Saturday, August 31, 2013

More Saturday Male Beauty

Will Congress Say "No" to Attacks on Syria?

Barack Obama seems to have put himself in a bad spot with all his sabre rattling on the need to attack Syria in response to alleged use of chemical weapon against civilians by the Assad regime.  First, Britain backed out of joining Obama's coalition after a heated debate in the House of Commons.  Now, a growing number of voices are calling for Congress to step up. grow a spine and veto a US attack.  And then, of course, there is the vast majority of the American public which opposes US intervention.  Given this situation, Obama did the smart thing: he's tossed the decision into the lap of Congress.  A piece in The Daily Beast looks at the quickly changing situation.  Here are excerpts:

Barack Obama did the right thing Saturday, on a number of levels. The first and most obvious one: The Constitution calls for it. Yes, we’ve got a history now of more than 50 years of presidents not going to Congress. One of them is named Obama (on Libya). But today he did the right thing by the Constitution:  “Having made my decision as commander-in-chief based on what I think are our national security interests, I’m also mindful that I’m the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.”

Kind of sad that it’s so stunning and refreshing to hear a president acknowledge that he shares constitutional power, but stunning and refreshing it was. This precedent will now be cited by congresses well into the future whenever a president wants to undertake a jolly little shoot-up, he’ll need to go to Congress first (for big, real, ground-troop wars, the pressure to consult Congress will always be great). It’s a big relinquishing of power, a major constitutional recalibration that will outlast him and the yahoos whose votes he’s going to be seeking, and Obama deserves props for it. It was also manifestly clear that this is what the public wanted him to do—79 percent, in yesterday’s NBC poll. If he had launched a strike without consulting Congress in the face of those kinds of numbers and something went really wrong, look out. That way leads political calamity and, as I wrote on Friday, possibly impeachment.

[I]n terms of the domestic political interpretation of any potential military action, no matter what he does, Obama can’t lose. If Congress says no (more on which in a moment), then he doesn’t have to launch a strike that is making Americans very jumpy. If it says yes, then public opinion will presumably come around, and probably world opinion, too, in the 10 or so days between now and the House vote. So those are the upsides. Now let’s do some nose-counting. In the Senate, I presume a resolution will pass. Obama might lose a very small number of Democrats, and maybe Independent Bernie Sanders. But he should get several Senate Republicans  . . . .

[S]till consider approval a real long shot, though. Consider first the number of possible Democratic defections. So far, we know that 18 Democrats signed a letter circulated by Republicans stating that a strike undertaken without congressional approval would violate the Constitution. That concern is taken off the table, so maybe those 18 will play ball. But you have to think that maybe a couple dozen of the most liberal members, representing districts where three-quarters of their constituents are telling them no, will vote against. If I’m right about that, it would mean that Obama would need around 45 Republican votes. Possible? 

Obama is still in a spot. After all, he might be forced into a position where, after all this tough talk about century-old international norms, he can’t take action. Depending on how things play out, this could do enormous damage to his international standing. And more importantly, Assad would go unpunished. All of which makes this week one of the most important in Obama’s tenure. The argument to the Republicans in the House and the American people is simple. He’s fulfilled his constitutional duties. Will Congress fulfill its moral ones, or is their hatred of Obama so great that they will instead choose the side of a monstrous murderer?

Generation Y - What Made It so Gay Accepting

I have noted before how my three children are very gay accepting - and have been from when I first came out to then over a decade ago at this point.  But they are not unique in terms of their generation  - a fact I remind men who contact me  for advice during their coming out process.  So what explains this quantum leap from previous generations?  One reason is that more and more gays are coming out at earlier ages so that this generation knows actual gays who not surprisingly do not fit the ugly stereotype that the Christofascists like to disseminate.   But the mainstream media's depictions of gay characters has played a huge role as well.  A piece in Huffington Post looks at the phenomenon.  Here are excerpts:

You know you know gay people. You realize by now that they're all around. You've been on baseball teams and in locker rooms and rushed frats together. Whatever your religious take on them, we, as the impossible to define bunch known as Gen-Y, have become increasingly cool with our gay brothers and friends. We've ditched "no homo" for "yeah, bro" when hanging with our openly gay friends, and we're civilized enough to know that the "F" word makes us look even more absurd than when your crazy uncle throws the "N" word around after three drinks at Thanksgiving.

How did we get here? The answer is one that is only going to make our high school English teachers continue to curse our love of shiny things over books: TV and movies.

We started to see that all the crap we were fed from people older and more uptight than us was crap. Gay people aren't all pedophiles and monsters. They're real -- and often pretty damned hilarious and awesome. They're our friends, our neighbors, our teachers, our relatives. They stopped being a "them" -- and started being part of "us."

At the risk of typing the gayest sentence of my career: thank goodness for Glee. Say what you want about showtunes on prime time, but that show gives it to you how it is -- and doesn't once apologize for it. Not the singing and dancing part, but the teenage angst part that goes with trying to figure out who the hell you are. Glee, which is on Fox -- among the most uptight, ass backward networks on air -- puts a boy in a dress right next to the straight couple fighting a pregnancy scare. It may seem a bit ridiculous when they sing -- but the situations are real, and are happening in schools all over the country right now. Probably even in yours.

