|October 29, 2009
|Cap-and-Trade Bill Would Harm Families
(CitizenLink.com) Testimonies on cap and trade legislation describe the consequences of environmental taxes on families.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is considering a cap and trade bill that purportedly takes aim at global warming.
Under a cap-and-trade scheme, the government would set a limit or "cap" on emissions of carbon dioxide. If, for example, a company goes over the limit, the government would force it to buy "credits" from other companies deemed by government to be producing less carbon dioxide than the cap allows. In countries where it has been tried, fraud has been rampant.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairs the committee and is co-author of the bill. She claims the legislation would create jobs, but that contradicts a statement made to Congress earlier this month by the director of the Congressional Budget Office that said cap and trade would cause "significant" job losses.
Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano (Ret.), a fellow with the Heritage Foundation, testified to the committee today that cap and trade would cripple the U.S. economy.
"Much of this decline would be from reduced economic productivity and job loss," he said. "In particular, under the House legislation, there would be 1.15 million fewer jobs on average than without a cap-and-trade bill."
Europe has imposed a similar tax that has cost its citizens $171 billion, but to date most countries have only reported minimal reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
The Heritage Foundation estimates that by 2035, the typical American family of four would see energy costs rise more than $1,500 a year.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, also testified before the committee. He said the legislation includes 397 regulations on home sales that would make it nearly impossible for lower-income Americans to purchase property.
"This will also eliminate the `fixer-upper` type homes upon which many low income buyers depend," he said. "Many low-income families buy less-than-perfect homes because they are cheaper and they can perform needed repairs and improvements themselves."
Norquist said Americans will also feel the effects at the gas pump.
"A study by Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Kit Bond found that the Waxman-Markey bill will result in a $3.6 trillion gas tax," he testified. "That breaks down to an additional $2.0 trillion tax on gasoline, a $1.3 trillion tax on diesel fuel, and a $330 billion tax on jet fuel."
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said in a blog on the Heritage Foundation Web site that the American family can expect to see considerable increases in the cost of living.
"It is clear that most American families` standard of living will be reduced," he said, "if this cap-and-trade bill is approved by Congress."
|October 31, 2009
|Conservatives Vow to Keep Close Watch on Hate Crimes Law
(Christian Post) Christian conservative groups will be keeping a close watch over how new hate crimes legislation will be enforced after President Obama signed it into law Wednesday.
“Although we don’t know the full ramifications of this bill as of yet, my staff and I will be watching closely for any possible infringement on the rights of our members and pastors to speak out against the sin of homosexuality based on the Word of God,” said Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, in a statement.
Like Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, Kieschnick said he doesn’t believe there will be “immediate” prosecution of pastors and churches for teaching that homosexual behavior is sinful, but the threat to free speech is “nonetheless real.”
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, passed by Congress last week, adds sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to the list of federal hate crimes and allows the federal government more room to intervene in investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.
The bill, tucked inside the $680 billion defense spending bill, was named after Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was kidnapped and beaten to death in October 1998, and James Byrd Jr., a black man who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck in Texas in 1998.
President Obama, with the mother of Matthew Shepard and the sister of James Byrd, Jr. at his side, signed the act into law Wednesday at the White House.
In his remarks at the reception, Obama said hate crimes are not only about physical harm, but they “break spirits” and “instill fear.”
“[N]o one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love,” Obama declared.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group, calls the hate crimes law the “nation’s first major piece of civil rights legislation” for LGBT.
Though supporters hail the signing of the hate crimes bill an advancement in U.S. civil rights, opponents fear the law will be used to restrict the free speech of pastors and Christians who say that homosexuality is a sin.
Critics contend that pastors can be unfairly linked to a hate crime if they preach homosexuality as sin and someone who hears the sermon later harms another because of their sexual orientation.
“ADF has clearly seen the evidence of where ‘hate crimes’ legislation leads when it has been tried around the world: It paves the way for the criminalization of speech that is not deemed ‘politically correct,’” warned Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with Alliance Defense Fund. “‘Hate crimes’ laws fly in the face of the underlying purpose of the First Amendment, which was designed specifically to protect unpopular speech.”
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins also criticized the hate crimes bill as a threat to the free speech of Americans, saying that the hate crimes law lays a legal foundation and framework for “investigating, prosecuting and prosecuting” pastors and Christian business owners “whose actions reflect their faith.”
But not all Christian groups are opposed to the hate crimes law. The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society said it “celebrates” the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which the church body believes will “ensure public safety and equal protection under the law from hate crimes.”
The agency further contends that the legislation will protect free speech and religious liberty.
“We celebrate passage of this legislation with millions of Americans who believe that we are all created equal in the image of God, and with the rest of the civil rights community who have worked so hard for its passage,” UMC’s GBCS stated.
It took more than a decade of efforts for sexual orientation and gender identity to be added to the hate crimes list, which originally included race, religion, color and national origin. Though Democrats had favored the measure, Republicans had blocked the amendment from passing in the past. Former President George W. Bush had vetoed the defense bill when the hate crimes bill was attached to it during his administration.
Gay rights group are now pressing President Obama to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which bans gays from openly serving in the military, and to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines legal marriage as between a man and a woman.
Obama has previously announced his intention to repeal both.
|October 31, 2009
|James Dobson to Go Off the Air
(Christian Post) Influential conservative leader James Dobson is planning to go off the air, his ministry reported Friday.
In an announcement, Focus on the Family announced Dobson’s intention to remove himself as the primary radio voice of his daily radio broadcast at the end of February but made clear that the move was not prompted by health concerns.
Dobson remains "a man of health and vigor," Focus on the Family president and CEO Jim Daly reported.
"The Bible tells us that to everything there is a season – and Dr. Dobson`s season at Focus on the Family has been remarkable," Daly added.
Dobson, who founded Focus on the Family, has been with the ministry’s radio program since it began airing in 1977, providing daily encouragement and advice to families worldwide and speaking out on moral issues.
The 73-year-old conservative leader resigned as president of the prominent organization in 2003 and later as chairman in February of this year as part of a plan to pass on the leadership to the next generation.
"One of the common errors of founder-presidents is to hold to the reins of leadership too long, thereby preventing the next generation from being prepared for executive authority," Dobson said in a statement earlier this year.
Dobson is the latest among older conservative evangelical leaders who have let go of the reigns of their influential ministries.
Widely respected Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ; Dr. Jerry Falwell, who rallied conservatives to the political arena; and Dr. D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries, are a few of those who have passed in recent years, and evangelist Dr. Billy Graham has left his evangelistic association to the leadership of his son, Franklin Graham.
Concerned about the future of the conservative Christian movement, Dobson – during Kennedy`s funeral in 2007 – posed the inevitable question of who will carry on the work of defending biblical values, the unborn, the institution of marriage and traditional morality.
He expressed hope that the younger generation would heed the call.
Today, Focus on the Family`s radio program reaches more than 220 million people in over 155 nations.
|October 30, 2009
|Gavin Newsom quits race for California governor
(latimes.com) San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has been seen as a leading contender to be the next governor of California, announced today that he is quitting the race.
Newsom is withdrawing from the Democratic primary amid lackluster poll numbers and meager fund-raising receipts. His withdrawal leaves state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who is expected to run even though he has not officially entered the race, with little opposition in the Democratic primary.
“It is with great regret I announce today that I am withdrawing from the race for governor of California,” Newsom said in a statement. “With a young family and responsibilities at City Hall, I have found it impossible to commit the time required to complete this effort the way it needs to — and should be — done. This is not an easy decision. But it is one made with the best intentions for my wife, my daughter, the residents of the city and county of San Francisco, and California Democrats.”
Although Newsom had been effectively running for more than a year, his campaign never gained much traction. Even in his hometown, which Newsom touted as a model of cutting-edge policies, his candidacy was widely derided among civic insiders.
Perhaps most telling was the absence of support from the major San Francisco donors who helped underwrite Newsom’s successful campaigns in the city. He also drew relatively few endorsements from the ranks of his fellow elected officials.
Newsom had repeatedly told those close to him that he did not want to embarrass himself in the governor`s race.
|October 29, 2009
|State redistricting panel seeks applicants with time on their hands
(PE.com) Are you interested in government? Do you possess an analytical mind, an appreciation of the state`s diversity and a wide-open calendar for most of 2011?
The state of California may have the job for you: Become a member of the Citizens Redistricting Commission.
Everyone form a line.
Within weeks, the state will start a two-month application process to fill a 14-member panel to redraw California`s legislative and Board of Equalization districts after the 2010 census.
In terms of influencing the future of California, the commission will rival any in state history. Everyday voters, and not judges or politicians who drew previous maps, will determine communities` representation in Sacramento.
But the subject matter, time commitment and strict conflict-of-interest rules, have raised concerns about whether there will be enough applicants from which to create a panel that reflects California`s disparate geography, ethnic makeup and other traits.
"It`s going to be an uphill battle to get people to apply," said Eugene Lee, the voting rights project director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles.
State Auditor Elaine Howle, whose office is overseeing the applications, said she is optimistic that there will be many qualified candidates.
Already, about 1,000 people have expressed interest in serving, she said.
"I certainly think there are thousands of people out there who have those kinds of talents and desire to be a part of the process," Howle said.
The first-of-its-kind redistricting commission is the product of Prop. 11, a November 2008 ballot measure backed by good-government groups and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The initiative arose from protests about the Legislature`s 2001 remapping. Lawmakers crafted oddly shaped districts to maximize the strength of one party or the other and to protect incumbents. Only a handful of districts have switched parties since then.
The next redistricting will take place in 2011. It has significant implications for Riverside and San Bernardino counties, where the population has increased much faster than in other parts of the state. That growth should bring the area additional representation.
First, though, the state needs to get a redistricting panel in place. Over the summer, officials approved regulations to guide the application process, which opens Dec. 15 and closes Feb. 12.
The online application includes several questions. Applicants that make it to the second round will need to complete 250-word essays and turn in letters of recommendation.
To encourage applicants, Howle said her office plans a "We Draw the Lines" campaign.
There will be newspaper editorials and presentations to community groups. Organizers will rally bloggers about the commission next month and will use social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter. Radio advertising will begin in January.
But the effort will not be mistaken for the big-bucks campaign of a statewide race or ballot initiative. The Legislature allocated $3 million to the Prop. 11 process earlier this year, amid billions in spending cuts and tax increases to deal with major budget problems. About $500,000 has been released so far, Howle said.
"I`d love to have more, believe me," she said.
Prop. 11 sets tough standards on who can be a redistricting commissioner. For example, applicants cannot be lobbyists, must have had the same party affiliation for five years and cannot have made more than $2,000 in political contributions.
Rosalind Gold, the senior director for policy, research and advocacy at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said there are many potential Latino applicants who would be excellent commissioners but couldn`t get past the conflict-of-interest rules.
"We think it`s critical that there be Latino voices on that commission," she said. "We think those civic leaders are out there."
Every stage of the application process will be open to the public, Howle promised. Addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses will not be available, but the application also includes questions about people`s income, their political affiliation and other information. Interviews with the 120 applicants who make the first cut also will be public.
The scrutiny could discourage some people from applying, Lee said.
"It`s good for this process to be transparent. At the same time, it takes a certain type of person to be in the limelight like that," he said.
Applicants have to be willing to spend a significant amount of time -- some estimates run as high as 30 hours a week -- on commission business from early 2011 through September 2011, when the new maps are supposed to be finished. Commissioners will get $300 per diem, plus expenses.
