marital laws and they are formed in states. They are formed in states where the social climate is friendly towards gays and in states where the climate is particularly and overtly hostile towards gays. They are formed in school districts that promote them and in school districts that would try to stifle them if the ACLU did not intervene on their behalf. We don't have much leeway if these polls are to be believed. We are edging our way to victory by one percentage point which means we could very well lose, particularly if some of those who said they would support us change their minds when they step into the polling booth.

Mr. Obama's refusal to forcefully speak out against these campaigns was disheartening and sobering - disheartening because we need every vote we can get so his words could have made the difference for those who might have given our argument a second shot if it was made by him, and sobering because it suggests he will not go to bat for us. A president who isn't willing to put his prestige on the line for a campaign we can lose is a president who is at best a fair weather friend.

In the months that follow we will see if the president will live up to his commitment to be a "fierce advocate" for gay rights. We will see if he will, "push hard" for the Employment Nondiscrimiantion Act and if his administration really is "moving" to eliminate Don't Ask, Don't Tell. If, by the time he is running for re-election, there has been no movement on these issues (or on the safe schools act which I wrote of last night) he should not and we should not allow him to expect our donations to his re-election campaign.

This is our moment to stand tall and fight for our right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." If, in fact "all men [and women] are created equal," then we must be treated as if we are equal and we have a right to insist that we be treated like straight America's equal. The Democrats say they support our rights. They now control the House, Senate and the White House. There are no excuses for a delay and we must insist that they act now.

Friday, October 09, 2009

HRC: Dump Solmonese

The Human Rights Campaign has to dump Joe Solmonese. He lets President Barack Obama get away with every dodge and comes across as a pushover who excuses even the slow pace it took to get Hate Crimes legislation through Congress. Then John Aravosis posts this deadline - 2017 to live up to his promises. Cleve Jones should take his place. 2017? seven years from now? What about an evaluation before his re-election campaign gets into full swing?

Gay rights organizations should hold off on any presidential endorsement until he successfully signs into law two (if not three civil rights pieces of civil legislation excluding the hate crimes bill). Give Obama a choice. He can sign into law ENDA and an inclusive safe schools bill, he could sign ENDA while lifting the ban of gays serving in the military, he could sign ENDA and repeal in whole or in part DOMA, or he could sign ENDA and sign a bill that allows gays to sponsor their significant others' for citizenship purposes.

Idiot Quote Watch

“I find it offensive that the Tories are here today, we fought for so many years for equality which they tried to stop and now they’re here. I’m worried that if the Tories get back in to power then all of the good work that we have done will have been for nothing." Matthew Helbert speaking for the idiots who would turn away those whose views on gay rights have evolved.

Rangel Gets Hit By Hometown Newspaper

The New York Times editorial board wants the ethically challenged Rangel to step aside and let another Democrat chair the Ways and Means Committee:

"It is time for Democrats in Congress — who once justifiably complained about the corruption of the Republican majority — to demonstrate to Americans that someone in that august body has ethical standards.

Instead, House Democrats have again shielded Representative Charles Rangel from his serial ethical messes and ducked their responsibility to force him from the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee. ...

... Mr. Rangel’s accumulating missteps and Ms. Pelosi’s refusal to force him to step aside only compound the spectacle. Here is the nation’s chief of tax-writing legislation clinging to power even as his flaws as taxpayer and lawmaker grind slowly and mysteriously through the House ethics committee."


They're right. He should go.

Obama's Statement on the Nobel Peace Prize

"Let me be clear, I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women and all Americans want to build, a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents.

And I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.

And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century. " President Barack Obama after winning the Nobel Peace Prize

The president handled it well.
"Obama should appoint an openly-gay man—an openly gay African American man—as ambassador to the most violently homophobic nation in the Western Hemisphere: Jamaica.

That would be audacious.

Appointing a gay ambassador to Jamaica in 2009 would draw attention to the evils of homophobia in the same way that appointing a black ambassador to South Africa in 1986 drew attention to the evils of racism. It would focus worldwide attention on the problem of anti-gay violence in Jamaica and serve as official expression of the United State's disproval. It would make a powerful statement to the world: the United States may not stand for the equality and worth of all gay people—not yet—but this president does.

