Words By S.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

In the news today…

Filed under: News,Politics,Popular Culture — S @ 9:41 am

Study recommends total ban on smoking for soldiers

  • Story Highlights
  • Military health experts propose ban on tobacco use by soldiers
  • Study: Tobacco use impairs military readiness, later lead to serious health issues
  • New study also calls for ban on the sale of tobacco products on bases
From Chris Lawrence
CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) — You’ve seen the iconic picture of a soldier with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, but that could soon be a thing of the past.

The Pentagon is considering a ban on the sale and use of tobacco in the military.

The Pentagon is considering a ban on the sale and use of tobacco in the military.

A new study commissioned by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs recommends a complete ban on tobacco, which would end tobacco sales on military bases and prohibit smoking by anyone in uniform, not even combat troops in the thick of battle.

According to the study, tobacco use impairs military readiness in the short term. Over the long term, it can cause serious health problems, including lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. The study also says smokeless tobacco use can lead to oral and pancreatic cancer.

The Defense Department’s top health officials are studying the report’s suggestions and will make recommendations to the Pentagon’s policy team and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The study recommends phasing out tobacco products such as cigarettes and cigars over a five- to 10-year period.

However, the suggested ban does not sit well with many in uniform, including retired Gen. Russel Honore, best known for coordinating military relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina-affected areas with an ever-present stogie. He said soldiers at war need to puff.

“When you’re tired and you’ve been going days on end with minimum sleep, and you are not getting the proper meals on time, that hit of tobacco can make a difference,” said Honore, who was in charge of the Army’s training programs before he retired.

Other soldiers questioned whether this was a good time to stamp out smoking, given the Army’s concern with a high suicide rate.

“For some, unfortunately, they feel that smoking is their stress relief. Well if you take it away, what is the replacement?” said Sgt. 1st Class Gary Johnson.

The Pentagon supports the goal of a tobacco-free military, said spokeswoman Cynthia Smith.

“However, achieving that goal will depend on coincident reductions of tobacco use in the civilian population,” she said.

Dr. Ken Kizer, the author of the study, found that civilians don’t smoke as much as soldiers. One in three active duty soldiers smoke, he said, adding that among the general population, that number is less than one in five.

The Pentagon banned smoking in buildings on bases years ago. It has counselors on call to help service members quit. But while local governments have heavily taxed tobacco, the commissaries often sell it at deeply discounted prices.

“The military sends very mixed signals,” Kizer said. “This is what’s confusing to people.”

The study found that profits from those tobacco sales — $80 million to $90 million — often pay for recreation and family programs on base.

Article found at: http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/07/12/military.smoking.ban/index.html

———————

Where do I even begin with this one?

Well, to start:

– I am not a regular smoker – meaning I only smoke when I am under extreme stress or when I am socially drinking.

– I have never (nor will I ever) been in the military

That said, I do not agree at all with the idea of this.

You want to take smoking out of bars, clubs, and restaurants?  Fine, great!  It makes my meal better not having to be around clouds of smoke, and when I go out (and don’t partake in tobacco puffing), I enjoy not smelling of smoke after.

You want to take smoking out of the vicinity of hospitals, fantastic.  But wait… with that comes banning it from locked, inpatient, psychiatric facilities where patients don’t want to be, and use nicotine as a stress reliever from their problems?  Weeeeeell… okay.

You want to limit outdoor places people can smoke?  I guess that’s okay.

You want to ban smoking from the military?  Huh?!

That about sums up my reaction to the multiple stages in the smoking ban saga.

The reason I feel that tobacco, in any form, shouldn’t even be raised as an issue in the military is quite simple, really – these are people being sent into harm’s way, knowing that at any moment, they may never return to their families.  If ever there were a time to smoke like your life depended on it, well… I would think that would be it.

There are a couple of quotes from the article that screamed at me, and I will highlight them here:

Dr. Ken Kizer, the author of the study, found that civilians don’t smoke as much as soldiers. One in three active duty soldiers smoke, he said, adding that among the general population, that number is less than one in five.

Well, Dr. Ken Kizer, OF COURSE civilians don’t smoke nearly as much as active duty soldiers!  I think that the stress that I consider to be extreme is absolutely nothing compared to what stresses soldiers face.  After all, I’m not removed my friends and family to be sent somewhere where I will be shot at, spat at, unappreciated for my efforts, and what have you.  Nor am I ever in the place to be used as a pawn for my government’s agenda.

The Pentagon supports the goal of a tobacco-free military, said spokeswoman Cynthia Smith.

Of course “the pentagon” would.  It’s a giant office building on US grounds where their inhabitants don’t actually face the dangers of combat.

The study found that profits from those tobacco sales — $80 million to $90 million — often pay for recreation and family programs on base

Right, so let’s just rip that away.  Who else is going to pay for those programs?  Certainly not the Pentagon.

I’m quite certain that every single person with the ability to read and comprehend is fully aware of the dangers of smoking.  Using that as a reason for putting a ban on the activity is fairly weak.

I would like to know the real reasoning behind this idea.

Clearly, the people who propose ideas like this don’t think about the factors that contribute to why smoking is done in venues as mentioned above.   And I have to wonder, why the government jumps on the agenda pushing of these groups.

I’d be curious to know what anyone who is or has ever been in the military thinks about this.

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Sunday, 12 April 2009

First Time For Everything.

Filed under: News,Odd news,Pets,Politics,Popular Culture — S @ 1:55 pm

As disturbing as this confession is, I have to admit that for the first time ever, I actually agree with Newt Gingrich’s sentiments on an issue.

Though, as far as why it’s a news headline and an issue, I am not entirely sure.

Posted: 01:06 PM ET
From

News of the arrival of the new first puppy has already caused a partisan split between Newt Gingrich and CNN Contributor Donna Brazile.

News of the arrival of the new first puppy has already caused a partisan split between Newt Gingrich and CNN Contributor Donna Brazile.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich weighed in Sunday on news that the first family has finally settled on a new puppy for daughters Malia and Sasha.

“I hope that the girls love the dog,” Gingrich said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I hope the family – and all the pressure they’re going to be in – finds it useful. And I think that this whole thing is fairly stupid.”

The six-month-old puppy is a Portuguese water dog that the Obamas have decided to name Bo. The dog is a gift to the first family from Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, a longtime Obama political ally who also owns several dogs of the breed.

“It’s great that they have a dog. It’s great that the kids are adjusting,” Gingrich said. “And where they got it from – who cares? It’s a nice gesture on Senator Kennedy’s part to give it to them but who cares?” Gingrich added.

Perhaps it was a partisan difference, but Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile had kinder words for the new first puppy.

“What’s not to like about this dog?” Brazile said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “He’s cute. He’s adorable. But, I hope he’s potty trained,” she joked.

Isn’t there plenty of actual news to be reporting about – rather than that the Obamas got a dog and that Gingrich feels all the media buzz surrounding the fact that the Obamas got a dog is stupid?

Just a thought.

Monday, 10 November 2008

And Again with the Port Authority.

As published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, last week:
 

Union says ‘work stoppage’ likely if Port Authority imposes contract
Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The union representing bus and trolley operators says a “work stoppage” is likely if the Port Authority imposes a contract of its own making Dec. 1 as planned.

If members of Local 85, Amalgamated Transit Union, go on strike or are locked out, public transit will be halted for people who account for 230,000 rides a day.

“They’ve painted us into a corner,” Local 85 President-Business Agent Pat McMahon said yesterday.

He plans to call a special meeting in the near future, “depending on when and where a hall is available,” and 2,300 rank-and-file members will be asked to authorize a job action that would likely take effect on Dec. 1, a Monday. That’s the day that the contract adopted by the authority board Oct. 24 is to be unilaterally imposed on the union.

“The more we look at this, if they go through with it, we have no choice but to do a work stoppage,” Mr. McMahon said. “The union will not stand for this. So citizens should be looking for this [service stoppage] because it’s what the Port Authority is forcing us to do.”

He said options would be discussed at the union’s mass meeting but contended any work stoppage should not necessarily be viewed as a strike.

“It could be deemed a lockout because the Port Authority is taking action that is illegal [by virtue of an imposed contract],” Mr. McMahon said. “Our members will have to authorize what we do.”

While authority Chief Executive Officer Steve Bland has heard talk of a possible job action, he said Mr. McMahon’s strike/lockout talk was the first time he had heard “anything authoritative.”

“We’re offering them excellent pay and benefits and we’re leaving the doors open, so how can that be called a lockout?” he said.

The imposed contract provides 3 percent annual wage increases over the next three years. It also raises the retirement rate to age 60 with 30 years of service in order for employees to receive lifetime health care benefits. It also incrementally raises employees’ health care contribution to the equivalent of 3 percent of the base wage, the same rate that management pays.

In return, the authority would be able to save a total of $13.3 million in its operating budget over the next three years. Legacy costs — the primary concern of County Executive Dan Onorato, who’s withholding $27 million in subsidies — could go down $115 million in the same period.

“[A strike is] something they have at their disposal if the union leadership has such a blatant and callous disregard for customers,” Mr. Bland said. “I’m not sure you turn down an offer when you’re making $24.25 an hour … so it boggles my mind that they would consider such a severe disruption of service to the community. If they do, it’s on their heads.”

Members of Local 85, who include operators, mechanics, first-level supervisors and other hourly employees, have remained on the job under terms of a contract that expired June 30.

Mr. McMahon said Local 85’s legal counsel will continue researching options to keep the board from putting an imposed contract into effect. He also said the union has sent a letter requesting the authority to resume negotiations.

“We’ve gotten no response,” Mr. McMahon said.

Mr. Bland said the only union meetings appropriate at this point would be to discuss implementation of the contract being imposed Dec. 1.

“Obviously, there are a lot of details to discuss but, absolutely, we have a contract that will go into effect,” he said. “It’s a responsible offer that doesn’t reduce wages or benefits. Our board made it very clear that we took this action as a last resort.”

Mr. McMahon said he had a copy of an office memorandum, not intended for his eyes, that discusses a 30 percent service cut and fare increases, some of which may be implemented no matter what the outcome of the labor dispute.

Mr. Bland called it a “draft” of ways that the authority might cope with its growing budgetary problems.

“We’ve been saying all along that if we don’t get a contract, we have to reduce service levels and raise fares,” he said. “For him [Mr. McMahon] not to think we haven’t been working on that stuff … that’s a fool’s paradise. It’s not a final plan and we’ve been working on all sorts of contingency plans, including a strike contingency plan.”

Joe Grata can be reached at jgrata@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1985.
First published on November 5, 2008 at 12:00 am

I am so enraged by the prospect of this, it’s not even funny.  Why make an entire city suffer rather than reasonably discussing contract terms that everyone can live with?

And what’s the big problem with these contract terms anyway?  Everything seems to be pointing towards positive – especially the pay increase.

What else could you possibly want?

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Politics, Politicians, Political Mindedness… and S.

The media is buzzing with US politics, everywhere you turn.  This is the month for debates and finalizing decisions as, in a matter of weeks, we will be choosing our next “man for the job”.

Everyone is saying, “I’m so tired of this Bush fiasco”, “McCain = 4 more Bush years”, “Is Obama really the man for the job?” and let’s not even start on Sarah Palin.  Ugh.

During the past few months, I have been approached by a multitude of canvassers getting those last minute voter registrations done.  I have been asked a multitude of times whether or not I am an Obama supporter.  I get looks of shock when I reply…

…No!

I will repeat it again and again and again: I will not be voting for Barack Obama.  I will also not be voting for McCain.

I will, in fact, be voting for Ralph Nader (and Matt Gonzalez).

Watching the debates, reading platforms, educating myself on the candidates and their running-mates has sold me more and more on Nader than I had previously been.

It has also made me loathe the two-part system more and more.  In particular, when I get the response, “he’s running again?!”

 

I recently happened upon an “alternative news source” during the Biden/Palin debate called The Grist.  The Grist is an environmentally conscious online newspaper with a different, fresh spin on the world’s happenings, as well as election ’08 coverage.  And in this online newspaper are several interviews – each one with a major candidate from the democratic, republican, independent, and green parties.

Among the poignant questions that the interviews have asked, is the following (asked of each candidate interviewed): “What do you do personally to lighten your environmental footprint?”

For some reason, I find this question to be of particular importance.  I honestly think that the way this question is answered speaks very much about how a person views the world and says where their priorities are.  It essentially asks, how do you live your life and what is your world like?

McCain (R): We just moved from a very large house with swimming pool and grounds into a condominium, so we made a dramatic change. My daughter has a Prius. And we have a place up north where we have solar panels in some of the buildings. But we haven’t done enough, and we intend to do more.

Obama (D): We just bought a Ford Escape, so I traded in a non-hybrid for a hybrid. We are in the process of replacing our light bulbs in our house and trying to limit the use of our air conditioning, trying to make sure that we unplug and turn off all of our appliances when we’re not using them. It’s a fun project to work on with my 9-year-old and my 6-year-old.

McKinney (G): Well, I don’t consume very much. Where possible, I’m changing my shopping habits, in terms of the food that I buy. I choose to buy from the local folks as opposed to the mega folks. Of course, you have to go to the supermarket every once in a while to get stuff. I’m trying to live within the 200-mile rule of thumb in terms of my food consumption. As a black person, there’s a dearth of services generally and a lack of healthy food in the black community, so that’s been a challenge.

Nader (I): I consume very little except newspapers, and I recycle them. I don’t have a car. I’m the antithesis of the over-consumer.

Like most people (I would imagine), I want the person who is to make the large decisions about my world to be someone I can relate to and to be someone I can imagine walking in the shoes of.  To me, that gives me a little bit of ensurance that, were I to be in a position where I had to make a similar decision, there is a little hope that this person would come to a similar to conclusion.

As someone who chooses not to own a car, recycles as many goods as possible, and makes my own paper, I feel that Nader is that candidate.  And, as long as his values are the way that they are, he will be for a very long time.

Nader/Gonzalez 08

 

I also leave you with this little Grist/Nader goodie:

question If George Bush were a plant or an animal, what kind of plant or animal would he be?
answer Poison ivy. As for an animal, I wouldn’t demean any animal species that way. It’s easy to say coyote, but that’s a stereotype of animals. What carnivore has ever, as a species, done what Bush has done to the Iraqis?

Thursday, 29 March 2007

How poopy.

Filed under: Interesting News Links,News,Odd news — S @ 12:43 pm

I love poop as much as the next person (in fact, some might say I have a rather…unhealthy obsession with it. More on that later.), but this is just too much:

WORLD header

Pungent pulp: Panda poop perfect for paper

POSTED: 10:16 p.m. EDT, March 26, 2007

story.pandas.afp.gi.jpg

Researchers say waste from pandas is rich in fiber, making it ideal as an ingredient to make paper.

Story Highlights
• Researchers saw Thai project where elephants dung turned into paper
• 40 pandas at Chinese reserve produce 2 tons of poop a day
• “People won’t find it gross at all,” researcher says

BEIJING, China (AP) — There’s a new Chinese saying: When life hands you panda poop, make paper.

Researchers at a giant panda reserve in southern China are looking for paper mills to process their surplus of fiber-rich panda excrement into high quality paper.

Liao Jun, a researcher at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base in Sichuan province, said the idea came to them after a visit to Thailand last year where they found paper made from elephant dung. They thought panda poop would produce an even finer quality paper, he said.

The base is in talks with several paper mills on how to turn the droppings of Jing Jing, Ke Bi, Ya Ya and dozens of other pandas at the base into reams of office paper and rolls of wrapping paper, Liao said.

They hope to have a product line available by next year, he said.

“We are not interested in doing this for the profits but to recycle the waste,” said Liao. “It’s environmentally friendly. We can use the paper ourselves, and also we can sell whatever is left over.”

The center’s 40 bamboo-fed pandas produce about 2 tons of droppings a day, but Liao said he was not sure yet how much paper would result.

What about squeamish customers who might consider the paper unsanitary?

“People won’t find it gross at all,” Liao said. “They probably won’t even be able to tell it’s from panda poop.”

The Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand already sells multicolored paper made from the excrement produced by its two resident pandas. Making paper there involves a daylong process of cleaning the feces, boiling it in a soda solution, bleaching it with chlorine and drying it under the sun.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Friday, 5 January 2007

The Murder of a World Leader.

Filed under: News,Politics,Ramblings — S @ 1:49 pm

Whether or not you like the man, agree or disagree with the way he ran his country, agree or disagree with the invasion of his country and his capture, or agree with the death penalty and his execution – the fact remains that the assassination of Saddam Hussein resulted in some of the most hypocritical actions this country has ever been known to be a part of.

If you will recall, there were several instances in which Iraqi terrorist (perhaps, maybe not) groups were responsible for kidnapping American tourists (perhaps) and beheading them, only for it to be shown in video form on several internet channels. You will also recall the uproar it caused in this country – the acts were despicable, how dare they be so disrespectful, they were monsters, they needed to be stopped.

Fast forward to this past weekend, the execution of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi dictator. If you will recall, on the news, aired a number of times, was the preparation for the hanging of this world leader. Next would be the captured video of it being put on YouTube. Not to mention the headlines: “Saddam Hangs.” “Saddam Executed.” “Saddam Put To Death.” “Saddam Swings.” and any other brazen terminology for hanging that you could think of – coupled with photos.

What’s the difference between when an organized group airs the execution of someone and when an entire country does it?

Oh, right. The United States can do no wrong.

We are a country founded on dishonesty, terrorism, and hypocrisy – it’s only fitting that this sort of thing would happen.

But, I ask – who are the real monsters?

Thursday, 26 October 2006

Oh, what a day for news!

Filed under: News,Politics,Popular Culture — S @ 9:04 am

The president does away with the Writ of Habeas Corpus, a newscaster from MSNBC openly attacks him for it, New Jersey is seemingly getting closer to accepting gay marriage, a man assaults and almost kills his girlfriend over MySpace…the country is in shambles! (Except for New Jersey – this is actually marvelous, wonderful news!)

Interrogation tactics become law

By Nedra Pickler
The Associated Press

President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act of 2006 which sets new standards expediting the interrogation and prosecution of terror suspects at the White House on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2006. (AP / Charles Dharapak)

Washington – President Bush signed legislation today authorizing tough interrogation of terror suspects and smoothing the way for trials before military commissions, calling it a “vital tool” in the war against terrorism.

Bush’s plan for treatment of the terror suspects became law just six weeks after he acknowledged that the CIA had been secretly interrogating suspected terrorists overseas and pressed Congress to quickly give authority to try them in military commissions.

“With the bill I’m about to sign, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the murder of nearly 3,000 innocent people will face justice,” Bush said.

A coalition of religious groups staged a protest against the bill outside the White House, shouting “Bush is the terrorist” and “Torture is a crime.” About 15 of the protesters, standing in a light rain, refused orders to move. Police arrested them one by one.

Among those the United States hopes to try are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged would-be 9/11 hijacker, and Abu Zubaydah, who was believed to be a link between Osama bin Laden and many al-Qaida cells.

“It is a rare occasion when a president can sign a bill that he knows will save American lives,” Bush said. “I have that privilege this morning.” Bush signed the bill in the White House East Room, at a table with a sign positioned on the front that said “Protecting America.” He said he signed it in memory of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We will answer brutal murder with patient justice,” Bush said. “Those who kill the innocent will be held to account.” Among those in the audience were military officers, lawmakers who helped pass the bill and members of Bush’s Cabinet.

He singled out for praise, among others, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has come under sharp criticism in recent months as violence has soared in Iraq.

The law protects detainees from blatant abuses during questioning – such as rape, torture and “cruel and inhuman” treatment – but does not require that any of them be granted legal counsel. Also, it specifically bars detainees from filing habeas corpus petitions challenging their detentions in federal courts.

Bush said the process is “fair, lawful and necessary.” “The bill I sign today helps secure this country and it sends a clear message: This nation is patient and decent and fair and we will never back down from threats to our freedom,” Bush said. “We are as determined today as we were on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001.” Many Democrats opposed the legislation because they said it eliminated rights of defendants considered fundamental to American values, such as a person’s ability to go to court to protest their detention and the use of coerced testimony as evidence. Bush acknowledged that the law came amid dispute.

“Over the past few months, the debate over this bill has been heated and the questions raised can seem complex,” he said. “Yet, with the distance of history, the questions will be narrowed and few. Did this generation of Americans take the threat seriously? And did we do what it takes to defeat that threat?” The American Civil Liberties Union said the new law is “one of the worst civil liberties measures ever enacted in American history.” “The president can now, with the approval of Congress, indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero.

“Nothing could be further from the American values we all hold in our hearts than the Military Commissions Act,” he said.

The swift implementation of the law is a rare bit of good news for Bush as casualties mount in Iraq in daily violence. Lawmakers are increasingly calling for a change of strategy and political anxieties are jeopardizing Republican’s chances of hanging onto control of Congress.

Bush needed the legislation because the Supreme Court in June said the administration’s plan for trying detainees in military tribunals violated U.S. and international law.

The legislation, which sets the rules for court proceedings, applies to those selected by the military for prosecution and leaves mostly unaffected the majority of the 14,000 prisoners in U.S. custody, most of whom are in Iraq.

The Pentagon had previously selected 10 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay prison to be tried. Bush is expected also to try some or all the 14 suspects held by the CIA in secret prisons and recently transferred to military custody at Guantanamo.

The bill also eliminates some rights common in military and civilian courts. For example, the commission would be allowed to consider hearsay evidence so long as a judge determined it was reliable. Hearsay is barred from civilian courts.

The legislation also says the president can “interpret the meaning and application” of international standards for prisoner treatment, a provision intended to allow him to authorize aggressive interrogation methods that might otherwise be seen as illegal by international courts. White House press secretary Tony Snow said Bush would probably eventually issue an executive order that would describe his interpretation, but those documents are not usually made public and Snow did not reveal when it might be issued.

————————

‘Beginning of the end of America’

Olbermann addresses the Military Commissions Act in a special comment

KEITH OLBERMANN’S SPECIAL COMMENTS

Updated: 3:00 p.m. ET Oct. 19, 2006

Olbermann: ‘Beginning of the end of America’
For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering: A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.

We have lived as if in a trance.

We have lived as people in fear.

And now—our rights and our freedoms in peril—we slowly awaken to learn that we have been afraid of the wrong thing.

Therefore, tonight have we truly become the inheritors of our American legacy.

For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:

A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.

We have been here before—and we have been here before, led here by men better and wiser and nobler than George W. Bush.

We have been here when President John Adams insisted that the Alien and Sedition Acts were necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use those acts to jail newspaper editors.

American newspaper editors, in American jails, for things they wrote about America.

We have been here when President Woodrow Wilson insisted that the Espionage Act was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that Act to prosecute 2,000 Americans, especially those he disparaged as “Hyphenated Americans,” most of whom were guilty only of advocating peace in a time of war.

American public speakers, in American jails, for things they said about America. (See the video here.)

———————-

 

New Jersey court recognizes right to same-sex unions

POSTED: 4:45 a.m. EDT, October 26, 2006

var clickExpire = “-1”;TRENTON, New Jersey (CNN) — In a decision likely to stoke the contentious election-year debate over same-sex marriage, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that state lawmakers must provide the rights and benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.

The high court on Wednesday gave legislators six months to either change state marriage laws to include same-sex couples, or come up with another mechanism, such as civil unions, that would provide the same protections and benefits.

The court’s vote was 4-to-3. But the ruling was more strongly in favor of same-sex marriage than that split would indicate. The three dissenting justices argued the court should have extended full marriage rights to homosexuals, without kicking the issue back to legislators.

Advocates of same-sex marriage hailed the decision, a respite from many defeats this year in courts nationwide.

“That is wonderful news,” said Cindy Meneghin, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit by seven same-sex couples that prompted Wednesday’s decision. “We can only hope that that means marriage, because that is the only way they can give us full equality.” (Watch a couple say why they want to call their 32-year relationship marriage — 2:01 Video)

Garden State Equality, a gay rights group, announced that three state legislators plan to introduce a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. In an e-mail to supporters, the chairman of the group, Steven Goldstein, vowed that only “over our dead bodies will we settle for less than 100 percent marriage equality.”

Gay marriage opponents promise to fight

Those angered by the ruling predicted it will reinvigorate the fight in Congress for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage nationwide.

“They took the future of marriage out of the hands of the people of New Jersey,” said Matt Daniels of the Alliance for Marriage, which supports the amendment. “They are holding a gun to the head of the legislature of New Jersey and saying pick between two bullets — one that allows civil unions and one that allows marriage.”

Sen. Sam Brownback a leading social conservative in Congress, said the New Jersey decision “warrants swift, decisive action by Congress in the form of passage of the Marriage Protection Amendment.”

“Huge social changes should be decided by the people and their elected representatives and should not be forced by the courts,” the Kansas Republican said in a written statement.

The federal amendment, which President Bush supports, has stalled in Congress. It has so far failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote to be submitted to the states for ratification.

Opponents of same-sex marriage contend the New Jersey decision could have a national impact because the state imposes no residency requirements for people seeking marriage. In essence, it could open the door for gay and lesbian couples from other states to marry in New Jersey and challenge laws against same-sex marriage in their own states.

The gay marriage debate intensified in 2004 when Massachusetts became the first and only state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. The state does not allow nonresidents to marry there, however.

Precedent in Vermont

The decision mirrors the one made in 1999 by Vermont’s highest court, which prompted its legislature to create civil unions for same-sex couples, with the same rights and benefits enjoyed by heterosexuals. (Opinion — pdfexternal link)

The New Jersey high court held that state laws prohibiting gay and lesbian couples from receiving the “financial and social benefits and privileges” of marriage violate the equal protection clause of the New Jersey Constitution and served no “legitimate governmental purpose.”

Noting that New Jersey already prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, the high court said there was “no rational basis for giving gays and lesbians full civil rights as individuals while, on the other hand, giving them an incomplete set of rights when they enter into committed same-sex relationships.”

The justices wrote: “The issue is not about the transformation of the traditional definition of marriage, but about the unequal dispensation of benefits and privileges to one of two similarly situated classes of people.”

However, they stopped short of finding that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry.

The ruling said the court would not “speculate” on whether legislation creating civil unions identical to marriage would pass constitutional muster “and will not presume that a difference in name is of constitutional magnitude.”

The justices also held that the state’s domestic partnership law for same-sex couples, passed in 2004, is not an adequate substitute for marriage rights because it provides gay and lesbians with fewer benefits and rights and has more stringent requirements for establishing partnerships than for marrying.

A hot button election topic

The issue of gay marriage has roiled American politics for more than a decade and on November 7 voters in eight states will decide whether to amend their constitutions to ban gay and lesbian couples from marrying.

Same-sex marriage advocates have suffered five high-profile court losses since July, including decisions in the high courts of New York and Washington state upholding state laws prohibiting marriage for gay or lesbian couples.

State supreme courts in Nebraska and Georgia also upheld constitutional amendments outlawing same-sex marriage that had been struck down by lower courts.

And earlier this month, an appellate court in California upheld the constitutionality of state laws against same-sex marriage, a decision now being appealed to the California Supreme Court.

The court said the state’s existing Domestic Partnership Act, similar to one adopted in several other states, including California, doesn’t go far enough in protecting the rights of gay couples.

Episcopal pastors Mark Harris and Denis Winslow, plaintiffs in the New Jersey suit, now have one dream to fulfill: to join the countless heterosexual couples they’ve married.

“We see it as a civil right that we’re denied,” Winslow said. “Even though we pay first-class taxes, we are treated as second-class citizens.

“We don’t have that freedom to exercise our relationship in a practical way, dare I say, spiritual way.”

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Man allegedly beats girl over Web page

FRAMINGHAM, Mass., Oct. 24 (UPI) — A Massachusetts man is charged with allegedly beating his girlfriend after she removed his name from friends listed on her MySpace.com page.

The MetroWest Daily News said 19-year-old Michael McGrath of Framingham allegedly bit, punched and choked the girl. He is also accused of destroying her laptop computer.

McGrath told police he was just joking, the newspaper said.

MySpace.com has a feature in which people can invite “friends” to their page, allowing them to send messages back and forth.

McGrath was charged with assault and battery and the malicious destruction of property worth more than $250, the newspaper said.

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A special thank you to all of my news sources. And Google.

Wednesday, 3 May 2006

En el primero de Mayo…

Filed under: News,Politics — S @ 8:34 am

This was the most amazing display of Constitutional rights I have ever witnessed (well, read about in this case) during my lifetime. Unfortunately, it had to be done by people who, for the most part, were not even legal citizens of this country. I think that says a lot about the American population when we don't use what is our given, legal right – yet the people who are viewed as a threat to this country do.

While I have mixed feelings on the subject of the May Day protest, I have to say that I definitely applaud their efforts.

Also, Time magazine has a really cool slideshow up with pictures from all the protests, so check it out.

Hundreds of thousands march for immigrant rights

Schools, businesses feel impact as students, workers walk out

Wednesday, May 3, 2006; Posted: 2:19 a.m. EDT (06:19 GMT)

 

story.vegas.gi.jpg

Protesters gather Monday in the casino-lined area of Fremont Street in Las Vegas.

   

(CNN) — Kids skipped school. Men and women walked off their jobs. Others didn't bother going to work. Businesses shut down for lack of patrons or employees.

Throngs of immigrants and advocates took to the streets of many U.S. cities Monday to protest proposed immigration laws, and the sites represented a veritable where's where of American metropolises.

Among them: New York; Washington; Las Vegas, Nevada; Miami, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; San Francisco, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; Phoenix, Arizona; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Watch sights and sounds from rallies across the nation — 6:01)

Organizers of the nationwide event, dubbed "A Day Without Immigrants," asked those opposing tighter restrictions on immigration — namely immigrants themselves — to flex their economic muscle by boycotting all aspects of commerce, including going to work and school.

Chicago was home to one of the largest protests, with about 300,000 demonstrators marching downtown, according to the city's emergency management center. Predominantly Latino schools in the city saw a 10 to 33 percent drop in attendance.

As protesters marched through the Windy City's business district, some waved Mexican and American flags and carried signs that read, "We're not terrorists" and "We build your homes."

It is unclear what impact the walkouts and demonstrations will have on the U.S. economy. The turnout was lower than predicted. Participants were likely to buy extra food and supplies before or after Monday. And absent employees will return to their jobs with extra work awaiting them. (Watch the economic impact of Monday's protests — 1:18)

Despite the numbers, police were not concerned that the protests would turn ugly; instead, they said, they were working with organizers to ensure the protests were peaceful.

No incidents were reported.

In New York, organizers arranged a human chain at 12:16 p.m. to symbolize December 16, 2005, the day a controversial bill passed the U.S. House that would make illegal immigrants felons and wall off about a third of the U.S.-Mexico border.

In all, 12,000 people turned out to form eight chains: five in Manhattan, one in Queens, one in Brooklyn and one in the Bronx, said Norman Eng of the New York Immigration Coalition.

From San Francisco to Miami

Los Angeles witnessed a massive protest, as at least 200,000 marched to City Hall on Monday morning, and 400,000 marched along the city's Wilshire Corridor on Monday evening.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the protests "very positive" and said, "What's clear is that they're peaceful. What's clear is that they're in a celebratory mood."

In San Francisco, 55,000 people banged on drums while waving Mexican and American flags and chanting in Spanish, "We are united." Many businesses in the city's predominantly Mexican Mission neighborhood shut down.

In Washington, hundreds of protesters participated in a demonstration at Malcolm X Park, and several shops and restaurants closed for the protests.