Howle said commissioners still should be able to hold down a full-time job, but they will need to have a flexible schedule.
"If a person really is interested and committed to doing something like this, they will find a way to do it," Howle said.
Drawing the lines
Dec. 15, 2009: People can begin applying to serve on the Citizens Redistricting Commission
Feb. 12, 2010: Application deadline
Eligibility information: www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov
|October 27, 2009
|67 Year-Old Grandma Interrogated and Threatened by Police over Gay Pride Complaint
(LifeSiteNews.com) The visit and threat of a "hate crime" charge by police to a 67 year-old U.K. pensioner and devout Christian grandmother, has garnered outrage from all corners of Britain, and has even been criticised by the head of Britain`s leading homosexualist lobby group.
Mrs. Pauline Howe was told by two police officers who visited her home that she may have committed a "hate incident" simply for having written a letter to her local council complaining about the local Gay Pride parade.
Mrs. Howe says she is considering suing the police, after enduring what she described as a "frightening and intimidating" interrogation. She is seeking legal advice from the Christian Institute, a leading UK Christian lobby and advocacy group.
In a video interview, Howe said it is "quite obvious" that the matter is one of an attack by police on freedom of religious expression and belief. "Our freedoms as bible-believing Christians have just been squashed now and the authority of God`s word as well. We`re not allowed to express our biblical evangelical beliefs anymore without being frightened."
She sent the letter after she was harassed and subjected to sexually explicit verbal attacks when she joined a group of other Christians handing out leaflets at the Gay Pride event on July 25th. In her letter, Mrs. Howe said, "I and other Christians present are not attempting to prevent those who engage in this offensive behaviour from doing so in the privacy of their own homes.
"It is the public display of such indecency on the streets of Norwich which is so offensive to God and to many Norwich residents," she wrote. "It is shameful that this small, but vociferous lobby should be allowed such a display unwarranted by the minimal number of homosexuals."
Mrs. Howe`s letter garnered a response from Bridget Buttinger, the council`s deputy chief executive, who told her that she could be facing hate crime charges. The council reported the letter to the Norfolk Constabulary, who judged after their interview that no crime had been committed.
The issue has provoked a sudden storm of media attention after ITV`s Anglia News ran the story last night. ITV quoted an organiser of the Gay Pride march supporting the police, saying, "There are some points of view that are too hateful to be said."
Homosexualist activists have objected to Mrs. Howe`s use of the biblically based term "sodomites" and her assertion that their "perverted sexual practices" spread sexually transmitted diseases. But Ben Summerskill, head of Britain`s leading homosexualist activist group Stonewall, called the police response "disproportionate." Andrew Pierce, a commentator for the Daily Telegraph and a homosexual, said, "What kind of society have we become when the peaceful expression of a religious belief can bring police knocking at the door?"
Norfolk police have issued a statement saying, "We will investigate all alleged hate incidents" and called their response "proportionate." A police spokesman said, "If it has come into our intelligence and been reported to us as a crime then we have to investigate."
Mike Judge of the Christian Institute, said, "Whether people agree or disagree with Mrs. Howe`s views, everyone who cares about freedom should be alarmed at the police action."
"For democracy to survive people must be free to express their beliefs, yes even unpopular beliefs, to government bodies without fear of a knock at the door from the police. It`s not a crime to be a Christian, but it increasingly feels like it."
Ed West, a journalist and commentator for the Daily Telegraph, wrote that Judge has a point. West pointed to the numerous cases of people, "all Christians (generally Evangelicals)," who have been "questioned by the police over objecting to homosexuality."
"It is a part of a wider trend of illiberalism across Europe that has taken place in the past decade."
"This soft totalitarianism does not come with gulags or death camps, but rather the petty harassment of individuals by the authorities," West added.
|October 27, 2009
|Bush`s first stand on a new podium
(Washington Post) After nine months of being nearly invisible -- a big outing has been to a Dallas hardware store for flashlights -- George W. Bush made his debut Monday in his latest incarnation: motivational speaker.
Nearly 15,000 people heard the former president, known more for mangling the English language than for his eloquence, reminisce about his White House days. Bush, who is writing a book about the dozen toughest decisions he had to make, used much of his 28 minutes onstage to talk about lighter topics such as picking out a rug design for the Oval Office that reflected his "optimism."
Perhaps in a nod to his dismal 22 percent approval ratings when he left office, Bush noted that "popularity is fleeting. . . . It`s not real."
He beamed at the standing ovations from the friendly hometown crowd -- he now lives in nearby Dallas.
Looking younger than his 63 years and relaxed, Bush did not appear to have an overarching theme, but strung anecdotes and jokes together and frequently mentioned his faith in God.
"I don`t see how you can be president without relying on the Almighty. Now when I was 21, I wouldn`t have told you that, but at age 63, I can tell you that one of the most amazing surprises of the presidency was the fact that people`s prayers affected me. I can`t prove it to you. But I can tell you some days were great, some days not so great. But every day was joyous." That, he attributed, to the prayers of others.
His speech came after the crowd at the "GET MOTIVATED!" seminar stood up and danced to the Beach Boys` song "Surfin` USA" and batted around beach balls tossed into the audience.
The well-publicized event appears to mark the beginning of a higher profile for Bush.
Just last week he gave three speeches in Canada, and he has joined the Washington Speakers Bureau. He is scheduled to give another motivational speech next month in San Antonio. Former presidential adviser Karen Hughes said he has "quite a few speeches planned" during the fall.
Along with his book, due out next year, Bush is planning his new presidential library and policy institute at Southern Methodist University -- the alma mater of Laura Bush. He also has been spotted riding his mountain bike on local trails.
Many people interviewed afterward said they liked Bush, perhaps even because he wasn`t the best speaker of the day. He could have said a thesaurus was a big scaly creature that roamed the planet millions of years ago and they would have applauded.
His most memorable story, one after another said, was about Barney, his Scottie:
Mindful of his new neighbors, who have had to endure as many as 650 people a day gawking at his new house in a cul-de-sac, Bush said he took Barney for a neighborhood stroll with "plastic bag on his hand" to scoop poop. That was a moment, he said, when he realized "Man, my life has changed!"
"He is just a normal guy! He wasn`t the best speaker. But I was happy to see him!" said Lubbock salesman Patrick Kruger, 50.
Anthony Champagne, a professor of politics at the University of Texas at Dallas, said many presidents go underground for a period after they leave the White House, but then "even Richard Nixon came back in the public eye."
He said approval ratings of presidents often rise the longer they are out of office.
Along with Bush, former secretary of state Colin Powell, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, retired football great Terry Bradshaw and a host of professional speakers spoke on a stage decorated with red-white-and-blue signs that said "Motivate!" and "Achieve!"
Sparklers, rock music and a perky master of ceremonies ever-complimentary of Fort Worth kept the crowd on its feet.
"Cut the word `impossible` out of your vocabulary!" thundered the Rev. Robert Schuller, televangelist and author. After telling the sad story about his daughter getting her leg amputated after a motorcycle accident, he came back big with an account of her playing baseball, trying for home runs so she wouldn`t have to run: "Never look at what you have lost. Look at what you have left."
Powell, speaking after a drawing for a door prize of a high-definition flat-screen TV, told the audience to celebrate America`s freedom. "We must never be afraid of some clown hiding in a cave," Powell said. Then moving on from Osama bin Laden, he talked about the Chinese: "The only fight we have with them is they want more shelf space at Wal-Mart!"
All this face time -- on giant screens for those in the rafters -- cost $4.95 for most people. The VIP seats in the front rows went for $89.
Tamara Lowe, co-founder of the motivational speakers series, which did a brisk business selling workbooks and other materials, said she was contractually bound not to reveal how much Bush was paid. His spokesman also declined to comment on published reports that estimated his fee at $100,000.
In Britain, where Bush remains wildly unpopular, the media have been reporting his return to public speaking with incredulity. Some commentators recalled his famous flubs: "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" and "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family."
A Telegraph news article noted that the Republican former president -- whose policies inspired millions of Americans to vote Democratic in the 2008 election -- was now managing to draw crowds and "may yet have the last laugh."
"I kept looking for a teleprompter, but I didn`t see one," said Joanne Ryan, 35, a financial adviser in the audience who noted, "I know the media makes him out to be an idiot," but he seemed genuine and "down-home."
Ryan said Bush seemed more comfortable speaking now than he did as president.
In the crowd of real estate agents in suits, housewives in jeans, students and senior citizens, Chris Clarke, 25, a salesman from Dallas, stood at the back. Like many people, he said that other speakers were better -- Colin Powell was his favorite -- but he thought Bush was good. In fact, he said, it could turn out that Bush may be more suited to motivational speaking than being president. He said when Bush misspeaks, it sounds "incompetent if you are president. But here it can be inspiring. It makes him seem like a regular guy, no better than me."
|October 27, 2009
|UCI law dean Chemerinsky to represent teacher sued by student
Constitutional scholar to assist in James Corbett`s appeal.
(Orange County Register) Nationally renowned constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine`s law school, will represent high school teacher James Corbett in appealing a federal court ruling that found Corbett violated a student`s First Amendment rights.
Corbett, who referred to Creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense" during a fall 2007 classroom lecture, filed his appeal today with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Chemerinsky was named in the filings as a member of Corbett`s new, four-person defense team. All of the attorneys will work on a pro bono basis.
"Dr. Corbett has rendered an extraordinary service to the Capistrano Unified School District and its students for many, many years," said one of the attorneys, Craig Johnson, who works in Riverside, "and I think that it is a disservice to his record and his legacy to allow the current ruling on summary judgment to stand."
Chemerinsky did not immediately return a request for comment.
Corbett, a history teacher at Mission Viejo`s Capistrano Valley High School, has been represented for the past two years by attorneys retained by the Capistrano Unified School District and the California Teachers Association union. Some issues – including who will pay court costs and attorneys fees – have yet to be decided at the trial court level.
Corbett`s original legal team will continue to represent him on those issues, while Chemerinsky and the others will work on his appeal.
Meanwhile, attorneys for student Chad Farnan – who initiated the lawsuit against Corbett two years ago – simultaneously appealed the case today to the Ninth Circuit. They believe U.S. District Judge James Selna should have found Corbett liable for more than just the Creationism comment; the original lawsuit presented 22 statements attributed to Corbett that were purported First Amendment violations.
"We will ask the court to reconsider all 22 statements," said Farnan`s attorney, Robert Tyler. "We hope that the Court of Appeals will recognize that comments like, `Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool,` are truly a violation of the establishment clause, when used in the context used by Dr. Corbett."
The First Amendment`s establishment clause prohibits the government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion" and has been interpreted by U.S. courts to also prohibit government employees from displaying religious hostility.
Farnan`s attorneys also are appealing a ruling by Selna last month that found Corbett not financially liable for his actions under a qualified immunity defense.
"Chad really believes he`s doing the right thing," said his mother, Teresa Farnan, of Mission Viejo. "He`s not getting any money out of this; he had to leave a class that could have helped him get into college. Any student should be able to sit in the classroom without having their beliefs attacked."
Because both sides appealed the case today – which was the legal deadline to file an appeal – it`s not immediately clear which side appealed and which side cross-appealed. Both sides say they cross-appealed.
In the end, though, it won`t matter, as both sides are asking the 9th Circuit to reconsider essentially all of the facts of the case.
"What we`re looking for is an opinion that more broadly articulates the doctrine of hostility in the public school classroom," Tyler said.