Our parents grew up in a time when gay actors in movies were giggled at for playing 'those guys.' But now Zach Quinto is kicking ass in outer space in Star Trek and Wentworth Miller was such the ultimate bad ass in Prison Break -- and no one cares who they're sleeping with. It's certainly not hurting their popularity. It's all because we care about content and character -- the way we should -- in both the shows we catch and the people we care about bringing into our lives.

Which takes us back to your ten best bros. Like I said, one of them is statistically gay. The thing that makes you, and the rest of Gen-Y, so damned great is that we don't care. We know there's a lot more to him to care about. So, yeah, he's gay -- he's also funny as hell, a killer Candy Crush player, your girlfriend's best friend (which probably can't hurt your sex life to know what she really wants) and he's just plain cool to be around.

If anything, they're just a little bit more awesome because you have a friend who has chosen to be completely real with you and doesn't need to keep any of the fronts up that we felt we had to for so long.

So, as one of your gay brothers who loves college football and playing Wii as much as he loves a good showtune, thanks for being awesome, my fellow Gen-Y'ers. Thanks for making "No homo" no more.

This trend, of course is terrifying to the Christofascist hate merchants.  Their anti-gay lies and screeds are falling on deaf ears.  Worse yet, many in Gneration Y have taken not only the step of being gay friendly, but they've taken the additional step of walking away from institutional religion.

Federal Judge Strikes Down Law Banning Veterans Benefits to Same-Sex Couples

In this area of Virginia with its large number of military veterans - a significant number of whom are gay - a ruling by a federal judge in California could have a huge impact locally depending on how the Obama administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs respond.  The ruling held that the language of the federal statute that defines "spouse" for the purposes of veterans benefits as only opposite sex married couples was unconstitutional in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.  I know a considerable number of legally married gay couples in which one or both of the members are military veterans or where one is currently actively serving in the military.   Think Progress looks at the ruling.  Here are highlights:
A federal judge in California has overturned Title 38 of the U.S. Code, which prevented veterans from receiving the same benefits for their same-sex spouses as straight veterans received. The decision comes less than a week after the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it could not provide benefits to same-sex couples, because even though the Defense of Marriage Act had been overturned, Title 38 still imposed discrimination for veterans benefits.

Without too much discussion, Judge Consuelo B. Marshall concluded that, just like DOMA, Title 38 served no rational basis:
Plaintiffs state that Congress enacted Title 38 to remove “unnecessary gender references,” and promote gender equality and expand the availability of veterans’ benefits. The Court finds that the exclusion of spouses in same-sex marriages from veterans’ benefits is not rationally related to the goal of gender equality.
Plaintiffs also argue that Title 38 is not rationally related to any military purpose, and cite Expert Declarations. Plaintiffs’ experts state that veterans’ benefits are essential to ensuring that servicemembers perform to their “maximum potential,” and other purposes justifying veterans benefits including readiness, recruiting, cohesion, and retention. The denial of benefits to spouses in same-sex marriages is not rationally related to any of these military purposes.
Additionally, Title 38 is not rationally related to the military’s commitment to caring for and providing for veteran families.
As the Washington Blade points out, the decision seems to enjoin the government only from denying benefits to the couple that filed this particular suit, Tracey Cooper-Harris and her wife, Maggie. Nevertheless, the rationale declares the entire law unconstitutional, so it likely provides the gateway for all veterans to receive benefits for their same-sex spouses.

This decision follows two other announcements from the federal government this week in regards to benefits for married same-sex couples. They will now be allowed to file their tax returns jointly and also access nursing home care together under Medicare.

One can just image the wailing and gnashing of teeth that must be taking place among Christofascists circles as another one of the legal constructs to keep gays inferior appears headed toward the trash heap of history.  

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Cuccinelli Refuses to Answer Voters on His Aid To Gas Companies Against Taxpayers

In addition to his own Jonnie R. Williams, Sr./Star Scientific bribes gifts scandal, Ken Cuccinelli has another problem which seemingly will not go away: his office's improper assistance to gas companies in a civil lawsuit where Virginia landowners are seeking to recover millions in gas royalties they have been shortchanged on.  While Kookinelli denies any connection, the parent company of one of the gas company litigants just happened to give Kookinelli over $100,000.00.  Was it a pay back?  Was it a bribe?  Kookinelli will not say and stormed out of a forum when reports continued to ask about the linkage between the money and his office's improper conduct in a civil litigation matter.  Worse yet, Kookinelli had State Troopers stop reporters from approaching him.   

As noted in prior posts, I once was in a law firm that represented a who's who of oil companies in Alabama.  Later, I was in-house counsel for an oil and gas company.  Never, ever in any of the litigation that I experienced did we receive assistance from the office of a state attorney general in civil lawsuits over royalties. NEVER, EVER.  In my view, this is a huge story and Kookinelli needs to be forced to answer reporters' questions.  If not, a formal investigation needs to be launched.

