All posts from “January 2010”

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January 27, 2010

Obama Pledges End to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

President Obama focused on the economy in his first State of the Union address tonight, but towards the end of his speech, he briefly touched on a law that prevents openly gays from serve in the military.

"This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are," Obama said to shouts and applause. "It's the right thing to do." He also praised the hate crimes law passed last year.

Obama made a similar pledge while speaking to the nation's largest gay advocacy group in October.

In 1993, President Clinton signed the the law, that says if openly gay military personnel will be discharged.

The Hill reported on Monday that the White House asked Sen. Carl Levin to postpone announcing a hearing that would explore repealing the law. The hearing had been expected at the end of January, and now the target date is expected to be February 11, Roxana Tiron reports.

Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates in a recent report that 66,000 gay, lesbian, and bisexuals (about 2 percent) are serving in the military, according to the Washington Post.

Although President Obama's top domestic policy aides insist that the president is committed to an equality agenda for gays and lesbians, many liberal and gay rights groups are unhappy that the administration has failed to act on Obama's campaign pledge to end "don't ask, don't tell."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that the issue has been "a point of discussion" among top White House aides.

Towards the end of the speech, Obama also mentioned his cooperation with Muslims. "We are working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation," he said.

Update: Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell gave the Republican rebuttal, citing Scripture.

Top-down one-size fits all decision making should not replace the personal choices of free people in a free market, nor undermine the proper role of state and local governments in our system of federalism. As our Founders clearly stated, and we Governors understand, government closest to the people governs best.

And no government program can replace the actions of caring Americans freely choosing to help one another. The Scriptures say "To whom much is given, much will be required." As the most generous and prosperous nation on Earth, it is heartwarming to see Americans giving much time and money to the people of Haiti. Thank you for your ongoing compassion.

January 22, 2010

Groups React to Supreme Court Decision on Campaign Finance

A key issue: Whether personhood applies to corporations.

Focus on the Family Action, Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America praised yesterday's Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend money on political advertising. Sojourners, meanwhile, condemned it.

"The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the majority opinion. "When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves."

In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens warned that "the court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation."

"The distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant," Stevens said, especially when talking about elections. "Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. … Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood' often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People' by whom and for whom our Constitution was established."

"This is sophistry," Kennedy responded in the majority opinion. "The authorized spokesman of a corporation is a human being, who speaks on behalf of the human beings who have formed that association—just as the spokesman of an unincorporated association speaks on behalf of its members. The power to publish thoughts, no less than the power to speak thoughts, belongs only to human beings, but the dissent sees no problem with a corporation's enjoying the freedom of the press."

Christian political organizations, some of which have recently been arguing against extending definitions of personhood to include some marine life, side with Kennedy in seeing corporations as people with speech rights.

"This is a win for free political speech and the right of corporate citizens to join the political process," said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. "Had the court not acted as it did today, the United States would have continued down the road of ever increasing restrictions and impediments to the expression of political speech."

Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Young Nance agreed. "The government should not be limiting political speech because someone is rich or poor, or because they disagree with a particular point of view.

Indeed, as Focus on the Family Action spokesman Tim Goeglein indicated, groups like his speak frequently as institutional voices that may be stronger than any single personality. "Organizations like Focus on the Family Action, the family policy councils, all of our allies— this [Supreme Court decision] will give us an incredible voice in the great issues of our time."

Actually, said Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, the ruling "will give a huge boost to the special interests that already exercise a stranglehold on our political system, allowing them to tighten their grip and further prevent any meaningful change. … At a time when financial reform is at the forefront of people's concerns, giving big banks and corporations a green light to even further influence our political process is an outrage and an assault to democracy."

At First Things, Hadley Arkes is one of the few to discuss the corporate personhood issue:

It is curious that the dissenters do not appreciate this axiomatic point: that a corporation is simply another form of an association of "human persons." The question was raised in the first case eliciting a set of opinions from the Court (Chisholm v. Georgia, 1793) … On what ground could a state be obliged to honor its promises and contracts? On the same ground that a person can be obliged to honor his promise, for he has made people vulnerable to the prospect that the promise will be kept. But if that holds true for the ordinary human person, why would it not hold true for an organization that is simply an association of human persons? It made the most profound difference that one understood "the State," in America, as an association of free persons, who have a claim to be ruled only with their consent.

January 19, 2010

GOP Takes Ted Kennedy's Senate Seat

scottbrown.jpg

The Republican candidate in Massachusetts has taken Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in an surprise victory today. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Republican Scott Brown had 52 percent of the vote to Martha Coakley’s 47 percent.

Brown's victory strips the Democrats' 60-seat Senate supermajority needed to overcome Republican filibusters. Senate Democrats used all 60 votes in their caucus to pass the health care bill, and Democratic leadership was scrambling today to save health care reform, The Hill reports.

Democratic aides say that senior White House officials would prefer the House pass the Senate healthcare bill without changes, which would obviate the need for a second Senate vote on the legislation.

The problem is that many liberal lawmakers in the House don’t like the Senate bill.

To compensate for this opposition, there is a proposal that the House would then pass a second measure making changes to the Senate bill. That measure could then pass through the upper chamber at a later date under special budgetary rules known as reconciliation, which allow legislation to pass with a simple majority.

Although Brown is pro-choice, abortion became a point of attack between the two candidates. Brown is a member of the Christian Reformed Church of America, The Boston Globe reported in a story in November.

The family worships at New England Chapel in Franklin, a member of the Christian Reformed Church of America, a Protestant denomination, but has developed a special relationship with an order of Cistercian Catholic nuns at Mt. St. Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham.

Many of the 48 nuns are from other countries, and Brown’s first contact was in response to their request for help on an immigration matter.

“It has turned into a beautiful friendship,’’ said Sister Katie McNamara, the monastery’s nurse.

Brown raised money to buy a special golf cart to transport elderly sisters, and, with his wife, has assisted efforts to raise $5.5 million needed to replace the order’s 50-year-old candy factory with an environmentally friendly plant, complete with solar panels and a wind turbine. The order is self-sustaining through sale of its candies and fudges.

January 18, 2010

Obama Tells Church Faith `Keeps Me Calm'

President Obama visited Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, a historic congregation that was visited by Martin Luther King Jr.

President Obama addressed how his faith guides him and the importance of hard work as he marked the birthday of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at a Washington church on Sunday.

"Folks ask me sometimes why I look so calm," he said at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, a historic congregation that was visited by King. "I have a confession to make here. ... There are times when it feels like all these efforts are for naught, and change is so painfully slow in coming, and I have to confront my own doubts. But let me tell you during those times, it's faith that keeps me calm. It's faith that gives me peace."

The president spoke for almost half an hour in the usual spot for the sermon on the church's program, addressing about 500 people gathered in the Family Life Center of the congregation founded by freed slaves in 1866. At times he spoke like a preacher, opening his speech with "Good morning. Praise be to God," and concluding with "through God all things are possible."

He spoke of holding the kind of "faith that breaks the silence of an earthquake's wake with the sound of prayer and hymns sung by the Haitian community," as the congregation applauded in agreement.

King visited the church in 1956, Obama noted, "as a 27-year-old preacher to speak on what he called the challenge of a new age."

At the time of King's visit the Supreme Court had ruled that the desegregated bus system in Montgomery, Ala., he opposed was unconstitutional. The high court had also ruled in Brown v. Board of Education against school segregation but schools and states had "ignored it with impunity," Obama recalled.

"Here we are more than half a century later, once again facing the challenges of a new age," he said. Even with "fits and starts," he said there has been progress over bigotry and prejudice.

"It's that progress that made it possible for me to be here today, for the good people of this country to elect an African-American the 44th president of the United States of America."

He said the civil rights movement in particular and the country in general have been successful when all Americans are responsible and work hard.

"In this country, there's no substitute for hard work," Obama said. "No substitute for a job well done, no substitute for being responsible stewards of God's blessings."

Continue reading Obama Tells Church Faith `Keeps Me Calm'...

January 15, 2010

GOP Candidate Takes Lead in New Mass. Senate Race Poll

Republican state Senator Scott Brown is leading Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley by 50 percent to 46 percent, according to a Suffolk University/7News poll. Massachusetts voters will vote on Tuesday to fill the Senate seat made vacant by Senator Ted Kennedy's death. If Brown wins, he could impact health care legislation by preventing Senate Democrats from breaking a filibuster.

The conscience clause, where health care workers workers can opt out of offering services like contraception if the workers are morally against it, has become a contentious issue in the campaign.

In a recent interview, Coakley suggested to radio host Ken Pittman that Catholics should not work in emergency rooms.

Pittman: Right, if you are a Catholic, and believe what the Pope teaches that any form of birth control is a sin. ah you don't want to do that.

Coakley: No we have a seperation of church and state Ken, lets be clear.

Pittman: In the emergency room you still have your religious freedom.

Coakley: (pause) The law says that people are allowed to have that. You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn't work in the emergency room.

Continue reading GOP Candidate Takes Lead in New Mass. Senate Race Poll...

January 13, 2010

Court Mulls California's Proposition 8

A federal court turned to historians Tuesday as it considers the constitutionality of Proposition 8, an amendment that banned same-sex marriage in California.

Harvard professor Nancy Cott told a federal court in San Francisco that child rearing was only one of several purposes of marriage, not "the central or defining purpose," the Los Angeles Times reports.

She noted that that divorce rates rose steeply in the 1960s and marriage continued to be viewed negatively in the 1970s as heterosexuals advocated "open marriages" and "swinging." But divorce rates hit a plateau in the 1980s, and marriage is now held in high esteem in the U.S., she said.

She attributed the higher status of marriage to advocacy by the Christian right and the growing clamoring of gays and lesbians to participate in it.

During cross-examination, lawyers for the Proposition 8 campaign noted that racial restrictions on marriage in the U.S. were never as "uniform" or widespread as the ban on same-sex marriage. He also asked Cott if it was possible to predict the consequences same-sex marriage would have on society.

The Alliance Defense Fund has been posting regular Twitter updates of the trial.

The U.S. Supreme Court overruled U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker Monday and blocked video coverage of the trial on YouTube, according to the Los Angeles Times.

This is the second time in recent months in which the high court has intervened on behalf of the defenders of "traditional marriage" and granted an emergency appeal.

In October, the justices blocked officials in the state of Washington from releasing the names of 138,000 people who signed ballot petitions seeking to overturn a state law giving equal benefits to gay and lesbian couples. Under Washington law, the names were considered public record.

Meanwhile, a group of conservative leaders gathered in Washington, D.C. yesterday for a press conference lobbying congress to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act. Leaders included Maryland pastor Harry Jackson, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

“This right has been illegally taken from the people by the Council and it is the responsibility of Congress to restore it,” Jackson said.

The group also wants Congress to veto a bill passed in December that legalized same-sex marriage marriage Washington, D.C.

January 11, 2010

Sarah Palin to Join Fox News

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will contribute to Fox News, according to Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times.

The network confirmed that Ms. Palin will appear on the network’s programming on a regular basis as part of a multi-year deal. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Ms. Palin will not have her own regular program, one person familiar with the deal said, though she will host an occasional series that will run on the network from time to time. This person would not elaborate, but the network does have a precedent for such a series. Oliver L. North is the host of an occasionally running documentary series on the military called “War Stories.”

Details could be released this afternoon, Rutenberg writes.