Farnan, 17, will continue to be represented by Advocates for Faith & Freedom, the Murrietta-based Christian legal group that has represented him on a pro bono basis since his lawsuit was filed.
Tyler said he was not concerned about Corbett`s new defense team.
"It is of no concern that a liberal law school dean is taking Dr. Corbett`s side in this case," Tyler said. "It is no surprise, just as it is no surprise that Advocates for Faith & Freedom is taking a conservative role in this case on behalf of Chad Farnan."
Johnson said Corbett has spent the past few months assembling a defense team for an appeal, in case Corbett did not get a ruling in his favor.
"In the event of an adverse ruling, he said he wanted to assemble an appellate team," Johnson said. "His statements were all taken out of context. As a father of two high school students in the district (Capistrano Unified), I believe European history lends itself so well to independent thought and critical reasoning. That is the very end Dr. Corbett seeks in trying to prompt his students through the Socratic method."
|October 23, 2009
|Congress Approves Law Extending Hate Crime Protections to Gays
To assure its passage after years of frustrated efforts, Democratic supporters attached the measure to a must-pass $680 billion defense policy bill the Senate approved 68-29.
(FOXNews.com) Senate Democrats used a must-pass military spending bill to push through a controversial measure Thursday extending hate-crime protection to gays.
The bill, known as the Matthew Shepard Act, named for the gay Wyoming college student murdered 11 years ago, was opposed by conservatives because of language they said targets clergy and others who oppose homosexuality on religious grounds and who might express those beliefs publicly.
"The inclusion of the controversial language of the hate crimes legislation, which is unrelated to our national defense, is deeply troubling," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said the bill was a "dangerous step" toward thought crimes. He asked whether the bill would "serve as a warning to people not to speak out too loudly about their religious views."
But Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said "nothing in this legislation diminishes an American`s freedom of religion, freedom of speech or press or the freedom to assemble. Let me be clear. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act targets acts, not speech."
To assure its passage after years of frustrated efforts, Democratic supporters attached the measure to a must-pass $680 billion defense policy bill the Senate approved 68-29. The House passed the defense bill earlier this month.
Hate crimes law enacted after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968 centered on crimes based on race, color, religion or national origin.
The expansion has long been sought by civil rights and gay rights groups. Conservatives have opposed it, arguing that it creates a special class of victims.
Some 45 states have hate crimes statutes, and the bill would not change current practices where hate crimes are generally investigated and prosecuted by state and local officials.
But it does broaden the narrow range of actions — such as attending school or voting — that can trigger federal involvement and allows the federal government to step in if the Justice Department certifies that a state is unwilling or unable to follow through on an alleged hate crime.
The measure also provides federal grants to help state and local governments prosecute hate crimes and funds programs to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles.
"As we learned in the civil rights era, sometimes communities need assistance and resources from the federal government when they have to confront the most emotional and dangerous kinds of crimes," said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
The bill also creates a federal crime to penalize attacks against U.S. service members on account of their service.
Attorney General Eric Holder said nearly 80,000 hate crime incidents have been reported to the FBI since he first testified before Congress in support of a hate crimes bill 11 years ago. "It has been one of my highest personal priorities to ensure that this legislation finally becomes law," he said.
The FBI says more than half of reported hate crimes are motivated by racial bias. Next most frequent are crimes based on religious bias, at around 18 percent, and sexual orientation, at 16 percent.
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said the measure was "part of a radical social agenda that could ultimately silence Christians and use the force of government to marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality."
|October 23, 2009
|Government widens control over paychecks
(Washington Post) The Federal Reserve joined the Treasury Department on Thursday in imposing new limits on executive pay, extending the government`s control over compensation at taxpayer-owned companies to institutions that are merely government regulated.
The restrictions were the latest in more than a year`s worth of government intervention in matters once considered inviolable aspects of the country`s free-market economy and represent a signal moment in the history of the American economic experiment. After years of setting minimum wages, the government is now telling some companies how they should structure pay for those who run them.
The actions Thursday put the United States more in line with European governments. France and Germany, in particular, have pressed for international standards to limit executive pay, a move that the United States and Britain have resisted.
At Treasury, President Obama`s pay czar, Kenneth Feinberg, announced sharp cuts in pay for 175 top executives at seven big banks and automakers that received hundreds of billions of dollars in federal bailout money during the financial crisis. The new structures reduced the cash salary paid to some executives by 90 percent and tied more compensation to long-term stock awards.
"There is entirely too much reliance on cash, and there`s got to be a better way to tie corporate performance to long-term growth," Feinberg said at a media briefing. "I`m hoping that the methodology we developed to determine compensation for these individuals might be voluntarily adopted elsewhere."
At the Federal Reserve, Chairman Ben S. Bernanke proposed a broader but less proscribed plan to restrict pay at banks. The aim is to prevent them from rewarding employees for actions that could endanger the firms` long-term financial health. Unlike Feinberg`s more limited plan, the Fed`s guidance would cover all banks it regulates -- even those that never received a bailout -- as well as U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies.
However, the Fed`s proposed rules have wiggle room: The guidelines would let banks set their own compensation but give the Fed veto power over pay practices that it determines could threaten the safety and soundness of a bank. They would extends the regulators` reach into pay practices affecting tens of thousands of bank employees, from senior executives to traders of complex securities.
"I`ve always believed that our system of free enterprise works best when it rewards hard work," Obama said at the White House on Thursday. "But it does offend our values when executives of big financial firms -- firms that are struggling -- pay themselves huge bonuses even as they continue to rely on taxpayer assistance to stay afloat."
Since the crisis began, the federal government has used taxpayer money to inject capital into financial firms in exchange for ownership stakes. Failing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by Washington. American International Group, the world`s largest insurance company, is 80 percent owned by U.S. taxpayers. The government has picked winners (Bear Stearns) and losers (Lehman Brothers). And a sitting chief executive -- General Motors` Rick Wagoner -- was effectively fired by the White House.
Executive compensation has long been linked to company performance -- the higher profits and stock prices go, the bigger the payday for top executives. But Bernanke, other regulators and many on Capitol Hill say that compensation packages were so high that they led executives to put their companies and shareholders at risk solely for the benefit of multimillion-dollar bonuses.
"The Federal Reserve is working to ensure that compensation packages appropriately tie rewards to longer-term performance and do not create undue risk for the firm or the financial system," Bernanke said.
The banking industry viewed the Fed`s guidelines with ambivalence. Many banks already are moving to revise compensation practices for top executives and other employees who could expose the bank to bet-the-company risks. But industry representatives are wary of the regulations, concerned that they could ensnare even relatively low-level employees of smaller banks.
|October 23, 2009
|White House Says Bush Administration ‘Unserious’ About Afghan War
(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration and former Vice President Dick Cheney continued their verbal jousting Thursday, as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs accused the Bush administration of not taking seriously requests to increase troops in Afghanistan.
The strong words from Gibbs came the day after Cheney delivered yet another withering critique of the administration on foreign and national security policy on a number of fronts, including what he called President Barack Obama’s “dithering” on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The U.S. top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has asked for an additional 40,000 troops.
“What Vice President Cheney calls dithering, President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public,” Gibbs told reporters. “I think we’ve all seen what happens when somebody doesn’t take that responsibility seriously.”
In March, Obama pledged to increase troops by more than 30,000 troops.
“Having announced his Afghanistan strategy last March, President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision, and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete his mission,” former Vice President Cheney said Wednesday night as he received the “Keeper of the Flame Award” from the national security think tank Center for Security Policy.
“It’s time for President Obama to make good on his promise. The White House must stop dithering while America’s armed forces are in danger,” Cheney said. “Make no mistake, signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries. Waffling while our troops on the ground face an emboldened enemy, endangers them and hurts our cause.”
Gibbs repeatedly said that Gen. David D. McKiernan already requested an increase in troops eight months before President George W. Bush left office, giving the Bush-Cheney administration plenty of time to do what Cheney is criticizing Obama about.
“It’s pretty safe to say with the vice president was for seven year not focused on Afghanistan, even more curious given the fact that an increase in troops requests set on desks in this White House – including the vice president’s – for more than eight months,” Gibbs said.
“A resource request was filled by President Obama in March. What Vice President Cheney calls dithering, President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public,” Gibbs continued. “I think we’ve all seen what happens when somebody doesn’t take that responsibility seriously.”
In a more specific criticism during his Wednesday speech, Cheney said the Bush administration handed off a recommendation about Afghanistan to the incoming administration. Cheney said he wanted to talk about this because White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel made a charge that must be answered.
“The president’s chief of staff claimed that the Bush administration hadn’t asked any tough questions about Afghanistan, and he complained that the Obama administration had to start from scratch to put together a strategy,” Cheney said.
“In the fall of 2008, fully aware of the need to meet new challenges being posed by the Taliban, we dug into every aspect of Afghanistan policy, assembling a team that repeatedly went into the country, reviewing options and recommendations, and briefing President-elect Obama’s team,” former vice president Cheney continued.
“They asked us not to announce our findings publicly, and we agreed, giving them the benefit of our work and the benefit of the doubt. The new strategy they embraced in March, with a focus on counterinsurgency and an increase in the numbers of troops, bears a striking resemblance to the strategy we passed to them. They made a decision – a good one, I think – and sent a commander into the field to implement it.
“Now they seem to be pulling back and blaming others for their failure to implement the strategy they embraced. It’s time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity,” Cheney said.
Asked about this at the daily press briefing, Gibbs was unsure about a specific review.
“I have not looked at that review. I don’t know whether what he describes is accurate. Again, we were eight months from a commander’s recommendation from Afghanistan for additional troops,” Gibbs said.
Asked about it further, Gibbs explained, “I have no doubt the former administration briefed the incoming administration on a number of specific regions in the world. I am specifically reacting to a very pointed charge about a current resource request and juxtaposing that against a resource request that didn’t come to their desk in the transition, didn’t come to their desk in December, didn’t come in November, didn’t come in October. For eight months they had it.”
Pressed on what he meant about whether the Bush administration was serious about troop levels in Afghanistan, Gibbs said, “Whether it was taken seriously or not, it wasn’t filled. I assume since it wasn’t filled, it wasn’t taken seriously. Maybe they filled serious ones and didn’t fill unserious ones.”
He continued stressing that Cheney’s criticism does not add up, mathematically speaking.
“There were half as many troops as are now in Afghanistan under his watch to 68,000, to now wanting an additional 40,000,” Gibbs said. “How do you go to 68-plus from 34-plus. It defies some modicum of logic to say I didn’t want to go from 35,000 to 65,000, but you want to go from 65 to 100. That’s fuzzy math.”
Cheney credited Obama for recognizing Afghanistan as a necessary war to win.
He pointed to Obama’s comment in March that, “If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban – or allows al-Qaeda to go unchallenged – that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.”
Speaking to the VFW this year, Obama said, “I will give you a clear mission,” he said, “defined goals, and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That’s my commitment to you.”
|October 22, 2009
|Initiative backers submit paperwork promising a busy 2010 cycle
(Capitol Weekly) An early glance at the ballot measures that could be headed for the ballot in 2010 point to a busy political season, and a number of very expensive, high-profile initiative campaigns.
Sure, there is the measure to legalize marijuana that could be on the ballot as early as June. And there are the initiatives that get filed with the attorney general’s office that will likely never actually be put before voters. The “Freedom to Present Christmas Music in Public School Classrooms Act” falls into the latter category.
But over the last week, several legitimate, and controversial initiatives with a real shot of making the November 2010 ballot have been filed. And more are likely on the way.
