From the category archives:

Politics

This week, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments on a California case which could transform gay and lesbian marriage laws nationwide.

Charles J. Cooper and Theodore B. Olson, both former Reagan administration lawyers, defended the two sides, with Olson contending an equal right to marry is basic to American liberty and Cooper saying the decision on changing state marriage laws should be left to the voters in each state. The Obama administration’s top courtroom lawyer also appeared to argue that California’s Proposition 8 and its ban on same-sex marriage should be struck down as unjust discrimination against gays and lesbians. The Supreme Court will decide whether or not a state’s ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.

Cooper will be given 30 minutes to argue for allowing the voters of each state to decide for themselves on whether to “redefine” marriage, and to keep California’s current ban. Olson will then have 20 minutes to argue that denying marriage to committed gay and lesbian couples denies them the “equal protection of the laws” promised by the Constitution.

In June, the Supreme Court will either use these arguments to decide to: uphold Proposition 8 and rule gay marriage is not a constitutional right (leaving the issue in the hands of each state), dismiss the appeal on procedural grounds and return the Proposition 8 case to a federal court in San Francisco, strike down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional on a narrow basis (affecting only California), or rule broadly that denying marriage to committed gay couples is unconstitutional, a decision that could legalize gay marriage nationwide.

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President Barack Obama made his first presidential trip to Israel yesterday to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres and newly re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Israel has no better friend than the United States of America,” said Netanyahu during a joint appearance in Jerusalem. “I want to thank you once again for always making clear that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

While he and Netanyahu have not always had the best relationship in the past, Obama reaffirmed the importance of a strong relationship between the US and Israel.

“We’ve spent more time together, working together than I have with any leader and this speaks to the closeness of our two nations; the interests and the values that we share and the depth and breadth of the ties between our two people.”

He later went on to vow he would do “what is necessary” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and to investigate reports that Syria had used chemical weapons for the first time in its two-year civil war. Obama warned Syrian leader Bashar Assad that use of such weapons would be a “game-changer” and could potentially draw the U.S. military into the conflict for the first time. 

“The Assad regime must understand that they will be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons or their transfer to terrorists.”

Obama has promised to talk about peace efforts more expansively in a speech to Israeli youth. He will also make a quick trip to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, visit a youth center in Ramallah, deliver a speech and attend a formal dinner with Peres in Jerusalem, and then travel to Jordan in order to pledge American support in dealing with the 450,000 Syrian refugees that have flooded over the border.

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Yesterday, Catholic cardinals gathered at the Sistine Chapel to pick a new pope from among their midst — Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, the first South American to ever lead the church and the first non-European leader of the church in more than 1,000 years.

Bergoglio, 76, will be called “Francis,” the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. Francis was born to Italian immigrant parents and was raised in the Argentine capital. He had been the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and in choosing him, the cardinals sent a powerful message that the future of the Church lies in the home to the bulk of the world’s Catholics, the Global South.

“I would like to thank you for your embrace,” said Francis from the white balcony on St. Peter’s Basilica. “My brother cardinals have chosen one who is from far away, but here I am.”

“Habemus papam!,” “We have a pope!,” and “Viva il Papa!,”members of the crowd shouted.

The Church has been facing with an array of challenges that intensified during his predecessor Benedict XVI’s time as Pope. These challenges include a priest shortage, growing competition from evangelical churches in the Southern Hemisphere, a sexual abuse crisis that has undermined the church’s moral authority in the West, and difficulties governing the Vatican itself. Benedict ended his eight-year papacy last month, announcing he was no longer up to the rigors of the job and becoming the first pontiff in 598 years to resign.

Before beginning the secret ballot voting in the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday, the cardinals swore an oath of secrecy in Latin, a rite designed to protect deliberations from outside scrutiny  and to protect cardinals from earthly influence as they seek divine guidance.

“The pope’s election is something substantially different from a political election,” Cardinal Schönborn told the NY TImes, stating that the Pope is not “the chief executive of a multinational company, but the spiritual head of a community of believers.”

Francis will also inherit power struggles over the management of the Vatican bank, and will have to help make the Vatican bureaucracy work more efficiently for the good of the church.

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Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco, eBay, Electronic Arts, Intel, Intuit, Oracle, Twitter and Zynga are all joining together… to fight same-sex marriage restrictions.

These and hundreds of other companies have signed on to a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that federal same-sex marriage restrictions hurt their businesses. They hope to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act, as laws which bar federal recognition of same-sex marriage burdens them with extra costs and bureaucratic tangles. DOMA puts the companies in a position that “forces us to treat one class of our lawfully married employees differently than another, when our success depends upon the welfare and morale of all employees.”

The companies argue federal law forces them to engage in administrative acrobatics to offer equal benefits to all employees “to compensate for the discriminatory effects of DOMA,” such as unequal tax treatment of opposite-sex versus same-sex couples. As a result, keeping morale high and recruiting new talent becomes harder, affecting their bottom lines. They also say that DOMA forces them to betray their principles, as it “conscripts (companies) to become the face of its mandate that two separate castes of married persons be identified and separately treated,” the brief complains, even in states, counties and cities that ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and marital status.

Stanford University law professor Jane Schacter believes that this support from big companies will force the court to decide if the government has good reason to discriminate against one class of people.

“It’s likely to look to the court more like an issue of prejudice and intolerance.”

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Last week, the White House had to deny reports that an adviser sent Bob Woodward, the infamous Watergate journalist, an email saying he would “regret” his recent reporting on the sequester. Woodward had written that, based on his reporting earlier in the budget battle, the president was trying to move the goalposts by trying to replace the sequester with a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts… instead of solely spending cuts.

Woodward claims he was “yelled at” by an Obama aide over his weekend column in the Post, who them sent him a page-long email that said: “I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. … You’re focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. … I think you will regret staking out that claim.”

“Of course no threat was intended,” wrote a White House aide. “As Mr. Woodward noted, the email from the aide was sent to apologize for voices being raised in their previous conversation. The note suggested that Mr. Woodward would regret the observation he made regarding the sequester because that observation was inaccurate, nothing more. And Mr. Woodward responded to this aide’s email in a friendly manner.”

Now, it looks like the White House is going to have to deny threat claims again, this time to Lanny Davis, who served as counsel to former President Bill Clinton. Davis, who now writes a column for The Washington Times, is saying that a “senior Obama White House official” called his editor at the Times and said that if the paper continued to run his columns, “his reporters would lose their credentials.” Davis, being an Obama supporter, says he “couldn’t imagine why this call was made.”

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