Leave it to Alan "Congressman with Guts" Grayson to get a security escort from Walmart on Thanksgiving. Grayson, who returns to Congress next year after losing his old seat in 2010, ditched his family on Thanksgiving to hand out turkey sandwiches to employees of an Orlando-area Walmart. Amid employee walkouts across the country, Grayson approached workers with his turkey tidings and told them about their right to join a union. Walmart employees are paid so little, he argued, they often seek government programs for help. "In state ...>> More
SEATTLE -- Two by two, dozens of same-sex couples obtained their marriage licenses in Washington state early Thursday, just hours after Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a law legalizing gay marriage.
King County, the state's biggest county, opened the doors to its auditor's office in Seattle just after midnight PST to start distributing marriage licenses. But hundreds of people had lined up hours earlier, snaking around the downtown Seattle building on a chilly December night.
"We knew it was going to happen, but it's still surreal," said Amanda Dollente, who along with her partner, Kelly Middleton, began standing in line at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Washington state now joins several other states that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed. Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed certified the election on Wednesday afternoon, as they were joined by couples who plan to wed and community activists who worked on the campaign supporting gay marriage.
Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday. Same-sex couples who previously were married in another state that allows gay marriage, like Massachusetts, will not have to get remarried in Washington state. Their marriages will be valid here as soon as the law takes effect.
"This is a very important and historic day in the great state of Washington," Gregoire said before signing the measure that officially certified the election results. "For many years now we've said one more step, one more step. And this is our last step for marriage equality in the state of Washington."
Last month, Washington, Maine and Maryland became the first states to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote. They joined six other states – New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont – and the District of Columbia that had already enacted laws or issued court rulings permitting same-sex marriage.
Referendum 74 in Washington state had asked voters to either approve or reject the state law legalizing same-sex marriage that legislators passed earlier this year. That law was signed by Gregoire in February but was put on hold pending the outcome of the election. Nearly 54 percent of voters approved the measure.
The law doesn't require religious organizations or churches to perform marriages, and it doesn't subject churches to penalties if they don't marry gay or lesbian couples.
King County, the state's largest and home to Seattle, and Thurston County, home to the state capital of Olympia, opened at 12:01 a.m. Thursday to start issuing marriage licenses.
Asked whether the middle-of-the-night marriage license roll-out was necessary, King County Executive Dow Constantine said, "People who have been waiting all these years to have their rights recognized should not have to wait one minute longer."
In Seattle, the mood was festive. Volunteers distributed roses, coffee and fruit. Couples canoodled to keep warm. Champagne was poured. Different groups of men and women serenaded the waiting line, one to the tune of "Going to the Chapel."
"We waited a long time. We've been together 35 years, never thinking we'd get a legal marriage. Now I feel so joyous I can't hardly stand it," said 85-year-old Pete-e Petersen, who with her partner, 77-year-old Jane Abbott Lighty, were the first to get a license.
After meeting 35 years ago on a blind date in Sacramento, Lighty and Petersen will get married on Sunday. The couple has been out buying shoes and clothes for their wedding.
Maryland's law officially takes effect Jan. 1, however couples can start picking up marriage licenses on Thursday, as long as the license has an effective date of Jan. 1. Whether clerks of court issue a postdated license is up to them, however. They are not required to do so. Maine's law takes effect on Dec. 29. There's no waiting period in Maine, and people can start marrying just after midnight.
In addition to private ceremonies that will start taking place across Washington state this weekend, Seattle City Hall will open for several hours on Sunday, and several local judges are donating their time to marry couples. Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for Mayor Mike McGinn, said that more than 140 couples have registered to get married at City Hall, and weddings will begin at 10 a.m.
Washington state has had a domestic partnership law in place since 2007. The initial law granted couples about two dozen rights, including hospital visitation and inheritance rights when there is no will. It was expanded a year later, and then again in 2009, when lawmakers completed the package with the so-called "everything but marriage" law that was ultimately upheld by voters later that year.
This year, lawmakers passed the law allowing gay marriage, and Gregoire signed it in February. Opponents gathered enough signatures for a referendum, putting the law on hold before it could take effect.
There are nearly 10,000 domestic partnership registrations with the secretary of state's office. Most same-sex domestic partnerships that aren't ended prior to June 30, 2014, automatically become marriages, unless one of the partners is 62 or older.
That provision was included in the state's first domestic partnership law of 2007 to help heterosexual seniors who don't remarry out of fear they could lose certain pension or Social Security benefits.
Among those getting marriage licenses Thursday was gay rights activist Dan Savage, who will marry his partner on Sunday with other couples at Seattle City Hall.
"It's been a long fight but it ain't over," he said. "We still have to fight (the Defense of Marriage Act) and there's 41 other states were same-sex couples aren't allowed to marry."
SEATTLE — The crowds of happy people lighting joints under Seattle's Space Needle early Thursday morning with nary a police officer in sight bespoke the new reality: Marijuana is legal under Washington state law.
Hundreds gathered at Seattle Center for a New Year's Eve-style countdown to 12 a.m., when the legalization measure passed by voters last month took effect. When the clock struck, they cheered and sparked up in unison.
A few dozen people gathered on a sidewalk outside the north Seattle headquarters of the annual Hempfest celebration and did the same, offering joints to reporters and blowing smoke into television news cameras.
"I feel like a kid in a candy store!" shouted Hempfest volunteer Darby Hageman. "It's all becoming real now!"
Washington and Colorado became the first states to vote to decriminalize and regulate the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults over 21. Both measures call for setting up state licensing schemes for pot growers, processors and retail stores. Colorado's law is set to take effect by Jan. 5.
Technically, Washington's new marijuana law still forbids smoking pot in public, which remains punishable by a fine, like drinking in public. But pot fans wanted a party, and Seattle police weren't about to write them any tickets.
In another sweeping change for Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday signed into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage. The state joins several others that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.
The mood was festive in Seattle as dozens of gay and lesbian couples got in line to pick up marriage licenses at the King County auditor's office early Thursday.
King County and Thurston County announced they would open their auditors' offices shortly after midnight Wednesday to accommodate those who wanted to be among the first to get their licenses.
Kelly Middleton and her partner Amanda Dollente got in line at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Hours later, as the line grew, volunteers distributed roses and a group of men and women serenaded the waiting line to the tune of "Going to the Chapel."
Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday.
In dealing with marijuana, the Seattle Police Department told its 1,300 officers on Wednesday, just before legalization took hold, that until further notice they shall not issue citations for public marijuana use.
Officers will be advising people not to smoke in public, police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the SPD Blotter. "The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a `Lord of the Rings' marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to."
He offered a catchy new directive referring to the film "The Big Lebowski," popular with many marijuana fans: "The Dude abides, and says `take it inside!'"
"This is a big day because all our lives we've been living under the iron curtain of prohibition," said Hempfest director Vivian McPeak. "The whole world sees that prohibition just took a body blow."
Washington's new law decriminalizes possession of up to an ounce for those over 21, but for now selling marijuana remains illegal. I-502 gives the state a year to come up with a system of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores, with the marijuana taxed 25 percent at each stage. Analysts have estimated that a legal pot market could bring Washington hundreds of millions of dollars a year in new tax revenue for schools, health care and basic government functions.
But marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That means federal agents can still arrest people for it, and it's banned from federal properties, including military bases and national parks.
The Justice Department has not said whether it will sue to try to block the regulatory schemes in Washington and Colorado from taking effect.
"The department's responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," said a statement issued Wednesday by the Seattle U.S. attorney's office. "Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress" – a non-issue, since the measures passed in Washington and Colorado don't "nullify" federal law, which federal agents remain free to enforce.
The legal question is whether the establishment of a regulated marijuana market would "frustrate the purpose" of the federal pot prohibition, and many constitutional law scholars say it very likely would.
That leaves the political question of whether the administration wants to try to block the regulatory system, even though it would remain legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.
Alison Holcomb is the drug policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and served as the campaign manager for New Approach Washington, which led the legalization drive. She said the voters clearly showed they're done with marijuana prohibition.
"New Approach Washington sponsors and the ACLU look forward to working with state and federal officials and to ensure the law is fully and fairly implemented," she said.