Sending an openly gay ambassador to Jamaica would be a bold and meaningful move. Sending one to New Zealand is a symbolic sop to disgruntled Democratic interest group. Wouldn't it be great if Obama had Reagan's balls?"
- Dan Savage

Peace Prize for Obama

Today the Nobel Committee stunned Barack Obama's supporters and detractors alike when it awarded the sitting U.S. president with its Nobel Peace Prize.

In its statement, the Committee cited our president's ongoing efforts to shift the tone away from his predecessor's unilateral approach to resolving international disputes while fostering a climate of mutual cooperation. "Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics," the Committee asserted. "Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play."

It referred to our president as "the world's leading spokesman" for "international cooperation and cooperation between peoples." Specifically, the Committee credited our president for his declaration of support for a "world free of nuclear weapons" and attempts to reach out to the broader international community.

To his credit the president has reached out to the Syrians and the Iranians. Last week his administration welcomed a high ranking Syrian official to Washington for talks and he reinforced his commitment to negotiate with the Iranians in good faith over its nuclear enrichment program (he did not use the Qum nuclear site discovery as a pretext to break off future talks).

The new administration's shift in strategy is no doubt welcomed by those of us, who thought that the strategy adopted by his predecessor did not work. Awarding the president with this honor does, however seem premature. The Nobel Committee did not base its decision on the president's accomplishments and in fact it couldn't have. The president's approach is, for obvious reasons, a work in progress. Nine months isn't a long time particularly when the president has to start by re-establishing ties long broken, let alone deal with the thorny issues that divide us.

Some believe this award was given in part to, to the Committee's desire to endorse the president's approach to resolving political disputes and to reject the approach adopted by his predecessor, George W. Bush. To this end, it lowered its standards considerably.

We should expect our leaders to at least try to resolve our political differences at the negotiating table before they level our opponents' cities and we should expect our leaders to try to resolve their political differences rather than let them grow and fester.

Honoring President Obama in this way insults the memory of those who, like former President Jimmy Carter, accomplished something. This award should go to those who bring once taciturn enemies like Egypt and Israel together at the negotiating table or those who, like the late Yitzak Rabin and the late Yasser Arafat, sign peace agreements moving their people's towards peace.

The Nobel Peace Prize belongs to them. It belongs to the authors of the peace treaties and the ones who help them bridge the divide. It belongs to those who put their lives and their reputations on the line. It belongs to the statesmen or women who would be called traitors for negotiating in good faith with the enemy. It belongs to the organizations like Doctors Without Borders to care for those trapped in war-torn countries. It doesn't belong with the person who dreams of a better future. Anyone can do that but the job of bringing seemingly irreconcilable groups together belongs with a select few. President Obama may one day deserve the award he will officially receive in December. He does not today.

Robinson: Investigate Charlie Rangel

"The real problem, though, is the overall portrait of a wealthy and privileged congressional pasha to whom ordinary rules don't apply. It's a picture that obscures Rangel's long and tireless work in the House on behalf of the needy and dispossessed. It pains me to see his record tarnished, because I like and admire the guy. But he's the one who did the tarnishing. ...

... Speaker Nancy Pelosi may owe her job to Rangel, but she needs to press the ethics committee to do its work without fear or favor. And she needs to contemplate the prospect of explaining to voters, come next fall, why the affluent man who sets their taxes didn't pay his." Eugene Robinson on Representative Charlie Rangel's (D-New York) ethical problems

Robinson said what needed to be said.

"To Have and To Hold"

"I will join them in their march because I believe in their equality and believe in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution that promises to protect it. I will join them because the humanity of all people is diminished when any class of people is denied privileges granted to others. I will join them because I know that when heterosexuals stand up and call for justice alongside their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters, the sooner justice will come. ...