Some of the issues are familiar to California voters. Sponsors of a measure that would require parental consent before a girl under 18 can obtain an abortion are back with several versions of their initiative. Voters have rejected such mandates in two recent ballot fights over the last five years.
Attorneys for the California Teachers Association have filed a 20-page measure aimed at repealing “corporate tax loopholes.” The measure targets changes in the tax law made in 2008 that offer tax breaks to California corporations.
According to language in the measure, “these loopholes benefit the biggest of corporations with gross incomes of over $1 billion. One study estimates that 80 percent of the benefits will go to just 0.1 percent of all California corporations.”
These changes were pushed by legislative Republicans in recent budget battles as part of larger budget agreements. They allow companies to transfer tax credits among subsidiaries of the same company, and allow companies to chose between different formulas to determine the income tax owed to the state. Another provision changes the net-operating loss law, allowing companies to claim refunds for past taxes paid to the state.
"The taxes proposed in this initiative would be a wrong turn for California because it would take away incentives for companies to locate in the state and create jobs here," said Scott Macdonald, spokesman for Californians Against Higer Taxes, a business group formed to oppose the initiative. " It would come on top of $12 billion in taxes that already hit Californians this year and another $40 billion in taxes that have been proposed by a government employee union. It would add insult to injury that would result in more
job layoffs in a state already suffering from record high unemployment.”
Since they were passed, advocates have tried to repeal these changes to the tax law without success.
The measure is being pushed by the California Teachers Association, which argues that public schools take the brunt of what they call corporate tax loopholes.
“Public schools are bearing the brunt of these costs,” the measure states. “We should not be cutting vital programs and raising taxes on low-income and middle-class Californians while enacting tax loopholes for big corporations. It makes no sense and it isn’t fair.”
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor is teaming up with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to push a change to the state term limits law similar to the one that was rejected by voters in 2008.
The new measure would shorten the overall amount of time lawmakers may serve in the Legislature from 14 years to 12 years. But it would allow legislators to serve their time in either house.
Current law allows members to serve three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year Senate terms.
The measure has been vehemently opposed by U.S. Term Limits, which views the measure as an extension, not a shortening, of legislative term limits.
A number of rumored measures involving sweeping constitutional reforms – including a possible plan to call a statewide constitutional convention – have not yet been submitted for review to the attorney general. Other groups like California Forward are pushing for changes to the state budget process, including the elimination of the two-thirds vote requirement for passing state budgets.
Meanwhile, local governments are trying to fortify the constitutional walls they have built around local gas tax and property tax revenues in recent budgets.
The League of California Cities filed a measure this week to amend Proposition 1A, passed by voters in 2004, and Proposition 42, the transportation funding measure approved by voters in 2002.
Both of those measures allowed the state to borrow money from local governments and transportation funds on a limited basis. But Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities, says those deals are no longer tenable.
“It’s become obvious that the state is willing to put its needs ahead of local government. At the same time the state feels it needs funding, even as local governments are facing the same crisis as the state,” he said. “The property taxes from Proposition 1A grew used to fund police and fire services. They’re saying that whatever services they’re funding at the state level are more important than police and fire.”
McKenzie said he realizes other ballot measures may target so-called ballot-box budgeting even as his group seeks to ask voters to strengthen the protections for local revenues.
“We have to exist in this seriously dysfunctional system that exists right now,” he said. “We have to play by the rules that we’ve got. We’re willing to discuss a plan that puts every protection that exists for every group on the table if everyone else is willing to do that.”
That would include the funding formula that guarantees at least 40 percent of all state general fund revenues for public schools, and a discussion of Proposition 13, which changed the flow of local property tax follars.
In the meantime, says McKenzie, “we’re cick and tired of the Legislature stealing local funds to fund a state budgets.”
For the June ballot, a pair of initiatives pushed hard by well-monied Capitol interests are heading for the ballot. Pacific Gas and Electric is moving forward with a measure that would make it difficult for local entities to form municipal utilities that could compete for customers with large investor-owned utilities like PG&E.
Mercury Insurance is also gathering signatures for a measure that would revise Proposition 103 by allowing insurance companies to levy surcharges on motorists who try to reinsure vehicles on vehicles that have had their insurance go dormant.
Consumer advocates countered that measure this week with an opposing member that would codify existing law, and again make those surcharges illegal.
Voters will also have the opportunity to vote on the state’s primary system again in June. As part of an earlier budget compromise, lawmakers placed a measure on the ballot that would introduce a modified blanket primary system. Under the proposal, voters could cross party lines and candidates of all parties would compete in the same primary, followed by a runoff of the top two vote-getters.
|October 22, 2009
|Senate Judiciary Chairman Unable to Say Where Constitution Authorizes Congress to Order Americans to Buy Health Insurance
(CNSNews.com) Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would not say what part of the Constitution grants Congress the power to force every American to buy health insurance--as all of the health care overhaul bills currently do.
Leahy, whose committee is responsible for vetting Supreme Court nominees, was asked by CNSNews.com where in the Constitution Congress is specifically granted the authority to require that every American purchase health insurance. Leahy answered by saying that “nobody questions” Congress’ authority for such an action.
CNSNews.com: "Where, in your opinion, does the Constitution give specific authority for Congress to give an individual mandate for health insurance?"
Sen. Leahy: "We have plenty of authority. Are you saying there is no authority?"
CNSNews.com: "I’m asking--"
Sen. Leahy: "Why would you say there is no authority? I mean, there’s no question there’s authority. Nobody questions that."
When CNSNews.com again attempted to ask which provision of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to force Americans to purchase health insurance, Leahy compared the mandate to the government’s ability to set speed limits on interstate highways--before turning and walking away.
CNSNews.com: "But where, I mean, which–"
Sen. Leahy: "Where do we have the authority to set speed limits on an interstate highway? The federal government does that on federal highways."
CNSNews.com: "The states do that."
Sen. Leahy: "No. The federal government does that on federal highways."
Prior to 1995, the federal government mandated a speed limit of 55 miles an hour on all four-lane highways. The limit was repealed in 1995 and the authority to set speed limits reverted back to the states.
Technically, the law that established the 55 mile-an-hour limit--the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act of 1974--withheld federal highway funds from states that did not comply with it. The law rested on the Commerce Clause, which give Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce, and Congress’ authority to dole out federal tax revenue. Someone who does not buy health insurance, critics have argued, is not by that omission engaged in interstate commerce and thus there is no act of interstate commerce for Congress to regulate in this situation.
All versions of the health care bill currently being considered in Congress mandate that individuals buy health insurance. Americans who don`t would be subject to a financial penalty.
Attorney David Rivkin Jr., who worked in the Justice Department under both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said that Sen. Leahy`s response about the constitutional authority to mandate the purchase of health insurance "is wrong."
"None of Congress` enumerated powers support an individual purchase mandate," said Rivkin. "We have made this case in considerable detail in our recent articles in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Indeed, the Congressional Research Service, an entity that is usually deferential to Congress` prerogatives and prone to take an expansive view of congressional powers, when asked by the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus about the constitutionality of individual purchase mandates could only say that this is a `novel question.`"
"This mandate can only be based upon a view that Congress can exercise general police powers, a view profoundly at odds with the Framers` vision of the federal government as one of limited and enumerated powers," he said. "If the federal government can mandate an individual insurance purchase mandate, it can also mandate an unlimited array of other mandates and prescriptions, including the mandate to buy health club memberships or even to purchase a given quantity of fruits and vegetables."
"This state of affairs would completely warp our constitutional fabric, vitiate any autonomous role for the states and eviscerate individual liberty," said Rivkin. "It is profoundly un-American."
This is not the first time Congress has considered forcing Americans to buy health insurance. In 1994, an individual mandate was a key component of then-President Bill Clinton’s health care reform proposal.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said in a 1994 report that for federal government to order Americans to buy health insurance would be “unprecedented,” adding that the government had “never required” Americans to purchase anything. “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action,” CBO found.
“The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States," said the CBO report.
"An individual mandate would have two features that, in combination, would make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government."
Although Sen. Leahy said that "nobody" questions that Congress has the authority to force Americans to buy health insurance, Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee did question whether Congress had that authority when the health-care bill was being debated in their committee. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) tried to offer an amendment that would expedite judicial review of the bill were it enacted, but Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D.-Mont.) ruled that Hatch`s amendment was out of order.
In making his ruling, Sen. Baucus said the issue should not be considered by the Finance Committee because it came under the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee--the panel chaired by Sen. Leahy.
"If we have the power simply to order Americans to buy certain products, why did we need a Cash-for-Clunkers program or the upcoming program providing rebates for purchasing energy appliances?" Hatch asked on Oct. 1 when trying to offer his amendment in the committee. "We could simply require Americans to buy certain cars, dishwashers or refrigerators."
|October 21, 2009
|Senate Approves Plan to Transfer Gitmo Detainees to U.S. for Trial
The plan to permit terrorist suspects held at the facility to be shipped to U.S. soil to face trial passed the Senate by a 79-19 vote as part of a larger $44.1 billion budget bill for the Homeland Security Department.
(AP) President Obama won a modest victory Tuesday in his continuing effort to close the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, allowing the government to continue to transfer detainees at the facility to the U.S. to be prosecuted.
The plan to permit terrorist suspects held at the facility to be shipped to U.S. soil to face trial passed the Senate by a 79-19 vote as part of a larger $44.1 billion budget bill for the Homeland Security Department.
The measure already passed by the House now goes to Obama for his signature. The Guantanamo provision generally tracks restrictions already in place that block release of detainees in the U.S., but permits them to be tried here.
Obama in January ordered the facility closed within a year, but the administration has yet to deliver a plan and the effort has hit several roadblocks. Among the problems is unease among Obama`s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, who have refused to fund the effort.
The plan adopted Tuesday requires the administration to develop a plan before any further transfers. It also requires 15 days` notice before a transfer can occur and a certification that the prisoner does not represent a security risk.
The Senate debate over Guantanamo prisoners was relatively sedate. Last week, House Democratic leaders had to press to defeat a GOP effort to block transfer of any of the Guantanamo Bay detainees to the U.S., even to face trial.
"Prosecuting these individuals in our U.S. courts simply will not work and there is too much at stake to grant the unprecedented benefit of our legal system`s complex procedural safeguards to foreign nationals who were captured outside the United States during a time of war," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
"Guantanamo must be closed because it`s become a recruiting tool for al-Qaida and other terrorists," countered Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Separately, a group of retired generals and war veterans Tuesday launched a national campaign to rally support for closing the prison and transferring its inmates.
The campaign, "CLOSE GITMO NOW" begins Tuesday with a relatively modest $100,000 ad buy on cable channels across the country, exhorting Congress to reject the "failed Bush-Cheney policies."
The underlying spending bill also backs the Obama administration`s refusal to release new photos showing U.S. personnel abusing detainees held overseas. The measure supports Obama`s decision to allow the defense secretary to bar the release of detainee photos for three years.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit to obtain unreleased photos of detainee abuse under the Freedom of Information Act and won two rounds in federal court. The bill would essentially trump the ACLU`s case.
The administration has appealed to the Supreme Court and Obama has said he would use every available means to block release of additional detainee abuse photos because they could whip up anti-American sentiment overseas and endanger U.S. troops. His powers include issuing an order to classify the photos, thus blocking their release.
The bill also would extend for three years the E-Verify program, which uses the Social Security Administration database so that employers can verify the immigration status of new hires. A GOP plan to permanently expand the voluntary program and make it mandatory for federal contractors -- which passed the Senate in July -- was dropped during House-Senate talks.