Johnson can be reached at . https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle
Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle
Rhode Island’s blue-on-blue showdown is heating up. Famed litigator David Boies is taking a 96 percent pay cut to represent the state against recalcitrant public sector unions. The New York Times reports:Mr. Boies became involved, he said, because he was convinced that Rhode Island’s pension troubles were just the tip of a $5 trillion iceberg of unsecured retirement promises to the nation’s millions of public workers. “This is something that can cripple state and municipal governments at a time when the federal government is, more and more, cutting back...
* Outdoor celebration planned at Seattle's Space Needle
* Users must light up in private or face citations by police
By Laura L. Myers
SEATTLE, Dec 5 (Reuters) - With Washington state poised to become the first in the nation legalizing marijuana possession for adult recreational use, Seattle's city attorney issued a stern warning on Wednesday to those waiting to celebrate - no pot puffing in public.
The West Coast state's liberal marijuana law, passed by voters last month, takes effect on Thursday, removing criminal sanctions for anyone 21 or older possessing 1 ounce (28.5 grams) or less of pot. It also legalizes possession of up to 16 ounces (0.45 kg) of solid marijuana-infused goods - like brownies - and up to 72 ounces (2.4 kg) of weed in liquid form.
Prosecutors in several counties announced last month they were dismissing scores of misdemeanor marijuana possession cases following voter passage of Washington's landmark statute, known as Initiative 502.
But lighting up a joint in public places, where the consumption of alcohol already is banned, will remain illegal.
"If you're smoking in plain public view, you're subject to a ticket," Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said during a news conference on the implications of the new law, at the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington state office.
"Initiative 502 uses the alcohol model. If drinking in public is disallowed, so is smoking marijuana in public," Holmes said.
The warning seemed aimed, at least in part, at outdoor celebrations by marijuana advocates planned for midnight on Wednesday and on Thursday evening near Seattle's famed Space Needle tower. Organizers of Thursday's event said they expected a crowd of at least 500 to attend.
Police could ticket public marijuana smokers for infractions that carry fines of about $100, similar to penalties for a traffic citation, Holmes said.
A separate group of about 40 pot enthusiasts planned to gather at midnight on Wednesday, as the law takes effect, outside the office of Seattle Hempfest, an annual three-day "protestival" celebrating marijuana and hemp products that attracted 80,000 attendees in August.
"This is a very big step in a culture that's been pushed under the rug for a very long time," staffer Darby Hageman told Reuters. "It's now the lowest law-enforcement priority, and we plan to celebrate."
STILL A FEDERAL CRIME
Public celebrations also would directly defy federal law, which still classifies marijuana as an illegal narcotic.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in Seattle reiterated the U.S. Justice Department position that growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remained a federal crime, regardless of any changes in state law.
Colorado voters approved their own ballot measure in November similar to Washington's, although it goes further by allowing individuals to grow small amounts for themselves. The effective date for Colorado's law is Jan. 5. Both states are among 18 that already have removed criminal sanctions for medical use of marijuana.
In addition to making it lawful to possess small amounts of pot for recreational purposes, the new laws in Washington and Colorado will permit cannabis to be legally sold and taxed at state-licensed stores in a system modeled after those many states have in place for alcohol sales.
In Washington, the state Liquor Control Board, along with agriculture and public health officials, have until Dec. 1, 2013, to set up such a system.
In the meantime, individuals are permitted to purchase small amounts legalized under the law for personal possession, although cultivation or selling is still outlawed, as is sharing one's personal stash with another individual.
Initiative 502 also set a new standard for marijuana impairment while driving, similar to the blood-alcohol standard for drunken driving, and those provisions will be enforced starting on Thursday. (Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)
Illinois' reputation as the incorrigible outlaw of state finance has continued to grow throughout the fall. In mid-October, a fiscal study group co-chaired by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker issued a stinging assessment of the state's finances which argued that Illinois is effectively insolvent.But what is perhaps more startling is that other states and many municipalities have increasingly employed the same kinds of gimmicks as the Prairie State to create the illusion that they are balancing their books. Although this maneuvering fools fewer and fewer people as the...
Presumably the Republicans' next presidential candidate will have less in common with John Kerry.Barack Obama took the Republicans' best shot and won a second term. In an even stronger tribute to his campaign team's skills and get-out-the-vote operation, the president beat Republican challenger Mitt Romney in every meaningful swing state except North Carolina"”and even there he came within 100,000 votes.Nevertheless, some perspective is in order. Much of the post-election commentary suggests we have witnessed a party realignment on par with the Democrats'...
I don't know about you but I'm getting really tired of the hysteria over this so-called, somewhat media created, "fiscal cliff" thing. The White House called the Republican's latest proposal "fairy dust." But I do think we are in for some changes in health care as a result of the discussions going on in Washington DC, so I thought you should know what to expect.
First, try to ignore the hysteria. Whatever laws will expire December 31, there will be a solution and at some point we will need to restructure and reform some of our government programs. Which ones? Probably Medicare. Maybe Medicaid. And at some point, although certainly not urgent now - Social Security. The Republicans want you to think that without "entitlement reform", we cannot reach a deal on the so-called fiscal cliff.
But step back for a moment. We call Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security "entitlements" although this term does recall something akin to Romney's 47% idea. Perhaps we should rename these programs. Does everyone who depends on these programs think they are somehow "entitled" to something they don't deserve? We pay into Social Security. We pay for Medicare - and don't you think we do not. ( Medicare Part A may be without premium, but Medicare Parts B and D extract significant premiums from beneficiaries, and the more you make the more you pay for these "entitlements". ) Don't even get me started on why we need to attack these programs and gut them. They protect some of the most vulnerable disabled and elderly among us. If you had to look these folks in the eye and tell them they were taking too much and not giving enough back - good luck if they could reach out and punch you.
So what are the proposals for - let's call it "saving money" in Medicare and Medicaid? I'm leaving out Social Security since it is not in urgent need of reform at this time. It is solvent until late 2040s or early 2050s. There are a number of legitimate ways that we can modernize and improve the Medicare program. Many of these proposals are already being implemented as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67 is not one of the best ideas for saving money in Medicare. Sounds like a reasonable idea, right? We are living longer, so why not work longer. Well, it's not quite that simple. Yes, there are savings to the government if people don't depend on Medicare until they are 67 or older. But who ends up paying for health care for people who do not get it from Medicare when they turn 65? It would be the private sector and other programs. If the age limit were to be raised, roughly half of potential beneficiaries would work longer, thus requiring their employers to continue covering them; about 5% would remain uninsured. Of the remainder, one-third would seek coverage and potentially subsidies through the state exchanges, which would raise the premium costs for everyone. A Kaiser Family Foundation study estimates that raising the Medicare eligibility age would increase overall premiums in the state exchanges by 3% and 8% for younger members. And while this increase in eligibility age would net the Federal Government $5.7 billion, it would cost 65 and 66 year olds $3.7 billion in additional out of pocket costs.
Despite the math, Republicans still want to raise the eligibility age for Medicare, so don't count this out as a solution that might end up on the table.
What other savings are possible for Medicare and Medicaid?
One option is for the wealthier elderly to pay more. In the Obama Administration proposal, most of the cuts come from changes in reimbursement to providers - very little comes from beneficiaries. But there are some areas where "wealthier" Medicare beneficiaries (e.g. individuals who have a Modified Adjusted Gross Income - MAGI - of more than $85,000/year and couples with a MAGI of over $170,000) would pay more for their Medicare. How much? These seniors would pay 15% more for physician visits and drug coverage. They would also pay more for their Medigap premiums and all new beneficiaries would pay a $25 "deductible" for doctor visits. The Republican plan is not specific, but we can assume that it would include even more cost shifting to beneficiaries.
The program for single women with children, the disabled and blind - Medicaid - might also be cut, although most cuts would be targeted at providers (hospitals, doctors, drug companies) who provide care for these beneficiaries. As long as the Democrats have the Senate and the White House, Medicaid is not likely to become a complete block grant to the states, where eligibility and benefits could be severely restricted. Meanwhile, there are certainly ways that health care can be more efficiently provided to Medicaid beneficiaries, including having the government do a better job of negotiating drug prices.
The Center for American Progress has a much simpler plan that protects domestic programs (non-entitlements) from further spending cuts and generates Medicare savings from specific reform to the delivery system.
So there are ways to get to deficit reduction and economic growth without gutting social programs? Yes indeed, and we can hope that the Democrats will hold the line and keep the focus on areas of savings which do not hurt the most vulnerable.
