Nel's New Day

July 12, 2015

Religion in Birth Control, Cakes, Ignorance

Birth control is an obsession with Republicans. Instead of just letting women use contraceptive devices, the GOP tries to stop them and then accuses them of being fallen women who just want welfare if they get pregnant. Colorado is a great example of this GOP problem.

For the past six years, Colorado offered no-cost, long-acting birth control such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants to teens and poor women. From 2009 to 2013—just five years—the program reduced the birthrate for teenage girls by 40 percent and the rate of abortions by 42 percent. It is truly a pro-life program. In the poorest areas of the state, the decline in unplanned pregnancies among single women dropped the greatest. In 2009, half of all first births in these areas were to women under 21 years of age; by 2014 the age increased to 24. About 20 percent of women ages 18 to 44 in Colorado use a long-acting form of birth control in comparison to the national average of 7 percent.

The success rate is saving the state $5.85 for each $1.00 spent in Medicaid—that’s $80 million–something that conservatives claim that they want. Yet the same conservatives rejected funding to continue the program. Excuses given for discontinuing the funding are all based on individual morality of legislators: it increases promiscuity and subsidizes sex. One GOP lawmaker said, “Does that allow a lot of young women to go out there and look for love in all the wrong places?” Other excuses were that the program might fail, despite the amazing success in its first five years. Colorado Republicans also “misrepresented” the facts, claiming that IUD use led to increased abortions (no!), that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would cover long-term birth control devices (no!), and contraction access increased teen sex rates (no!).

A year ago the Supreme Court ruled that the corporation Hobby Lobby held such deep religious convictions that it and other “closely held” stock corporations can choose to be exempt from the ACA mandate that employers’ insurance programs include free contraception for women. A spate of similar lawsuits followed the Hobby Lobby decision. One of these, East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell, came before an extremely conservative judge on the 5th Circuit Court. Nominated by Ronald Reagan almost 30 years ago, Judge Jerry Smith objects to abortions rights and has called feminists a “gaggle of outcasts, misfits and rejects.”

The participants in the lawsuit could be exempted from federal rules just by submitting a form or otherwise telling the federal government that they won’t do it. The plaintiffs refused to complete the paperwork, claiming that doing so makes them complicit in the employee’s decision to use contraception. Smith wrote the unanimous opinion for a three-judge panel that the plaintiffs failed to show that the regulations “substantially burden their religious exercise” through filling out a simple form because a letter is not contraception. He also wrote that ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would lead to such absurd challenges to government functions as a person who disapproves of working on Sunday refusing to apply for Social Security disability because it might assist people to work on Sunday if the form is processed on that day.  Smith summarized that “the possibilities are endless, but we doubt Congress, in enacting RFRA (the religious freedom act), intended for them to be.”

Smith’s ruling led to President Obama issuing new guidelines for contraception and the ACA. If a company wants to deny contraceptives to its employees, it must submit a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stating its objection. The government will then provide free birth control to employees through a third-party insurer. Sen. Patty Murray, irritated with the convoluted process of getting contraception for women, is working on legislation to repeal the Hobby Lobby ruling.

10_commandments_In another religious battle, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is defying the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s recent order to remove the Ten Commandments monument in front of the state capitol building. In a 7-2 decision, the state’s highest court upheld the constitution that states “no public money or property” would be used to support any specific religion. When asked about her defiance, Fallin said, “You know there are three branches of our government: the Supreme Court and the legislative branch and you have the people. The people and their ability to vote.”

According to a survey last year, only 36 percent of the people in the United States know the three branches, a situation that raised cries to improve the education in the country. Growing up in Missouri, Mary Fallin, 59, was subject to the ignorance that most people educated in the South experienced. The instruction about slavery, for example, is that masters gave the happy-go-lucky slaves a family and protected them from the attacking northerners. One popular textbook wrote that slaves experienced the first social security with great clothing, medicine, and lots of food. “The slave … suffered little or no want.”