The E-Verify program is a favorite of lawmakers who prefer an enforcement-first approach to immigration policy. They want to make it mandatory for employers nationwide. But more liberal lawmakers want to pair it with other elements of immigration reform, such as creating a so-called pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in this country.
And Jim DeMint, R-S.C., complained that negotiators dropped a plan to require double-layer fences along 700 miles of the border with Mexico rather than vehicle barriers and high-tech equipment.
The spending bill provides the department with a 6 percent budget increase.
|October 19, 2009
|1. Know the Facts 2. Read the Bill 3. Vote
(FamilySecurityMatters.org) As of Wednesday, October 14, there are some things we know, and some things we don`t know.
We know that the most recent economic projections forecast 10.3 percent unemployment as of next June and 8.5 percent unemployment through 2013.
And we know that cost increases to businesses and families could make these numbers even worse. They will slow down the recovery and kill job creation.
Now for what we don`t know: As of Monday, we can no longer have confidence that we know what the true cost of the Left`s health reform will be. A late-breaking report said that the bill passed yesterday by the Senate Finance Committee will increase the health care costs of the average American family by $4,000.
This specific figure may or may not prove to be the case.
The point is, we don`t know. And we can`t pass a law that remakes our economy and directly impacts the health of all Americans until we do.
$4,000 More in Cost to Families, $1,500 More in Costs to Individuals
The new report, prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers and paid for by the insurance industry, contains some disturbing estimates of how much the Senate Finance Committee bill will cost Americans.
For the average family of four, health insurance costs about $12,300 today. The report found that, if we do nothing, that cost will rise to $21,900 in 2019. But under the Finance Committee bill, the average family will see its health care costs rise to $25,900 in 2019 – a full $4,000 more than if we do nothing.
For the average single American, the cost of health care insurance today is about $4,600. The report found that this cost will rise to $8,200 in 2019 without the bill just passed by the Senate committee, but to $9,700 with it – creating an additional cost to single Americans of $1,500.
This report comes on the heels of a CBO estimate last month that said the Senate Finance Committee bill will increase premium costs for both employers and individuals who purchase insurance on their own: "Premiums in the new insurance exchanges would tend to be higher than the average premiums in the current-law individual market..."
Some Analysts Believe the Study Underestimates the Cost of Liberal Health Reforms
This new report may or may not be an accurate estimate of the costs Americans will bear under liberal health care reform. Some, including Ron Bachman, a health care analyst at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and the Center for Health Transformation, believe the PwC study underestimates the cost of liberal reforms.
Bachman believes that when the Finance Committee bill is merged with the legislation passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the costs of private health insurance will be even higher than under the Finance bill.
Right now, three Senators – the chairmen of the Finance and HELP committees and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NAV) – are meeting in secret to produce a bill for the full Senate to vote on. According to Bachman, the HELP bill is so loaded with pork barrel spending (he calls it the "Mother of all Slush Funds") that the final Senate bill will cost even more than the Finance Committee legislation alone.
Consumers Bear the Cost of New Health Care Taxes Through Higher Premiums
Although we can`t yet know if the PwC numbers will reflect the exact costs of the Senate`s health plan, we can make some logical inferences that liberal health care reform will increase prices to American families and businesses.
The Senate Finance Committee bill, for instance, raises taxes on employers and insurers by more than $200,000,000,000.
The bill also taxes drug companies and medical device manufacturers, which will raise the cost of these items. And because insurers cover drugs and devices through insurance policies, consumers will ultimately bear the cost of these taxes through higher premiums.
Furthermore, the Senate Finance bill would destroy the very nature of "insurance," which is for everyone— young and old, sick and healthy —to pay into the same system so that the medical care for those who need it is paid for by the insurance premiums of those who do not. The Finance bill may end up leaving mainly the sick in the system by requiring health plans to cover everyone, but allowing people to wait until they are sick to purchase a policy.
Sure, individuals would be fined as little as $200 a year if they don`t buy insurance, but why would someone want to buy a product today, knowing that they can buy it later at the same price when they actually need it? John Lott has a good column that compares this to buying auto insurance after you crash your car.
At the end of the day, health insurance premiums are a reflection of the health care delivery system. Because the Finance Committee bill will directly raise premiums through higher taxes but does little to actually reform delivery, it`s the worst of both worlds.
For ideas on how we can reform our health care delivery system and truly bring down costs to families and businesses, visit healthtransformation.net.
Congress Should Insist on Three Independent Studies Before it Votes
Americans can be forgiven for not knowing who to believe right now. And the Obama Administration`s response to the new study – to demonize the messenger rather than engage on the facts – doesn`t help clarify things.
Before it votes to transform one-sixth of our economy and every American`s health care, Congress should know the facts.
Congress should commission three independent studies of the cost of proposed health care reform by three professionally respected analytical firms.
Then Congress should post these studies online, so that all members and the American people can read them.
And then – and only then – Congress should vote.
As I mentioned in a column last week, some members of Congress are getting careless about reading legislation before they vote on it.
So for those members and others who need a refresher course on American democracy, here`s how it should go:
First: Know the Facts
Second: Read the Bill.
By Newt Gingrich
|October 15, 2009
|Should Illegal Aliens be Excluded from the Census Count?
(FamilySecurityMatters.com) As citizens of the United States, it behooves all of us to remain informed on the critical issues of the day. Regardless of one’s views on these issues, having all the information at hand is crucial if we are to engage in informed debate and make responsible decisions, both at the voting booth and within the halls of government.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has introduced a bill which, if passed, would direct the Census Bureau to exclude illegal aliens from being included for Congressional apportionment purposes (which also has an impact on the Electoral College count). It does so after directing the Census Bureau to inquire of citizenship/legal presence status on their short form (along with race, age, and sex, as is currently asked).
Called the Fairness in Representation Act (HR 3797), it will accomplish, according to Rep. Foxx:
The Census Bureau should inquire on its short form the citizenship or legal presence status of its respondents and use that information to ensure illegal aliens are not counted for purposes of Congressional apportionment. It’s fair, sensible, easy to do, and would help ensure some states don’t receive fewer Congressional representatives due to other states’ illegal alien population. My bill directs the Census Bureau to inquire of citizenship or legal presence status and use that information for ensuring the fairness and accuracy of Congressional apportionment.
With the ongoing discussion over immigration reform, many Americans might assume that the Census Bureau is counting the number of citizens and those legally present in their decennial count. Unfortunately, that assumption is wrong. Despite the potential such useful data would hold in informing the public and lawmakers on various policy proposals affecting issues such as program funding, reforming immigration laws, and Congressional apportionment, the Census Bureau refuses to inquire of, or officially distinguish their count by, citizenship or legal presence status.
Furthermore, due to the wording used during the drafting of the 14th amendment, the Census Bureau has determined that the figures they use for allocating Congressional seats among the states shall include illegal aliens. This is based on their interpretation of the word “persons”, which is a term used by the drafters to include newly freed slaves during a time when illegal immigration wasn’t an issue. However, that interpretation has no founding in case law.
My commonsense proposal would simply direct the Census Bureau to inquire of citizenship or legal presence status on its decennial short form that already asks recipients’ race, age, and sex and to use that information for apportioning Congressional districts.
If you have questions or concerns about any aspect of this bill, positive or negative, be sure to contact your representative.
|October 15, 2009
|District leaves Milk Day up to teachers
(The-Signal.com) The William S. Hart Union High School District will leave to individual teachers the decision whether to recognize Harvey Milk Day, a day set aside to honor the accomplishments of the controversial gay Bay Area politician, a district official spokeswoman said.
“To my knowledge, there won’t be any district-wide observance,” said Pat Willett, Hart district spokeswoman. “It’s possible that some teachers might cover it in their classrooms.”
The district chose to take the neutral approach to the holiday as the Santa Clarita Valley’s state legislators have vocally opposed recognizing Milk, while some religious leaders praised the civil rights advocate.
The day is not an official state holiday, so government employees won’t get the day off and the district will handle it much the same way as it does Cesar Chavez Day — a holiday celebrating another civil rights advocate.
“If it happens to be in a literature class or a social studies class, it can be included as long as it’s related to the topic,” Willett said about teachers including Harvey Milk Day in the curriculum.
The bill calls for the day to be observed by public schools as a day of special significance. Teachers will be encouraged to conduct exercises recalling Milk’s life and contributions to the state.
Willett imagines teachers could include Milk in a discussion of civil rights.
Milk was a leader of the gay rights movement. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, becoming the nation’s first openly gay man elected to public office in a major U.S. city.
A year later, Milk played a prominent role in the defeat of the so-called Briggs Initiative, a ballot proposition that would have prevented gays and lesbians from teaching in the state’s public schools.
In November 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated at San Francisco City Hall by former supervisor Dan White.
While conservative political groups across the state lobbied strongly against celebrating Milk’s life, members of the Santa Clarita Valley faith community lauded Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signing the Harvey Milk Day bill into law.
“When we talk about people in our state that furthered civil rights, the people we talk about are Cesar Chavez and Harvey Milk,” said Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami in Newhall.
The news of Harvey Milk Day was enthusiastically welcomed by Pastor George McLeary of Church of Hope in Canyon Country.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “We need to celebrate people in our world who make a difference.”
California lawmakers representing the SCV remained strongly opposed to Harvey Milk Day and criticized Schwarzenegger for flip-flopping on recognizing Milk. In 2008, Schwarzenegger vetoed an identical bill.
“I don’t completely understand (Schwarzenegger’s) rationale when it comes to changing his position from last year,” said Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita. “The governor’s veto message last year was appropriate. Certainly Mr. Milk had a great impact in San Francisco and the Bay Area, but it’s not necessary to have a state day of recognition.”
State Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, whose district includes part of the SCV, also blasted the governor’s decision.
“At a time when our education system, our transportation infrastructure and our public safety net are deteriorating, the last thing the governor needed to do was sign a bill to honor an abstract person who did very little for the general good of society,” Runner said.
“Harvey Milk, after all, was not a courageous trailblazer of civil rights like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks.”
Blazer said it’s attitudes like Smyth’s and Runner’s that reinforces the importance of Harvey Milk Day.
“The very fact there has been so much opposition to this day proves that we need it,” Blazer said.
He hopes celebrating Milk’s life will help turn the tide for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Americans to seek civil rights.
Blazer sees a future where issues like whether gay people battling for marital rights is a distant memory.
“There is a generational shift,” he said. “In 20 years, people will look back on this period and ask why it was so difficult for gay people to get rights.”
|October 13, 2009
|Voters disgusted with governor, Legislature
(SFGate.com) California voters have never thought less of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature, according to a Field Poll to be released today.
Despite that, a strong majority of poll respondents favor the governor`s move to call a special session of the Legislature to deal with California`s water crisis and tax reform issues.
"It`s really a cry of desperation," said Barbara O`Connor, a political science professor at Sacramento State University. "It`s ironic. Voters don`t like them, they don`t trust them, but they want them to come back to Sacramento and solve their problems."
Only 27 percent of poll respondents approve of Schwarzenegger`s job performance. That`s the lowest approval rating for any California governor in 50 years - except for the 22 percent approval rating the Field Poll delivered in 2003 to then-Gov. Gray Davis, the man Schwarzenegger replaced six years ago in a statewide recall election.
"He has come full circle," O`Connor said. "Familiarity breeds contempt in all sorts of relationships. And you can only use the same one-liners for so long without giving voters any deliverables."