Huffington Post has details and a video clip of Kookinelli refusing to give Virginians an answer about the seeming linkage between his office's conduct and large money donations.  Here are highlights:

  • After siding with Consol Energy in a dispute regarding gas royalties for Virginia landowners, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli received over $100,000 [1] from Consol Energy and its subsidiaries. Our question for Mr. Cuccinelli is simple - given the conflicts of interest in taking money from a company involved in a lawsuit with landowners, will he give the money back?
  • The Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) attended a forum yesterday with Mr. Cuccinelli at George Mason University's Koch-funded Mercatus Center and which was organized by fossil fuel front group, Consumer Energy Alliance.
  • After the forum, Mr. Cuccinelli took a few questions from reporters before abruptly walking off after C&BP asked about the more than $100,000 he has received from Consol.  Here's what happened:
  • C&BP: "You've received over $100,000 from Consol Energy since you sided with them? Will you give that money back?

    Mr. Cuccinelli: "I did not receive $100,000 since I sided with them. I received $100,000 in contributions since I opposed them.

    Mike Stark (from Then why did they give you $100,000?

    Cuccinelli: I'm the only candidate who's proposed a solution to the gas. [inaudible]
    C&BP: I've heard you say that before... but do you...

    Cuccinelli: If you don't have an actual question, thank you very much. [Ends press conference after only five reporters out of approximately 30 had asked questions.]

    C&BP attempted to get an answer after the press conference before one of the two state troopers escorting Mr. Cuccinelli stopped C&BP from walking towards the Attorney General to ask the question.
  • The Virginia landowners who Mr. Cuccinelli has sided against have already asked him to give the money back and C&BP asked him again yesterday. He reacted by walking away from a press conference. Mr. Cuccinelli should answer the question - and clean up any potential conflicts of interest by returning campaign payments from Consol Energy and its subsidiaries, which are currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Virginia landowners.

  • ------------------------------------------------------
  • [1] Mr. Cuccinelli accepted more than $140,000 in Consol contributions after issuing an advisory opinion as Attorney General that limited the jurisdiction of Virginia Gas and Oil Board in June 2010.  That opinion marked the first of several Consol-friendly actions Mr. Cuccinelli has taken as Virginia's Attorney General. Two months later, in August 2010, Mr. Cuccinelli sided with Consol and against Virginians in a lawsuit to recover improperly withheld royalties. Finally, Mr. Cuccinelli, went to bat for Consol again earlier this year when he issued another advisory opinion that local jurisdictions in Virginia may not use zoning laws to establish a moratorium on fracking until they can be sure their water tables will not be polluted.

Larry Sabato's Review of the Virginia Gubernatorial Race - Bad News for Cuccinelli

Terry McAuliffe and Kookinelli
Elections are not over until the last ballot is cast and one never knows for certain what the out come will be.  Hence the need to push turn out all they way through election day no matter what the polls may be showing.  But so far, things are not looking good for extremist/religious fanatic Ken Cuccinelli, the GOP gubernatorial nominee who was anointed by a small far right faction of the Virginia GOP at a closed convention that was presided over by The Family Foundation and Tea Party elements.  All the latest polls show Terry McAuliffe up over Cuccinelli and moderate GOP defections continue.  Perhaps worse yet, Cuccinelli cannot escape his own record in the Virginia Senate and as Attorney General, which makes his charade that he's suddenly a moderate a near impossible sales pitch.  Throw in the extremism of his running mates, particularly the utterly insane "Bishop" E. W. Jackson, the ongoing Star Scientific scandal, and Cuccinelli's office's aid to gas companies seeking to screw Virginia landowners out of royalty payments and its more than a bit of a cluster fuck for Kookinelli.  Here are excerpts from Larry Sabato's "Crystal Ball":

As the calendar turns to September, the nation’s marquee race in 2013 is coming into focus: Terry McAuliffe (D) now has an edge over Ken Cuccinelli (R) in the Virginia gubernatorial race, and we’re changing our rating in the contest from toss-up to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

The decision is based on several factors, all of which seem to suggest that the former Democratic National Committee chairman is leading the state attorney general.

McAuliffe has managed to make the prospect of a Governor Cuccinelli seem scary, while Cuccinelli has “only” succeeded in making McAuliffe look like a run-of-the-mill, self-interested wealthy political hack. In this wholly negative race, that sad distinction matters.

What’s kept Cuccinelli from painting McAuliffe in even less favorable colors? The Bob McDonnell scandal (to which Cuccinelli is connected by the GOP party label and gifts from the same supplicant), his substantially lesser fundraising, E.W. Jackson’s nomination for lieutenant governor, and the defection of a sizable number of moderate Republicans led by the lieutenant governor he left as road kill, Bill Bolling.

Recent polling from Quinnipiac shows the McAuliffe up 48%-42% over Cuccinelli, and an internal poll from the Democratic Party of Virginia showed a similar margin (48%-44%). That is backed up by other polling. The respected HuffPost Pollster average shows McAuliffe up by eight points (45.1% to 37.1%). 

Another 1994 [Senate race between Sen. Chuck Robb (D) and Iran-Contra figure Oliver North (R)] comparison: By nominating a candidate who was too controversial and too conservative to beat Robb, who was damaged by scandal, Republican activists snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. If he does not turn his fortunes around, the same will be said of Cuccinelli, a favorite of the right wing of his party who was nominated at a low-attendance convention.

We’ve been hearing rumblings that some members of the state’s corporate community think they see the writing on the wall in this contest, and while a fair number of moderate Republicans have endorsed McAuliffe, Cuccinelli has little if any prominent crossover support. The Quinnipiac poll showed Cuccinelli attracting only 1% of Democrats, but McAuliffe winning 6% of Republicans. That’s not an imposing crossover vote, but it could be large enough to matter if it materializes on Election Day.

Tellingly, the Cuccinelli campaign has not released any internal polling, and from what we can discern from the campaigns, there seems to be a general consensus that McAuliffe is leading, although perhaps not by as much as the Pollster average would indicate.

Looming over everything is the possibility of an indictment of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). By now, the details of this seedy, greedy gifts scandal are well known. McDonnell and his wife benefited from their relationship with Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr. to the tune of over $100,000 in gifts, such as expensive shopping sprees for First Lady Maureen McDonnell and $70,000 for a corporation owned by the governor and his sister — as well as the infamous $6,500 engraved Rolex watch for the 71st governor. Now federal officials are weighing whether or not to take action.

What happens if McDonnell is indicted? There will be a strong push to have him resign, and some Republican officeholders have quietly made it known they will support such a move. If McDonnell gives into the pressure, then Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) will become the interim governor. 

If he becomes governor, Bolling will have three options: He can endorse McAuliffe outright (there have been friendly words and gestures between the two), he can remain neutral (which also helps McAuliffe), or he can give his open or covert assent to a gubernatorial write-in effort. Chuckle all you like, but Bolling is much easier to spell than Murkowski, and both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli have lousy favorability ratings. Any such effort would have to be well funded, and Bolling would have to make clear he would serve if elected. Disproportionately, a Bolling write-in campaign would likely help Cuccinelli by draining many anti-Cuccinelli votes from McAuliffe; this is a key reason why Bolling might not do it.

Believe it or not, non-indictment is the option preferred by many Democrats. They get to keep McDonnell to kick around through November, linking his gifts to Cuccinelli’s much smaller haul from the same source. They avoid the possibility of a Gov. Bolling write-in effort. And McDonnell — once a popular governor who might have been able to drag Cuccinelli across the finish line — is still neutralized because of the lingering taint. McDonnell will never be able to proclaim, “I’m innocent.” The facts are already obvious to all. His parting slogan will be, “I wasn’t indicted.”

A Democratic sweep?

Virginia has a short ballot — an innovation of the 1920s — and so only governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general are popularly elected. In the contest for lieutenant governor, Democrats have a highly probable victory. State Sen. Ralph Northam (D) should win handily over E.W. Jackson (R), an African-American minister who has a long trail of controversial statements but has never held public office.

The contest for attorney general is low visibility and may be the closest of the three races. State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) is a former Senate desk mate of Cuccinelli, but he has been trying to steer his campaign in a more moderate direction, at least rhetorically. His opponent, state Sen. Mark Herring (D), insists that Obenshain’s actual legislative voting record is nearly identical to Cuccinelli’s. Obenshain is the most likely winner on the GOP slate, and Republicans normally have the advantage for this office, having won every election for it since 1993. But it is easy to see how Herring could win in a ticket election where mainly partisans show up at the polls and stay in one party’s column. Herring is also fortunate to be placed on the ballot after lieutenant governor, where the Democratic win could be sizable. For now, we’ll call it a TOSS-UP

As noted, it is critical that Democrats and moderates who view the GOP slate as poisonous continue to do all they can to turn out friends and family in droves on election day to send a message to the insane GOP base:  No longer can the GOP base nominate crazies and extremist and win in Virginia and by extension across America.  I want not only a Democrat sweep, but also a crushing defeat for the most extreme slate every nominated in Virginia's history.  The Family Foundation needs to be permanently exiled into the political wilderness.  The way for this to happen is to have the slate it basically nominated crushed on election day.  Having backing from The Family Foundation needs to become the kiss of death in Virginia politics.

Disclosure: Sabato and I were classmates as undergraduates at UVA.

Justice Ginsburg To Officiate At Same-Sex Wedding

Expect the far right and the Christofascists to foam at the mouth at this news: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will become the first Supreme Court justice to officiate at a same-sex marriage today. Kudos for Ginsburg who truly understands that religious based bigotry of all kinds - be it anti-gay or anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim - has no place in the nation's civil laws.  It is always ironic to me that those on the far right who scream the loudest about religious liberty are always the ones leading the charge to deprive others of their Constitutional right to freedom of  - and from - religion.   As always, the hypocrisy is mind numbing.  Here are highlights from The New Civil Rights Movement on the nuptials that Ginsburg will preside over:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will become the first Supreme Court justice to officiate at a same-sex marriage on Saturday. The 80-year old jurist who is considered the head of the progressive wing of the Court will marry Michael M. Kaiser and John Roberts (ironically, no relation to the Chief Justice). Roberts is an economist, and Kaiser is the president of Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where the ceremony will be held.

Calling it a “gala wedding” that “brings together the nation’s highest court and the capital’s high society,” the Washington Post reports the wedding “will mark a new milepost in recognition of same-sex unions.”

Ginsburg seemed excited during a recent interview about being the first member of the court to conduct such a ceremony and said it was only a logical next step.

“I think it will be one more statement that people who love each other and want to live together should be able to enjoy the blessings and the strife in the marriage relationship,” Ginsburg said.

She added: “It won’t be long before there will be another” performed by a justice. Indeed, she has another planned for September.

Ginsburg and Kaiser are close friends. She is perhaps the Supreme Court’s most ardent supporter of the fine arts, especially opera. Kaiser has been at the helm of the Kennedy Center since 2001 and is an internationally recognized expert in arts management and one of Washington’s most civic influential leaders.

“I can’t imagine someone I’d rather be married by” than Ginsburg, Kaiser said in an interview.

Friday, August 30, 2013

America's Highly Inefficient Health Care System

Click image to enlarge
As longer term readers know, I am a proponent of a single payer health care system for America.  A new Bloomberg study confirms that Americans pay for - much more in many cases - for a far less efficient health care system than the majority of modern nations.  Admittedly, my view is soured by my time doing legal work for a health care system and seeing almost daily how providing quality health care was a low priority compared to playing monopoly wars with other health care providers and devising ways to bind doctors to particular hospitals for patient referral purposes.  The map above compares different nations on the level of efficiency of their health care systems.   Here are highlights from a Huffington Post story:

As supporters and opponents of the Affordable Care Act debate the best way to overhaul a clearly broken healthcare system, it's perhaps helpful to put American medicine in a global perspective.

The infographic [above] is based on a recent Bloomberg ranking of the most efficient countries for healthcare, and highlights enormous gap between the soaring cost of treatment in the U.S. and its quality and effectiveness. 

It's remarkable how low America places in healthcare efficiency: among the 48 countries included in the Bloomberg study, the U.S. ranks 46th, outpacing just Serbia and Brazil. Once that sinks in, try this one on for size: the U.S. ranks worse than China, Algeria, and Iran.

But the sheer numbers are really what's humbling about this list: the U.S. ranks second in healthcare cost per capita ($8,608), only to be outspent by Switzerland ($9,121) -- which, for the record, boasts a top-10 healthcare system in terms of efficiency. Furthermore, the U.S. is tops in terms of healthcare cost relative to GDP, with 17.2 percent of the country's wealth spent on medical care for every American.

In other words, the world's richest country spends more of its money on healthcare while getting less than almost every other nation in return.

The systems that rank highly on Bloomberg's list are as diverse as the nations to which they belong. The unifying factor seems to be tight government control over a universal system, which may take many shapes and forms -- a fact evident in the top-three most efficient healthcare systems in the world: Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan.

Ranking third on Bloomberg's list, the Japanese system involves universal healthcare with mandatory participation funded by payroll taxes paid by both employer and employee, or income-based premiums by the self-employed. Long-term care insurance is also required for those older than 40. As Dr. John W. Traphagan notes in The Diplomat, Japan controls costs by setting flat rates for everything from medications to procedures, thus eliminating competition among insurance providers. While most of the country's hospitals are privately owned and operated, the government implements smart regulations to ensure that the system remains universal and egalitarian.

Meanwhile, Singapore's healthcare system is largely funded by individual contributions, and is often hailed by conservatives as a beacon of personal responsibility. But as conservative David Frum notes, the system is actually fueled by the invisible hand of the public sector: individuals are required to contribute a percentage of their monthly salary based on age to a personal fund to pay for treatments and hospital expenditures. In addition, the government provides a safety net to cover expenses for which these personal savings are inadequate. Private healthcare still plays a role in Singapore's system, but takes a backseat to public offerings, which boast the majority of doctors, nurses, and procedures performed.

The truth is, America's system is seriously  broken yet the GOP seeks to destroy Obamacare and in the process throw millions of Americans to the wolves.  The hypocrisy is off the charts because meanwhile, the GOP base claims to be worship the Gospel message.
Click image to enlarge

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Syria - Another Fool's Errand?

While events in Syria where civilians and children are being killed by Assad's murderous regime are 
horrifying, a U.S. intervention may not solve the problem.  Indeed, it could make matters worse and harm far more innocents.  One need only look at the debacle in Iraq to recall that American intervention cost far, far more Iraqi lives than Saddam Husein at his most murderous.  Compounding Barack Obama's position is that (i) the UN has not approved intervention, (ii) now the UK is having second thoughts on foreign military involvement, and (iii) the American public is not supportive of the move, most likely because they still have the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan fresh in their minds.  A piece in Politico looks at the situation and some of the pros and cons of American military intervention.  Here are excerpts:

President Barack Obama had hoped for a quick, convincing strike on Syria, but growing opposition and Great Britain’s stunning rejection of the attack has thrust him into the uncomfortable position of go-it-alone hawk.

