Texas federal Judge Fred Biery is a key villain in GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s narrative about why federal judges are out of control and must be intimidated into submission. Gingrich routinely cites a previous decision by Biery holding that the Constitution does not permit a public school district may not sponsor a student-led prayer at graduation to justify eliminating courts that displease Gingrich.
Fortunately, the actual parties to this lawsuit were not nearly as unreasonable as Mr. Gingrich, and they eventually agreed to settle the case after mediation. In his order approving the settlement, Biery includes an unusual “personal statement” directed at the many lawmakers who, like Gingrich, have painted him as some kind of enemy of religion:
To the United States Marshal Service and local police who have provided heightened security: Thank you.
To those Christians who have venomously and vomitously cursed the Court family and threatened bodily harm and assassination: In His name, I forgive you.
To those who have prayed for my death: Your prayers will someday be answered, as inevitably trumps probability.
To those in the executive and legislative branches of government who have demagogued this case for their own political goals: You should be ashamed of yourselves.
Biery also includes a clever dig and the many Christian right groups that have attacked him: “Any American can pray, silently or verbally, seven days a week, twenty four hours a day, in private as Jesus taught or in large public events as Mohammed instructed.”
Georgia?s controversial plan to mandate drug testing for all welfare recipients and other beneficiaries of government assistance got a big endorsement on Friday from Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney.
On a local NBC affiliate in Georgia, Romney said that he supported the measure:
Jeff Hullinger: [Lawmakers] have bantered about the proposition that welfare recipients should be drug tested. How do you feel about that?
Mitt Romney: Well my own view is, it?s a great idea. People who are receiving welfare benefits, government benefits, we should make sure they?re not using those benefits to pay for drugs. I think it?s an excellent idea.
Romney?s support for blindly drug-testing welfare recipients dates back at least two decades, to his failed 1994 campaign for the US Senate. Civil rights advocates, meanwhile, have been quick to challenge the constitutionality of drug testing bills that were passed last year, and courts blocked similar bills from being implemented in Florida and Michigan.
Rather than saving states money or ensuring taxpayer dollars aren?t used to purchase drugs, mandatory testing laws have succeeded only in proving that welfare recipients are actually less likely to use drugs than the public at large, and implementing laws requiring drug testing is costing states like Florida money they don?t have.
The ACLU of Florida has estimated that the state saved just over $40,000 between July and October by denying residents welfare support based on their failure to pass a drug test, while it spent more than $245,000 in reimbursements for the cost of the exam in the same time period.
Last week the United States evacuated its remaining diplomats in Syria amid fears of increasing violence closing in on the capital, Damascus. U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford took to Facebook last Friday calling on the Bashar al-Assad regime to end the fighting and bring about a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria. “When we see disturbing photos offering proof that the regime is using mortars and artillery against residential neighborhoods, all of us become even more concerned about the tragic outcome for Syrian civilians,” he wrote.
In a new interview with France 24, Ford, speaking in Arabic, renewed calls for a peaceful resolution and said the international community needs to “find the necessary financial means to support” the nearly 70,000 internally displaced refugees. Ford also said flat out that the United States does not support outside military intervention:
FORD [English translation from Arabic]: The American position is stating that we reject any type of military intervention in Syria, let’s be clear about that. … We are striving for a peaceful solution and even the Syrian people do not want a military solution to this problem to the Syrian crisis.
Watch the interview:
Also today, United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay called the Assad regime’s violent crackdown “crimes against humanity” and that the Security Council’s failure to act has emboldened Syria’s security forces to launch an all-out assault to crush dissent.
Our guest blogger is Alice Thomas, Climate Displacement Program Manager, Refugees International. In May, 2011, Alice wrote how the extreme floods of Colombia were devastating the nation. This post describes Colombia’s continued fight for survival in our poisoned climate.
As we approach the town of Manatí, in northern Colombia, I look eagerly out the window for signs of change. When I was here almost a year ago, makeshift shelters and tents lined the sides of the road. Random pieces of furniture were piled nearby: a refrigerator or a rocking chair ? anything people could save from the floodwaters.