... We can no longer pretend that civil rights do not include rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Flimsy justifications for anti-LGBT bias are giving way to evidence that society is strengthened, not weakened, when LGBT people are given equal protection under the law. Where they are free to marry those they love, the sky has not fallen. Where they cannot be denied employment and housing simply because of who they are, the sky has not fallen. Where they serve nobly in the military without the burden of secrecy, the sky has not fallen. Rather, when all people are free to live up to their full potential, all of society benefits. Yet the United States still permits all these forms of discrimination." - NAACP Board Chairman and University of Virginia Professor Julian Bond in The Washington Post

Plus,

the editorial headline that pretty much sums up what the gays are seeking, and a story on the ongoing battle in Maine.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Getting away with Murder

because they placed their faith in God rather than have their child treated for diabetes. When Madeline Kara Neumann could no longer talk, they prayed, and she died. Needless to say, their prayers weren't answered.

Matthew Shepard Act

This is a start, albeit a very tepid step in the right direction given that the Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress.

Representative John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said he thinks it wrong to "pass a law that’s going to add further charges to someone based on what they may have been thinking." To whatever extent his argument had merit it was conceded when Congress passed a hate crimes law that "added further charges to someone based on what they may have been thinking" about one's race, ethnic group, or religious affiliation. The free speech rights of the bigot who utters an anti-gay epithet while bashing his or her victim's face with a baseball bat aren't implicated anymore than the free speech rights of the bigot who utters a racial epithet while bashing his or her victim who bashes his or her victim's face with a baseball bat. The free speech rights of the religious zealot who recites biblical passages while bashing his Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim victim on the head are implicated no more than the free speech rights of the religious zealot who recites biblical passages while bashing his gay victim on the head.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Gay Ambassador

President Barack Obama will nominate David Huebner to serve as our ambassador to Samoa and New Zealand. I guess the president wants to "show" the gay community he isn't entirely ignoring them before he speaks at a Human Rights Campaign event on Saturday evening.

Obama won't be the first president to nominate a gay American to an ambassadorial position. This political glass ceiling was broken when former President Bill Clinton nominated James Hormel to serve serve as our ambassador to Luxembourg. Mr. Obama's immediate predecessor nominated Michael E. Guest to serve as our ambassador to Romania. If the president wanted to break the glass ceiling he could do what German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a conservative no less, did by naming Guido Westerwelle of the Free Democrats to serve as her new vice chancellor and foreign minister.

Mr. Obama is of course taking some heat from the anti-gay right for nominating Kevin Jennings to Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools in the Department of Education, so he must be doing something right. Jennings is known for his work to make public school environments more livable for gay teenagers.

Nevertheless, the president won't have much to boast sbout when he speaks to the Human Rights Campaign activists. The Matthew Shephard Act, let alone the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, have yet to reach the president's desk. Add to that the president's decision to postpone any repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and a series of missteps starting with the invitation to let the anti-gay Reverend Rick Warren deliver the invocation and culminating in a "Defense of Marriage Act" brief which parroted the language used by religious right like U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)

At some point we are going to expect our president to deliver on his promises to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the misnamed "Defense of Marriage Act." We can settle for the president's signature on the Matthew Shepards Act, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The president cannot expect us to donate to his campaign or otherwise support him if he expects us to wait until his second term to pass anything that has any value to us.

I would hope that he would use his his speech to denounce the fear-mongering tactics being employed by those who are fighting to repeal Washington's domestic partnership law extension and Maine's inclusive marriage law. He could note that their latest ads marginalize and promote ostracism towards those teenagers who are gay and those who have same-sex parents. The president could also boost his standing with his gay constituents by calling on Congress to sending him a fully inclusive ENDA bill so he could sign it by the end of the year and recommit himself to the elimination of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Protecting Their Own

U.S. Representative Charlie Rangel (D-New York) will keep his seat as the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Keith Olbermann's Hour Long Special Comment on Health Care

I like MSNBC host Keith Olbermann and watch his show in spite of its limitations (it feels like an echo chamber since Mr. Olbermann almost never has a guest on that disagrees with him). (As an aside it would be nice if he had a public option opponent get invited and make the case for letting Americans purchase health insurance across state lines). Mr. Olbermann has used his bully pulpit to fight for genuine health care reform and, to his credit has called the president and the Democrats in Congress out for their failure to pass what he believes to be the most important aspect of any health insurance program - a public option designed to cut on health insurance costs.