But the vibe in the nation's capital was not totally pro-immigrant. A coalition of Hispanic-American groups held a news conference to stress that the protesters did not represent all Hispanics. (Watch how the boycott divided the immigration camp — 2:12)

Retired Col. Albert F. Rodriguez, a war veteran, said he understands the contribution immigrants have made to the United States, "but the difference is that we and millions of others like us did it legally. We're all here today to tell all those illegal protesters, 'You do not speak for me.' "

In other protests, more than a thousand gathered for a march and rally in New Orleans, which has seen an influx of immigrant labor since Hurricane Katrina left the city in ruins last year. Many construction businesses shut down for the day.

Atlanta saw a similar-sized crowd at the state Capitol, and many immigrant-owned businesses shut down for the day. Thousands also marched in Denver, Colorado; Las Vegas, Nevada; Miami, Florida, Homestead, Florida; Salem, Oregon; and Portland, Oregon.

Despite the turnout across the nation, some who typically support immigrants questioned the effectiveness of a day without them.

One of those was New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Latino, who said he was concerned about sending the message that immigrants "come to America to work, yet they're not working."

"I'd rather see the individuals, all these demonstrations, going to congressional offices, pushing the Congress to act on immigration reform," Richardson said.

Another Latino lawmaker, Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Florida, said he understood the purpose of the rallies but added that a boycott "is not the right way to go about it." (Watch Martinez call for action from his fellow lawmakers — 9:06)

Congressional stalemate

Reform bills have stalled in Congress, primarily because Republicans and Democrats cannot agree — even among themselves at times — what should be done about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

The Senate is considering a proposal that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain legal status, and eventually citizenship, by working for six years, paying a fine, undergoing a background check and learning English.

Supporters of the idea call it "earned citizenship," but opponents denounce it as "amnesty."

When the House passed immigration reform in December, it took a much tougher line. The House bill contains no mechanism for illegal immigrants to earn legal status, makes illegal immigration a felony and calls for building 700 miles of security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The provision making illegal immigration a felony has been a real bone of contention, to the point that GOP leaders who once supported it have now indicated they are likely to drop the proposal when House and Senate negotiators meet to hash out final details of the bill.

President Bush has said he would like negotiators to include in the bill a guest-worker program that will allow immigrants into the country to fill jobs that Americans can't or won't do.

Bush has adamantly opposed "automatic amnesty" for illegal immigrants already in the country, but he has expressed support for "a bill that says somebody who's working here on a legal basis has the right to get in line to become a citizen."

About 7.2 million illegal immigrants hold jobs in the United States, making up 4.9 percent of the overall labor force, according to a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C.

Undocumented workers make up 24 percent of farm workers and hold 14 percent of construction jobs, the study found.

The Senate is expected to take up immigration reform before Memorial Day.

CNN's Ines Ferre, Lydia Garlikov, Keith Oppenheim, Scott Spoerry, Kristi Keck and Harris Whitbeck contributed to this report.

Friday, 24 March 2006

And here we are

Filed under: News,Politics — S @ 11:10 am

In the news today, the article of how the battle to save abortion rights is being put into motion.

Battle to overturn S. Dakota abortion law begins

Friday, March 24, 2006 10:20 a.m. ET

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota (Reuters) – Abortion-rights supporters planned to launch an attack on Friday on a new South Dakota abortion law designed as a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion 33 years ago.

An abortion-rights coalition, South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, said it would lay out its strategy to take down the law in mid-morning news conferences in Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

The Sioux Falls local newspaper reported that the group would announce a petition drive to overturn the law through a referendum in November. The group has not publicly detailed its strategy, but participants in the campaign have said that a referendum had advantages over a lawsuit.

"When you take things to the courts you don't have the opportunity to engage the public in the process. You don't have the ability to build a movement," said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Kate Looby.

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, signed the law, widely considered the most restrictive in the nation, March 6. The measure bans nearly all abortions, even in cases of incest and rape, and says that if a woman's life is in jeopardy, doctors must try to save the life of the fetus as well as the woman.

To get the issue on the ballot for the November 7 election, abortion rights supporters must collect more than 16,700 signatures by June 19.

If they fail to get enough signatures by the deadline and there is no further legal challenge, the law would take effect on July 1.

A petition drive would fly in the face of the expectations of abortion opponents, who have been counting on a legal challenge to the law in the hopes that the case would eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

With two conservative justices recently appointed to the high court, abortion opponents believe they have an improving chance of overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established the right to abortion.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

This is quite nerve-wracking for obvious reasons. For this reason (as well as others), look forward to a post about religion in the (very) near future.

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