For an earlier version of this post see "Is health care headed for the fiscal cliff?" at www.healthinsurance.org/blog/2012/12/03/is-health-care-headed-for-the-fiscal-cliff/
Also see other posts by Linda Bergthold at www.imprivata.com/blog
WASHINGTON -- There are zombie banks, the zombie apocalypse, and now, according to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), zombie homeland security programs that spend money without adequate oversight or cost control.
According to a new report by the Oklahoman, often a critic of Department of Homeland Security programs, the waste extends to a staged zombie apocalypse.
In that case, the report said, DHS authorized up to $1,000 a head for law enforcers to attend a five-day security conference at a "paradise" island getaway with security industry companies. The conference featured a simulated attack -- involving the undead -- as the centerpiece.
The zombie element was just a bit of fun added to an otherwise worthy endeavor, some observers said.
Coburn, however, questioned why money from the Urban Area Security Initiative and state homeland security programs was used so law enforcers could bask in "the exotic beauty and lush grandeur of this unique island setting that creates a perfect backdrop for the Halo Counter-Terrorism Summit," as the sponsor, the Halo Corp. described it. Halo added: , "This luxury resort features over 460 guestrooms, five pools, three fantastic restaurants overlooking the bay, a world-class spa and state-of-the-art fitness center."
On top of that, Coburn's report noted, the federal government effectively subsidizes what amounted to a sales opportunity for the San Diego-based Halo and other security firms.
The zombie assault training may be attention-getting, but Coburn pointed to numerous other items that he deems waste, or at least something the federal government should not be paying for.
For instance, he noted that California police spent $6.2 million for equipment that captures and compares license plate numbers, but no one ever demonstrated that it was being used to hunt terrorism suspects instead of car thieves.
The report singled out numerous other debatable purchases made with the $35 billion Uncle Sam has awarded through homeland security grant programs over the past decade.
Among them were an armored vehicle to guard rural New Hampshire festivals; a $98,000 dive robot for Columbus, Ohio, that was used to find "sunken treasure"; a $69,000 "Neoteric hovercraft" for search and rescue operations in Indiana unrelated to terrorism; $6,200 worth of sno-cone machines in Michigan, and $88,000 that Pittsburgh spent on several “long-range acoustic devices" -- truck-mounted crowd control devices that emit an ear-piercing sound and allegedly gave a bystander permanent hearing damage when they were used at a G-20 protest.
"If in the days after 9/11 lawmakers were able to cast their gaze forward ten years, I imagine they would be surprised to see how a counter-terrorism initiative aimed at protecting our largest cities has transformed into another parochial grant program," Coburn wrote in a letter accompanying the report. "We would have been frustrated to learn that limited federal resources were now subsidizing the purchase of low-priority items."
DHS defended its spending, saying that it is critical to develop local security expertise.
"We have seen the value of these grants time and again," said DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler in a statement. "As envisioned by Congress, these grants have directly supported the development and sustainment of core state and local capabilities identified as national strengths in the 2012 National Preparedness Report –- from helping to save lives and minimize damage during the tornadoes in the South and Midwest, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy to building a national network of fusion centers to strengthen critical information sharing and terrorism prevention.
"At the same time, building on lessons learned over the past 10 years and in order to address evolving threats and make the most of limited resources, the administration proposed a new vision for grants in the FY 2013 budget," Chandler added, noting the slimmer budget request for next year.
"The proposed National Preparedness Grants Program reflects a more targeted approach to grant funding that will ensure federal dollars are being used to build and sustain core capabilities and address national priorities while incorporating measures of effectiveness to ensure accountability," Chandler said. "FEMA is committed to being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars and ensuing that all federal grant dollars that we disburse are used as intended –- to strengthen our resilience against all hazards and make our communities safer places to live."
Click here to read the whole report.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
Two days after Jordan Davis’s parents buried the body of their 17-year-old son in the Georgia ground, a campaign to repeal "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida and elsewhere appears to be gaining steam.
Davis was shot to death in Jacksonville, Fla., on Nov. 23 after Michael Dunn, 45, said he felt threatened by the two black teenagers and one young black man sitting with Davis in an SUV. Dunn told police he argued with the group over the volume of their music, saw a shotgun emerge from one of the SUV’s windows then, fired his handgun eight or nine times before fleeing. Three of Dunn’s bullets struck and killed Davis, a lawyer for the boy’s family said Tuesday. Police said those in the SUV were unarmed.
Police charged Dunn, a software engineer, with murder and attempted murder one day after the shooting. He remains in jail. Dunn's lawyer has indicated he will build a defense around Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which gives shooters the right to use deadly force when they feel threatened and does not require them to retreat. Florida’s law sparked a state inquiry, a federal Civil Rights Commission investigation, public protests and intense political wrangling in other states after the February killing of unarmed Trayvon Martin, also 17 and black, by a neighborhood watchman.
The killing of Davis has prompted gun control advocates and civil rights groups to renew arguments that Stand Your Ground laws make ordinary citizens feel empowered to shoot first and ask questions later, boosting murder rates and justifiable homicide claims, muddling prosecutions and putting young black men -- people too often presumed to be a threat -- in particular peril. Civil rights groups, including Color of Change, the NAACP and the Urban League, as well gun control groups such as the Second Chance on Shoot First campaign and a mayor's organization, have joined forces to gather online signatures for a repeal of Stand Your Ground laws in 26 states. The groups also plan to restart a campaign to lobby state legislatures in January, said Ginny Simmons, director of Second Chance.
Stand Your Ground policies have the odd effect of giving average citizens more legal leeway to shoot at others than either the nation’s police or armed forces have, said Simmons.
“What we are doing with these laws is allowing our country to become more dangerous than a war zone,” Simmons said.
Rashad Robinson is the executive director of Color of Change, a nonprofit organization that worked last year to expose the National Rifle Association’s role in getting Stand Your Ground policies approved, and the NRA’s relationship with the American Legislative Council, or ALEC. ALEC is a conservative political organization that suggests template legislation, including Stand Your Ground proposals, to right-leaning lawmakers.
“Unfortunately, we have had another one of these tragic incidents that highlights how horrible these laws are and how dangerous they can be in that they empower vigilantes and provide them cover," Robinson said. "We also live in a cultural environment in which young black men are feared and seen as a sort of universal threat. Their mere existence, is for some people a problem. That’s the cultural climate in which these laws have been implemented.”
If those ideas are the cultural equivalent of widely distributed gunpowder, Stand Your Ground laws lit the fuse, Robinson said.
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The gun rights and education group has claimed that the laws both deter crime and provide legal protection for shooters who feel that they are in danger.
The problem with Stand Your Ground laws is not just how they are understood by legislators or gun owners, Robinson said. They have also produced another kind of unequal justice, he said.
In states with Stand Your Ground laws, 34 percent of white shooters did not face charges or have not been convicted after shooting a black person, an Urban Institute analysis found. Just 3 percent of black shooters got the same treatment after shooting a white person and making a Stand Your Ground claim, according to the Urban Institute report. And in Florida, the national pioneer, justifiable homicides grew by nearly 195 percent since the law took effect in 2005, FBI data shows.
Davis’ parents, through their lawyer, haven't claimed their son's skin color had to do with his death. But they said they stand ready to do whatever necessary to roll back Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and other states because of the public danger that they create, an attorney for the family said.
“I hate to quote George Bush here, but they want this to be a uniter, not a divider,” said John M. Philips, a white Jacksonville-area lawyer who typically handles personal injury and wrongful death cases but has stepped in to represent Davis’ parents and act as a spokesman while they grieve. “They want America to understand that this could have been anyone’s son.”
President Barack Obama was criticized in March after he said publicly that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin -- young, black and possibly even wearing a hoodie. Obama made the comments while expressing sympathy for Martin’s parents and concern about the loss that too many black parents must fear.
A 2012 Texas A &M University study distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and 19 other states failed to deter violent crime. The study found a clear increase in homicides in those states -- with up to 700 additional killings nationwide each year. It is unclear how many of those slain were people of color.
“I think it’s hard to wrap you head around what this law means until you are talking about real names and real people,” said Simmons with Second Chance. “After Trayvon Martin and after Jordan Davis, people actually know those stories and know that in the nation’s leading Stand Your Ground state, a teenager listening to music in a car died. Unfortunately, that’s very powerful. After Trayvon, there is no question that there was a momentum shift."