Just how Obama, whose career sprung from the ashes of George W. Bush’s Iraq policy, got to this extraordinary moment in his presidency is a tale of good intentions, seat-of-the-pants planning and, above all, how a cautious commander-in-chief became imprisoned by a promise.

Obama seems likely to bull ahead with air attacks despite an impact and popularity that will be, at best, limited — an unsavory outcome marginally better than packing up his Tomahawks and going home, which would deal a humbling blow to U.S. prestige and embolden the Assad regime.  It’s a dilemma first-term Obama — who warned author Bob Woodward in 2010 that “once the dogs of war are unleashed, you don’t know where [they are] going to lead” — was careful to avoid.

Obama, tethered to his August 2012 “red line” pronouncement on Assad’s use of chemical weapons and eager to shed his lead-from-behind image, now runs “the risk of looking weak any way this turns out,” in the words of one former adviser who cited the limited impact of any missiles-only strike. 

“Obama’s caution has served him well in the past, but he’s completely abandoned it, and he’s paying for it now,” said Daniel Kurtzer, who served as Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Egypt and George W. Bush’s ambassador to Israel.

“On two occasions, the rhetoric has gotten ahead of the policy-making process. Once when the president talked about chemical weapons being a game changer and a red line,” Kurtzer said. “Then [this week] when Obama and [Secretary of State John] Kerry made remarks that point clearly in the direction of some kind of military action — even though he hasn’t decided what he’s going to do and he hasn’t found a coalition.”

Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary at the start of the Iraq War, couldn’t help but gloat late Thursday when the British House of Commons rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for airstrikes. “Bush’s attack on Iraq was multilateral. O[bama], who attacked Bush for being a unilateralist, will make a unilateral attack on Syria,” he tweeted.

Opponents of a strike, who warn of unintended consequences that could precipitate a regional conflict, have cheered the delay. Nonetheless, it could force Obama to up the intensity of his attack, according to experts.
“The ghosts of Iraq haunt this administration very much in their decision making. It’s why they’re reluctant to become too deeply involved in an expansive mission in Syria,” Kahl said. “They’ve been reluctant to use military force overtly in Syria, but it’s not because they don’t have a [military] plan.”
[C]ongressional leaders in both parties described Obama’s strategy to explain the rationale for the strike as inadequate and improvisational. . . . . Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) — an Obama ally and former Democratic National Committee chairman — told CNN Thursday that the administration needed the “full weight “of congressional leadership before signing off on an attack, joining about 150 members of both chambers to raise questions about an attack.

The House of Commons vote had a sins-of-the-father quality, hobbling a pair of leaders all too aware of the legacies of their predecessors George W. Bush and Tony Blair, who spearheaded the deeply unpopular Iraq invasion.

“Isn’t the real reason we’re here today, is not because of the horror of these weapons and the horror exists – but because the American president foolishly drew a red line and because of his position now, he’s going to attack or face humiliation?” asked Labour MP Paul Flynn during a raucous Thursday debate closely monitored by the White House.

It's a huge mess that may put American lives again at stake.

McAuliffe Eviscerates Cuccinelli on Child Support, Violence Against Women Act

As noted in a post yesterday, Ken Cuccinelli has expanded the GOP's war on women from efforts to ban all abortions even in instances of rape and incest to now seeking to limit their ability to leave failed marriages and to reduce child support payments thus sending more women with children into poverty.  Cuccinelli's upside down priorities toward women are, of course, only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his extremist agenda.  Not surprisingly, Democrat gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe has jumped all over Cuccinelli's sick agenda.  Here are statements McAuliffe made on the issue via Blue Virginia:

...Virginia has to be a Commonwealth that is open to businesses and welcoming to all. I talk to business leaders from both parties every single day. I constantly hear that politicians focusing on a social, ideological agenda is not helpful for business. We cannot keep putting walls up around Virginia by attacking women's rights, scientists, or gay Virginians. This is a fundamental difference in this race. I know we need to focus on the economy...Ken Cuccinelli has shown that he will spend his time in office on a social, divisive, ideological battles...that have defined his career.

[The Washington Post report this morning] was shocking. It detailed his ties to a radical group that fought against adequate child support because they think it is quote punitive unquote to men...and contend that men are frequently victimized by false allegations of domestic abuse unquote. According to the Washington Post, my opponent even took the unusual step of handling the private case for a leader in these groups while he was sitting Attorney General. Ken Cuccinelli has worked to implement their agenda on trying to restrict women's health care rights...Quote Cuccinelli was also the long Senate vote against legislation to increase child support payments by tying them more closely to inflation unquote. Opposing adequate child support is inexplicable and it's just plain wrong...

...Why would you introduce legislation that would punish people who want to get out of a bad marriage?...Cuccinelli was one of three [Attorneys General] who did not sign [a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act]. My opponent still won't explain what he dislikes so much about the Violence Against Women Act, but that group he is tied to believes that many women make up claims of domestic abuse.