Voters loathe the Legislature even more than the governor, according to the Field Poll of 1,005 registered voters between Sept. 18 and Oct. 5.
Just 13 percent gave lawmakers a thumbs-up, the lowest mark since the 14 percent approval rating the Legislature received in April - the last time the Field pollsters asked. It is the lowest rating in the 25 years that the Field Poll has been charting voter attitudes toward the Legislature.
"It`s brutal," said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo. " `How low can we go?` is an open question. Voters don`t think we`ve bottomed out yet."
Still, most Sacramento politicians are largely safe from a throw-the-bums-out type of revolt, analysts said. Schwarzenegger is termed out next year and most legislators come from districts gerrymandered into safe seats. "It would take a primary challenge to get them out," DiCamillo said.
Schwarzenegger`s disapproval rating - 65 percent - was also the highest of his six-year term in office. The negative feelings toward the governor were consistent across demographic and geographic lines across the state.
Fifty-nine percent of Republicans surveyed disapproved of the GOP governor, giving him no political base to watch his back. Davis had 41 percent Democratic support during his darkest days in office, DiCamillo said.
"He`s almost a governor without a party," O`Connor said of Schwarzenegger.
But large majorities of California voters support the Legislature returning to Sacramento for special sessions. The poll found that 73 percent - in equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats - want a special session devoted to water issues. It found that 62 percent wanted a special session on tax reform issues.
Voters "may not have a high degree of confidence that (lawmakers) can get it done," DiCamillo said. "But they want them to try."
The poll has a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
|October 13, 2009
|Baucus Health Bill Could Prevent Medical Expense Deductions
(CNSNews.com) The health care reform legislation outlined by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the Senate Finance Committee includes a provision that would raise the threshold for deducting costly medical expenses from income tax returns. People who do not meet that higher threshold could see their taxes rise.
The exemption, used by cancer patients and those with other costly, chronic diseases, allows people to deduct a variety of medical expenses--those not covered by insurance--from their income taxes, if those expenses amount to 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income.
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), expenses such as surgeries, chemotherapy, wheelchairs, and guide dogs for the blind can be deducted, ensuring that people who need these treatments are not taxed on the income they use to pay for them.
“Medical care expenses include payments for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or treatment affecting any structure or function of the body,” according to the IRS Web site. “The cost of drugs is deductible only for drugs that require a prescription, except for insulin.”
“The cost of items such as false teeth, prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses, laser eye surgery, hearing aids, crutches, wheelchairs, and guide dogs for the blind or deaf are deductible medical expenses,” says the IRS.
Under Baucus’s bill (which is currently available in summary form, not complete legislative language), the threshold would be raised from 7.5 percent to 10 percent, meaning that people whose medical device expenses do not amount to 10 percent of their taxable income would not get the deduction and would have to pay taxes on those expenditures at regular rates.
Taxpayers may deduct only those medical expenses that are not covered by their insurance. If an insurance provider covers a portion of the cost of a treatment or medication, the uncovered amount can be counted as a medical expense.
Raising the threshold on deductions for medical devices as the Baucus plan proposes “would raise taxes on more than 6 million households that face high health care costs, about half of which have incomes low enough that they would qualify for the subsidies these taxes are intended to pay for,” according to the Heritage Foundation.
“The revenue from these taxes is intended partly to offset premium subsidies for households with incomes below four times the FPL, but these taxes would be imposed on Americans who need medical devices or prescription drugs, have high out-of-pocket costs, or pay their own health insurance premiums,” reported Heritage.
“In effect, the Baucus proposal would tax the sick to subsidize insurance for the healthy, and many of the taxes would be imposed on the same people ‘helped’ by the subsidies." (The calculation is for year 2014, the first full year the Baucus plan would be in effect.)
A blind man is leaded by a guide dog in Brasília, Brazil. September 2006. Photo: Antonio Cruz/Abr (Wikipedia Commons)
Over 10 years, this tax would generate $15.2 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, which worked with the Congressional Office to estimate the costs of the Baucus proposal.
The people who could see a tax increase under the proposal are those who are on the upper edges of their tax brackets or who receive a pay raise during the year and who have high medical expenses.
If those medical expenses do not exceed the new, higher threshold, they must be counted as income, a move that can bump someone into a higher tax bracket. Likewise, if a person gets a pay raise, his medical expense deductions could help keep him out of a higher tax bracket. However, if the person’s expenses do not add up to 10 percent of their income, they could face that higher tax rate.
Those facing high medical costs, such as cancer sufferers, are usually advised to “bunch” their medical payments together so they can meet the current 7.5 percent threshold. Bunching medical expenses means reporting payment for medical services when the payment is actually made, rather than when the service is received, in order to count those payments in one tax year.
“Tax experts recommend you consider ‘bunching’ your medical costs. This means treating medical expenses as paid on the date you post your check or on the date you charge the expense to your credit card, NOT on the date you received the medical services,” advises the Web site BreastCancer.org.
“So if you anticipate high medical bills, you should ‘bunch’ payment for those services within one particular year, if possible,” says BreastCancer.org. “Say you have high medical expenses in the upcoming year, and by year`s end you know you`ll have further expenses in the next calendar year. It may be worth your while to prepay some of those upcoming costs THIS calendar year, so they add to your deductible total, helping bring it over that 7.5% ceiling.”
The Baucus health care bill would make bunching harder to do because it raises the level patients would have to reach in order to deduct the costs of their treatments.
On page 260 (out of 262 pages total), the summary text reads: “This provision increases the threshold for the deduction from 7.5 percent of AGI [Adjusted Gross Income] to 10 percent of AGI for regular income tax purposes. The proposal is effective for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2012.”
Other treatments and expenses that are eligible for deduction, according to the IRS, are:
-- Wheelchair ramps
-- Ambulance fees
-- Braille books and other reading materials for the blind
-- Prosthetic limbs
-- Special education for the blind, deaf, or mentally disabled
-- Organ donation surgery
-- Lifetime care for the permanently disabled
|October 12, 2009
|California gives Milk his day as governor signs 478 bills
(Sacbee.com) From celebrating Harvey Milk to banning the sale of laughing gas to kids, California will change in hundreds of ways with legislation signed Sunday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger, citing progress in water negotiations, lifted a veto threat over much of this year`s legislation and signed 478 of the 707 bills on his desk before Sunday`s midnight deadline.
Never before has a governor signed fewer bills 632, counting measures acted upon earlier this year. Schwarzenegger also holds the three previous lowest totals, according to Peter Detwiler of the Senate Local Government Committee.
After vetoing similar legislation last year, Schwarzenegger approved Senate Bill 572, creating a yearly "day of special significance" honoring the birthday of Milk, a former San Francisco county supervisor and gay-rights pioneer.
Milk was the nation`s first openly gay man elected to public office in a major city. His life was depicted last year in an Academy Award-winning movie, "Milk," and he was inducted posthumously into the California Hall of Fame.
Milk served less than one year on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before he was fatally shot along with Mayor George MosconeDan White inside San Francisco City Hall in November 1978.
"He is a role model to millions, and this legislation will help ensure his legacy lives on forever," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a nonprofit group promoting same-sex rights.
Schools and government offices will remain open each year during Harvey Milk Day, May 22, which will not be a state holiday. Schools will be encouraged to conduct "suitable commemorative exercises."
Opponents contend that Milk had numerous character flaws and that his annual day of recognition is a step toward presenting children with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender "indoctrination" despite opposition from many parents.
"Harvey Milk Day teaches children as young as 5 years old to admire the life and values (of homosexuals) and the notorious homosexual activist Harvey Milk," said Randy Thomasson of SaveCalifornia.com.
In explaining last year`s veto of a bill honoring Milk, Schwarzenegger had said he should be honored in the local community where he worked. Aaron McLear, the governor`s spokesman, noted Monday that Milk`s Hall of Fame induction and movie biography occurred after that veto.
"Harvey Milk has become a symbol of the gay community in California, and the governor wanted to honor that community by signing that bill," McLear said.
Assemblyman Tom Torlakson`s crackdown on nitrous oxide sales to children, Assembly Bill 1015, targets "laughing gas" that can be sniffed for a cheap high or used for legitimate purposes ranging from a dentistry sedative to a whipping agent in whipped-cream dispensers. Sales to minors can be charged as a misdemeanor.
Potentially one of the most significant revenue-producing measures is Assembly Bill 1383 to impose a new fee on hospitals that is designed to draw several billion dollars in matching federal funds. The measure includes no appropriation, however, so companion legislation is needed.
Schwarzenegger, continuing a multiyear trend, hammered legislation designated by the California Chamber of Commerce as "job killers." He vetoed six such bills Sunday, adding to the 47 of 51 that have died upon reaching his desk since 2004, according to chamber officials.
Other legislation vetoed Sunday by Schwarzenegger included Assembly Bill 241, which would have banned so-called "puppy mills" by prohibiting a business or individual that buys and sells animals from having more than 50 unsterilized dogs and cats.
Two health-related bills killed by the governor were Assembly Bill 98, intended to force health plans to cover maternity services, and Assembly Bill 911, which would have required hospitals to create and enact a response plan to reduce emergency-room overcrowding.
Schwarzenegger refused to extend until 2016 a program offering low-cost, bare-bones auto insurance to low-income drivers. In vetoing Assembly Bill 725, Schwarzenegger said he supports the concept but that participation is low and changes may be needed before the program expires in 2011.
Schwarzenegger also vetoed bills to bar the sale of electronic cigarettes, set statewide standards for tattoo and body piercing salons, prohibit businesses from requiring that patrons speak English, and restrict health insurance firms from rescinding policies after costly claims are filed.
Bills signed ranged from banning gender-based health insurance to allowing seatless bicycles.
They will ease "lowest bidder" requirements for a new 49ers football stadium in Santa Clara, impose restrictions on "talent services" that solicit would-be actors, and regulate vocational training colleges and other private postsecondary institutions.
New driving-related consumer protection laws include Senate Bill 95, requiring auto dealers to pay off outstanding liens before selling a used car; and Assembly Bill 647, designed to provide greater public access to a national database of title, theft and other vehicle information.
Other measures signed by Schwarzenegger include:
- Senate Bill 54, to recognize spousal rights of same-sex partners who wed outside California. Their unions are not deemed "marriages," however, if they occurred after passage of Proposition 8 last November.
- Assembly Bill 962, to require, beginning in 2011, that handgun ammunition vendors obtain thumbprints and other data from buyers.
- Assembly Bill 636, to impose new restrictions on charter buses operating without proper permits or driver training. The bill stemmed from a Colusa County crash that killed 11 passengers and injured dozens.
|October 09, 2009
|Third Woman Rushed From California Planned Parenthood After Botched Abortion
Riverside, CA (LifeNews.com) -- A third woman in as many weeks was recently rushed to a local hospital from a southern California Planned Parenthood abortion center after an apparent botched abortion required urgent medical care. The latest incident occurred on Saturday morning and was photographed by local pro-life advocates.
Two women were hospitalized in recent weeks from a Planned Parenthood center in Orange, California after alleged botched abortions.
In this new incident, local pro-life advocates say a fire truck arrived at the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Riverside, California, followed by an ambulance with lights on and sirens blaring.
Witnesses observed a female patient taken from the building on a gurney. She was loaded into the awaiting ambulance, which sped away without the use of lights or sirens.
Operation Rescue president Troy Newman, who has been in contact with the pro-life advocates in southern California, says the woman`s condition is unknown.
