A Step in the Right Direction

IAN MACDOUGALL   06/29/11 08:39 PM ET   AP

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Rhode Island Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, a measure that Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s office says he intends to sign into law.

State senators voted 21-16 to endorse the bill, about two hours after it was voted out of committee. The legislation, which already has passed the state House, allows gay couples to enter into civil unions that offer the same rights and benefits given to married couples under Rhode Island law.

It is now headed to Chafee’s desk for his signature. Ahead of the vote, the independent governor called the legislation an “incremental step” toward allowing gay marriage, which he supports.

Earlier this month, New York became the sixth state to allow gay marriage, joining Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut, as well as the District of Columbia. Several other states offer civil unions or domestic partnerships instead. Lawmakers modeled the Rhode Island bill on civil union laws enacted this year in Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii.

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, a notable opponent of gay marriage, spoke in favor of civil unions ahead of the vote, calling it a “historic day” for Rhode Island.

On the floor, debate of the contentious bill ahead of the vote remained civil, although one senator who voiced his religious opposition to the bill drew audible hisses.

Several gay marriage advocacy groups have urged Chafee to veto the bill because of what they call overly broad exemptions that would allow religious institutions to ignore rights given through civil unions. The measure would, for instance, let religious hospitals refuse a civil union spouse the right to make emergency medical decisions.

Those groups and some state senators on the floor Wednesday have also said civil unions don’t go nearly far enough and treat gay couples as second-class citizens.

While it’s correct “to say this bill is historic and consequential,” said Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence, it’s also correct “to say this bill is not fair, nor equitable.”

Some other senators compared the bill to the “separate but equal” doctrine that justified racial segregation.

Meanwhile, groups opposed to gay marriage, which supported the religious exemption but said it didn’t go far enough, called civil unions a dangerous stepping stone to full gay marriage rights. Capitol police hauled off one activist opposed to the bill in handcuffs after he held up a sign condemning it during floor debate on the state budget and shouted slogans from the gallery ahead of the vote on civil unions.

“This is a disappointing and dangerous day for marriage in Rhode Island,” said Chris Plante, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage-Rhode Island. The bill’s passage “presents a clear threat to the definition of marriage and the religious liberties of tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders.”

Like some senators, Plante said the matter was best decided by a statewide referendum.

The civil unions bill was introduced as a compromise after House Speaker Gordon Fox, D-Providence, said gay marriage legislation would not pass the General Assembly this year. Fox, who is openly gay, supports gay marriage but said it couldn’t overcome opposition, particularly in the Senate.

The switch was a blow to the efforts of groups like Marriage Equality Rhode Island, which was among those calling on Chafee to veto the bill if it included the religious exemptions amendment.

Ray Sullivan, MERI’s campaign director, called the exemption a “black eye on the state of Rhode Island.”

Many senators heralded the bill as an example of tough legislative “compromise,” a word Sullivan bristled at, asking how many straight senators would compromise their own rights.

“I’m not sure they’d be so quick to use the word compromise when it affects them,” he said. “You compromise on tax policy. You compromise on labor negotiations. You don’t compromise on people’s fundamental human rights.”

Still, other supporters of gay marriage called the bill a stepping stone.

“We have made great progress in our goal of providing increased rights, benefits and protections for gay and lesbian couples,” said Rep. Peter J. Petrarca, D-Lincoln, after the vote. Petrarca sponsored the bill in the House. “This bill is a step forward to ensuring equality and improving their quality of life.”

Paiva Weed, the Senate president, said after the committee vote that, if the bill passed the Senate, she didn’t expect a push next year for a gay marriage bill.

Sullivan begged to differ.

“We’ll be back tomorrow and the next day and however long it takes for Rhode Islanders to be treated equally under the law,” he said.


LGBT-Specific Health Data Is Important, Too!

LGBT Finally Included In U.S. Health Data

Lgbt Health

The Huffington Post  Catherine Pearson  First Posted: 06/29/11 11:27 AM ET Updated: 06/29/11 11:59 AM ET

For the first time, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations will be included in the National Health Interview Survey — one of the key sources used to gauge the health of Americans. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday morning that it will add questions on sexual orientation to the survey by 2013 and begin efforts to collect data on gender identity.

In a statement, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hailed the move as essential to helping policymakers and researchers identify health issues among LGBT populations, for which there is notoriously little data.

“Today we are taking critical steps toward ensuring the useful national data on minority groups, including, for the first time, LGBT populations,” Sebelius said. “The data we will eventually collect in these efforts will serve as powerful tools and help us in our fight to end health disparities.”