During this campaign, there are many issues where Ken Cuccinelli and I have disagreed, and on some of them, I can at least understand his position, even if I don't agree with it. But the positions laid out today in the Washington Post on child support, the Violence Against Women Act and on family law is just beyond my comprehension, and I believe beyond the comprehension of most Virginians...

...Ken Cuccinelli's social agenda is more than just extreme, it is bad for business. The Republican Lt. Governor said just this week, quote, he is a rigid ideologue who thrives on conflict and confrontation...Virginia simply can not afford to have their leaders pursuing their own rigid ideological agenda...
With more and more states adopting progressive policies to attract progressive businesses and entrepreneurs,  it is insane to try to drag Virginia back into the 19th century.  Yet that is precisely what Cuccinelli and his backers at The Family Foundation are trying to do.

Are Ken Cuccinelli’s Ties to Big Energy Hurting Him In Southwest Virginia?

The highly unusual - and I would argue highly improper - intervention of Ken Cuccinelli's Attorney General office in private litigation by residents of southwest Virginia against oil and gas companies may be backfiring on Kookinelli.  While Kookinelli received over $100,000 from the parent company of one of the defendants accused of screwing landowners out of gas royalty payments, it seems that typically Republican voting residents of the region are not all that enamored with Kookinelli.  And rightfully so.  Think Progress looks at the current state of affairs in this backward, GOP voting region of Virginia. The piece also looks at "forced pooling" of leases and mineral rights to permit exploration and production - a practice that has existed in oil and gas producing states for many decades.  Here are exceprts:

In the 2012 elections, Republican Mitt Romney racked up a huge margin over President Barack Obama in the coal mining counties of southwest Virginia. But as Virginia’s inspector general investigates possible improper coordination between Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s (R) office and a coal and gas company that has given more than $100,000 to his campaign, a newly released poll suggests that southwest Virginians are far less enthusiastic about the 2013 Republican gubernatorial nominee than any other recent Republican candidate.

At an energy forum Thursday, Cuccinelli delivered a full-throated defense of Virginia’s coal industry and an attack on efforts by government to encourage renewable energy, saying, “government doesn’t pick winners, it picks losers at the taxpayer’s expense.” Despite his claim that he would fight for Virginia families who depend on coal, because he and his office have consistently sided with the companies over ordinary people and the environment, he has also been picking winners and losers.

[T]he most recent poll numbers show McAuliffe with a six point lead. And in one heavily Republican southwest Virginia district won by Romney by 20 points, a newly released Democratic internal poll finds Cuccinelli with just 47 percent support.

A Pulitzer-Prize-winning 2009 series by Daniel Gilbert in the Bristol Herald Courier detailed the problems with this system. With little oversight of the system, energy companies have underpaid the amounts the royalties they owed. The big coal companies, despite not having the gas rights, regularly dispute their ownership in hopes of forcing the landowners to agree to a 50-50 split on the royalties. Many of these landowners cannot afford the costly legal process needed to establish ownership in court and access the escrow funds — if they even know they are entitled to it.

After the stories, State Sen. Phil Puckett (D) authored a 2010 law aimed at reforming the system. Not long after, newly inaugurated Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued an advisory opinion finding that the state’s regulatory board still had no new authority to resolve these royalty disputes, a big win for the companies who have continued the practice. Puckett, shocked at the “very disappointing” ruling, responded “I don’t know how you can make it any clearer than what the law says there.”

Cuccinelli would also side with the gas industry in a January 2013 advisory opinion opposing a southwest Virginia county’s attempt to use zoning laws to prohibit hydro-fracking. The fossil fuel industry has been among the most generous backers of Cuccinelli, whose father worked for 17 years for the American Gas Association and was a long-time executive for a natural gas company.

Cuccinelli’s senior assistant attorney general Sharon Pigeon intervened in the case to defend the constitutionality of the state law — but also coordinated with company lawyers on their strategy to oppose the class-action status. U.S. Magistrate Pamela Meade Sargent, after reading the email exchanges between Pigeon and the companies, called the assistant attorney general’s conduct shocking and referred the matter to the Virginia’s inspector general. Pigeon’s emails show she her advice to the companies included strategy on how to take advantage of a paperwork processing glitch to keep one landowner’s case out of court.

Terry McAuliffe, has highlighted the controversy in a series of campaign ads featuring local landowners accusing Cuccinelli of betraying southwest Virginia.   Asked after the energy forum about the Consol contributions, he [Cuccinelli] attempted to suggest that he had actually opposed the company’s interests, then stormed off without offering an explanation.

If Kookinelli doesn't do very well in Southwest Virginia, his chances of winning in November will not be good.   I hope residents of the region continue to figure out that Kookinelli is in fact their enemy.

New IRS to Allow All Married Gay Couples To File Jointly; Medicare to Follow Suit

In a welcomed move to many, the Internal Revenue Service has announced new rules that will allow all same-sex married couples to file joint tax returns.  The move will, however, cause additional tax preparation work for same sex couples in anti-gay states like Virginia where apparently, the Virginia Department of Taxation will recognize their marriages and separate returns will be still required.  Just another reminder that in Virginia and other Neanderthal states gays are not equal citizens and are continued to be punished for not conforming to Christofascist religious dogma.   The New Civil Rights Movement looks at the develop.  Here are excerpts:

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that new IRS policy for same-sex couples during a conference call with LGBT leaders today. The IRS will now accept joint returns from married same-sex couples no matter where they live.

According to the Huffington Postunder the new Treasury policy, filing status, employee benefits, IRA contributions, earned income, child tax credits, and income, gift and estate taxes, will apply to same-sex couples in exactly the same manner as they do with heterosexual couples, even if they live in a non-equality state. Unfortunately, the new policy does not extend to civil unions.

The IRS policy change comes on the heels of a similar announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius earlier today. Like the IRS, Medicare will now use a “place of celebration” standard to grant Medicare benefits to same-sex couples.  

That leaves the Social Security Administration the “odd man out”. Currently the SSA is processing claims only from same-sex couples who live in marriage equality states while they review their policy.

Obviously, Social Security survivor benefits represent a huge issue and it is important that the current discriminatory policy be ended as quickly as possible.   Meanwhile, it is wonderful to see the discrimination based on anti-gay animus of the Christofascists steadily being undermined.  No doubt these hate merchants will be shrieking and wailing that the sky is falling merely because they cannot punish us for not buying into their ugly version of Christianity.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

More Thursday Male Beauty

Ninth Circuit Upholds California Ban on "Ex-Gay" Therapy for Minors

 The Christofascists who support the use of fraudulent "ex-gay" therapy as a part of their effort to claim that homosexuality is a "choice" and "changeable" and that, therefore, gays deserve no legal protections, suffered a major defeat today when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld California's ban on reparative therapy and "ex-gay" therapy for anyone under the age of 18 (the full opinion can be found here).  As one who tried for 37 years to "change" and to "pray away the gay." I know first hand that these programs are utter bullshit and little better than hiring a witch doctor to cast spells over you to "cure" you.  These programs are noting short of child abuse, and in my view, both therapists who use it on minors and parents who force their children to undergo it ought to be charged with criminal child abuse and prosecuted.  I'm sure the Christofascists will seek to appeal today's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court which, if the justices have any sense will reject the appeal without an opinion.  Here are details from the opinon:

SUMMARY:  The panel held that Senate Bill 1172 regulates professional conduct, not speech and therefore was subject only to a rational basis review. The panel held that under its police power, California has authority to prohibit licensedmental health providers from administering therapies that the legislature has deemed harmful, and the fact that speech may be used to carry out those therapies does not turn the prohibitions of conduct into prohibitions of speech. The panel further concluded that the First Amendment does not prevent a state from regulating treatment even when that treatment is performed through speech alone. The panel concluded that the record demonstrated that the legislature acted rationally when it decided to protect the well-being of minors by prohibiting mental health providers from using “sexual orientation change efforts” on persons under 18.

SB 1172 was clear to a reasonable person and any incidental effect that the ban had on speech was small in comparison to its legitimate sweep; and (3) the ban did not infringe on the fundamental rights of  parents because parents do not have the right to choose a specific type of provider for a specific medical or mental health treatment that the state has reasonably deemed harmful.


The legislature’s stated purpose in enacting SB 1172 was to “protect[] the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and [to] protect[] its minors against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts.”2012 Cal. Legis. Serv. ch. 835, § 1(n). The legislature relied on the well documented, prevailing opinion of the medical and psychological community that SOCE has not been shown to be effective and that it creates a potential risk of serious harm to those who experience it. Specifically, the legislature relied on position statements, articles, and reports published by the following organizations: the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American School Counselor Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Pan American Health Organization.

A doctor “may not counsel a patient to rely on quack medicine. The First Amendment would not prohibit the doctor’s loss of license for doing so.”  Conant v. McCaffrey , No. C 97-00139 WHA, 2000 WL 1281174, at *13 (N.D. Cal.Sept. 7, 2000) (order) (unpublished);  see also Shea v. Bd. of  Med. Exam’rs, 146 Cal. Rptr. 653, 662 (Ct. App. 1978) (“The state’s obligation and power to protect its citizens by regulation of the professional conduct of its health practitioners is well settled. . . . [T]he First Amendment . . .does not insulate the verbal charlatan from responsibility for his conduct; nor does it impede the State in the proper exercise of its regulatory functions.” (citations omitted)); cf. Post, 2007 U. Ill. L. Rev. at 949 (“[W]hen a physician speaks to a patient in the course of medical treatment, his opinions are normally regulated on the theory that they are inseparable from the practice of medicine.”).

[W]here we conclude that SB 1172 lands, is the regulation of professional conduct, where the state’s power is great, even though such regulation may have an incidental effect on speech. See id.  (“Just as offer and acceptance are communications incidental to the regulable transaction called a contract, the professional’s speech is incidental to the conduct of the profession.”). Most, if not all, medical treatment requires speech, but that fact does not give rise to a First Amendment claim when the state bans a particular treatment.
 There's much more, but you get the drift.  The Ninth Circuit ripped the "ex-gay" therapy proponents a new one and justifiably so.