From 2005, when Florida passed the nation's first Stand Your Ground law, to 2011, 25 states have adopted some version of the NRA-backed law, Simmons said. This year has marked the first year since 2005 when no new laws were passed. One state, Indiana, expanded its existing Stand Your Ground law and Louisiana clarified its policy requiring police and prosecutors to fully investigate cases where defendants claim self-defense.
The sun is shining slightly brighter in Arizona this week, as the state celebrates a week-long vacation from Governor Jan Brewer and her latest gaffes.
The self-described "Scorpion eater" has left the Capitol building -- or at least until Saturday, according to the office of Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is serving as Acting Governor while Brewer is mysteriously out-of-state.
Perhaps Arizona can become the "Grand Canyon" state again. Or, at least, earn a reprieve from Brewer's most recent gaffes and acts of embarrassment for the state.
On top of getting snubbed by her fellow colleagues at the Western Governors Association meeting last week, Brewer ignored the fallout over Hurricane Sandy and fellow Republicans like Governor Chris Christie and reminded Phoenix TV reporter Dennis Welch and the nation of her disbelief in climate change and intent to make Arizona the last holdout of denial: "Everybody has an opinion on it and I probably don't believe that it's man-made. I believe, you know, that weather elements are controlled, maybe, by other things."
Last week, the California-transplanted Brewer, who once infamously claimed a majority of undocumented immigrants were drug smugglers, and had to recant her charge of beheadings in the Arizona deserts, doubled down on her confrontation with the nation's move toward providing driver's licenses for eligible immigrant youth in a FOX TV interview, and compared undocumented youth to drunks.
"The state is the one who licenses the people to be able to drive, it's not the federal government," Brewer said in the interview. "And we don't license kids under 16. We don't license DUI drivers. And our laws are very clear and I took an oath to uphold that."
In 1988, Brewer was briefly detained by Phoenix police for a suspected DUI and car crash.
While it is not clear if Acting Governor Bennett, who once challenged the validity of President Obama's birth certificate in Hawaii, can refrain from carrying on Brewer's weekly gaffes, the state is hopeful.
Or at least pleasantly confused by Brewer's absence.
Questioned by a Hill reporter in Washington, D.C., retiring U.S. Senator Jon Kyl responded to Brewer's current absence: "Where is she?," he asked. "I don't know."
Shortly after California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed groundbreaking legislation this fall that banned licensed therapists from practicing gay "conversion therapy" on minors, two lawsuits were filed by conservative legal groups challenging its constitutionality. This week, two differing federal court decisions draw the battle lines in what many anticipate to be a long legal fight over the future of a therapy that backers claim can change sexual orientation.
U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb, appointed to the Eastern District of California bench by President George H.W. Bush, on Monday blocked the state from enforcing the law as planned on Jan. 1. Siding with the plaintiffs represented by the Pacific Justice Institute, Shubb called the law an unconstitutional infringement on the free speech rights of therapists. Until he can hold a full hearing, Shubb said his decision only applies to the three plaintiffs -- a licensed marriage therapist, a psychiatrist and a former conversion therapy patient who is in training to practice conversion therapy. In a 38-page ruling, he wrote that ultimately "the plaintiffs are likely to succeed," and the law will be overturned.
A day later, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, Shubb's colleague on the Eastern District of California bench, a federal judge appointed by President Barack Obama, reached a nearly opposite conclusion in a similar lawsuit filed by the conservative Liberty Counsel. Mueller wrote that the law did not violate free speech rights, but instead regulated professional conduct.
The two judges also differed over whether the state had sufficient evidence to prove that the therapy could harm minors. Although all mainstream mental health organizations -- from the American Psychological Institute to the American Psychiatric Institute -- have disavowed the practice, no scientific studies show that the therapy necessarily causes harm. Shubb cited this in his ruling, writing that his concerns are "“based on questionable and scientifically incomplete studies that may not have included minors.”
Mueller, meanwhile, pointed out in her ruling that there are also no scientific studies that prove conversion therapy can make gay people straight. "The findings, recommended practices, and opinions of ten professional associations of mental health experts is no small quantum of information," the judge wrote. "Even if all of the
studies and reports upon which the California Legislature relied were inconclusive or flawed," the law would still be "valid."
On Tuesday afternoon, both sides had something to celebrate and said they felt sure of ultimate victory. David Pickup, a licensed therapist who has practiced conversion therapy for about six years and is the lead plaintiff in the Liberty Counsel suit, said he was disappointed by the ruling in his own case, but "cautiously optimistic" after Judge Shubb's ruling.
Pickup, like others who oppose a ban on conversion therapy, has framed his case as a fight for free speech. He said on the phone that Mueller's ruling may abrogate other rights as well. "She said there's no free speech issues?" Pickup said. "If I can't do emotional processes that lead to the realization of the client's authentic self, only one of the rights being violated is the rights to free speech."
In a press release on Tuesday, Liberty Counsel said it plans to file an emergency federal appeal to block the law before it goes into effect.
Shannon Minter, legal director for The National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is defending a gay-rights group that has filed a motion to intervene to defend the law, said he was dispirited by Shubb's ruling, but believed that Mueller's opinion would ultimately prevail. "Judge Mueller recognized that there is a large body of case law saying that the state clearly has the ability to regulate health care professionals," Minter said.
Jane Schacter, a constitutional law expert at Stanford University, pointed out that Mueller distinguished between providing the treatment and speaking about it. "She says that people who believe in this kind of therapy can recommend it to patients, can give them books, can have a non-licensed professional talk to them about it, but they can't perform the therapy," Schacter said. "That's why its not a restriction on speech."
The incomparable Walter Russell Mead, writing in the American Interest, offered a glimpse into the coming dystopia:"Things are getting worse in San Bernardino. The city filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, but its financial situation has continued to deteriorate. And now with what promises to be a heated court battle over payments to the state pension fund in the offing, further cuts are likely."Things are getting so bad that at a recent city council meeting, the city attorney advised residents to 'lock their doors and load their guns' because the city could no longer...
Americans are about as likely to trust members of Congress as they are car salespeople, according to a Gallup poll released Monday surveying opinions on the honesty of various professions.
Just 10 percent of Americans gave members of Congress high marks for honesty and ethical standards, putting them below HMO managers, stockbrokers and advertisers, and just 2 points above car dealers. Fifty-four percent rated Congressional representatives as having low or very low standards, making them the most poorly regarded of any of the groups.
These numbers aren't unusual -- in fact, they represent an improvement for the legislative branch. Gallup reports:
Members of Congress have never fared well in the 15 years of these ratings. The high point for congressmen and congresswomen came in November 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when 25% of Americans rated their honesty and ethical standards as very high or high. Last year's 7% honesty rating for members of Congress was the lowest on record.
HuffPost Pollster shows congressional approval hovering at around 13 percent.
Senators fared a few points better, as did state governors, who were the most popular of the government officials polled, with 20 percent positive ratings. All of the politicians ranked below some traditionally unpopular careers, including bankers and journalists.
Top scores went to nurses by a wide margin, with 85 percent of Americans rating them highly. Other medical professionals, including pharmacists, doctors and dentists, were also widely trusted, as were engineers, police officers, college professors and members of the clergy.
The Gallup poll surveyed 1,015 adults by phone between Nov. 26 and Nov. 29, with a 4 percent margin of error.
Orly Taitz, the California dentist and attorney who has gained notoriety for her relentless efforts to prove that President Obama is inelegible for office, suffered another blow last week when an Orange County judge rejected her attempt to retrieve Obama's college records.
As first reported by the school's student paper, the Occidental Weekly, Taitz had filed a legal motion to compel Occidental College to release transcripts and other records from when Obama was an undergraduate there in the late '70s and early '80s, alleging that Obama was not born in the United States and is currently using a fake social security number. The private college's counsel, Carl Botterud, pointing to privacy concerns, deemed Taitz's case "frivolous" and "without merit." The self-proclaimed "queen of the birthers" then argued that the matter of Obama's alleged foreign birth was important enough to overrule privacy laws.
"Your opposition will constitute Obstruction of Justice, Aiding and Abetting in the elections fraud in forgery and treason in allowing a foreign citizen to usurp the U.S. Presidency with an aid of forged IDs and usurp the civil rights of the U.S. citizens," Taitz wrote in an email to Botterud ahead of their court date. "At any rate your opposition and your attempt of intimidation and your allegiance or lack of allegiance to the United States of America is duly noted. Just make sure not to forget to bring with you Mr. Obama's application, registration, and financial aid application."