Key players in LGBT health issues have hailed the announcement, among them, UCLA’s Williams Institute On Sexual Orientation and Gender and Identity Law, which released a statement praising the move.

“Today’s announcement solidifies the commitment … to provide more and better data about the health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans,” Williams Distinguished Scholar Dr. Gary Gates said. He added that the need for more data is “acute.”

The National Health Interview Survey has been conducted since 1957 and has been updated every 10 to 15 years. Data collection, however, is continuous through each year.

The Centers for Disease Control, which conducts the survey, says it is the “principal source” of information about the health of Americans.

The new draft announced Wednesday also calls for the collection of more data on race and ethnicity, aimed at better understanding health care and outcomes among Asian, Hispanic and Pacific Islander populations.

“To fully understand and meet the needs of our communities,” director of HHS Office Of Minority Health, Dr. Garth Graham, said in a statement, “we must first thoroughly understand who we are serving.”

Suck it up and press 1 for English

This is a short argument (in Spanish) as to why the United States should not impose English as an official language.  It was actually written as part of an assignment from my first year of college, but I find it to still be relevant in today’s political climate.  I also found it loosely related to the post from the other day regarding the minority as the new majority.  I constantly read about people frustrated by those who immigrate to the United States without a complete knowledge of English.  However, the United States does not have an official language, so other than easier assimilation, there is no legal requirement for this to occur.  So, for all of you who complain about having to press 1 for English on your telephone, this is for you.  (Note: I am not, nor have I ever been, fluent in Spanish.  I apologize for grammatical errors or the junior high reading level.)

¿Cuál es la razón para mudarse a los Estados Unidos?  Es posible que sean los trabajos, la idea del sueño americano o para escapar problemas políticos o económicos.  En el censo de 2000, había 31.1 millones de inmigrantes en los Estados Unidos.  Este número es  más que cada otro censo en la historia americana.   Con el crecimiento del porcentaje de los inmigrantes, los Estados Unidos también ha tenido un crecimiento en la economía.  Entonces, parece que no hay un problema con los que quieren vivir en los Estados Unidos.  Si ayuda al país, ¿cuál es el problema?  Sin embargo, hay un problema grande con la inmigración: la asimilación de los inmigrantes a una cultura americana, principalmente a nivel lingüístico, pero no hay una lengua oficial.

La lengua más popular en los Estados Unidos hoy en día es inglés.  Pero, hay 322 otras lenguas que personas hablan en este país.  Esto es un problema porque no hay una lengua oficial en la constitución.  Entonces, el gobierno necesitaría hacer una enmienda nueva para declarar una lengua oficial.  Aunque hay muchos políticos que quieren una lengua oficial, hay oposición, especialmente en las democráticas y por eso, no pueden obtener una mayoría en el gobierno.  Con muchísimas lenguas en los Estados Unidos no es necesario tener una lengua oficial de inglés, una lengua oficial causaría muchos más problemas que el país ya tiene sin una lengua oficial.  Aún en  el año 1780, John Adams dijo que los Estados Unidos debía tener una lengua oficial, pero la oposición dijo que una lengua oficial sería “undemocratic and a threat to individual liberty.”   Para declarar una lengua oficial en los Estados Unidos es “taking a step backward from the progress America has made,” en las palabras de un senador Ken Salzar.

La primera razón que las personas piensan que los Estados Unidos necesita una lengua oficial es que se quiere un país unido.  Una lengua oficial es un aspecto “common and unifying” a este país según lo que dicen las senadores que votaron por una lengua oficial en 2006.  Aunque es parte del proceso de asimilación, todos los inmigrantes tienen una cultura que quieren mantener.  Los Estados Unidos fue fundido en principios de una nación mezclada, que alguien puede vivir aquí con éxito si quiere: el sueño americano.  Las personas no deben ser forzadas a asimilarse a la cultura americana que contradictoriamente se enorgullece de la idea de una mezcla de culturas y personas.

Algunos de los que emplean los inmigrantes que no hablan el inglés tampoco quieren una lengua oficial.  Les gusta enseñar a sus empleados en la lengua que los trabajadores pueden entender.  La razón es la seguridad de los empleados y hacer trabajadores más eficientes.   Las compañías grandes tampoco no quieren una lengua oficial por que, con una lengua oficial de inglés, el país no tendría una gran industria de traductores.  Por eso, los negocios internacionales podrían ser limitados.  Los Estados Unidos perdería dinero y algún poder en el mundo porque no tendría una economía bastante poderosa como los países que tienen industria multilingüe.  También, las compañías quieren vender sus productos a los países latinoamericanos, entonces el uso de español  escalaría muchísimo y no ayuda su posición en el mundo si no tiene una sociedad abierta al bilingüismo.  No es solamente un problema internacional, las compañías tampoco podrían anunciar sus productos a los que no hablan inglés porque todos sus anuncios serian en inglés.

Otro problema con una lengua oficial en los Estados Unidos es que todos los documentos oficiales del gobierno necesitaran estar en inglés.  La oposición dice que cuesta mucho dinero imprimir documentos como  los votos en muchas lenguas y el gobierno puede ahorrar dinero si no imprime estos documentos.  Pero aunque las personas pueden hablar inglés, no es cierto que puedan leer o entender inglés sin dificultades.  Entonces, si no entienden los votos, no pueden votar y esto es una amenaza al proceso democrático.  También, si todos los documentos oficiales necesitan estar en inglés, se incluirían los documentos del trabajo, corte, abogados y otras cosas importantes.  Otra vez, si no pueden entender exactamente los documentos, es posible que no sepa qué significan los documentos.  Otro problema es que los empresarios pueden aprovecharse de los que no hablan inglés o no entienden bien.  Especialmente cuando alguien piensa en una situación con un abogado, hay mucha oportunidad para aprovecharse de los inmigrantes o los que no hablan, leen o entienden inglés bien.  Los problemas más grandes serían en los hospitales.  Si los hospitales no necesitan tener servicios médicos en otras lenguas, muchas personas no pueden obtener los servicios necesarios para su salud.

Por fin, la necesidad de una lengua oficial es exagerada.  Hay muchísimos inmigrantes en los Estados Unidos hoy en día y el gobierno necesita alojar a todos sin problema.  No es posible que los inmigrantes aprendan inglés antes de se muden a los Estados Unidos.  En lugar de una lengua oficial, los políticos deben animar más reformas de la educación de los que no enseñan inglés primero.  Esta manera sería más útil y también los Estados Unidos puede ser un país multilingüe y de inmigrantes.

Solar Gas Tanks

Hello, future!

Stanford University developing ‘solar gas tanks’ | abc7news.com

Can You Meet Me Halfway?

This is a video of President Obama at a White House press conference addressing the deficit negotiations. He acknowledges that some hard spending cuts will have to be made, but on the flip side we also need to address tax breaks and subsidies for industries such as the oil industry. I’d like to just take a moment and remind the GOP that subsidies are not part of the free market, so why are you working so hard to protect them? If these industries are in real demand, they should be able to profit and thrive without them, no? Cutting spending without increasing revenue is not a valid solution. However, if you cut spending while simultaneously increasing revenue, you reach your goal a lot faster. If you were really serious about decreasing the deficit everything would be on the table.

Poehler Defends Planned Parenthood

Check out this e-mail that Amy Poehler sent to Planned Parenthood supporters nationwide.  One of my favorite comedians supporting an important organization!

Hi ____,

You know who is awesome? Cecile Richards. She’s the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She’s smart, she’s tough, and she’s totally dedicated to fighting for women’s health. And you know who else totally rules? Every single doctor and nurse and receptionist and volunteer who shows up at a Planned Parenthood health center to make sure that every person who walks through their door gets the care they need.

And when it comes to Planned Parenthood, there’s one more group of people who are really, truly, no-kidding awesome: the members who give money and time to make it all possible. I should know. I’m one of them.

You should be, too. In fact, you should stop reading this email right now and click here to become a Planned Parenthood Federation of America member like me this very second. Helping Planned Parenthood help women is always a good thing, but right now it’s even better because some very generous donors will make a $50 gift to Planned Parenthood Federation of America for every new member who pledges at least $5 per month (but only until June 30, so do it now).

You get these emails, you pay attention — you already know how important Planned Parenthood is. But now is an especially important time to give and become a member. Pledge $5 right now (more if you can afford it!), and you’ll generate an immediate $50 gift to Planned Parenthood. There’s no better way to have an impact for women’s health than being a member — and right now is the best time to give.

Admit it, that’s pretty convincing. You know it’s time to reach for that credit card and make your donation. But if you’re still not sold, think back to the first time you went to a Planned Parenthood health center, scared or broke or confused or hopeful. Think about your friends, or your sister, or your daughter, son, niece, or nephew. Think about every person out there who has nowhere else to go, nobody else to count on, nobody but Planned Parenthood.

