On Friday, Salt Lake City and its mayor, Ralph Becker, joined the growing list of cities nationwide to ramp up protections and rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens, as the city's ban on discrimination in the workplace and in housing for the GLBT community took effect. Voicing support for Salt Lake City's new laws, in addition to gay-rights groups, was an unlikely organization: the Mormon Church. Indeed, the Mormon Church had pledged to support Salt Lake City's anti-discrimination laws as early as last fall, when a church spokesman said, "The church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage."
The Church's support of gay rights is anything but typical. As MoJo's Stephanie Mencimer describes in her latest piece, "Game Changer," the Mormon Church has consistently, secretly battled gay marriage for several decades. And though Salt Lake City's laws have nothing to do with marriage, the Mormon Church as a gay rights ally is nonetheless startling.
Leading the effort to push back against the Mormon Church's gay marriage opposition, Mencimer writes, is a man named Fred Karger, a wily, creative, unrelenting thorn in the Mormon Church's side. A former TV actor and top GOP operative (remember Willie Horton? That was Fred), Karger is now taking his bag of political tricks into the gay marriage battle nationwide—and, in many ways, winning. The story of his transformation and battle against the Mormon Church is one you don't want to miss.
A Florida doctor has fired the latest shot across the bow in the battle over implementing President Obama's health care bill. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Dr. Jack Cassell, a urologist with an office near Orlando, made his disgust perfectly clear over "Obamacare," as its opponents deride it, by taping a sign to his front door that read:
"If you voted for Obama...seek urologic care elsewhere. Changes to your health care begin right now."
Cassell said that he wasn't necessarily rejecting care for patients, but merely voicing his opinion on Obama's health care overhaul. "I'm not turning anybody away—that would be unethical," Cassell, a Republican, told the Sentinel. "But if they read the sign and turn the other way, so be it."
Medical ethics experts interviewed by the Sentinel said that while Cassell wasn't blatantly discriminating against patients—political leanings aren't legally protected when it comes to discrimination law—the doctor was "trying to hold onto the nub of his ethical obligation," said the expert, William Allen, a University of Florida professor of bioethics. Cassell also papered his waiting room with GOP-produced fliers on the health care bill, the Sentinel reported, and featured a sign near those documents that said, "This is what the morons in Washington have done to your health care. Take one, read it, and vote out anyone who voted for it."
Cassell's office, it turns out, is located in the district of Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), the tenacious, outspoken lawmaker who once said the GOP's health care mantra was "If you get sick, America...die quickly." An outspoken urologist with a grudge against Democrats and Obamacare should give Grayson, known for his office's entertaining mailers and occasionally outrageous remarks, plenty of material to work with.
Yes, you read that right. Bill O'Reilly, the bloviating face of Fox News, actually came to the (somewhat) defense of Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) the other night on his wildly popular show. O'Reilly was speaking with Jason Mattera, editor of Human Rights, about the latter's recent ambush of Franken (a classic O'Reilly tactic, of course) in an airport and interrogating him on the recently passed health care bill, without ever letting a dismayed Franken actually respond. Shockingly, O'Reilly scolded Mattera, who, as evidence of his intellectual rigor, previously claimed the left's notion of freedom consists of "smoking cocaine," for the Franken stunt: "The mistake you made," O'Reilly intoned, "was you were disrespectful for him—to him, when you called him 'Sen. Smalley,' and you gave him a reason to blow you off."
OK, so O'Reilly was just giving Mattera some helpful hints, in father-like way, on how best to be a pesky right-wing journalist. Still, maybe Bill's warming to that loveable senator from Minnesota after all.
The story didn't make headlines, but it offered yet another glimpse of the endlessly spinning Washington-Wall Street revolving door: Peter Roberson, formerly a top policy adviser on the House financial services committee, recently left the committee to work as a lobbyist for a financial powerhouse in the derivatives industry—which also happens to be an industry the House committee is in charge of reforming as part of Congress' financial reform legislation.
Roberson's move to Intercontinental is so contentious because both the House and Senate are currently deciding whether to push much of the $600 trillion opaque, over-the-counter derivatives market onto transparent exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange is for stocks. Intercontinental happens to own two major derivatives clearinghouses; the company processes trillions of dollars in derivatives trades. "This is a classic example of a revolving door abuse," Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, which backs tougher lobbying rules, told Bloomberg News. "He will be instrumental for Intercontinental." (Roberson did not respond to a request for comment from Mother Jones.)
Today, Roberson's former boss, financial services committee chairman Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), blasted the former adviser's move. "I completely agree" with criticism of Roberson's departure from Hill staffer to financial lobbyist, Frank said in a statement. The Massachusetts congressman said that when he heard of Roberson's potential move, Frank ordered his committee to sever ties with the staffer. And while there's a one-year ban on Roberson's interaction with members of the financial services committee, Frank said he's extending that ban for as long as Frank chairs the committee.
Here's Frank's full statement on the matter:
"Several people have expressed criticism of the move by Peter Roberson from the staff of the Financial Services Committee to ICE, after he worked on the legislation relevant to derivatives. I completely agree with that criticism. When Mr. Roberson was hired, it never occurred to me that he would jump so quickly from the Committee staff to an industry that was being affected by the Committee’s legislation. When he called me to tell me that he was in conversations with them, I told him that I was disappointed and that I insisted that he take no further action as a member of the Committee staff. I then called the Staff Director and instructed her to remove him from the payroll and provide him only such compensation as is already owed.
Stories about this correctly noted that there is a one year ban on his interaction with members of the Committee staff, but I do not think that is adequate. I am therefore instructing the staff of the Financial Services Committee to have no contact whatsoever with Mr. Roberson on any matters involving financial regulation for as long as I am in charge of that Committee staff. Fortunately, examples of staff members doing what Mr. Roberson has done are rare, but even one example is far too much and that is why I wanted to make clear I share the unhappiness of people at this, and my intention to prohibit any contact between him and members of the staff for as long as I have any control over the matter."
As MoJo's own Suzy Khimm writes today, the more than a dozen states set to fight President Obama's health care bill in court may not succeed, but there's still plenty they can do to undermine how reform is implemented. Like how states establish insurance exchanges, as the new law requires, which require plenty of supervision and appointees at the state level. Now another state, Oregon, has now joined the states' legal health care battle—but it's on the side fighting for the bill.
Oregon's attorney general, John Kroger, announced yesterday that he's readying a massive defense alongside the state's governor to defend the constitutionality of Obama's health bill. (Both men are Democrats.) "The health care reform cases present some of the most important constitutional issues facing this generation," Kroger said in a statement.
Oregon's defense of health care reform faces stiff opposition from a spate of attorneys general nationwide. The AGs already vowing to fight Obamacare, as opponents call it, hail from Florida, Alabama, Michigan, South Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Indiana, Idaho, South Dakota, and Washington. (All of these states are party to the same suit, filed by Florida AG Bill McCollum.) The Virginia AG has also announced that he'll sue the Obama administration over the health bill as well. One particular piece of the health bill that has these state AGs up in arms is a mandate that all Americans buy medical insurance or pay a fine; the states say this demand violates the constitution's commerce clause, which gives the feds the power to regulate interstate commerce. These states counter by saying insurance contracts aren't commerce, and thus fall under state's regulatory power. Their opposition also stems from states' broader fiscal woes, with budgets already deep in the red and likely to suffer more when required to implement Obama's health care plan.
With Oregon now joining the fray, the fight over Obama's health reform is shaping up to be a bruiser. And don't be surprised to see more states chime in the coming days and weeks.