He said the fact that three apparent botched abortions have occurred at Planned Parenthood centers in recent weeks indicates "some grave internal problems."
"Whatever their problems are, they are placing the lives of women at risk," he told LifeNews.com.
Newman said the failed abortion follows an increase in suspicious activity at the Riverside abortion clinic.
"One sidewalk counselor reported that two security guards stood near her with their hands on their guns in an effort to intimidate the women who were peacefully offering practical help and alternatives to abortion-bound women," he explained. "Similar accounts of security personnel using intimidation tactics were reported by pro-life activists outside the Planned Parenthood in Orange County."
Meanwhile, sidewalk counselors in Orange have made fliers with photos of the ambulances at the Planned Parenthood and are handing them out to women seeking abortions. The flyers warn women that they could be next.
The handbills are already persuading some women not to subject themselves to unsafe abortions.
Newman told LifeNews.com that more pro-life advocates are needed at abortion centers and they need cameras with them to document cases of botched abortions hurting women.
"We want to encourage pro-lifers as they stand outside their local abortion clinics to be prepared to document incidents by always having a camera," said Newman. "The pictures taken by alert sidewalk counselors just a few days ago are now saving lives and warning women of the dangers of abortion."
"We have never seen a safe abortion clinic - only ones that haven`t been caught yet," said Newman. "We pray that by exposing these abortion injuries and working through the legal system to hold those responsible accountable, that the clinics will ultimately close."
|October 09, 2009
|Surprised, humbled Obama awarded Nobel Peace Prize
OSLO (AP) - President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in a stunning decision designed to build momentum behind his initiatives to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the Muslim world and stress diplomacy and cooperation rather than unilateralism.
Obama said he was surprised and deeply humbled by the honor, and planned to travel to Oslo to accept the prize.
"I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honored by this prize," he said. "I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the challenges of the 21st century."
Many observers were shocked by the unexpected choice so early in the Obama presidency, which began less than two weeks before the Feb. 1 nomination deadline and has yet to yield concrete achievements in peacemaking.
Some around the world objected to the choice of Obama, who still oversees wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has launched deadly counter-terror strikes in Pakistan and Somalia.
Obama said he was working to end the war in Iraq and "to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies" in Afghanistan.
Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said their choice could be seen as an early vote of confidence in Obama intended to build global support for his policies. They lauded the change in global mood wrought by Obama`s calls for peace and cooperation, and praised his pledges to reduce the world stock of nuclear arms, ease American conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthen the U.S. role in combating climate change.
"Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics," the citation read, in part. "Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts."
Aagot Valle, a lawmaker for the Socialist Left party who joined the committee this year, said she hoped the selection would be viewed as "support and a commitment for Obama."
"And I hope it will be an inspiration for all those that work with nuclear disarmament and disarmament," she told The Associated Press in a rare interview. Members of the Nobel peace committee usually speak only through its chairman.
The peace prize was created partly to encourage ongoing peace efforts but Obama`s efforts are at far earlier stages than past winners`. The Nobel committee acknowledged that they may not bear fruit at all.
"Some people say, and I understand it, isn`t it premature? Too early? Well, I`d say then that it could be too late to respond three years from now," Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said. "It is now that we have the opportunity to respond - all of us."
In Europe and much of the world Obama is lionized for bringing the United States closer to mainstream global thinking on issues like climate change and multilateralism. A 25-nation poll of 27,000 people released in July by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found double-digit boosts to the percentage of people viewing the U.S. favorably in countries around the world. That indicator had plunged across the world under President George W. Bush.
At home, the picture is more complicated. Obama is often criticized as he attempts to carry out his agenda - drawing fire over a host of issues from government spending to health care to the conduct of the war in Afghanistan.
U.S. Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele contended that Obama won the prize as a result of his "star power" rather than meaningful accomplishments.
"The real question Americans are asking is, `What has President Obama actually accomplished?`" Steele said.
Drawing criticism from some on the left, Obama has been slow to bring troops home from Iraq and the real end of the U.S. military presence there won`t come until at least 2012.
In Afghanistan, he is seriously considering ramping up the number of U.S. troops on the ground and asking for help from others, too.
"I don`t think Obama deserves this. I don`t know who`s making all these decisions. The prize should go to someone who has done something for peace and humanity," said Ahmad Shabir, 18-year-old student in Kabul. "Since he is the president, I don`t see any change in U.S. strategy in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Obama has said that battling climate change is a priority. But the U.S. seems likely to head into crucial international negotiations set for Copenhagen in December with Obama-backed legislation still stalled in Congress.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who won the prize in 1984, said Obama`s award shows great things are expected from him in the coming years.
"In a way, it`s an award coming near the beginning of the first term of office of a relatively young president that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all," he said. "It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama`s message of hope."
He described the prize as a "wonderful recognition" of Obama`s effort to reach out to the Arab world after years of hostility.
But Former Polish President Lech Walesa, who won the prize in 1983, questioned whether Obama deserved it now.
"So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act," Walesa said.
Unlike the other Nobel Prizes, which are awarded by Swedish institutions, the peace prize is given out by a five-member committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament. Like the Parliament, the committee has a leftist slant, with three members elected by left-of-center parties. Jagland said the decision to honor Obama was unanimous.
The identity of the person who nominated Obama will not be made public unless that person steps forward. The Nobel committee received a record 205 nominations for this year`s prize.
The award appeared to be at least partly a slap at Bush from a committee that harshly criticized Obama`s predecessor for his largely unilateral military action in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"Those who were in support of Bush in his belief in war solving problems, on rearmament, and that nuclear weapons play an important role ... probably won`t be happy," said Valle, the Nobel Committee member.
Obama is the third sitting U.S. president to win the award: President Theodore Roosevelt won in 1906 and President Woodrow Wilson was awarded the prize in 1919.
Wilson received the prize for his role in founding the League of Nations, the hopeful but ultimately failed precursor to the contemporary United Nations.
The Nobel committee chairman said after awarding the 2002 prize to former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, for his mediation in international conflicts, that it should be seen as a "kick in the leg" to the Bush administration`s hard line in the buildup to the Iraq war.
Five years later, the committee honored Bush`s adversary in the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore, for his campaign to raise awareness about global warming.
In July talks in Moscow, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed that their negotiators would work out a new limit on delivery vehicles for nuclear warheads of between 500 and 1,100. They also agreed that warhead limits would be reduced from the current range of 1,700-2,200 to as low as 1,500. The United States now has about 2,200 such warheads, compared to about 2,800 for the Russians.
But there has been no word on whether either side has started to act on the reductions.
Former Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, said Obama has already provided outstanding leadership in the effort to prevent nuclear proliferation.
"He has shown an unshakable commitment to diplomacy, mutual respect and dialogue as the best means of resolving conflicts," ElBaradei said.
Massimo Teodori, one of Italy`s leading experts of U.S. history, said the Nobel decision was a clear rejection of the "unilateral, antagonistic politics" of Obama`s predecessor, George Bush.
"The prize is well deserved after the Bush years, which had antagonized the rest of the world," Teodori said. "President Obama`s policy of extending his hand has reconciled the United States with the international community."
Obama also has attempted to restart stalled talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, but just a day after Obama hosted the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in New York, Israeli officials boasted that they had fended off U.S. pressure to halt settlement construction. Moderate Palestinians said they felt undermined by Obama`s failure to back up his demand for a freeze.
"I look forward to working closely with you in the years ahead to advance peace," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a message of congratulations to Obama.
In the Gaza Strip, leaders of the radical Hamas movement said they had heard Obama`s speeches seeking better relations with the Islamic world but had not been moved.
"We are in need of actions, not sayings," Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said. "If there is no fundamental and true change in American policies toward the acknowledgment of the rights of the Palestinian people, I think this prize won`t move us forward or backward."
Obama was to meet with his top advisers on the Afghan war on Friday to consider a request by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to send as many as 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan as the U.S war there enters its ninth year.
Obama ordered 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan earlier this year and has continued the use of unmanned drones for attacks on militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a strategy devised by the Bush administration. The attacks often kill or injure civilians living in the area.
A Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan has condemned President Barack Obama`s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize, saying the American president had only escalated the war by sending more troops.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi accused Obama "of having the blood of the Afghan people on his hands."
In his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."
Nominators for the prize include former laureates; current and former members of the committee and their staff; members of national governments and legislatures; university professors of law, theology, social sciences, history and philosophy; leaders of peace research and foreign affairs institutes; and members of international courts of law.
Obama will donate to charity the $1.4 million cash award that comes with the prize. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says it is likely that more than one charity will benefit.
The committee has taken a wide interpretation of Nobel`s guidelines, expanding the prize beyond peace mediation to include efforts to combat poverty, disease and climate change.
Until seconds before the award, speculation had focused on a wide variety of candidates besides Obama: Zimbabwe`s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a Colombian senator, a Chinese dissident and an Afghan woman`s rights activist, among others.
Associated Press writers Ian MacDougall in Oslo, Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Celean Jacobson in Johannesburg, George Jahn in Vienna, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki and Jennifer Loven in Washington contributed to this report.
On the Net:http://www.nobelpeaceprize.org
|October 08, 2009
|Gradualist agenda creates anti-American, anti-Christian generation
It has been wisely stated, perhaps because it is painfully true, that “Satan is a gradualist.” To be a gradualist, one must be patient and persistent in their endeavor before any real lasting change can take effect. For the gradualist to succeed, it is best for him or her to go about their agenda without being detected. Then, when all is in place and few, if any, have noticed, the well-organized change that the gradualist has worked so hard toward and has concealed so well can be unveiled before the masses.
While the majority of Americans have been going about their business, a gradualist ideology has been afoot and is now beginning to unveil itself to the American people. This gradualist has been patiently investing in our children’s schools via curriculum, thus indoctrinating our children’s way of thinking. This gradualist has been persistently using America’s Judeo-Christian laws and freedoms to quietly weave its own leaven among us. This gradualist is a foreign belief system that seeks to overturn or overrun our culture to establish its own interpretation of what life and freedom should look like. This gradualist is the Islamic, geopolitical advancement of the teachings and doctrine of Muhammad and the Muslim worldview.
In brief, the American way of life and culture is under attack and is now fighting for its survival. Extreme you say? Then do yourself an uncomfortable favor. I invite you to go through your children’s textbooks. Look carefully at their history and social studies books and homework. You may find what many of us and our school districts have found—that there is a bold, yet subtle advancement of presenting Islam in a way that is anything but historically accurate at the expense of misrepresenting Christianity and our American history.
According to many parents that I have spoken with, the patience and persistence of this gradualist is paying off. More and more students are graduating from high school and universities with a bitter, angry view of America, Christianity, democracy and American history. But why and how is it that we are now seeing America’s future growing up before our eyes with an anti-America, anti-Christian, anti-Patriot worldview? Perhaps the simplest answer is because we have allowed it. Those of us who love this country have been sitting it out way too long. Christians have somehow soothed themselves into thinking that staying out of public office or off the school board was a smart idea.
As Americans, we need to hold our educational system accountable to teach our children how to compete with the rest of the world. America spends more money per child annually than any other country, yet our children continue to slip off of the academic charts when compared to these other industrialized nations.
America is adrift and going through a change unlike anything our nation has ever seen before. Not only is it a change that is uncharted for us as a country, it is a change that has no clear definition. This can only lead to a void of knowledge and a vacuum of culture that the gradualist will no doubt take advantage of.