Orange County Superior Court Judge Charles Margines rejected Taitz' argument, citing procedural errors and questioning the quality of her evidence.
“You should know that evidence is not stuff printed from the Internet,” Margines told Taitz, according to the Occidental Weekly.
Margines also ordered Taitz to pay the college $4,000 to cover the resources spent defending itself.
Taitz's birther crusade has taken several hits over the last year. She unsuccessfully attempted to block Obama from appearing on the ballot in Kansas and Vermont to no avail. She also ran for U.S. Senate in California, but failed to place in the top two of a crowded field of candidates.
Despite the string of defeats, Taitz is not giving up. Last month, she announced her plan to file complaints against state officials over Obama's reelection.
"This is really a very sad state of affairs," Taitz wrote on her website. "I feel that the nightmare of the Soviet Union is back in full force."
Joe Baca never saw it coming, and neither did Gloria Negrete McLeod.
But as state Sen. Negrete McLeod replaces Baca in Congress, the dueling San Bernardino County Democrats witnessed first hand the beginnings of a change in gun politics, courtesy of billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Before his second term has even begun, are we seeing "Obama 2.0" in action? This is the question swirling around right now in the inside-the-Beltway punditocracy, and it's a refreshing one to contemplate: Has President Barack Obama finally learned his lesson that his old method of legislative negotiation simply was not working? Has he, to put it another way, grown some backbone?
We'll see, we'll see. But so far, the signs certainly do seem to be positive. Obama, immediately after the election, proposed a fiscal-cliff-avoidance plan to the Republicans. They ignored it. For the past two weeks, negotiations have been taking place between Boehner and Obama (and all the other minor players). Tim Geithner went to Capitol Hill with a plan yesterday. To the utter astonishment of the Republicans, it was essentially the same plan originally proposed -- even with a few more "poison pill" additions.
Obama, as the chattering classes will tell you, is "done negotiating with himself." That's a pretty good phrase, because it accurately describes how these negotiations have taken place over Obama's first term. This time, the White House seems to be saying, that isn't going to happen.
The Republicans then made a tactical mistake. They leaked the president's plan to the media. Meaning they've now made the entire bargaining process public. But what is glaringly obvious to all but the most partisan of the public is that there is now a Democratic plan, and... nothing... from the Republicans. The Republicans just shot themselves in the foot, to put it as politely as possible. Now they've got to come up with a proposal, which (by definition, almost) is going to be more harsh than the Democratic proposal. If they fail to come up with anything, they're going to lose this battle for public opinion, and if they propose radical budget-cutting to favored programs they're equally going to pay a political price.
Meanwhile, Obama is playing this game like a virtuoso. Finally we see the "multidimensional chess master" spoken about, of yore. Where's Obama today? Off on the bully pulpit circuit, speaking at a factory that actually still makes toys in America. Pretty good optics, right there. 'Tis the season, and all.
Obama's already issued a veto threat in the negotiations -- tax rates on the wealthy will go up or he's not signing the bill. By doing so, Obama is reminding Republicans that if we go over the fiscal cliff, they will automatically go up anyway. Obama has all the leverage on this one. And he certainly looks willing to use it, at this point.
Also refreshing is the fact that Obama's opening bid was so outrageous (at least as Republicans see things). He's asking for twice the tax hikes Boehner was ready to accept in the Grand Bargain a year and a half ago, he's asking for stimulus money, and he's asking for Congress to give up its power and all its leverage over the "debt ceiling," forever. That's pretty astonishingly optimistic, right there.
Now, the Left knows Obama's not going to get everything he's asking for. But that's the whole point of negotiations -- you aim for the moon and the stars, and let the other guy talk you down a bit. Obama seems to finally have learned how to play this game effectively.
Some might scoff. "We've been here before and Obama caved," they will indeed scoff. They may wind up being right. But I have to say I'm more optimistic this time around. Obama has all the leverage here, and can come out and say at any time, "If Congress refuses to act, everyone's paycheck is going to get smaller starting in January." That'll get the public's attention.
So while that "Obama 2.0" headline might be proven wrong quite quickly, hopefully it won't. Hopefully this time around we're seeing a different "Negotiator In Chief." Part of the shock this may cause is due to the fact that Obama really hasn't had such a "death match" legislative struggle since the Grand Bargain failed. And that was a year and a half ago -- time enough for Obama to have changed his style dramatically.
Speaking of shocks, this one is a big one (at least for us). I'd advise sitting down, and not taking a big drink of any beverage before you read the next sentence (to avoid doing what actors call a "spit take").
Our first winner for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is none other than Sen. Joe Lieberman.
Now, one of the joys of this election season was knowing that no matter how badly things turned out on election day (President Romney, a Republican Senate, etc.), there would be one shining silver lining to it all: we would all get to watch the door hit the nether regions of Lieberman on his way out of the Senate in January. After the last decade or so of ol' Joe, this would have been satisfying indeed. We even assumed we'd be handing him a few Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards, on his way out.
Instead, we've got to hand it to Joe, he showed some integrity this week in standing up for Susan Rice. Rice, who will quite possibly be the nominee for secretary of state, held several closed-door meetings with senators last week, to answer their questions on Benghazi. Every single Republican came out of these meetings ranting and raving, but Lieberman stepped up to the microphones and pronounced himself completely satisfied with what she had to say on the matter.
Now, normally, this could be written off as just a partisan protecting his party's president. Not with Lieberman, however. Lieberman has never been reluctant to criticize the foreign policy of Democrats, in fact he seems to actually enjoy doing so. On national security matters, he is "hawkier" (so to speak) than many Republicans. This is the man John McCain reportedly seriously considered as a running mate, remember.
So his voice was weighty and important, in the whole Benghazi "there's got to be a scandal here somewhere, dammit!" frenzy from the Republicans. For him to speak out in defense of Rice was meaningful, and for doing so he earns one of the MIDOTW awards this week. And yes, we're as surprised as anyone at this turn of events.
We do have a second MIDOTW award this week, for a state senator from Ohio named Nina Turner, but we're going to explain why in our final talking point, so that's all we'll say about it for now.
Being the "first" at anything for an entire group of people is always tough. Ask a woman or a minority -- when you're the "first (fill in the blank) to ever (fill in the achievement)," you have to be twice as good as the average just to get there. That includes being twice as squeaky-clean, though.
Our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is, sadly, the first transgender state representative elected in New Hampshire, Stacie Laughton. That's a big achievement. But her failings have nothing to do with her historic achievement. They are more mundane than that. She fell prey to a disease that affects a lot of politicians, no matter what their gender identity -- she thought her criminal past wasn't worth sharing with the voters before the election.
Laughton has been convicted or admits to the following: credit card fraud, tire-slashing, falsifying physical evidence, and faking an illness to ride in an ambulance. She served time for the fraud and evidence-tampering charges. And she forgot to mention any of it during her campaign.
This is beyond disappointing, it is downright disgraceful. And it has nothing to do with her gender identity -- it has to do with her being a convicted crook. After waffling over the decision for few days, she has today turned in her resignation.
While this was the right thing to do, it will not stop us from awarding her the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, since she has done more than enough to earn it.
[Since Stacie Laughton has resigned, she is now a private citizen, and we do not provide contact info for such as a rule here.]
Volume 236 (11/30/12)
Before we begin, we have to share a hilarious headline from a blog on the Washington Post. This would have been funnier a few weeks ago, of course, but you've still got to hand it to whomever wrote the headline "Obama Has Romney For Lunch." Well done, Sir or Madam, well done indeed!
After taking a week off last week for Turkey Weekend, we can see that it's time once again to offer up suggested talking points for Democrats to use in the coming days. Everyone from an interviewee on a Sunday morning political show to a guy or gal discussing politics around a water cooler can join in, as always.
It's going to be a fun week for talking points, because the Republicans are so freaked out about Obama's newfound bargaining toughness. Of course, if talking points aren't your thing, then you can always read about ways to cut the federal budget without slashing the safety net -- but we're feeling feisty this week, so let's get started, shall we?
Where's your plan?
This is really the only talking point necessary this week. It is that powerful an argument. This should be on the lips of every Democrat interviewed this weekend, and should be repeated until the Republicans cry "Uncle!" This would best be used by a Democrat sitting next to a Republican, for the exit line to have the most punch, of course.
"Democrats have put forward a proposal. Republicans have not. We cannot bargain with what doesn't exist. Republicans need to get serious, and the way to get serious in Washington is to present a plan or write a draft of a bill. Once they do so, we can negotiate over the differences between their plan and ours. But our plan is now on the table. Where is the Republican plan? [turn to Republican interviewee next to you] Where's your plan? It's time to put your cards on the table. We have done so. You have not. Where is the Republican plan?"
GOP wanted a public debate
Republicans will sputter, in response to that first talking point. So helpfully point out how this situation is one which they created all by themselves. Again, this works best as a response to weaseling by a Republican sitting next to you.
"I'm sorry, but you can't now say that you want to preserve the secrecy of the negotiations. President Obama sent Tim Geithner down with an offer. Republicans immediately leaked this offer to the press. You guys wanted to have this fight in public -- because you're the ones who put it before the public. Well, fair enough. We stand by the Obama offer. That's our plan. Where's yours? Since you want the public to see how the negotiations stand, then you've put the ball in your own court. You can't expect anyone to now buy that these negotiations need to be kept secret. So where's your plan? Let the public know what your position is!"
'Tis the season!
There are almost an unlimited amount of metaphors and allusions and even clichés to be used, at this time of year. Obama has already started this ball rolling. The possibilities are endless.
"Republicans are defending to the end their tax cuts for millionaires. If they don't get their way, they're going to give every American taxpayer a big old lump of coal for the holidays this year. The president is right, the American public is going to see very soon now who is naughty in Washington and who is nice. Having a tantrum over tax cuts for the top two percent of earners in this country should not give you the right to elect yourself Grinch for the other 98 percent's paychecks. We're on Bob Cratchit's side of this fight, and Republicans are fighting to the death for yet another tax cut for Mr. Scrooge."
Holding middle class tax cuts hostage
Obama is also using this line to great effect.
"President Obama is calling on Republicans to not hold middle class tax cuts hostage to tax cuts for millionaires. I agree -- I don't think tax cuts for 98 percent of America should be used as some sort of political leverage by the Republicans. But then, I'm a Democrat, so you shouldn't take my word for it. Instead, I'd like to now read what a staunchly-conservative Republican -- Representative Tom Cole -- had to say this week on the issue... and I quote: Some people seem to think this is leverage. I think that's wrong. You don't consider people's lives as leverage. I live in a blue-collar neighborhood. I've got a retired master sergeant as my next-door neighbor, police officer across the street. These are working folks, they're great people, and the idea that I would ever use them as leverage is just wrong. Unquote. I fully agree with Representative Cole, and I call on the Speaker of the House to immediately bring the Senate bill which restores the middle class tax cuts so we can all vote on it. Anything less is just holding every middle class taxpayer's paycheck hostage, as even honest Republicans will admit."
Laugh it up, Mitch
This one is pathetically easy. It's a cheap shot, but when someone walks up to you and begs you to take such a cheap shot, it's hard to resist at times.
"I heard Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell actually laughed when he was presented with President Obama's proposal. Have you all got that? McConnell thinks it is funny that everyone's paycheck will be smaller in January if Republicans don't get big tax cuts for the rich. To everyone worried about what their first paycheck of 2013 will have in it, Mitch has just laughed in your face. He calls the president's proposal 'not serious' but he refuses to come up with a proposal of his own. His party is willing to send us over the fiscal cliff if millionaires don't keep their tax cuts, and he thinks anything short of that is downright funny. You'd think someone would take him aside and explain that showing such raw disdain for such a huge portion of the country didn't work out so well for his party in the election, wouldn't you? This is no laughing matter. It's going to affect hundreds of millions of Americans. It's not a joke, Mitch."
In a coma?
Speaking of the election, bring it up whenever you can fit it in. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had the best line of the week, while reiterating Obama's veto threat, so we're just going to use his quote for this talking point:
There can be no deal without rates on top earners going up. This should not be news to anyone on Capitol Hill. It is certainly not news to anyone in America who was not in a coma during the election.
What GOP really stands for
[Note: after this whole article was written comes breaking news on an unrelated story. Republicans figured out that naming all white men to their House committee chair posts was pretty a pretty stupid move, and have now named a woman chair to a minor committee. An unnamed Democratic aide came up with a pretty good slogan (which is why we're mentioning it here), responding that the opposition should be called the "Grand Old Patriarchs." That's pretty good, but we still feel the following is even better.]
And finally, we explain why Nina Turner won her MIDOTW award this week. Turner is in one of those state legislatures infested with Republicans who absolutely insist that the number one priority of their party should be continuing to wage the War On Women. So Turner made a T-shirt to vent her frustration. What she came up with is such an all-around great slogan, we think it ought to become the standard response to any and all such Republican legislative Puritanism. Check out this somewhat-obstructed photo of Turner in her shirt. Our final talking point of the week is Turner's slogan, which clearly earned her the prestigious MIDOTW, for its soundbite nature alone:
"G.O.P. -- Get Out of my Panties!"
At a time when statehood supporters in Puerto Rico are seeing new allies pop up in states like Ohio, helping to push their agenda in front of the U.S. Congress, one of island's best-known, Ricky Martin, is calling for a democratic movement that truly represents Puerto Ricans.
The singer and actor in the recent Broadway musical "Evita" says he's convinced the last referendum election doesn't reflect public sentiment.
“It is so mixed," the Puerto Rican star told The Huffington Post Thursday night during a meeting with reporters in his dressing room. "It is apparent but is not. I think democracy must be respected. We must have a plebiscite, a serious plebiscite, where a simple question of 'Yes' or 'No' is answered.”
In the second question of a two-part, non-binding referendum on Nov. 6, Puerto Ricans were asked if they wanted to become a state, an independent country or a freely associated sovereign state. A majority of those who answered the question favored statehood, but some 480,000 voters cast blank ballots -- presumably because they favored remaining a commonwealth. If the blank ballots are counted, statehood only won 45 percent of the vote. Many people have criticized the vote because there were so many abstentions.
“Us Puerto Ricans must go and practice our democracy and let our voice be heard, and then bring it to the Congress of the United States,” Martin added, voicing his criticism of the referendum.
But he clarified that his opinion is not political, but is instead about a personal concern regarding the transparency of the election process in the U.S. territory.
“Right now it's very confusing. I am not going to say what I am up for, I just going to say that this is a serious matter and we must be serious about a good healthy plebiscite,” Martin said.
The artist has become a prominent celebrity human rights defender. Currently, he manages the Ricky Martin Foundation, fighting against sexual exploitation, and he is now the lead spokesperson for Viva Glam, an initiative created by the makeup house MAC Cosmetics, raising awareness and funds for HIV/AIDS victims.
The actor is also in the middle of a career transition, recently announcing his plans to become a judge in the Australian edition of the upcoming TV talent reality show “The Voice," early next year.
But these commitments don't prevent him from being politically active. Martin worked for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and the singer is optimistic that the next four years will bring new hope for Latinos.
“The re-election of our president for me was nothing but light. I'm sorry, but it was really scary if it went the other way, it was going to be like going back in time,” Martin said. “As a Latino Puerto Rican U.S. citizen that can vote for the president, it was very beautiful to see minorities getting together for democracy, for freedom, for civil rights. We are part of this country and we move this country as well. We have a voice. And apparently we were very loud.”
While researching for a recent book, I was surprised how many times the idea of power balancing came up as a solution to a variety of problems. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. Balancing is an important, perhaps the most important, component of governmental design as laid out in the Constitution. Balancing is a prominent grand strategy in international relations. And balancing is a productive way to think about the role of government in domestic affairs. Each begins with the notion that power is central, concentration of power corrupts, and balance is the corrective.
The Constitution specifies three co-equal branches of government: the legislature, the executive, and an independent judiciary. In making his argument for this republican governmental design, Madison said, "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition." There is a "necessary partition of power" with checks and balances. Efficiency was not a primary concern of the constitutional framers. The threat to be countered was a concentration of power in the hands of one body.
In international relations, balance of power defines the objective of a prominent grand strategy apparent throughout time. The threat to be countered was one state gaining a preponderance of power and exerting its dominance over others. To counter any state's primacy, other states could aggregate their power and balance against the hegemon.