Earlier this week Mr. Olbermann said he would devote the entirety of his show to a special comment on health care reform. I didn't believe it. As a whole, the attention span of the average American is low. Most would tune him out after the first five minutes. Devoting the entirety of the show to a special comment seemed like a waste of time. Nothing that the MSNBC talk show host said changed my mind on the efficacy of his said plan.

Yes, he appropriately pointed the finger at the health insurance industry and the immoral policies that rations life care by income. He should have devoted his time relaying stories of health insurance or, better yet, describing what is and is not the Baucus bill and how those provisions your average American worker. Mr. Olbermann, in other words made the case for reform but failed to make the case for or against specific reform bills.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Economy and Jobs: Does Obama get it

Bob Herbert has a question for President Barack Obama.

"Does he get it?"

No he does not.

More from Herbert:

"Even Mr. Obama, in an interview with The Times, gave short shrift to the idea of an additional economic stimulus package, telling John Harwood a few weeks ago that the economy had likely turned a corner. “As you know,” the president said, “jobs tend to be a lagging indicator; they come last.”

The view of most American families is somewhat less blasé. Faced with the relentless monthly costs of housing, transportation, food, clothing, education and so forth, they have precious little time to wait for this lagging indicator to come creeping across the finish line."


Obama really doesn't get it. He doesn't get it on health care. He doesn't get it on jobs. And he doesn't seem to get it on economic regulation. Mr. Obama seems to be listening to the wrong people. He's listening to the Wall Street executives that wiped out our pension plans. He's deferring to the senators who are beholden to the health insurance agencies that are raising premiums on the average workers. His economic stimulus package was too small and now he's dismissing claims that we need another one.

The president really has to get out of the White House and tour the country. He's got to listen to the people who voted for him expecting change. We really need a major government works project to put everyone back to work. Every state has its share of bridges in dire need of repair and every state has roads in need of repaving.

On health care our president has largely been missing in action. He devoted one address to Congress and one press conference to the issue but on both occasions the president spoke in platitudes and broke no new ground.The president said it could not add to our nation's growing debt and could be passed without a public government plan to compete with the health insurance agencies but failed to explain how (a) the cost in health care would be offset or (b) what must be included within the health package. At each step of the way, the president or someone who was speaking on his behalf said a health insurance plan that includes no public option could be signed into law by our president but a concession such as this was, at at all, to be treated as the end result of and not as a sign of good faith for, bipartisan negotiations.

The president's failure on the Wall Street is the most unnerving of all. The president owes his election in large part to the collapse of the stock market, the loss of pension plans, and the McCain campaign's failure to coherently respond to this economic crisis. Laissez-faire economics was repudiated. Wall Street bankers needed to be regulated after all.

This crisis provided the Obama administration with an opportunity to restructure the regulatory regime in Washington but the president had merely decided to tweak it. Mr. Obama could have consolidated some regulatory agencies so Wall Street bankers could never shop around for them again or he could have pushed for a bill that prohibited the emergency of businesses "too big to fail." The president, to date, has not and he has not expended any capital on this important issue.

The people who voted for Obama could turn on him at a moment's notice. The president must use the bully pulpit to fight for what he believes in for if he doesn't he and the Democrats that stand behind him, could be in for a ugly midterm election.

Ensign's Ethical Trouobles

Senator Ensign says he won't step down but the news appears to get worse over time. He could do his party and the residents in Nevada a favor and change his mind.

Quote of the Day

“I hope to hell he stole those airplanes — I would be so proud,” - Pam Kohler, the mother of fugitive accused of serial burglary.

A family with issues.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Cost of Prejudice Quantified

the financial impact that is.

SNL Scoop: The Proof Obama Isn't the Soclialist Conservatives to fear

He's done "nothing, nada". "Almost one year and nothing to show for it."

Hard to disagree with this assessment.

Very Disturbing Story on Ground Beef Inspections

"Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen." from The New York Times

You know what that means. Short cuts. Shoddy, if any inspections at all. Like any business, meat packers and grinders are, after all, concerned about the bottom line. Consumer safety is secondary. If a little exposure to a potent strand of E.Coli leaves you paralyzed from the waist down, oh well:

"Unwritten agreements between some companies appear to stand in the way of ingredient testing. Many big slaughterhouses will sell only to grinders who agree not to test their shipments for E. coli, according to officials at two large grinding companies. Slaughterhouses fear that one grinder’s discovery of E. coli will set off a recall of ingredients they sold to others."

We can't have a recall now could we? God forbid they waste their time, money and yes, processed junk in order to save lives.


"Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli, industry research shows. Yet Cargill, like most meat companies, relies on its suppliers to check for the bacteria and does its own testing only after the ingredients are ground together."

Could you imagine the rationalization taking place? The suppliers think they can employ shortcuts because, well, the buyer will test their meat quality and the buyer thinks it could take short cuts because they think their supplier won't sell them a defective product. Supplier and buyer alike thinks they can trim costs by relying on the other party in the exchange to do the testing.

And yet in spite of this, the reporters tell us that our government, in the form of the USDA, has been fairly lax in providing us, through the issuance of mandates (government regulations) protection from E. Coli.

"The United States Department of Agriculture, which allows grinders to devise their own safety plans, has encouraged them to test ingredients first as a way of increasing the chance of finding contamination."

The USDA "encouraged them to test." How encouraging. And here's more:

"While the Department of Agriculture has inspectors posted in plants and has access to production records, it also guards those secrets. Federal records released by the department through the Freedom of Information Act blacked out details of Cargill’s grinding operation that could be learned only through copies of the documents obtained from other sources."

Not the USDA, which merely "encouraged" Cargill, and its competitors no doubt too, to do the right thing. Cargill, not surprisingly, had its own set of priorities starting with the bottom line. Note these examples from the news story that follow.

1. Cargill inspected its meat for materials that could break its grinders but it did not, at that point, when it is easier to spot E. Coli, to do so:

"As it fed ingredients into its grinders, Cargill watched for some unwanted elements. Using metal detectors, workers snagged stray nails and metal hooks that could damage the grinders, then warned suppliers to make sure it did not happen again.

But when it came to E. coli O157:H7, Cargill did not screen the ingredients and only tested once the grinding was done."


2. Cargill, like its competitors, opted for a process that exposes us to more E.Coli. That process involves the use of meat from a variety of sources as opposed to a whole cut of meat, including areas of a cow frequently exposed to the feces that carries E. Coli. Why? because,according to The New York Times, it cuts their costs by 25%.

3. Cargill's investigation into the source of this E.Coli outbreak only after it was hit buy multimillion dollar lawsuits from those who got sick. At that point, it behooved them to see if they can shift the blame, at least in part if not whole, on its suppliers.

Cargill, it should be noted, is not the only villain in this story. Note to its suppliers. Note the standard best-practices of Greater Omaha, which sprays the carcasses with lactic acid and hot water but

(a) fails to trimmings piece-by-piece as they get put into combs or boxes

and

(b) kept the pace of churning out its food at its "torrid" pace even when the trimmers who were ultimately responsible for removing any remaining feces from the carcasses were reassigned (and consequently short-staffed).

Several workers, by the way, say they aren't paid for the time they are required to clean the contaminants off their knives and gear. Again, all for the bottom line.

Note too, the allegation Costco (the one honorable mention in the story) levels at Tyson Foods. Tyson Foods, a Costco spokesman claims, won't sell their product to Costco since it doesn't want its product tested before grinding.

Remember this anytime you here any pundit or corporate spokesperson rail about government regulation, big government, socialism or red tape. Know that their concern doesn't lie with the consumer who ultimately will use their product, or the worker that makes them. Know that, pure and simply, they are concerned about the bottom line and that they are willing to make profoundly immoral decisions to protect that bottom line.