Education is rapidly returning to the falsehoods of the 1970s with the acceptance of Texas textbooks promoting “tea party manifestos.” A conservative Christian minister who helped push the standards through said in 2010, “We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it.” The new history textbooks barely address segregation and lack any mention of either the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws. The Civil War was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights, and slavery,” minimizing the part of slavery in driving the conflict. A school requirement is reading Jefferson Davis’ Confederate inauguration address which fails to mention slavery while ignoring the speech from Davis’ vice president, Alexander Stephens, in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and “the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

In today’s South, people still fight the Civil War because their ancestors never conceded defeat or signed a treaty to end the war. The only surrender was military. The North never accepted that the Southern states had seceded, and the Southern states never admitted that they had rejoined the North. Because there was no treaty, Southern leaders were never even tried for treason. Texas will lead the South into continued ignorance, one in which governors can’t even name the three branches of the federal government.

A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples at The Abbey in West Hollywood, California, July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS FOOD SOCIETY) - RTX119FY

A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples at The Abbey in West Hollywood, California, July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS FOOD SOCIETY) – RTX119FY

In another big lie about “religious freedom” during the past week, the far right is promoting one huge “misrepresentation” with a giant omission after Oregon levied a $135,000 fine against Sweet Cakes by Melissa because Aaron and Melissa Klein refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

The lie: The Kleins claim that there is a “gag order” against their talking about the case.

The truth: They are ordered only to “cease and desist” from advertising that discriminates against same-sex couples. The Kleins are free to talk about the case—the decision, their disagreement, etc.

The omission: Aaron Klein posted the lesbian couple’s personal information—name, home address, phone numbers and email address—on his Facebook page. After the Kleins campaigned at anti-LGBT hate rallies, the women received death threats. They feared that they would lose their foster children because state adoption officials warned them of their responsibility to protect the children and keep privileged information confidential. (The children have since been adopted.) The judge in the case also received death threats.

The Kleins’ martyrdom is also profit-making. Although the fine is $135,000, they have raised over $250,000 online—a nice payment for bigotry.

November 5, 2013

Election 2013–Tea Party Loses

I voted last week although today is the official Election Day of 2013. Nothing much important—a city vote about building a new swimming pool and a county one about whether the county commission should be elected on a nonpartisan basis. My state has mandatory mail-in voting, so I vote any time within a couple of weeks before the deadline—unlike the rest of the nation except for Washington.

In Texas, lots of people, including the 90-year-old former House Speaker Jim Wright, were blocked at the polls because of the new voter ID law. Even the gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was challenged when she went to vote. By some coincidence they are both Democrats.

While, the U.S. House of Representatives wallows in ennui and obstructionism, millions of people across the United States are setting trends with today’s election. Some of the results are almost sure before people go to the polls: abrasive Chris Christie got another term as New Jersey governor, and progressive Bill De Blasio became the first Democratic New York mayor in two decades. New Jersey may have wanted to want Christie, but they didn’t want his veto of the minimum wage. Voters overturned this veto to bring the minimum wage to $8.25, still lower than in many other states.

The nail-biter happened in Virginia where a far-right, anti-sodomy, anti-woman, pro-fraud Ken Cuccinelli lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a fundraiser who’s never held elected office. Not since 1977 has a governor in the sitting president’s party won a Virginia governor’s race. Extremist E.W. Jackson, vying for lieutenant governor, was called nothing but a sideshow but still pulled in 45 percent of the vote against Ralph Northam.

The office of attorney general still hasn’t been called with Democrat Mark Herring a few hundred of votes from “Cuccinelli’s clone,” as the conservative Washington Post called Mark Obenshaim. He has been behind not only the loss of jobs in Virginia but also the suppression of voters and establishment of “personhood” legislation to eliminate any abortions. He even attempted to force women to report miscarriages to the police. Another of his bills would allow campus groups to ban LGBT people.

When Cuccinelli’s ratings started to tank, he tried to have 57,000 voter names purged from the lists and succeeded in 38,000 cases. The state gave lists of purges to local registrars who were told to use their “best judgment” in deciding who to remove with no standards for reviewing the names. Registrars received the lists just a few days before Election Day, and at least two of the officials said they would wait until after today to start the process after finding a large percentage of mistakes. Even the purging wasn’t enough to stop the election of Democratic governor and lieutenant governor.

In mayoral business, financially beleaguered Detroit ended up with the first white mayor in the majority-black city since Roman Gribbs (1970-1974). The city’s finances are still controlled, however by Kevin Orr, the emergency manager who Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed.

With 12 candidates for mayor, Boston elected Marty Walsh, supported by organized labor, after Tom Menino finished his 20-year run as the first non-Irish mayor since 1930. Minneapolis has almost three times that number, 35, on its ballot for mayor. No results planned until tomorrow.

Annise Parker, Houston’s first lesbian mayor, regained her position. Seattle has two Democrats running for mayor. At this time, State Sen. Ed Murray is ahead at 57 percent, but Washington mail-in votes will come in during the next several years. Murray led efforts to legalize gay marriage in the state and, if elected, would be Seattle’s first openly gay mayor.

Most of the 31 ballot measures in six states are fairly ho-hum. New York does have one that, if approved, would permit casinos state-wide and another that would allow a mining company to do its work in a “wild forever” preserve of Adirondack Park if they promise to put the land back when they’re finished. No results for those yet.

The most important initiative in the nation may be Measure 522 in Washington state that requires labeling on genetically-modified foods. A similar measure failed last year in California. The question in this vote is whether the big money will win. Of the $22 million fighting against the labeling, $550 came from Washington state residents. Even a win from the pro-labeling group could lead to a federal court challenge with the food industry’s claim that its rights are violated through “coerced speech.”

Over 90 percent of people in the U.S. want labeling of genetically-engineered foods, and Connecticut having passed a law to require this. Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire, are also considering similar bills. The industry promises people that these foods are safe but don’t allow the products’ independent test. Seeds are engineered to produce their own insecticide or survive treatment with an herbicide. For example, a farmer can spray their fields with Monsanto’s Roundup to kill the weeds but not the crop. The USDA is currently considering the approval of carcinogenic chemicals.

The 522 opposition claimed that grocery prices would increase because of the labeling which has been shown to be false. Virtually all the money for No on 522 came from the Grocery Manufacturers Association and five chemical and biotechnology corporations: Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer, and BASF. These groups used an “Astroturf” strategy in publicizing donors to conceal the source of the donations. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said that the sum is “the largest amount of money ever concealed in an election.”

A group called Moms for Labeling sued to find out GMA’s donors. After the suit was thrown out, Washington’s Attorney General filed his own suit. Public health watchdog Michele Simon, wrote that the secret fundraising actually broke the law because the tactic was specifically intended to “better shield individual companies from attack.”

With half the votes counted, the measure is down by about 10 percent. The next few days will show whether the $22 million paid off.

The GOP hopes that an early primary in Alabama sets the tone for those pitting far-right Republicans against Tea Party extremists. Big business funded anti-Tea Party Bradley Bryne who defeated Ted Cruz-loving Dean Young. The Tea Party isn’t giving up: yesterday Tea Party Leadership Fund Treasurer Dan Backer announced the group’s plan to target the 87 GOP congressmen who voted to stop the government shutdown with Tea Party candidates.

Smaller elections may cast larger ripples. For example, SeaTac voters may have approved a $15-an-hour minimum wage and sick days for workers. This would cover workers at Washington’s Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and nearby large hotels. Currently the state has the highest minimum wage at $9.19. And right now, the measure is winning!

Voters in South Portland (ME) failed to ban the flow of tar sands oil from western Canada to the city by 192 votes out of the 8,837 turnout. Businesspeople wanted the the thick, gooey oil; the opposition didn’t want its harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases. Its neighbor, Portland, approved legalized recreational marijuana for residents 21 and older. It is the first East Coast city do to so.

In Colorado, voters in 11 rural counties decided whether they wanted to secede from the state that has legalized LGBT civil unions and marijuana. One of these would like to join Wyoming, which would ruin the nice square look of that state. At this time, four counties rejected the proposal, four approved it, one has incomplete returns, and two others are saying how they voted. Even if the counties request secession, the state and Congress would have to approve a 51st state. Good luck on Congress approving anything these days!

In Whatcom County north of Seattle (WA), voters picked four county council candidates in an election that will determine the future of a proposed coal-export facility, which, if built would be the largest terminal facility like that on the West Coast. Environmentalists need at least four councilors to oppose permits for the facility, and, at this time, the election appears to be providing these opponents to the facility.

A great victory today, too, is the decision of the Illinois legislature to pass marriage equality. Gov. Pat Quinn has promised to sign the bill, making the state the 15th in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

What does today’s election tell the people in the United States? The Democrats have one more state governor, 21, compared to the 29 that the GOP has. The newest one defeated his opponent in spite of his strong belief in gun control. A Southern primary defeated a Tea Party member. Pot and same-sex marriage are becoming more accepted, and the climate issues might be getting closer to a win but not yet there—especially with corporation money pouring into elections.

Chris Christie gave what sounded like the first campaign of his presidential campaign, especially when he said that he might not finish this term as governor of New Jersey. Most ironic was his bragging about the respect he has shown people, when one thinks about his bullying tactics toward anyone who might ask him questions. Either he’s moving forward or hoping that no one watches reruns of those videos.

And it’s 364 days until we do this again in November 2014.

September 6, 2013

Tuesday Elections

If it’s Tuesday, there must be an election somewhere. This next week, there are Current mayor Michael Bloomberg served three out of two terms because he got the city terms’ limit law changed to let him run a third time. There’s very little publicity about the GOP candidates: one of the three is a billionaire, but he’s not the one ahead in the polls. On the other hand, Democratic candidates have been seen on television a lot—especially Anthony Weiner after he said he was through with texting photos of his personal anatomy and then did it again. One of his opponents is the city commissioner Christine Quinn, a lesbian who married after New York changed its marriage equality laws and published a book, much of it about her marriage.

nyc_mayor_dabate_0903

Weiner seemed to be in the lead until he took up his texting again, but after a few highly publicized temper tantrums, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for him. The leader is the tall guy, Bill de Blasio, whose 43-percent polling puts him far in the lead. At the last debate, the other candidates, including Bill Thompson, Jr. and John Liu, kept trying to knock him down. The 43 percent would serve Blasio well because he needs over 40 percent not to have a run-off on October 1 before the general election on November 5.

A more important election, however, decides the fate of two Colorado state senators, one of them the senate president, because they supported gun control. If they are successfully recalled this next Tuesday, other gun legislation may suffer. The election has brought in almost $2 million in the past month, most of it from groups outside the state. NRA alone has spent almost $400,000 to protect their turf, and the Koch brothers have piled on more money. Bloomberg has promised $350,000 to Taypayers for Responsible Democracy, and Mayors against Illegal Guns back the background checks on gun purchases and limiting the size of ammunition magazines that passed the legislature earlier this year.

Voters decide both on the recall and, if that passes, the replacements. Only two incumbents are running, both Republicans who would win by default if the recall passes. The two subjects of the recall come from districts in which President Obama received 58 percent and 59 percent, respectively, during the last election. Yet regular absentee voters won’t receive ballots in the mail; in 2012, 77 percent of Coloradans voted by mail, instead of going to a polling place. Military and overseas voters can cast absentee ballots, probably on the Internet.

After three days of early voting, registered Democrats were outvoting Republicans in the Sen. Angela Giron (Pueblo) recall by a three-to-one margin. A recent poll by Quinnipiac University showed that Colorado voters opposed the recall efforts by two-to-one, saying that people who disagree with legislator should wait for another election. The poll was across the state, however; the winner will be decided by the voters who show up. It will also show whether NRA’s money can control state legislatures.

Colorado has another looming issue, the desire of the disgruntled to form a new state. The map below shows how people are reacting. The 51st State Initiative is a blog devoted to keeping track of interest in the project. Blue indicates counties with “significant support” from citizens or officials; yellow is used for places where people actively work for secession, green shows counties with a popular vote or a resolution to join the working group, and white counties in Kansas also might want to join “North Colorado,” the new name. Red? Just not interested.

Colorado

Left of Colorado, a group of counties in southern Oregon and northern California may go backwards over 70 years in their consideration of creating the free State of Jefferson, removed from “loony California.” This plan was hatched in the 1935s but lost momentum after just before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On November 27, 1941, irate citizens blocked Highway 99 where the road entered the wished-for State of Jefferson. members of the citizen committee used guns to block Highway 99 where it entered the State of Jefferson. After distributing their proclamation, they let motorists continue on their way.

In last Tuesday’s meeting, Siskiyou County (CA) voted 4-1 for a declaration of secession from the state. Even staff members of their representative in Washington, Doug LaMalfa (R), expressed support for the separation. Country officials are also trying to drum up support in both Oregon and California; they say that Humboldt County (CA) has shown interest.

jefferson

Only one problem with all these separations from the mother state: seceding from one state and forming another one requires approval of both the original state and the U.S. Congress. But it entertains all the people involved in protesting their legislators.