Athens always entered in alliance with the weaker side to tip the scales against an ambitious competitor. Britain has historically adopted a balancing strategy toward continental powers and followed David Hume's recommendation to "support the weaker side in every conflict." England balanced with Germany against Napoleonic France but balanced with France against Germany in the two World Wars. The United States entered into both World Wars late to tip the scales. But post-Cold War the U.S. has been exerting preponderance rather than balancing power, thus becoming the hegemon to balance against.
A third application of balancing caught my attention during the recent campaign: the role of government in balancing between the competing interests of corporations and the interests of the people. Clearly there are cases of too much and too little government intervention. The command economy in communist countries, and socialism, where the means of production are owned by the government, provide examples of too much power in the hands of government for most Americans. And the laissez faire governments at the advent of the industrial revolution that created unimagined wealth, unprecedented concentration of wealth, and deplorable working conditions, provide examples of too little for those in the weaker position.
Government put its thumb on the scales during the Progressive Era when it became clear that monopolies represented too much power concentrated in big business and a distortion of market forces by limiting competition. The public was ill served. Government weighed in to restore balance by breaking up the monopolies and preventing new ones.
The Gilded Age was dominated by a few individuals -- e.g., John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt -- who were called captains of industry by their admirers and robber barons by their detractors. They undeniably drove industrialization and modernization of the country and built vast monopolies through predatory business practices.
The dominant company, among other tactics, set prices below market level to drive competitors into bankruptcy. Defeated companies were then bought at depressed prices and put under a single board of directors -- a trust -- to camouflage the monopoly. Once monopoly was achieved through predatory practices, the lack of competition allowed the survivor to charge customers and pay workers whatever it liked. Monopoly represented a lack of competition and failure of the free market.
The deficiencies of laissez faire became too much to bear. Life-threatening working conditions and poverty wages in the steel industry energized laborers to aggregate their individual power through labor unions to balance against the power of giant businesses. Government consistently took sides with business in labor disputes. The government-hating Anarchist movement grew in size and intensity. The same conditions in Europe led some countries to abandon democracy and capitalism to adopt communism or fascism.
The Sherman Anti-Trust Act (1890) provided the statutory tool to counter monopolistic forces, but it found little application until public pressure forced government action.
Presidents of the Progressive Era took different approaches to restore competition to the market. Republican McKinley was aided in his election by the wealthiest industrialists. He was originally of the mind that government's role was to maintain high tariffs to advantage American products over cheap imports. Otherwise, hands off. Late in his administration, he concluded that lower tariffs and free trade was a more beneficial course of action. He established a commission to examine monopolistic business practices. Too little, too late, he was overcome by history, assassinated by an Anarchist.
McKinley's vice president, Teddy Roosevelt, assumed the presidency and brought vigor to the serious work of regulating interstate commerce. Roosevelt favored regulation, believing that the role of government was to be the great arbiter between the various economic interests in the country -- to level the playing field. Roosevelt groomed William Howard Taft to be his successor. Industrialists like John D. Rockefeller favored laissez faire, hands off, government and backed Taft to ensure their interests in the 1908 election. But once in office, Taft shifted emphasis from regulation to trust busting, bringing Roosevelt out of retirement to run again.
The election of 1912 offered clear alternatives.
- Republican Taft responded to considerable public pressure and turned to trust busting against the industrialists who had backed him.
- Roosevelt ran under the Progressive Party that formed around him after he lost the Republican primary competition to Taft. Roosevelt believed monopolies were inevitable but needed to be regulated.
- Eugene Debs ran as a Socialist. He thought obsolete Adam Smith's reverence for competition. He thought government should take over the inevitable monopolies and run them in the public interest.
- Wilson was the Democratic Party's candidate. His views on monopolies were evolving. He initially opposed TR's regulation and Taft's trust busting favoring instead reforming tariffs and banking to stimulate competition. Wilson later leaned toward TR's regulation.
The Republican vote was divided between Taft and Roosevelt giving Wilson the White House. When in office, Wilson carried out a policy blend of trust-busting and regulation and signed the Clayton Act (1914) strengthening anti-trust law.
But what does all of this have to do with today?
The belief -- perhaps the reality -- that some financial institutions were "too big to fail" led to a government (taxpayer) bail out and to calls for greater regulation to prevent a repeat. The same solutions of the Progressive Era apply -- break up the too big and strengthen regulation over the rest. By analogy to the breakup of monopolies, the financial institutions could be broken up into pieces that could succeed or fail without threatening the national and international economy -- an extreme measure. And regulation -- because the free market works best when investors are fully informed and markets are free of fraud and corruption -- would be designed to prevent free market failures. Those options received little attention, and instead, the government response was tepid, and the too-big-to-fail financial institutions continue unabated.
The two parties disagree on the road ahead.
The Republican Party believes that government has achieved too much power in the form of regulatory authority like that of the Environmental Protection Agency, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Trickle-down, supply-side economics and corporate libertarianism are part of this line of reason.
The Democratic Party believes that corporate interests have achieved too much power and balance must be restored in favor of the middle class. The shrinking middle class, obstacles to entering the middle class, and growing wealth disparity may have rejuvenated the old progressive movement, but it is unlikely to achieve a degree of dominance unless and until the public demands it.
There is no permanent balance. Significant changes in the economy -- like the change from agricultural to industrial economy, industrial to information economy, manufacturing to service economy -- unbalance the system. We have yet to find a new balance, a new equilibrium, a new level playing field that presents equal opportunity for all. The contest can be expected to continue in the next administration without resolution.
WASHINGTON -- The running fight over gay marriage is shifting from the ballot box to the Supreme Court.
Three weeks after voters backed same-sex marriage in three states and defeated a ban in a fourth, the justices are meeting Friday to decide whether they should deal sooner rather than later with the claim that the Constitution gives people the right to marry regardless of sexual orientation.
The court also could duck the ultimate question for now and instead focus on a narrower but still important issue: whether Congress can prevent legally married gay Americans from receiving federal benefits otherwise available to married couples.
The court could announce its plans as soon as Friday afternoon. Any cases probably would be argued in March, with a decision expected by the end of June.
Gay marriage is legal, or will be soon, in nine states – Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington – and the District of Columbia. Federal courts in California have struck down the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but that ruling has not taken effect while the issue is being appealed.
Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved gay marriage earlier this month.
But 31 states have amended their constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage. North Carolina was the most recent example in May. In Minnesota earlier this month, voters defeated a proposal to enshrine a ban on gay marriage in that state's constitution.
The biggest issue the court could decide to confront comes in the dispute over California's Proposition 8, the constitutional ban on gay marriage that voters adopted in 2008 after the state Supreme Court ruled that gay Californians could marry. The case could allow the justices to decide whether the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection means that the right to marriage cannot be limited to heterosexuals.
A decision in favor of gay marriage would set a national rule and overturn every state constitutional provision and law banning same-sex marriages. A ruling that upheld California's ban would be a setback for gay marriage proponents in the nation's largest state, although it would leave open the state-by-state effort to allow gays and lesbians to marry.
Throughout U.S. history, the court has tried to avoid getting too far ahead of public opinion and mores. The high court waited until 1967 to strike down laws against interracial marriage in the 16 states that still had them.
Some court observers argue that the same caution will prevail in the California case.
"What do they have to gain by hearing this case? Either they impose same sex marriage on the whole country, which would create a political firestorm, or they say there's no right to same-sex marriage, in which case they are going to be reversed in 20 years and be badly remembered. They'll be the villains in the historical narrative," said Andrew Koppelman, a professor of law and political science at Northwestern University. Koppelman signed onto a legal brief urging the justices not to hear the California case.
Yet some opponents of gay marriage say the issue is too important, and California is too large a state, for the court to take a pass.
"The question is whether there's a civil right to redefine marriage, as the California Supreme Court did. We don't think there is," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.
Regardless of the decision on hearing the California case, there is widespread agreement that the justices will agree to take up a challenge to a part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
The law was passed in 1996 by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate and signed by President Bill Clinton. It defines marriage for all purposes under federal law as between a man and a woman and has been used to justify excluding gay couples from a wide range of benefits that are available to heterosexual couples.
Four federal district courts and two courts of appeal have overturned the provision in various cases on grounds that it unfairly deprives same-sex couples of federal benefits. The justices almost always will hear a case in which a federal law has been struck down.
The Obama administration broke with its predecessors when it announced last year that it no longer would defend the provision. President Barack Obama went further when he endorsed gay marriage in May.
Republicans in the House of Representatives stepped in to take up the defense of the law in court.
Paul Clement, the Washington lawyer representing the House, said the law was intended to make sure that federal benefits would be allocated uniformly, no matter where people live.
"DOMA does not bar or invalidate any state-law marriage, but leaves states free to decide whether they will recognize same-sex marriage," Clement said in court papers.
The court has several cases to choose from, including that of 83-year-old Edith Windsor of New York. Windsor faces $363,000 in federal estate taxes after the death of her partner of 44 years in 2009. In two other cases, same-sex couples and surviving spouses of gay marriages in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont are seeking a range of federal benefits, including Social Security and private pension survivor payments, access to federal employee health insurance and the right to file a joint federal income tax return.
In the only instance in which a gay couple already is receiving federal benefits, federal court employee Karen Golinski in San Francisco has been allowed, under a court order, to add her wife to her health insurance coverage. That could be reversed if the Supreme Court upholds the marriage law provision.
No matter which case the court chooses, the same issue will be front and center – whether legally married gay Americans can be kept from the range of benefits that are otherwise extended to married couples.
Justice Elena Kagan strongly suggested in her Supreme Court confirmation hearings that she would not take part in a gay marriage case from Massachusetts because she worked on it while at the Justice Department. The Massachusetts case is one of only two cases that have been decided by a federal appeals court. Windsor's is the other.
Another case, from Arizona, has some similarities to the Defense of Marriage Act appeals. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which invalidated Proposition 8 in California, struck down a state law that said only married state employees were eligible for health benefits and withdrew domestic partner benefits for unmarried state workers. Separately, the Arizona constitution bars same-sex marriage, so gay couples had no way to obtain the state benefits.
(CNN) -- Eight weeks after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, it is encouraging that Congress is finally serious about examining the events surrounding that day.As the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, said on "Meet the Press" recently, this was not an intelligence failure. But failures clearly happened elsewhere, particularly in the State Department.
A BROAD COALITION OF DONORS -- including casino giant MGM, Delta Airlines, a Washington nightclub and thousands of individuals across the country -- together gave nearly $6 million to the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland, providing a financial advantage that supporters say was critical to the effort's success.
Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the main group working for approval of Question 6 on this month's ballot, raised $5.9 million -- more than twice as much as opponents of the measure, according to campaign finance reports filed this week. The money paid, in part, for a stream of television ads credited with helping to build support for the measure.
Voters approved the law 52 percent to 48 percent, and marriage certificates will be issued to same-sex couples in January.
"Donations came from a cacophony of places," said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group that helped in Maryland. "Small donors. Donors via mail. Donors via the Internet. Our opponents do not have that momentum."
Supporters of the measure reported nearly 15,000 checks from individuals and organizations. Opponents drew a fraction of that, with about 2,300 donations. Each side received some six-figure checks, but proponents relied less heavily on large gifts. The average contribution on behalf of gay marriage was $402, while the average check from opponents was $1,037.
The large number of contributions -- on both sides -- distinguishes Question 6 from the gambling expansion measure also on the Maryland ballot. In that case, two huge casino companies with a financial stake in the outcome funded most of a $93 million battle, won by supporters of expansion. It was the most expensive political campaign in Maryland history. Unlike contributions to candidates for office, gifts to ballot campaigns are not limited by law.
All of the state's ballot committees were required to file their final campaign spending reports Tuesday night.
Supporters of the same-sex marriage measure raised almost half their money from Maryland donors -- with thousands of small house parties held nightly in September and October. Opponents relied more heavily on out-of-state giving, with 30 percent of their funds coming from the Free State.
"We knew that we were going to have to do a lot of this on our own," said Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality. "We went out with an eye on developing the donor base in the state -- reaching out to folks who had a personal interest -- and did very well that way."
Frank Schubert, a consultant who managed the campaign against legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland and three other states, blamed the fundraising gap on what he called a "sustained campaign of intimidation and harassment" against those who support "true marriage."
"It takes no courage to contribute to our opponents -- it's the most politically correct thing imaginable," Schubert said.
Contributors in support of same-sex marriage included Baltimore lawyer Peter Angelos, who gave $50,000. Angelos drew national attention for his contributions in this year's election, donating $1.5 million to support President Barack Obama and other Democratic lawmakers.
MGM Entertainment, which hopes to build a casino in Prince George's County, gave $75,000 to support same-sex marriage in Maryland. A spokesman for the company described the check as a "modest contribution" and noted that MGM has given previously to gay-rights causes.
The 9:30 Club, a concert venue in Washington, contributed $25,000 in support of the measure. The owners also held a fundraiser in September featuring "American Idol" star Adam Lambert.
"Although we historically don't get involved in political causes, I cannot stand by and watch discrimination be disguised as politics," said co-owner Seth Hurwitz.
Delta Airlines gave $1,000. Ebay, the auction website, sent $2,000 -- a spokeswoman said the check was "consistent with our core values of nondiscrimination, diversity and inclusion."
The Maryland-based biotech firm United Therapeutics Corp. gave $100,000. The company's founder, Martine Rothblatt, is transgendered.
Several unions contributed big dollars in support of the measure. The Service Employees International Union gave $200,000. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers gave $100,000 each.
Politicians also offered support, with Rep. Chris Van Hollen giving by far the most. The Montgomery County Democrat wrote a $30,000 check from his Van Hollen for Congress account. Gov. Martin O'Malley, who sponsored the same-sex marriage legislation in Annapolis, gave $1,000 from his new superPAC. Many of the House and Senate co-sponsors of the legislation also donated.
Top Annapolis lobbyists and key staff members contributed, too, underscoring the deep personal support the same-sex measure had from the state's political elite. Checks came from top aides of O'Malley and House Speaker Michael E. Busch and from those of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who voted against the measure in the Senate.
State Sen. Bryan Simonaire was among the few Maryland lawmakers who donated to the effort opposing the measure. The Anne Arundel Republican was a leading opponent of the same-sex marriage measure when it was before the state legislature this year.
National advocacy groups contributed heavily on each side. The Human Rights Campaign donated $1.1 million to the effort to pass the measure. The National Organization for Marriage gave $1.2 million to the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which opposed Question 6.
Major contributions for opponents came from Roman Catholic groups, including $350,000 from the Knights of Columbus and dioceses in Arlington, Va., and Wheeling, W.Va.
William E. Lori, the Archbishop of Baltimore, gave $2,000 from his personal account. He gave "as a citizen of Maryland, a taxpayer and a believer in upholding marriage as between one man and one woman," said spokesman Sean Caine.
The donations by those who opposed the measure were not enough to get their message out, said the Rev. Derek McCoy, head of the Maryland Marriage Alliance. "A little bit more money, for sure we would have won," he said.
He said the national donor base was spread too thin because of gay marriage-related initiatives in three other states. He said his group's message was drowned out by ads for the other ballot questions in Maryland and that his side faced a formidable opponent in O'Malley.
"The governor was behind it," McCoy said, referring to the campaign in behalf of the law, a top O'Malley priority in Annapolis. "He did fundraising calls. He was calling people."
The total raised -- about $8.3 million by the main groups on both sides of the marriage issue -- paled in comparison with that spent by the opposing sides of the gambling expansion measure. That question attracted more than $93 million, mostly from two warring casino companies. The total is more than was spent on the past four Maryland gubernatorial races combined
MGM put up $41 million to support the gambling expansion proposal, while Penn National Gaming -- which owns a West Virginia casino that stands to lose customers to Maryland -- spent $44 million to oppose it.
Supporters of Maryland's Dream Act, a measure giving illegal immigrants access to lower in-state tuition, raised $1.7 million in their successful effort. The measure, Question 4, passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote and drew no formal opposition.
Contributors in support included Domino Foods, the Baltimore-based sugar company, which gave $100,000.
Stu FitzGibbon, the company's refinery manager, said: "In a nation of immigrants and a company that has grown in that tradition, we believe that an education is the one thing we give our children that cannot be taken away."
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.
To search a database of donors on either side of the same-sex marriage debate, go to http://data.baltimoresun.com/marriage-donors/ ___
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Susan Rice, the candidate believed to be favored by President Obama to become the next Secretary of State, holds significant investments in more than a dozen Canadian oil companies and banks that would stand to benefit from expansion of the North American tar sands industry and construction of the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline.