The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay civil rights lobby, just sent a letter to President Obama in response to the homophobic brief Obama's DOJ filed last Thursday night. It's a good letter, but more important than its content is its existence. In politics, sending a letter chastising a friend is a far more significant act than what the letter actually says. It's just not done unless something very big and very bad happens. Usually things happen quietly, behind closed doors (especially with friends). When they go public like this, it means serious trouble is brewing. (I'd also add that HRC is known as the "nice" gay group. They don't get angry at Democrats, and they don't send letters chastising Democratic presidents. When they do, it means something.)
I'd also add that HRC is perhaps the first major gay group to actually mention, and chastise the president for, the brief's invocation of incest. That's a big deal, and a hell of a news hook as well for any of your journalists out there.
I would quibble with HRC about one small point. At the end of the letter they call on Obama to send legislation to Congress that would repeal DOMA. That's great. But it's not enough. At this point, I think the community is far beyond the point of Obama "sending" legislation, and then doing nothing to get it passed. We want action. Action on DOMA, DADT and ENDA. We expect the president to stop filing briefs on behalf of DOMA, to actually lift a finger, or even two, to get DOMA passed, and to stop discharging gay soldiers, immediately. (ENDA is its own nightmare - I don't think it's going anywhere.) Submitting legislation will simply not cut. I sincerely hope the administration doesn't think it will.
June 15, 2009UPDATE: Pam Spaulding rightly asks, what comes next if Obama blows us off?
President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I have had the privilege of meeting you on several occasions, when visiting the White House in my capacity as president of the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization representing millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people across this country. You have welcomed me to the White House to express my community?s views on health care, employment discrimination, hate violence, the need for diversity on the bench, and other pressing issues. Last week, when your administration filed a brief defending the constitutionality of the so-called ?Defense of Marriage Act,? I realized that although I and other LGBT leaders have introduced ourselves to you as policy makers, we clearly have not been heard, and seen, as what we also are: human beings whose lives, loves, and families are equal to yours. I know this because this brief would not have seen the light of day if someone in your administration who truly recognized our humanity and equality had weighed in with you.
So on behalf of my organization and millions of LGBT people who are smarting in the aftermath of reading that brief, allow me to reintroduce us. You might have heard of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. They waited 55 years for the state of California to recognize their legal right to marry. When the California Supreme Court at last recognized that right, the octogenarians became the first couple to marry. Del died after the couple had been legally married for only two months. And about two months later, their fellow Californians voted for Proposition 8.
Across this country, same-sex couples are living the same lives that Phyllis and Del so powerfully represent, and the same lives as you and your wife and daughters. In over 99% of U.S. counties, we are raising children and trying to save for their educations; we are committing to each other emotionally and financially. We are paying taxes, serving on the PTA, struggling to balance work and family, struggling to pass our values on to our children?through church, extended family, and community. Knowing us for who we are?people and families whose needs and contributions are no different from anyone else?s?destroys the arguments set forth in the government?s brief in Smelt. As you read the rest of what I have to say, please judge the brief?s arguments with this standard: would this argument hold water if you acknowledge that Del and Phyllis have contributed as much to their community as their straight neighbors, and that their family is as worthy of respect as your own?
Reading the brief, one is told again and again that same-sex couples are so unlike different-sex couples that unequal treatment makes sense. But the government doesn?t say what makes us different, or unequal, only that our marriages are ?new.? The fact that same-sex couples were denied equal rights until recently does not justify denying them now.
For example, the brief seems to adopt the well-worn argument that excluding same-sex couples from basic protections is somehow good for other married people:Because all 50 States recognize hetero-sexual marriage, it was reasonable and rational for Congress to maintain its longstanding policy of fostering this traditional and universally-recognized form of marriage.The government does not state why denying us basic protections promotes anyone else?s marriage, nor why, while our heterosexual neighbors? marriages should be promoted, our own must be discouraged. In other words, the brief does not even attempt to explain how DOMA is related to any interest, but rather accepts that it is constitutional to attempt to legislate our families out of existence.
The brief characterizes DOMA as ?neutral:?[DOMA amounts to] a cautious policy of federal neutrality towards a new form of marriage.DOMA is not ?neutral? to a federal employee serving in your administration who is denied equal compensation because she cannot cover her same-sex spouse in her health plan. When a woman must choose between her job and caring for her spouse because they are not covered by the FMLA, DOMA is not ?neutral.? DOMA is not a ?neutral? policy to the thousands of bi-national same-sex couples who have to choose between family and country because they are considered strangers under our immigration laws. It is not a ?neutral? policy toward the minor child of a same-sex couple, who is denied thousands of dollars of surviving mother?s or father?s benefits because his parents are not ?spouses? under Social Security law.
Exclusion is not neutrality.
Next, the brief indicates that denying gay people our equal rights saves money:It is therefore permitted to maintain the unique privileges [the government] has afforded to [different-sex marriages] without immediately extending the same privileges, and scarce government resources, to new forms of marriage that States have only recently begun to recognize.The government goes on to say that DOMA reasonably protects other taxpayers from having to subsidize families like ours. The following excerpt explains:DOMA maintains federal policies that have long sought to promote the traditional and uniformly-recognized form of marriage, recognizes the right of each State to expand the traditional definition if it so chooses, but declines to obligate federal taxpayers in other States to subsidize a form of marriage that their own states do not recognize.These arguments completely disregard the fact that LGBT citizens pay taxes ourselves. We contribute into Social Security equally and receive the same statement in the mail every year. But for us, several of the benefits listed in the statement are irrelevant?our spouses and children will never benefit from them. The parent who asserts that her payments into Social Security should ensure her child?s financial future should she die is not seeking a subsidy. The gay White House employee who works as hard as the person in the next office is not seeking a ?subsidy? for his partner?s federal health benefits. He is earning the same compensation without receiving it. And the person who cannot even afford to insure her family because the federal government would treat her partner?s benefits as taxable income?she is not seeking a subsidy.
The government again ignores our experiences when it argues that DOMA § 2 does not impair same-sex couples? right to move freely about our country as other families can:DOMA does not affect ?the right of a citizen of one State to enter and to leave another state, the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than an unfriendly alien when temporarily present in the second State.?This example shows the fallacy of that argument: a same-sex couple and their child drives cross-country for a vacation. On the way, they are in a terrible car accident. One partner is rushed into the ICU while the other, and their child, begs to be let in to see her, presenting the signed power of attorney that they carry wherever they go. They are told that only ?family? may enter, and the woman dies alone while her spouse waits outside. This family was not ?welcome.?
As a matter of constitutional law, some of this brief does not even make sense:DOMA does not discriminate against homosexuals in the provision of federal benefits?. Section 3 of DOMA does not distinguish among persons of different sexual orientations, but rather it limits federal benefits to those who have entered into the traditional form of marriage.In other words, DOMA does not discriminate against gay people, but rather only provides federal benefits to heterosexuals.
I cannot overstate the pain that we feel as human beings and as families when we read an argument, presented in federal court, implying that our own marriages have no more constitutional standing than incestuous ones:And the courts have widely held that certain marriages, performed elsewhere need not be given effect, because they conflicted with the public policy of the forum. See e.g., Catalano v. Catalano, 170 A.2d 726, 728-29 (Conn. 1961) (marriage of uncle to niece, though valid in Italy under its laws, was not valid in Connecticut because it contravened public policy of th[at] state.?As an American, a civil rights advocate, and a human being, I hold this administration to a higher standard than this brief. In the course of your campaign, I became convinced?and I still want to believe?that you do, too. I have seen your administration aspire and achieve. Protecting women from employment discrimination. Insuring millions of children. Enabling stem cell research to go forward. These are powerful achievements. And they serve as evidence to me that this brief should not be good enough for you. The question is, Mr. President?do you believe that it?s good enough for us?
If we are your equals, if you recognize that our families live the same, love the same, and contribute as much as yours, then the answer must be no.
We call on you to put your principles into action and send legislation repealing DOMA to Congress.
Sending [DOMA repeal legislation] passively up to the Hill's jellyfish leadership is akin to not sending it at all.
Also, what happens next if the President thumbs his nose at this letter? The gauntlet has been thrown down with an appeal to decency. Is the Obama administration going to toss this in the ashcan (hello, Rahm)? This is the dilemma that HRC faces as our advocacy group on the Hill. Now the WH knows HRC is angry, will it call a bluff of some kind, as in "you have nowhere else to go"?
Seriously, I'm glad this letter is finally heading to the President, but considering the callous way our issues have been treated -- by Obama's silence and the evasive contempt of Robert Gibbs, it's highly likely that the response will be silence or, humorously (NOT), telling us that they "feel for us" and again toss out "we had to do it" and try to take our eye off of the DOMA ball with the acceleration of hate crimes legislation. There needs to be a plan to follow up any response to the WH that doesn't look like a retreat or a whimper.
Real News Network - June 15, 2009
Struggle within Iranian elite
Pepe Escobar: Two camps locked in fierce struggle, as Revolutionary Guard stages a successful "coup"
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Supporters of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi called off a planned protest rally in Tehran on Monday after the Interior Ministry declared it would be illegal and treated as sedition.
A Mousavi website said the gathering had been delayed after the Interior Ministry refused to authorize it.
And 5 hours later...
Mon Jun 15, 2009 9:37am EDT, Reuters
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of supporters of Iran's defeated presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi gathered in downtown Tehran on Monday, defying an Interior Ministry ban.
Shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is great), they converged on Revolution Square, where the moderate former prime minister was expected to call for calm after two days of violent unrest in the capital since hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the victor in Friday's vote.
"Mousavi, take back our votes," the marchers chanted as they waited for Mousavi and other pro-reform leaders who back his call for the election result to be overturned.
Stick-wielding men on motorcycles scuffled with some of the marchers, who wore Mousavi's green campaign colors.
O’Reilly asked from the beginning:“Do you think fetuses in the late term deserve any protecion (from the law) at all?!Watch Joan Walsh screw-up by struggling with priorities… She’s pathetic:“Well Bill, you know.. Umm…Bill O’Reilly is desperate for a black and white answer and Joan Walsh screws up with “IF”, “THEN”, and “ELSE” conditional statement. You [...]
Read The Full Article:
A June 15 New York Times article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear reported that the American Medical Association (AMA) "has come out against a central component of [President Obama's] broader health care proposal -- his call for a new public insurance program that would compete with the private plans," and that Obama's scheduled June 15 speech at the AMA convention in Chicago "comes as the president's ideas on health reform are facing mounting criticism -- not only from the A.M.A. and Republicans, who also vehemently oppose a new public plan, but also from the hospital industry." But Stolberg and Pear did not note that after a June 10 Times article quoted a statement from the AMA saying the group opposes "a public health insurance option," the AMA backtracked from that position.
Like the June 10 article, the June 15 Times article also did not note that the AMA does not represent the majority of doctors. Indeed, according to its 2008 annual report, the AMA "is a national professional association of physicians with approximately 236 thousand members," and the AMA's online physician locator -- which states that it provides "basic professional information on virtually every licensed physician in the United States" -- includes "more than 814,000 doctors." A March 2005 USA Today article similarly reported that "[t]he nation now has about 800,000 active physicians." Based on the AMA figures, the AMA represents slightly less than 29 percent of licensed physicians in the United States.
The June 10 Times article, by Pear, reported that the AMA "will oppose creation of a government-sponsored insurance plan." The article further reported that the AMA submitted the following statement to the Senate Finance Committee: "The A.M.A. does not believe that creating a public health insurance option for non-disabled individuals under age 65 is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs. The introduction of a new public plan threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers, which currently provide coverage for nearly 70 percent of Americans."
Subsequently, in a release responding to the Times, AMA president Nancy Nielsen stated: "Today's New York Times story creates a false impression about the AMA's position on a public plan option in health care reform legislation." Nielsen added: "The AMA opposes any public plan that forces physicians to participate, expands the fiscally-challenged Medicare program or pays Medicare rates, but the AMA is willing to consider other variations of a public plan that are currently under discussion in Congress."
As Media Matters for America documented, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson also ignored the AMA's inconsistency on a public health care option during a June 12 report.
From the June 15 New York Times article:
On Monday, Mr. Obama will go to the annual medical association meeting to face a group that has come out against a central component of his broader health care proposal -- his call for a new public insurance program that would compete with the private plans. The White House says he will make the case that "reform is the single most important thing we can do for America's long-term fiscal health," and how important it is to have the cooperation of doctors.
But whether he can get them on board is an open question. The speech comes as the president's ideas on health reform are facing mounting criticism -- not only from the A.M.A. and Republicans, who also vehemently oppose a new public plan, but also from the hospital industry, which is up in arms over a proposal Mr. Obama announced on Saturday to pay for his health care overhaul in part by cutting certain hospital reimbursements.
A most strange storyline has emerged with regard to the provincial vote totals for the Iranian election. Around 1600 GMT Sunday, the ministry of Interior released the official vote totals by province. As others have mentioned, by law candidates have three days following voting to contest the result, before the final totals are approved by the Supreme Leader. As such, it is notable that both the aggregate totals and provincial totals were certified, approved and released before the three day deadline.
Another curious turn of events was that somewhere between 1600 and 2000 GMT, the provincial vote totals mysteriously disappeared from the English language (and all other languages other than Persian) versions of www.presstv.ir and other Iranian news outlets, where the interior ministry had distributed the results. As such, we are in debt to Daniel Berman and his colleagues for their translation of the official provincial numbers.
Although widespread allegations of fraud, manipulation, intimidation and other all too common elections tactics have been be common, statistically detecting fraud or manipulation is a challenge. For example, while mathematicians have been evaluating vote returns for irregularities in normal situational random number distribution , determining what the "correct" results should be is very difficult.
However, given the absolutely bizarre figures that have been given for several provinces, given qualitative knowledge - for example, that Mahdi Karroubi earned almost negligible vote totals in his native Lorestan and neighboring Khuzestan, which he won in 2005 with 55.5% and 36.7% respectively - there is room for a much closer look.
Two things are of particularly interest to us, the first being whether it is plausible for Pres. Ahmadinejad to have received as high of a total as the results indicate (and the sub-question of whether it was plausible for him to have received an outright majority in the first round). The second question is whether the vote totals for his rivals are reasonable, given the fact that they have run for elected office before. Iranian politics, as in many countries, is dominated by a relatively small number of individuals who in many cases have held several of the key posts in government since 1979. Those with strong connections to founding Supreme Leader Khomeni and his associates have fared particularly well. Evaluting their support by province in previous election cycles, particularly in a Presidential race, is one way to provide some evidence for or against them.
First, we will have a look at the trend-related numbers for Iran's recent Presidential history to see if Friday's totals make intuitive sense, given the overall trend towards higher turnout, and decreasing first round victor percentages.
As discussed last week, higher turnouts and lower winning percentages have been the trend. With reported turnout through the roof (between 80 and 85 %), the 2009 elections were expected to be quite competitive.
This second chart integrates the first round data from 2005, which resulted in the first-ever run-off vote in the Islamic republic. A regression using just first round data projects that in 2009, the first round winner would pick up just 31.5% of the vote, quite a low figure - but with two nationally competitive candidates, and two regionally competitive candidates, certainly not impossible. Using just the overall victor's winning percentage, a 2009 projected figure of 58.7% comes out - higher than any polling would have suggested, but certainly within a range of normal. We would have expected Ahmadinejad's result from Friday, informed by the polling, historical trends and a bit of bet-hedging, to be between 40% and 55%.
These figures would suggest that Ahmadinejad's reported 65% of the national vote is at minimum outside of the trend, and more likely, an exaggerated figure. Whether they overstate the will of the Iranian public by 3-5 points or say, 20-30 points, is up for interpretation.
Second, with regard to the challengers, the focus on Mousavi's vote totals has dominated most of the discussion, for example, his unexpectedly soft support coming from the northern provinces of East and West Azerbaijan, including his home city of Tabriz. It is likely more useful in a context of numbers-checking to instead compare the Ahmandinejad totals to those of someone he has run against before. Medhi Karroubi, over whom Ahmadinejad advanced to the 2005 runoff round by just 700,000 votes, was surrounded by controversy in that election as well, arguing that Ahamdinejad's totals had been inflated by conservative hardliners. His openly accusatory allegations to the Supreme Leader resulted in his resignation from several top political posts.
Karroubi was the leading reform candidate of the 2005 election cycle, in close competition with one other reform candidate, one centrist, and two conservatives, including Ahmadinejad. He won in 11 of Iran's 30 provinces, the most of any candidate that year, and was within 2 points of advancing to the run-off. It was a strong showing, which encouraged him and his backers to challenge Ahmadinejad again this year.
Polling put his candidacy at around 7-10% of the national vote this time around, with the strong incumbent expected to pull more in the first round than he did in 2005 (19.1%). Karroubi's numbers in his provinces of strength were better, with polling regularly put him at around 20-25% in his home region, with particular strength in the provinces of Lorestan, Ilam, and Khuzestan. This is where the provinicial results get fishy:
Not only did Ahmadinejad beat Karroubi in his base of support, he crushed him beyond all recognition. Karroubi's share of the vote in Lorestan was cleaved by a factor of ten, and in only two other of the provinces did he break above 1%. Even with a consolidation of conservative support, and possible defection of Karroubi supporters to Mousavi (who was likely perceived as the candidate more likely to win) this large of shift is hard to imagine.
Again, as we have mentioned on several occasions, the numbers still do not prove any wrongdoing, as large scale changes in public opinion do happen regularly around the world. However, given the polling data in the run-up to the balloting, and the historical trend away from electoral domination in the first round by one candidate, this very fishy regional data tends to strongly support that which the canceled Mousavi protest was meant to express.
Read The Full Article:
So no one should be suprised he's now looking at reining in medical malpractice suits as a way to cut health costs. It's another one of his "middle ground" with Republican stances.
In closed-door talks, Mr. Obama has been making the case that reducing malpractice lawsuits — a goal of many doctors and Republicans — can help drive down health care costs, and should be considered as part of any health care overhaul, according to lawmakers of both parties, as well as A.M.A. officials.
He's not addressing capping lawsuit awards...at least not yet. [More...]
Restricting medical malpractice lawsuits is not the answer to our health care problems. Legislation pushing these lawsuits to the federal courts, as was attempted in 2005, is a bad idea.
The American system of civil justice provides a crucial means for ordinary middle-class citizens to hold powerful corporations and government agencies responsible for their actions. Congress should work to strengthen and preserve this system of accountability rather than seeking to limit corporate liability, restrict victims’ compensation, and obstruct access to the courthouse, as this bill and other legislation pending in 2006 seeks to do.
On Friday, John Murtha was saying "we'll pass it." By Sunday, he wasn't saying that any more. "Nancy's working on it" was all he'd say. By our whip count, we only need five more votes -- but since I don't know how Jim Cooper expects to vote for this[...]
Read The Full Article:
Oil is trading well over $70 a barrel - at its highs for this year - and just off nine-month highs of $73.20, seen last October 21, oil has been steadily rising. Oil prices have risen nearly 100% since their $38 a barrel lows seen last January.
Unfortunately - at a time when consumers can’t afford a wallet drain - retail gasoline prices across the United States have risen to $2.55 a gallon on average, and over $3.00 a gallon in places like California.
As you drive by the gas station and see the now familiar price changes - sometimes by the hour…
When Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh announced this morning he was withdrawing from the[...]
Read The Full Article:
It was only a matter of time that a gay couple filed in Federal court for federal recognition of their marriage. We're not talking anything religious here, rather civil rights accorded married couples. Like the right to file joint tax returns. Tom Suozzi (who ran in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2006, and is a current Nassau County executive) had this to say in a Times op-ed yesterday on the subject of equality:
Under current New York State law, same-sex couples are deprived of access to the employment benefits, life and health insurance and inheritance laws that heterosexual couples have. If the state were to institute civil unions for same-sex couples, that discrimination would end, but we’d still be creating a separate and unequal system.
Civil unions for both heterosexual and same-sex couples would be an equal system, but this compromise appears unlikely at the current time. Few heterosexual couples would give up their current civil marriage for a civil union. While some states would recognize civil unions for all, others would not, causing legal problems for New York couples. Advocates of same-sex marriage don’t seem in favor of such a compromise either.
According to the last census, there are an estimated 50,000 households headed by same-sex couples in New York, many who were married in other states. Those marriages are recognized by New York courts as valid. As a result, we have same-sex marriage for some in New York (albeit performed out of state) and no marriage at all for other same-sex couples.
Similar parity issues are faced at the federal level, and Smelt set out to right them. The crux of the argument is that DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) violates the Constitution.
Last week, the Obama administration filed its response.Obama's Motion to Dismiss Marriage case