The danger is that we, as Americans, continue to do what we have been doing—sitting silent. The truth is that it is up to you and me, Joe and Josephine citizen, to get involved and to hold our school boards accountable. We also need to hold our politicians responsible and require our president to be constitutional. We must not sit idle anymore. Some of you reading this opinion should pray about running for your local school board, some of you should run for the state Assembly and others for Congress or for the Senate. Teach your children to seek after greatness and to pursue places of power that will bring the very best of what it means to be an American back again. Teach them about our Founding Fathers and the patriot pastors that fueled the birth of our nation’s revolution. Teach them about America’s first international war against Muslim pirates along the Barbary Coast and so much more. It was Edmund Burke who said “All that evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing”—that, my friend, is now, no longer tolerable!
Pastor Hibbs is senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills and is the host of Real Radio.
|October 06, 2009
|The coming war with Iran
War with Iran is now inevitable. The only question is: Will it happen sooner or later? Tehran`s recent missile tests and war games suggest that the apocalyptic mullahs have reached the same conclusion.
Iran is on the march. Their medium-range Shahab-3 and Sajjil missiles can reach Israel, the entire Middle East and parts of Europe. Tehran is slowing expanding its regional sphere of influence. It has backed insurgency groups in Iraq, which have killed U.S. soldiers. It sponsors Hamas and Hezbollah. It has transformed Syria into a political vassal. It has forged an alliance with Hugo Chavez`s Venezuela. It has purchased key air defense systems from Vladimir Putin`s Russia.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust-denier and virulent anti-Semite. He is a Persian Nazi strongman who vows to wipe Israel "off the map." He is a revolutionary Shi`ite. He believes the Jews must be extinguished in order to usher the coming of the Shi`ite Messiah, the so-called "Hidden Imam."
For years, the fascist theocracy has invested considerable resources into developing a clandestine nuclear weapons program. Mr. Ahmadinejad insists Tehran only wants atomic energy for "peaceful purposes." Yet, he cannot answer one simple question: Why does a country with the world`s second-largest natural gas reserves and third-largest oil supply need domestic nuclear power?
Moreover, Mr. Ahmadinejad is a congenital liar. He repeatedly insists that Iran is a "democracy." Rather, it is a brutal police state based on rigged elections and the torture and murder of dissidents. He claims that Iran has "no homosexuals" and that women are treated "fairly." In fact, the Islamist regime routinely executes gays and subjugates women. He says Iran has "nothing to hide" about its nuclear program. The West, however, recently discovered a hidden, underground facility near the holy city of Qom capable of producing highly enriched uranium for weapons-grade nuclear material.
Since establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iran has been engaged in an ideological struggle against the West. Its two main enemies have been the United States ("the Great Satan") and Israel ("the Little Satan"). From its inception, Tehran has sought to erect a world Muslim empire; to restore medieval Islamic civilization to its former dominance. The regime is reactionary and - in a twisted manner - even utopian. Nuclear weapons are about more than attaining great-power status. They are the means to achieve the final triumph of messianic Shi`ism.
Iran is on the verge of acquiring the bomb. The mullahs have reached the point of no return. Israel - the country that has to live in that dangerous part of the world - believes the mullahs are six to nine months away from getting it.
Hence, President Obama`s policy of diplomatic engagement combined with possible sanctions is doomed to fail. It is ineffective, naive and reckless. Direct talks, like those conducted in Geneva on Thursday, only give Iran more time. Mr. Obama is simply providing the mullahs with the cover they need to finish completing their nuclear arsenal.
Washington now has two choices: Sanction an American or Israeli military attack to destroy Iran`s nuclear facilities or allow Tehran to go nuclear. Either option means war.
A devastating strike would likely trigger a fierce Iranian response, including waves of suicide bombers targeting Israeli civilians and U.S. troops in Iraq. Iranian missiles would pound Israeli and, maybe, European cities. Vital shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf would be disrupted, driving the price of oil to more than $300 a barrel - plunging the West into a possible depression. Hezbollah sleeper cells might be activated within the United States, unleashing deadly atrocities on American soil.
Yet, allowing a nuclear-armed Iran is likely to lead to an even worse regional war. Once the ruling clerics get their hands on nukes, a military showdown with Israel is inevitable. They will seek to destroy the Jewish state once and for all. Jerusalem will not stand by and commit existential suicide. It will retaliate. The result would be a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East.
The winds of war are blowing across the Persian Gulf. Following this summer`s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, the Iranian regime is weak, desperate and fracturing. Washington should vigorously pursue a policy of internal regime change; otherwise, Tehran will drag the Middle East into a certain conflagration that could lead to the slaughter of millions.
Instead, Mr. Obama has ruled out "meddling in Iran`s internal affairs." His peace-at-any-cost diplomacy guarantees military conflict. It is no longer a question of if this will happen, but when and on whose terms. Mr. Obama is sleepwalking into disaster. America and the Middle East will pay the price.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
|October 05, 2009
|Judge to Prop. 8 backers: Turn over your papers
San Francisco Gate
A federal judge has ordered sponsors of California`s Proposition 8 to release campaign strategy documents that opponents believe could show that backers of the same-sex marriage ban were motivated by prejudice against gays.
Plaintiffs in a federal suit seeking to overturn Prop. 8 - two same-sex couples, a gay-rights organization and the city of San Francisco - contend that the measure`s real purpose was to strip a historically persecuted minority group of rights held by the majority.
If the courts find that the ballot measure was motivated by discrimination, they could strike it down without having to decide whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry.
"The intent or purpose of Prop. 8 is central to this litigation," Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker declared Thursday in requiring backers of the November 2008 measure to give the opposing side their internal campaign communications.
A day earlier, Prop 8`s sponsors told Walker in a court filing that their opponents` claim of anti-gay motivation is legally irrelevant.
In a final round of arguments seeking to uphold the measure without a trial, defenders of the ballot measure said California voters were entitled to amend their Constitution to preserve the traditional, male-female definition of marriage for numerous reasons - including a belief that "extending marriage to same-sex couples carries a risk of weakening the institution of marriage."
Because there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage, it wouldn`t matter if the plaintiffs could show that Prop. 8 "was also accompanied by irrational attitudes such as animus," or prejudice against lesbians and gays, said attorney Charles Cooper.
The initiative, approved by 52 percent of the voters, overturned the state Supreme Court`s May 2008 ruling that gave gays and lesbians the right to marry in California. The state court upheld Prop. 8 as a valid state constitutional amendment in May but also ruled that 18,000 same-sex couples who married before the election were legally wed.
Walker has scheduled an Oct. 14 hearing in San Francisco on whether to dismiss the suit or let it go to trial in January.
Judge looks for bias
In previous rulings, Walker has said the constitutionality of Prop. 8 is not an open-and-shut legal question but could depend on a variety of factors, including whether backers were biased against gays and lesbians.
He amplified that view Thursday in ordering Prop. 8`s sponsors to disclose documents, including notes and e-mails between campaign officials and consultants, that discussed their strategy and the message they wanted to send to the voters.
Although "voters cannot be asked to explain their votes," Walker said, a ballot measure`s authors and strategists can be scrutinized to see what their motives were.
He cited a magazine article last year by the heads of the public relations firm that managed the Prop. 8 campaign in which they discussed their strategy, including plans to show how advocates of same-sex marriage would indoctrinate schoolchildren. Walker said the article undermined the campaign`s insistence that its strategy discussions were confidential.
Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for the Prop. 8 sponsors, said Friday it was unprecedented to allow "the losing side of a campaign to pry into the most intimate strategy discussions of the winning side."
"This will make any citizen group think twice before attempting a ballot initiative," Pugno said. He said his clients might ask a federal appeals court to intervene.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Theodore Boutrous, said Walker`s order would allow them to see whether the justifications Prop. 8`s defenders are now claiming for the measure were part of the campaign or after-the-fact rationales.
"Our position is not dependent on the notion that everyone who voted for Proposition 8 was acting out of bad motives," Boutrous said. He said the plaintiffs would look for "evidence that bolsters our argument that Proposition 8 was irrational and disfavors a group in a way that`s unconstitutional."
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/10/03/BANH1A0DM8.DTL#ixzz0T1qQ1YKV
|October 06, 2009
|HHS: Everyone Can Opt Out of Government-Mandated Electronic Health Records System
By Christopher Neefus
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says that everyone can opt out of having an electronic health record included in the federally mandated national electronic-health-record system created by the stimulus law enacted in February.
The $787 billion economic stimulus bill, the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” signed into law by President Obama in February, calls for “the utilization of an electronic health record for each person in the United States by 2014.” The law says the records should include a person’s “medical history and problems list.”
The law also says the electronic health record (EHR) will become part of a “nationwide health information technology infrastructure,” accessible with authorization by health-care providers and the government.
To make certain this happens, the law provides for doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to be given financial incentives to begin participating in the EHR system by 2014. Doctors, hospitals and health care providers that fail to make “meaningful use” of the system by 2015, the law says, will be penalized with reductions in their Medicare payments.
But individual Americans can opt to never have an EHR entered in the system, according to Dr. David Blumenthal, who is overseeing the development of the system as HHS`s national coordinator for health-care information technology.
“We want to make it clear that no one will ever have to use an electronic health record, if they don’t want to, and that when you do have electronic health records, they’ll have every conceivable privacy protection that is compatible with a useful health care system,” Blumenthal told CNSNews.com during a telephone news conference last Tuesday on EHRs with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D.-R.I.) recently told CNSNews.com that it would “totally be up to the individual” whether a doctor could list an abortion or an STD on their EHR. CNSNews.com asked Sebelius if that was the case, and whether patients could also prevent a mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse from being included on their EHR.
Blumenthal spoke up to respond to the question, saying that EHRs will be privacy-protected, that a committee is studying how to arrange the privacy protections, and that people will be able to completely opt out of having one.
“We are extremely sensitive to the need for privacy and security of information,” said Blumenthal. “It is one of our very top priorities. And we have, actually have a health-information technology policy committee of national experts. We held a hearing on this topic just 10 days ago. This very question came up. We’ve charged that committee with studying how to protect patient information and they’re going to be reporting back to us.
“We want to make it clear that no one will ever have to use an electronic health record, if they don’t want to, and that when you do have electronic health records, they’ll have every conceivable privacy protection that is compatible with a useful health-care system,” Blumenthal continued. “So, we’re going to wait to see what this panel reports back to us on in terms of the exact protections that we’re going to build in.”
Blumenthal was asked in a follow-up question to clarify if the EHRs were mandatory or voluntary.
“Let me say this again: No one will ever be forced to use an electronic health record if they don’t want to,” said Blumenthal. “This is always going to be between doctors and patients. Now--so, that’s a given and so that, by definition, makes them voluntary.”
Blumenthal did not say when the committee studying the privacy issue would complete its work, but indicated that the financial incentives for health-care providers to begin using EHRs do not begin for another year and a half. “We have a little bit of time,” he said.
As of Monday, Blumenthal’s office had not answered follow-up questions that CNSNews.com submitted last week. A spokesman for the press office indicated that it could take “up to two weeks” for the request to be considered by the agency’s press secretary. When CNSNews.com asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs last week whether the White House agreed with Rep. Kennedy that patients could opt out of having an abortion or certain diseases excluded from the ENR, the president’s spokesman said he had “no idea.”
“I’m not a health IT expert. I would direct you to somebody -- I have no idea,” he said.
When CNSNews.com followed up, asking whether just the concept of allowing omissions from the EHR was a good idea.
“I’m not a health IT expert, so I apologize,” Gibbs asserted.
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