Today the tents are gone. But just outside of town, we turn off the road and into a lot, where temporary shelters made of fiberboard and corrugated metal have been constructed. I see Irida emerge from one of them. Smiling and laughing, we embrace each other.
Irida is one of approximately 225,000 people who were affected when unprecedented rains in the fall of 2010 caused the nearby Dique Canal to rupture. The break in the canal, which connects Colombia?s coastal city of Cartagena to the Magdalena River, submerged half of the northern state of Atlántico under 80 million cubic meters of water. When I first visited Manatí in March 2011, half of the town was still underwater, and Irida was living under plastic sheeting after being evicted from the local school. Irida?s house, which she showed me by canoe, had water up to the rooftop.
To some extent, Irida was lucky. Hers was one of the first families in the town able to move into these temporary shelters last April. In many of the nearby towns we have visited, they were not completed until three months ago.
But the shelter where Irida now lives was designed to last only three months. She has been there for almost a year. Worse than that, the floodwaters have still not dissipated, and her house is still flooded. According to the state governor?s office, 60 percent of the area that flooded when the Dique Canal burst in 2010 is still underwater today. Pumping has proven ineffective because much of this area was once wetland and is now returning to its natural state. So Irida and the roughly 600 other families in Manatí who?ve lost their homes are now being told they will have to relocate.
The day after our reunion with Irida, we join a town hall meeting where the governor tells a schoolyard full of flood-affected families that his priority is to find land and build homes for the thousands still displaced more than a year later. But Irida tells me that she doesn?t want to take the piece of land being offered. It is too far away from the center of town, she says. Before the floods, she ran a small grocery shop out of her house. If she relocates, she will be unable to restart her business and will be isolated from her community.
Like so many other Colombians we are meeting on this trip, Irida is quick to smile and laugh. But the pain and anxiety are nevertheless visible on her face. Beyond the relocation troubles, she has many more immediate worries. The toilets at her temporary shelter do not work, and two of the plastic water tanks have recently ruptured in the heat. The Colombian government discontinued food deliveries to the area in November. Her husband has been unable to find work. Without permanent homes or work, how can the process of recovery even begin?
I am at a loss for words as we say our goodbyes. I hope things will be better for Irida the next time we meet; I wish I could be more certain.
Reading through President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2013, with a few exceptions, it looks to be a decent year for government support for the arts:
-The administration plans to achieve $25 million in savings by consolidating the Education Department’s arts education programs under a larger umbrella.
-A slight increase in the funding request for the National Endowment for the Arts. For fiscal year 2012, President Obama had asked for $146 million for the NEA, down from $168 in fiscal 2011. This year, he’s requesting $154 million for fiscal 2013, a small increase.
-A similar increase for the National Endowment for the Humanities, from $146 million in fiscal 2012 to a $154 million request for fiscal 2013.
-A $24 million increase in the funding request for the Smithsonian Institution, from $636 million for fiscal 2012 to $660 million for fiscal 2013.
-Continued funding in the amount of $85 million for the construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture as part of a $186 appropriation for facilities planning, construction, and revitalization of Smithsonian Institution facilities.
-A slight downward tick in funding for the operations of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, from $23,200,000 in fiscal 2012 to $22,379,000 in fiscal 2013.
-A $6 million increase for the National Galleries of Art, from $114 million to $120 million.
Now, just because Obama is asking doesn’t mean he shall receive?that certainly hasn’t been the case in the past. But it’s nice to see the President treat long-term investment in the arts as a worthwhile cause. It’d be a real shame in particular if we lost the chance to get the National Museum of African American History and Culture during the first term of the first African-American president.
Not content with President Obama’s “evolving” position on same-sex marriage, Freedom to Marry is launching a new campaign “calling on the Democratic Party to officially support marriage equality” in its 2012 platform, the Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel reports. The proposed language reads, “We support the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, with equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law, including the freedom to marry. Government has no business putting barriers in the path of people seeking to care for their family members, particularly in challenging economic times. We support the Respect for Marriage Act and the overturning of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and oppose discriminatory constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny the freedom to marry to loving and committed same-sex couples.” The Party’s 2008 platform opposed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which the Obama administration is no longer defending in court.
The Virginia House of Delegates “gave preliminary approval Monday to a so-called personhood bill” and rejected an amendment that would have ensured contraception can remain legal. The measure sates that ?unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of the commonwealth, subject only to the laws and constitutions of Virginia and the United States, precedents of the United States Supreme Court, and provisions to the contrary in the statutes of the commonwealth.? The House is expected to formally approve the bill tomorrow and lawmakers expect that it can also pass in the Republican-controlled senate.
This post originally appeared at the Health Insurance Resource Center.
Consumers are now able to search for insurance plans offering domestic partner coverage on HealthCare.gov, the one-stop shop maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services for all things related to health care reform.
The web site, which was one of the consumer-friendly reforms required by the Affordable Care Act, includes a Health Plan Finder tool that allows consumers shopping for coverage to compare plan details such as cost sharing, enrollment, and benefit design in order to choose the option that best meets their needs. The new filter helps same-sex couples, many of whom do not have access to health insurance through their own or their partner?s employer, find plans in the non-group market that offer coverage for domestic partners.
Small businesses can also use the filter to search for coverage for their employees. According to a recent study, 51 percent of small businesses currently offer equal benefits to employees with same-sex partners or spouses, and 50 percent of those who do not say they would like to offer such benefits in the future. HealthCare.gov now links these employers with an easily searchable menu of options for providing the families of their gay employees with affordable coverage.
More employers should take note. The majority of Americans with private insurance receive coverage through their own or their spouse?s employer. Companies that do not extend benefits to the families of employees with same-sex spouses or partners are increasingly uncompetitive against companies with broad diversity policies and inclusive benefits packages. Fundamentally, policies that promote a diverse workforce are good for the bottom line: they maximize the talent in the hiring pool and help retain happier, healthier, and more productive employees.
Insurers should also take note. A healthy, middle-aged man living in Kansas City, Missouri who needs to buy health insurance has 72 options available on HealthCare.gov. Using the filter for same-sex partner coverage slashes that number by almost 80 percent, to only 17 plans. As insurance market reforms under the Affordable Care Act kick into high gear over the next several years, it will become increasingly unacceptable to leave same-sex spouses and domestic partners out in the cold without access to affordable coverage through the individual market.
According to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the web site update is part of her department?s commitment to be more responsive to the needs of gay and transgender people and their families. In a memo released last spring, the department committed itself to making the change as part of a list of recommended actions to improve gay and transgender health.
As important as this change is for addressing disparities in health insurance coverage for same-sex couples and advancing a shift in the perception of domestic partner benefits from fringe to mainstream, there is much more that must be done to promote equal access to affordable, comprehensive insurance coverage for gay and transgender people.
In particular, HealthCare.gov does not yet incorporate a filter allowing consumers and employers to search for plans that do not target transgender people with arbitrary and discriminatory coverage exclusions. Such exclusions, which specifically exclude coverage for services rendered to transgender people, are frequently interpreted to deny coverage to transgender people for a wide range of medically necessary health care services, including many that are routinely covered for non-transgender people.
Right now the vast majority of private insurance plans sold in the U.S. incorporate such exclusions. However, a sea change driven by the same kind of employer commitment that is driving the broader adoption of domestic partner benefits is also happening for transgender-inclusive policies. According to the 2012 Corporate Equality Index, which tracks employee benefits at hundreds of major companies, more than 20 percent of Fortune 1000 companies now offer fully inclusive health insurance policies for their transgender employees.
Alongside the updated filter showing options for domestic partners, HealthCare.gov now incorporates numerous other filters showing benefits for services such as home health services, in- and out-patient rehabilitation services, skilled nursing facilities, hospice services, dental care, infertility treatments and weight loss programs. Adding information pointing out plans that contain unfair and clinically unsound exclusions targeting transgender people will go a long way toward driving these exclusions out of the market. HealthCare.gov should not just follow trends in the health insurance market ? it should help set them.
The unclassified version of a report on the war in Afghanistan was finally published for public viewing last Friday. The report is by Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, a seventeen-year Army veteran who just returned from his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. It[...]
Read The Full Article: