29 May 2013

Michele Bachmann won't seek reelection - Good news, bad news

The good news: Michele Bachmann has decided not to seek reelection next year.

The bad news: There goes some rich comedic fodder.

28 May 2013

Judge throws out attempts to smear Trayvon Martin

Today, a Florida judge threw out evidence of Trayvon Martin's alleged marijuana use, history of fighting, and interest in guns.

The rejected evidence appears to be a desperate attempt by the defense to paint Martin - who was armed only with iced tea and a pack of Skittles at the time of the shooting - as a threatening hoodlum who deserved to die.

Per media accounts of the case, George Zimmerman actively pursued Martin, even though the police, in a 911 call, had told him not to. It was only after continued aggressive pursuit - against police instructions - that Zimmerman confronted Martin and ultimately shot him to death.

That's aggression on Zimmerman's part, not Martin's. You can't pick a fight and then try to put all the blame on the victim when things go awry. Zimmerman could have just gone home when the cops told him that his vigilantism wasn't necessary.

Opening arguments in Zimmerman's trial - in which he is charged with second-degree murder for killing Martin last year - are scheduled to begin on June 10. The trial will surely be an interesting one.

26 May 2013

Noon tomorrow: Go silent for one minute to honor our fallen troops

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) asks all Americans to go silent tomorrow, Memorial Day, at 12:01 pm for one full minute in honor of our fallen troops.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA (and author of the excellent book Chasing Ghosts), explains: "For veterans and grateful citizens, Memorial Day is a hallowed day we set aside to remember all those American who have died to protect our freedoms. IAVA encourages all Americans to stand with us this Memorial Day and pledge a moment of silence at 12:01 p.m. EDT in honor of the bravery, courage, and devotion to country our veterans have shown."

This is the kind of thing that Memorial Day was created for. So please join me in taking a break from your picnic or beach party for just one minute to honor those who deserve some recognition on this holiday.

Take the pledge right now!

23 May 2013

BSA votes to allow gay scouts (but not gay adult leaders)

Good news, bad news -

First, the good news: Today, the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) voted to overturn its ban on openly gay Scouts. Now the good things that the BSA teaches to kids will be available to all regardless of whom they will grow up to be attracted to. And the organization will (hopefully) no longer stand for - and teach - bigotry.

Now, the bad news: This vote does not affect the continuing ban on LGBT adult Scout leaders. I don't understand the difference, except to assume that the homophobes are afraid that gay adults are out to seduce and "convert" their impressionable little boys. And that, of course, is nonsense. I have several gay friends who are great role models and would make much better Scout leaders than many straight folks I know.

Nevertheless, today's vote is a step forward and should be celebrated. Hopefully it won't be too long before enough old homophobes bow out and the new generation leads the way to allow LGBT Scout leaders as well.

22 May 2013

This is what the NRA (and Congress) enables

It was another case of a bad guy with a gun. Today, a Philadelphia area defendant pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for an incident last summer in which he shot into a crowd during an argument about drugs, injuring two people, including his mother, who was caught in the crossfire. The shooter was wheelchair-bound, and managed to shoot with his right hand while steering his wheelchair with his left.

Perhaps most alarming, though, is that the defendant has a long criminal history. He was a convicted felon prior to this shooting and should not have had a gun.

If we had reasonable gun restrictions in place, including mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, this shooting might not have happened.

But the NRA, which aggressively lobbies against universal background checks, seems to want unfettered access to deadly weapons for all. That's not surprising, considering that the CEOs of two gun manufacturing companies sit on its board of directors. Weeding out the bad guys would weed out some profits.

So they preach that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." But where was the armed good guy when this felon shot his mom? And if there had been a good guy there with a gun, how many other innocent bystanders might have been caught up in the additional crossfire?

To the NRA, it seems, profits from gun sales are more valuable than human lives. Ditto Congress, as long as they continue to serve the NRA instead of their constituents.

And so this stuff keeps happening.

21 May 2013

Quick and easy ways to help the Oklahama tornado victims

The victims of yesterday's devastating tornado in Oklahoma need our help.

Here are two reputable organizations that are coming to their aid, and how you can make a contribution:

1. American Red Cross: The Red Cross was very kind to me when I lost my home to a fire 12 years ago. Now they are busily assisting the Oklahoma tornado victims.

To make an automatic $10 donation using your cell phone, text RED CROSS to 90999. The $10 will be charged to your phone bill.

Or, you can contribute online here.

2. Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma: This organization is coordinating efforts with other disaster relief agencies in that state to provide food and water for those in need.

To make an automatic $10 donation using your cell phone, text FOOD to 32333. The $10 will be charged to your phone bill.

Or, you can contribute online here.

Thank you!

19 May 2013

Vermont's new choice for death with dignity

On May 13, the Vermont state legislature passed a bill that legalizes physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients whose suffering has become unbearable but who are capable of making an informed consent on their own behalf. Governor Peter Shumlin has indicated that he will sign the bill into law.

In passing this bill, Vermont becomes the fourth U.S. state to allow physician-assisted suicide, and the first to do so via legislation. Oregon and Washington enacted similar measures via voter referenda in 1994 and 2008, respectively. In Montana, a 2009 court ruling declared it legal.

Opponents of the legislation argue that it could give family members a tool to do away with an inconveniently ill family member and speed up the inheritance process. They seem to ignore the informed consent requirement. And, despite concerns by opponents of the Oregon law who feared that it would lead to a widespread rush to death, that has hardly been the case. In Oregon in 2012, for example, prescriptions for lethal medications were written for a mere 115 patients, resulting in a total of 77 known deaths. That's an average of about 2.35 assisted suicides per 1,000 total deaths in that state. These patients found a quick, painless, and certain end to their intolerable suffering, and were spared weeks or months of agony. And their families were spared the anguish of watching their loved ones suffer a painful and prolonged death.

In addition to these four U.S. states, physician-assisted suicide is currently legal in Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Everywhere else, the terminally ill are forced to endure sometimes horrific pain at the end of life, or end their misery with a plastic bag, a noose, or other undignified means. And those sad, desperate acts will continue as long as so-called "pro-life" factions keep fighting attempts to widen the acceptance of physician-assisted suicide and provide more people with the power to choose a dignified death over a horrible, lingering, painful one.

What it boils down to is this: While life is precious and should not be thrown away lightly, modern medical science cannot yet provide adequate pain control in all dying patients, even in the best hospices.

While physicians are pledged to do no harm, is it not harmful to force a dying patient to suffer a slow, lingering death against his or her will, perhaps kept alive artificially with respirators and feeding tubes?

When a pet becomes ill to the point where it is near death or suffering uncontrollably, a veterinarian will not think twice before recommending that the pet be euthanized, to put the animal out of its misery.

So why do we treat our dying pets with more mercy than we treat our dying people?

I agree with Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society and author of the controversial suicide manual "Final Exit", who said: "Surely the right to die in a manner and at a time one's own choosing is the ultimate civil liberty."

16 May 2013

Two House Dems vote to repeal Obamacare

Fortunately, today's House vote to repeal Obamacare (the 37th so far) was merely a symbolic one, not a practical one. But it does shine a light on who believes that ordinary people shouldn't be screwed by the insurance companies - and who does not.

Not surprisingly, the repeal bill passed the GOP-controlled House by a sad 229-195 margin. The votes were primarily along party lines. Primarily - not totally.

All of the House Republicans voted for repeal. But, sadly, so did 2 Democrats. Democratic Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina both voted against health care. Apparently these two Dems side with the insurance companies on preexisting conditions and their "right" to suddenly cancel coverage when premium-paying patients need it most. Etc.

Shame on them!

14 May 2013

Minnesota legalizes same-sex marriage

In another step forward towards equality for all, today Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in that state. This makes Minnesota the 12th U.S. state, plus the District of Columbia, to end marriage discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Delaware enacted similar legislation last week, as did Rhode Island the week before. That's three states so far this month!

While it is impractical to expect that kind of momentum to continue steadily, these developments provide clear evidence that the tide is shifting in favor of same-sex marriage.

38 more states to go. I hope I will see it in my lifetime.

10 May 2013

Hillary Clinton and the GOP's Benghazi witch hunt

The GOP is absolutely obsessed with Benghazi. Sure, it was a tragedy. And, sure, perhaps some additional safeguards could have mitigated the damage. But it was not an isolated case.

Where was the right-wing outrage over the 13 similar incidents that occurred during George W. Bush's years in the White House?

The GOP's motivation seems clear, and it has much less to do with the safety of our diplomats and much more to do with the 2016 presidential election. They're scared to death of a Hillary Clinton candidacy, so they have to get a head start in their efforts to discredit her.

I have a feeling that this nonsense will adversely affect their own approval ratings much more so than Mrs. Clinton's.

At least, I hope so.

08 May 2013

Delaware legalizes same-sex marriage

So much good stuff is happening so fast:

Last week, Rhode Island became the 10th state in the country to legalize same sex marriage.

Then, yesterday, Delaware became the 11th. Governor Jack Markell signed the bill into law just minutes after its passage by the state Senate.

The new law will take effect on July 1 of this year.

Kudos to Governor Markell and the Delaware state legislature in taking this huge step forward towards equality for all.

03 May 2013

Rhode Island legalizes same-sex marriage

In another big step towards equality for all, Rhode Island yesterday became the 10th state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage.

Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the bill into law on the Statehouse steps shortly after the it was passed by the state House of Representatives. He didn't want to waste any time.

The new law will take effect on August 1 of this year. On that date, the first same-sex marriages can begin.

With 10 states - plus the District of Columbia - now recognizing same-sex marriage, we're more than 20 percent of the way towards total marriage equality in the U.S.

But with 40 states left to go, there is no time to waste!

02 May 2013

Maryland governor signs law repealing death penalty

This morning, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley signed legislation repealing the death penalty in that state. With the governor's signature today, Maryland officially became the 18th state to abolish the death penalty - and the first state below the Mason-Dixon line to do so.

This is a major step forward towards a more civilized justice system.

Huge kudos to Governor O'Malley, and to the Maryland state legislature which passed the legislation earlier this year.