All the complaining reminds me of teenagers who want to have their own way but don’t want to pay for their livelihood. Texas had the same issue when Gov. Rick Perry considered secession a few years ago before he counted all the money that the government sends to the state.

 

 

March 21, 2013

Congress Loosens Gun Laws

Yesterday Colorado’s governor John Hickenlooper signed landmark gun laws that expanded background checks and limited magazine sizes. Just hours earlier, Tom Clements, the head of Colorado’s corrections department, was shot and killed when he answered the door to his home. The county sheriff where Clements lived had promised not to enforce the new state laws.

On the day that Clements was killed, Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) withdrew a ban on assault weapons and the provision to limit magazine sizes from the planned bill to increase penalties for people who purchase guns for others barred from having them.  Tonight, after extreme pressure, Reid said that he would return the ban on assault weapons to gun legislation.

Since December 14, 2012, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre has said that he’s waiting for the “Connecticut effect” to wear off. It appears that he is getting his way. After Republicans threatened to close down the United States, Congress sent the continuing resolution for government funding to the president for signing. The first gun legislation since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre actually loosens gun controls. When President Obama signs the bill, it makes four long-term gun provisions permanent:

(1) Justice Department cannot require inventories from firearms dealers to make sure weapons haven’t been stolen;

(2) the government cannot change the definition of antique guns which allows many of these weapons to be sent into the country;

(3) the Justice Department cannot deny a license to firearms dealers who report no business activity; and

(4) the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives must include language in firearms data stating that the information can’t be used to make conclusions about gun crimes.

Andy Borowitz, author of a humor column for the New Yorker, came too close to being accurate in his assessment of LaPierre’s comments when he satirized LaPierre’s position:

“I must admit, when the national conversation about guns started in those dark days of December, I thought it was a bad idea.People kept saying that things would be different this time, and that scared the bejesus out of me. I was concerned that the national conversation about guns would turn into something uglier, like congressional action. Fortunately, that danger seems to have passed.”

Borowitz continued, writing that LaPierre said that the NRA would remain vigilant in keeping the conversation from “veering off into concrete remedies that will actually change things.” And that’s exactly what the NRA CEO is doing. The people want a ban on assault rifles: 59 percent of voters support this. But the NRA lobby is powerful; even my own representative, Kurt Schrader (D-OR), gets enough money and persuasion from the NRA that he opposes any tighter gun legislation.

What the people who support tighter gun laws know is that the states with the best gun laws have the fewest gun deaths. Just using the volume of gun laws on the books shows that the states with the highest number of firearms measures have a 42-percent lower rate of gun deaths than those with the fewest number of gun laws. Massachusetts has 3.4 gun deaths per 100,000 people, only 19 percent of the 18 gun deaths per 100,000 people in Louisiana. Since the tragedy at Newtown (CT) on December 4, Kentucky has had four times the rate of gun deaths as New York.

 

Getting any research in gun deaths, however, is extremely difficult. In the early 1990s, Rep. Jay Dickey (R-AR), self-identified as “point person for the NRA,” succeeded in choking off the evidence.

LaPierre has changed his own views since the 1990s. In May 1999, he said, “We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America’s schools, period.” By Sandy Hook, he had moved from gun-free zones to calling for armed, NRA-trained vigilantes patrolling all the nation’s almost 100,000 public schools.

Past pillars of the GOP have supported gun control. After George Wallace, southern governor campaigning to be president, was shot in 1972, President Richard Nixon recommended getting rid of Saturday-night specials and considered banning all handguns. Nixon said, “I don’t know why any individual should have a right to have a revolver in his house. The kids usually kill themselves with it and so forth.” He asked why “can’t we go after handguns, period?”

Republican William Safire, wrote in 1999 about the Second Amendment “[A] right that sometimes isn’t, is no right at all. After a great job on the First Amendment, the amending Founders botched the Second… Here’s how to fix a flawed amendment that is the source of so much confusion: Repeal its ambiguous preamble. Let some member of Congress introduce an amendment to strike the words before the comma in the Second Amendment.”

The attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in March 1981 that seriously wounded his press secretary James Brady led to the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Reagan advocated for the law and said, “Every year, an average of 9,200 Americans are murdered by handguns, according to Department of Justice statistics. This does not include suicides or the tens of thousands of robberies, rapes and assaults committed with handguns. This level of violence must be stopped. If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land.”

The year after terrorists took down the World Trade Center on 9/11, William F. Buckley, Jr. said:

“The assertion of a right at ridiculous lengths–the absolutization of it, in the manner of the American Civil Liberties Union–is a way of undermining it. If the Constitution says you can say anything you want under any circumstances, then you can shout “fire” in a crowded movie theater. If you have the right to remain silent in all circumstances, then you can decline to give testimony vital to another citizen’s freedom and rights. If you insist that a citizen has the right to own a machine gun, you discredit his right to own a pistol or a rifle.”

The gun industry has always lobbied for more gun sales and threatened to move their companies to more sympathetic states. Their latest tactic is to refuse to sell firearms or accessories to police and police agencies “that citizens can’t buy.” Thus if a state votes to limit magazine capacity to 7, New York for example, the boycotting manufacturers will not sell magazines with higher capacity to cops, federal agents or any other law enforcement magazines.

I reflect on the attitude that all gun owners responsible. Here are a few of these “responsible” people. In Crawfordville (FL), 61-year-old Mary Frances Alday threatened a Wal-Mart employee with a gun because her $1.00 Internet coupon was not accepted. In Orange City (FL), Jose Martinez pull off five shots in a Wal-Mart parking lot with the excuse that he was defending himself from a shoplifter who ran over and injured him. The police pointed out that Martinez was bumped by the car only because he chased it and tried to open the car’s door.

A 35-year-old Florida man, Gregory Dale Lanier, was shot by his dog as they traveled State Road 17 North. The dog kicked the 9mm lying on the floor of the truck. The gun went off, hitting Lanier in the leg. (Maybe it’s just Florida?)

In a classic example of irony, the gun industry is immune from liability suits, but bb gun manufacturers can be sued for negligence. The NRA lobbied GOP lawmakers in 2005 to obtain this shield. As Jon Lowy, director of the Brady Center Legal Action project, said on The Rachel Maddow Show on March 8:

 “There’s a basic principle of civil justice which governs everyone in society. That we all have to act reasonably. And if we don’t, we are deemed negligent. We can be deemed liable. The only people that that rule does not apply to are licensed gun dealers, manufacturers and distributors.”

He continued:

“We have cases where gun dealers supply criminals profit from those sales and then they come up with defenses such as, ‘I put a gun on the counter. I turned my back. What do you know, the criminal took the gun, left money on the counter for me and I didn’t know that he was going to do that.’ That, as implausible as it sounds, is a compelling defense under this federal law that can get them off the hook.”

A lawsuit, however, is trying to make gun owners responsible, using the example of a bar held responsible for a drunk driver who seriously injured a young couple and killed a fetus in a car crash. That decision was based on the Dram-Shop law holding bars and liquor stores in some states liable for damages caused by a person who is over-served or sold to. An Ohio lawsuit is claiming that gun owners who do not properly secure their weapons or family members responsible for people using guns for crimes are liable for the damages.

A year ago, 17-year-old boy T.J. Lane used his uncle’s .22 caliber pistol to shoot and kill three boys at Chardon High School in Painesville. He also wounded three other students. The families of the three people he killed are suing Lane, his natural parents, his grandparents–also his custodial guardians –-and his uncle John Bruening, claiming that they failed to prevent the shooting. Those who think that this is outrageous must consider that Nancy Lanza, the mother of the Sandy Hook shooter, bought the weapons, trained her son in shooting, and left the weapons accessible.

July 21, 2012

GOP Too Cheap to Give Firefighters Any Insurance

How cheap, selfish, and uncaring are Republicans? When President Obama gave health care insurance to federal firefighters, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) questioned his action. Coburn has asked the Office of Personal Management (OPM) to defend the decision with a legal analysis and several cost assessments including the regulation’s economic impact, its impact on federal worker premiums, and the estimated 10-year cost to taxpayers.

When the president visited Colorado because of the recent fires, he discovered that, as seasonal government workers, thousands of firefighters were ineligible for insurance under the federal employee health plan. Because of  the president’s action, firefighters will be eligible to buy into the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program for themselves and their families by the end of the month, and other temporary disaster-relief workers may qualify in the future.

Rep. Diana DeGette, (D-CO) introduced legislation to provide health insurance for firefighters and their families on the same day that the president issued his directive. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) supported her. According to the Denver Post, the Republican representative delegation from Colorado has stayed “mostly silent.”

Coburn said that the firefighters “are to be commended for their service.” Mitt Romney’s campaign has no comment about the president’s directive. Neither one of them has to worry about health insurance; Coburn gets his free from the government.

May 17, 2012

End Homophobia & Transphobia

Because of Louis-Georges Tin, French university lecturer and equal rights campaigner, today is The International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). He chose May 17 for this global day of action to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. The organization began with a concentration on homophobia in 2004 and added transphobia five years later.

The week began with clear examples of homophobia. Despite majority approval from legislators, Virginia blocked a gay judge from confirmation.  One Virginia lawmaker said he voted against the confirmation because a gay judge could not be impartial; the House of Delegates voted 33-31 for confirmation but lacked the 51 majority votes required.

Colorado suppressed a bill to allow same-sex civil unions. The Republicans had filibustered the civil union bill until the legislature finished for the year, but the governor brought the legislature back to consider the bills not addressed in the session. House Speaker Frank McNulty then sent the bill to his “kill” committee, the State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee with five Republicans of the nine members. The bill would probably have passed  if it had escaped the committee.

On the good side, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has come out in favor of marriage equality. “I don’t think we want to wait on courts,” Quinn said. “I think in Illinois, we are able to show the nation that we are a state that believes in respecting everyone. Everyone has dignity and rights.”

Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee declared that the state will recognize any legal marriages from any other state, including same-sex marriages. The situation has been pending for five years since then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch issued an opinion that recognizes out-of-state same-sex marriage. The executive order making same-sex marriage legal has many implications. Same-sex spouses of state employees and anyone covered by an insurance company regulated in Rhode Island can get health and life insurance benefits. Same-sex couples having children can list their names as parents on the birth certificates, and they also receive sales tax exemptions on property transfers.

The Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) is headed back to committee—and the support behind this is bipartisan! Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced a hearing in the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee on June 12. The announcement followed a letter dated May 9 from ENDA co-sponsors Mark Kirk (R-IL), Robert Casey (D-PA), and Susan Collins (R-ME) urging the committee to bring the legislation up for debate. Harkin said, “Every American deserves an equal opportunity to earn a good living, judged by their talent, ability and qualifications free from discrimination. Workplace discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity is reprehensible and has no place in our nation.”

And Ellen DeGeneres is the 15th recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which recognizes individuals who make a difference through satire and social commentary!

Much as some people would prefer to have LGBT people invisible, LGBT people have changed history for the better in all parts of life from art to philosophy to science to politics. Ancient Greece, Rome, China, Japan, the Arab countries, and most early indigenous peoples have known the advantages of these individuals.

The following honors only a few of these people.

  • Writer Oscar Wilde, who changed the world even after he was sentenced to hard labor for his sexuality, said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Many people know him for The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest.”
  • Author Gertrude Stein gave no apology for either her gender or her sexual orientation, leaving not only a literary legacy but also the magic that resulted from networking among the developing artists and authors in her famous salons during the early twentieth century.
  • Inventor, scientist, and great painter Leonardo da Vinci created not only machines not known until centuries later but also  such masterpieces as “The Last Supper” and “The Mona Lisa.”
  • A founder of computer science, Alan Turing was instrumental in solving the Nazi’s Enigma code during World War II, allowing translations of intercepted messages so that Allies could anticipate enemy movements. People in the United States might be speaking German instead of English without Turing. He committed suicide after the English government chemically castrated him.
  • The man behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement, Bayard Rustin organized the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King made his most famous speech and was one of the main people responsible for the Congress on Racial Equality.

People resentful of knowing the important contributions of LGBT people frequently ask that we not push their identity on others. They fail to understand the way that heterosexuality is pushed onto the world—photos on office desks, wedding rings, marriage celebrations, children, small talk, jokes, etc. Their sexual identity is highly visible: we LGBT people deserve the same rights. It is time that all people become “we.”

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