It’s up to us to make sure Planned Parenthood is strong enough to protect their rights and their health. Especially because we are having a moment right now when people are trying to come up with new ways to make the lives of all the folks who rely on Planned Parenthood pretty difficult. What makes it possible for Planned Parenthood to make a real, irreplaceable difference for those folks are members like me — and hopefully you.

So why are you still reading? You should be click-click-clicking right here to become a member!

Thanks for reading this, thanks for joining or renewing, thanks for sticking with the incredible people at this incredible organization, and thanks for joining me in saying that Planned Parenthood is awesome!


Amy Poehler

Shifting the Cost to the Elderly

Congressman John Olver (MA-01), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, just posted this both on his Facebook page and his official website.  It depicts future Medicare costs to the government and to the beneficiary in 2022 and 2030.  I thought I’d pass it along!


Planned Parenthood Wins First Victory Against Defunding Laws

Planned Parenthood

First Posted: Huffington Post 06/27/11 04:33 PM ET Updated: 06/27/11 04:42 PM ET

Four states have passed legislation defunding Planned Parenthood so far this year, but the family planning provider is not going down without a fight. A federal judge in Indiana sided with Planned Parenthood against the defunding law on Friday, blocking its implementation, and now the legal battle is moving to Kansas.

After a month of court hearings, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt decided to grant a preliminary injunction against a new law that blocks Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) from participating in the Medicaid program. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services already denounced the defunding law in a letter issued earlier this month because the proposed change violates federal Medicaid rules by denying Medicaid patients the freedom to choose a qualified provider.

Pratt said the Health Department’s disapproval of the new law, which could jeopardize all $4 million of Indiana’s federal planning money, weighed heavily on her decision.

“Denying the injunction could pit the federal government against the State of Indiana in a high-stakes political impasse,” she told the court. “And if dogma trumps pragmatism and neither side budges, Indiana’s most vulnerable citizens could end up paying the price as the collateral damage of a partisan battle. With this backdrop in mind, along with the reasons discussed above, the Court believes the most prudent course of action is to enjoin the defunding provision while the judicial process runs its course.”

As a result of the injunction, PPIN will immediately resume serving its Medicaid patients, many of whom had been using it as their primary health provider.

“This decision will have immediate, positive consequences for our patients and our organization,” PPIN President and CEO Betty Cockrum said in a statement. “This ruling allows us to resume providing Pap tests, breast exams, STD testing and treatment and birth control to both existing and new Medicaid patients.”

Planned Parenthood said its victories in court and with the federal government bode well for the legal battles it plans to fight in other states. The Kansas-based chapter filed a lawsuit in federal district court on Monday that seeks to block the enforcement of a defunding amendment recently passed by the Kansas legislature. Unlike the Indiana law, the Kansas law cuts off all Title X funding to Planned Parenthood, so that it will no longer be able to provide family planning and preventive health care services on a sliding-fee scale to more than 5,700 low-income patients.

A staff attorney for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America said the law “impermissibly penalizes” Planned Parenthood because the organization provides abortion services, even though Title X family planning funds are already prohibited from paying for abortions. The defunding amendment also unfairly punishes low-income and uninsured patients by restricting their ability to choose a health provider.

“It’s disappointing that instead of focusing on expanding family planning and sex education programs, we are once again having to spend time responding to politically-motivated health care attacks,” said Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. “Planned Parenthood will continue to stand up for Kansans’ right to access affordable, quality reproductive health care.”

Planned Parenthood is also considering legal action in Wisconsin and North Carolina, the third and fourth states to pass defunding laws this year.

Police on Trial Six Years Later for Katrina Shooting

“Five New Orleans police officers accused of killing civilians in the days following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 are set to go on trial.

The police, whose trial begins on Monday, originally contended they had come under fire from someone on a bridge and were defending themselves.

Yet no guns were ever found, and the only person charged with attacking the police was cleared of all charges.

After a local judge dismissed the charges against six others, the US Justice Department stepped in and is bringing the officers to trial in a federal court.

But beyond this case, federal authorities say the police department is riddled with deep-rooted flaws.

New Orleans, a city with the highest murder rate in the US, is now struggling to build confidence in the police department it depends on for protection.”

– Tom Ackerman, Al Jazeera

See the video version here.

By Progress to the People Posted in Justice