Harvey Milk Received Presidential Medal Of Freedom, Country’s Highest Civilian Honor

Excellent.  Can you see President Bush doing this? 

The late San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk received the presidential Medal of Freedom award today with 15 other recipients ranging across the professional and ideological spectrum, from the late supply sider Jack Kemp to tennis star Billy Jean King to Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose absence from the health care debate due to brain cancer treatments has weighed heavily on the White House.

The medal is the country’s highest civilian honor. President Obama said all the recipients “share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive.”

Milk, celebrated in an award-winning film, became in 1977 the first openly-gay elected official in a major U.S. city. He and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by former supervisor Dan White in 1978. Then board of supervisors president Dianne Feinstein was among the first on the scene, leaving an indelible impression on her, while opening her path to becoming Mayor of San Francisco, one-time candidate for governor and now U.S. Senator.

The White House praised Milk for encouraging lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens “to live their lives openly” and for his belief that “coming out was the only way they could change society and achieve social equality…Milk is revered nationally and globally as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement for his exceptional leadership and dedication to equal rights.”

Wisconsin Domestic Partnerships Vital, Need To Survive

The legal minds that assisted in constructing the budget for Wisconsin this year, and those who have studied the language since passage, seem satisfied that the portion dealing with domestic partnerships is constitutional.  That fact, and the lack of any emotional outcry in the months of debate in the State Legislature tell me two things.  One is that the authors and proponents of this idea are rooted in legal cement, and second the public is not adverse to this plan that brings a dose of sanity back to the issue  of domestic relations in Wisconsin. 

The fact we are even needing to have such a plan enacted in Wisconsin is in itself maddening.  As a consequence of the the mean-spirited nature of placing a marriage amendment  for political purposes on the ballot in 2006, and the shallow and at times mistaken nature of what was actually being voted on, brings us to this point in time.   Add on the galling responses in 2006 who supported the amendment that they did not want to stop such ideas as domestic partnerships, only to have them now line up to petition the Supreme Court to do that very thing, and one  can rightfully understand how gay citizens in Wisconsin are very upset.

There are equal rights in Wisconsin that are not being experienced by all, and the domestic partnership plan will help attain those rights .  This plan does not go far enough for certain, but at least it gets us moving in the correct direction again.

A couple years ago after helping a friend change a tire, we were putting items back in his trunk when I saw a file of legal papers he kept.  I understood instantly the files were there in the case he or his partner were involved in a medical situation on the road which required a hospital or doctor to be aware that this couple could and wanted to make decisions for each other in emergencies.  We talked about it for a couple minutes and he told me included in the file were hospital visitation authorizations, living wills, directives to attending physicians, powers of attorney forms for both health care and finance that were notarized and signed by a raft of people.  Additionally, there were forms for declaration of domestic partner status; a non-binding legal agreement to support the other documents claiming that the one had the right to assist the other in any situation.  All of the forms were in duplicate and reciprocal, and must have cost a fair amount in attorney’s fees.

That is the reality of being gay in Wisconsin.  To ensure that basic rights and dignities are afforded gay couples, they must carry expensive legal documents with them–and then even some of those documents may not be honored, and they are to expect that.  How many straight couples have you talked with that need and require the same such paperwork in the case of an accident?  How many expect in advance that their wishes may or may not be honored in a time of crisis?

The opponents of domestic partnerships can hide behind legal paperwork, but for many in the state the reality is that being prepared for the worst is a daily reminder of how tenuous equality and justice can be.

Think about it, and then say that the domestic partnership plan is not worthy of survival.

I Agree With Senator Feingold On Health Reform Ideas

This is what I want to hear from members of Congress.  This is also why 99% of the time I am darn proud of Senator Russ Feingold.

Wisconsin Democrat Feingold says he wants any bill to include a public health insurance option to compete with private insurers and cover those without insurance.

 

Feingold says he hopes any reform is passed with bipartisan support so that it’s more acceptable to constituents. At the same time, he says he won’t support a watered-down bill that “is just a label.”

P.S.  I am in agreement that a watered-down and toothless bill must be rejected.

Sarah Palin Trying To Make Money

Trying to cash in while there is an interest in her name and quirks, Sarah Palin may be hustling for a radio show.  What America needs is another right-wing rant on the AM dial.

Alaska’s now former Governor is coy about her future political plans, but radio is at least one option she’s leaving on the table.  While not exactly shopping the GOP’s 2008 vice presidential candidate, sources say Palin representatives have been quietly testing the waters to see how much interest radio syndicators have for her.

Sources say Palin hasn’t committed to radio either, but rather it could be a possible next step for her.  It isn’t unusual for a defeated national candidate to turn to radio.  Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s short-form commentaries air on more than 400 stations via Citadel Media.  He remains among the names circulated for a potential presidential run in 2012.

Coming to radio would be an ironic twist for Palin, whose position on the media is pretty clear.  “Quick making things up,” she told reporters in her final speech as Governor last week

Congressional Health Reform Bill Bound To Disappoint Liberals

Recall what Democratic leaders like LBJ would have said and done to get wayward and timid Democrats in Congress to line up and walk straight on a needed national policy goal.  He would have told the conservative Democrats that they could expect a primary challenger, and no national monies coming their way to help in the next election unless they saw the light.  And soon!  He might even have threatened their privates on a platter.  The point was that ‘we were elected to govern and by-god we are going to do the people’s business.’ 

Speed ahead to 2009. 

It is appalling what is happening to the health care package that is taking shape in Congress.  Republicans abhor the idea that everyone should be covered, or a public option be placed in the bill, or that business should help pay for coverage in that outcome.  What did they have to do to previal with these views?   The GOP did not have to do more than shave the legs off the Democratic plan in order to prevail.  Democrats in the Senate even provided the saws for the cutting.  With allies like this, take cover.  The crap is about to fall from the skies in the form of a ‘health reform bill’ that will not meet the needs of the nation, but in the eyes of Congress will provide enough cover come the mid-term elections.

Where are my boots?

An emerging consensus among a bipartisan group of senators is poised to shift the dynamic in the congressional debate over health-care reform and could lead to a final product that sheds many of the priorities that President Obama has emphasized and that have drawn GOP attacks.

Three Democrats and three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee are expected to wrap up their arduous multi-week talks in the coming days, and Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he expects a panel vote before the Senate recess, which will begin Aug. 7.

Assuming the fragile committee coalition holds, the legislation it produces would scramble the reform landscape by introducing policy ideas that have their origins in the political center. The bill is bound to disappoint liberals. But with prominent GOP backing, it also could prove more difficult for Republicans to reject out of hand — the approach they have taken to the House bill and a second Senate version, written by the health committee.

The finance panel’s legislation is expected to include incentives for employers to provide health insurance for their workers, rather than a more punitive coverage mandate. The committee is also likely to endorse narrowly targeted tax increases, rejecting a controversial tax surcharge on wealthy households that the House adopted and limits on deductions for upper-income taxpayers that Obama is seeking.

GOP negotiators rejected from the outset the kind of government-run insurance plan that Obama and most Democrats are pushing for in an attempt to inject the health-insurance market with pricing competition. Instead, the committee would create coverage cooperatives modeled after rural electricity providers.

As House negotiators continued to work late Tuesday evening on breaking an impasse on their version of the bill, the bipartisan Finance Committee negotiators emerged from another meeting insisting that no final decisions had been made about the contents of the legislation. But as details trickled out, none of the components appeared ready-made for GOP opposition. Negotiators are scrubbing every provision for unintended consequences that could negatively affect small businesses or middle-class families, both of which Republicans say could be harmed by the other bills moving through Congress.

“What we do obviously would be important to our Republican conference,” said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), a member of the GOP team, along with Sens. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the finance panel, and Mike Enzi (Wyo.), the senior Republican on the health committee. Snowe said the primary goal of the negotiations is a bill that can draw Republican votes.

“I think it might resonate, frankly, with our colleagues,” Snowe said of the emerging compromise measure. “We want the basis for a bipartisan agreement, and I think that could be the launching pad for that resolution.”

Reid told reporters Tuesday that he might be willing to compromise on points of policy if it meant getting the 60 votes needed to turn back GOP procedural objections. The Senate Democratic caucus now stands at 60 members, but two members — Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.) and Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) — have battled serious illness, requiring Reid to win support from at least two Republicans to make up for their absence.

“I have a responsibility to get a bill on the Senate floor that will get 60 votes,” Reid said. “That’s my number one responsibility, and there are times when I have to set aside my personal preferences for the good of the Senate and I think the country.”

Differences On How To End ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Heats Up

What would Harry Truman have done? 

A report due out later today from the Palm Center, a California think tank working to end the ban on gays in the military, blames Washington gay rights activists and their allies in Congress for dropping the ball on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The center has made the case for pressing President Obama for an executive order ending the ban on gays in the military, arguing that those facts on the ground — gays openly serving — would be irreversible, and could be followed later by Congressional action. But other gay rights advocates, led by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Human Rights Campaign, and members of Congress like Rep. Patrick Murphy have argued that a legislative repeal should be the primary goal, as an executive order could be reversed by a new president.

The report by Palm Center director Aaron Belkin — which you can read in full here — argues that the legislative path has “stalled”:

Many people seemed to agree that the two-part strategy would make political and operational sense. Once gays are allowed to serve openly and legally, it will be impossible to put the toothpaste back into the tube. Operationally, there is no way to force gays back into the closet. And given that 75 percent of the public favors open gay service, it would be unwise politically for some future Republican President to try to reverse the order.5 Indeed, when former President George Bush tried to reverse one of Bill Clinton’s executive orders mandating equal treatment for non-military gay employees of the federal government, he could not get away with it.

As the two-part strategy continued to generate real heat on the administration, however, the gay community has taken its foot off the gas pedal. The chorus of gay and gay-friendly activists, journalists and politicos calling for an exclusive emphasis on legislative repeal has grown in recent weeks, and as opponents of the two-part strategy made their case with increasing fervor, the media’s criticisms of the administration have softened, and a senior administration spokesperson has again started to use conditional language as to whether “don’t ask, don’t tell will be repealed.”

Another Shocker: Democratic Blue Dogs Not Making Sense

This needs to be read, in light of the news out of Washington today. 

Right now the fate of health care reform seems to rest in the hands of relatively conservative Democrats — mainly members of the Blue Dog Coalition, created in 1995. And you might be tempted to say that President Obama needs to give those Democrats what they want.

But he can’t — because the Blue Dogs aren’t making sense.

To grasp the problem, you need to understand the outline of the proposed reform (all of the Democratic plans on the table agree on the essentials.)

Reform, if it happens, will rest on four main pillars: regulation, mandates, subsidies and competition.

By regulation I mean the nationwide imposition of rules that would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on your medical history, or dropping your coverage when you get sick. This would stop insurers from gaming the system by covering only healthy people.

On the other side, individuals would also be prevented from gaming the system: Americans would be required to buy insurance even if they’re currently healthy, rather than signing up only when they need care. And all but the smallest businesses would be required either to provide their employees with insurance, or to pay fees that help cover the cost of subsidies — subsidies that would make insurance affordable for lower-income American families.

Finally, there would be a public option: a government-run insurance plan competing with private insurers, which would help hold down costs.

The subsidy portion of health reform would cost around a trillion dollars over the next decade. In all the plans currently on the table, this expense would be offset with a combination of cost savings elsewhere and additional taxes, so that there would be no overall effect on the federal deficit.

So what are the objections of the Blue Dogs?

Well, they talk a lot about fiscal responsibility, which basically boils down to worrying about the cost of those subsidies. And it’s tempting to stop right there, and cry foul. After all, where were those concerns about fiscal responsibility back in 2001, when most conservative Democrats voted enthusiastically for that year’s big Bush tax cut — a tax cut that added $1.35 trillion to the deficit?

But it’s actually much worse than that — because even as they complain about the plan’s cost, the Blue Dogs are making demands that would greatly increase that cost.

There has been a lot of publicity about Blue Dog opposition to the public option, and rightly so: a plan without a public option to hold down insurance premiums would cost taxpayers more than a plan with such an option.

But Blue Dogs have also been complaining about the employer mandate, which is even more at odds with their supposed concern about spending. The Congressional Budget Office has already weighed in on this issue: without an employer mandate, health care reform would be undermined as many companies dropped their existing insurance plans, forcing workers to seek federal aid — and causing the cost of subsidies to balloon. It makes no sense at all to complain about the cost of subsidies and at the same time oppose an employer mandate.

So what do the Blue Dogs want?

Maybe they’re just being complete hypocrites. It’s worth remembering the history of one of the Blue Dog Coalition’s founders: former Representative Billy Tauzin of Louisiana. Mr. Tauzin switched to the Republicans soon after the group’s creation; eight years later he pushed through the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, a deeply irresponsible bill that included huge giveaways to drug and insurance companies. And then he left Congress to become, yes, the lavishly paid president of PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry lobby.

One interpretation, then, is that the Blue Dogs are basically following in Mr. Tauzin’s footsteps: if their position is incoherent, it’s because they’re nothing but corporate tools, defending special interests. And as the Center for Responsive Politics pointed out in a recent report, drug and insurance companies have lately been pouring money into Blue Dog coffers.

But I guess I’m not quite that cynical. After all, today’s Blue Dogs are politicians who didn’t go the Tauzin route — they didn’t switch parties even when the G.O.P. seemed to hold all the cards and pundits were declaring the Republican majority permanent. So these are Democrats who, despite their relative conservatism, have shown some commitment to their party and its values.

Now, however, they face their moment of truth. For they can’t extract major concessions on the shape of health care reform without dooming the whole project: knock away any of the four main pillars of reform, and the whole thing will collapse — and probably take the Obama presidency down with it.

Is that what the Blue Dogs really want to see happen? We’ll soon find out.

‘Birthers’ Make GOP Even Smaller Party