NY Times (watch their accompanying video report):
Henry David Thoreau was jailed here 164 years ago for refusing to pay taxes while living at Walden Pond. Now the town has Jean Hill to contend with.Mrs. Hill, an octogenarian previously best known for her blueberry jam, proposed banning the sale of bottled water here at a town meeting this spring. Voters approved, with the intent of making Concord the first town in the nation to strip Aquafina, Poland Spring and the like from its stores.
In orchestrating an outright ban, Mrs. Hill, 82, has achieved something that powerful environmental groups have not even tried. The bottled water industry is not pleased; it has threatened to sue if the ban takes effect as planned on Jan. 1. Officials here have hinted that they might not strictly enforce it, but Mrs. Hill, who described herself as obsessed, said that would only deepen her resolve.
“I’m going to work until I drop on this,” she said. “If you believe in something, you have to persist and you have to have a thick skin.”
Tom Lauria, a spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association, questioned why Mrs. Hill would single out bottled water when there are so many other things packaged in plastic. “Some people in the industry kind of respect her because of her age and her vision,” he said, “but we believe that vision is distorted. There are far worse products to pick on than water.”
Mrs. Hill’s crusade began a few years ago when her grandson, then 10, told her about the so-called Pacific garbage patch, a vortex of plastic and other debris floating between California and Hawaii, thought to be twice the size of Texas.
She researched and homed in on bottled water, finding that millions of plastic bottles were disposed of daily and that most were not recycled. While most opponents of bottled water have sought piecemeal change, like getting government agencies to stop buying it, Mrs. Hill wanted her affluent, erudite town to take a bolder step.
“The bottled water companies are draining our aquifers and selling it back to us,” she said, repeating her pitch from the town meeting in April. “We’re trashing our planet, all because of greed.”
Mrs. Hill’s presentation compelled some 300 voters to support the ban. But days later, town officials said the ban appeared unenforceable. They have asked the state attorney general’s office for guidance.
“It’s our responsibility to carry out the wishes of town meeting, but we’re struggling a little with how to do that,” said Christopher Whelan, the town manager. “It’s still up in the air what will happen on Jan. 1.”
Mr. Lauria said the bottled water association would consider suing if the attorney general’s office signs off on the ban. “It’s a completely legal commodity, and to ban it runs afoul of interstate commerce considerations,” he said.
As for Mrs. Hill, Mr. Whelan said she belonged to a long tradition of town residents channeling Thoreau and other big-thinking forbears.
In the past year and a half, President Obama has quietly used his powers to expand federal rights and benefits for gays and lesbians, targeting one government restriction after another in an attempt to change public policy while avoiding a confrontation with Republicans and opponents of gay rights.
The result is that scores of federal rules blocking gay rights have been swept aside or reinterpreted by Obama officials eager to advance the agenda of a constituency that strongly backed the president's 2008 campaign.
Among the changes: Gay partners of federal workers will now receive long-term health insurance, access to day care and other benefits. Federal Housing Authority loans can no longer consider the sexual orientation of applicants. The Census Bureau plans to report the number of people who report being in a same-sex relationship. Hospitals must allow gays to visit their ill partners. And federal child-care subsidies can be used by the children of same-sex domestic partners.
On Wednesday, the Labor Department is expected to announce that federal officials have rethought the Family and Medical Leave Act, concluding that under the law, a gay federal employee may take leave to care for a child with a gay partner.
Individually, none of the changes is especially dramatic. But taken together, they significantly alter the way gays and lesbians are viewed under federal law.
The administration's effort, made largely under the radar -- and outside the reach of Congress -- has alarmed opponents of gay rights, who accuse the president of undermining traditional marriage even as he speaks about respecting it.
"He's been a supporter of married mothers and fathers in name only," said Jenny Tyree, a marriage analyst for CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family. "He speaks very passionately and touchingly about how he grew up without a father. And yet there is this huge disconnect in how he's undermining that same opportunity for other children."
In a Father's Day statement Sunday, Obama called fathers "our first teachers and coaches, mentors and role models" and said that "nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a stepfather, a grandfather, or caring guardian."
Tyree called the inclusion of "two fathers" in the proclamation a "very troubling" decision to promote a "motherless family."
But gay rights advocates have greeted the changes as evidence that Obama has not abandoned them -- even as he has frustrated some by failing to act quickly on campaign promises to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act and bring an end to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"The administration is moving the executive branch to really provide interpretations that will change the lives of millions of [lesbian and gay] people for the better," said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign.
Winnie Stachelberg, a senior vice president at the Center for American Progress, praised Obama for finding creative ways to unravel policies that she said have long been unfair to gays.
"This administration has really opened up the toolbox that it alone has access to, to address the problems faced by gays and lesbians," she said.
A French drug company is seeking to offer American women something their European counterparts already have: a pill that works long after "the morning after."
The drug, dubbed ella, would be sold as a contraceptive -- one that could prevent pregnancy for as many as five days after unprotected sex. But the new drug is a close chemical relative of the abortion pill RU-486, raising the possibility that it could also induce abortion by making the womb inhospitable for an embryo.
The controversy sparked by that ambiguity promises to overshadow the work of a federal panel that will convene next week to consider endorsing the drug. The last time the Food and Drug Administration vetted an emergency contraceptive -- Plan B, the so-called morning-after pill -- the decision was mired in debate over such fundamental questions as when life begins and the distinction between preventing and terminating a pregnancy. Ella is raising many of those same politically charged questions -- but more sharply, testing the Obama administration's pledge to keep ideology from influencing scientific decisions.
Plan B, which works for up to 72 hours after sex, was eventually approved for sale without a prescription, although a doctor's order is required for girls younger than 17. The new drug promises to extend that period to at least 120 hours. Approved in Europe last year, ella is available as an emergency contraceptive in at least 22 countries.
Ella is being welcomed by many U.S. advocates for family planning and reproductive rights as a much-needed additional form of emergency contraception. Opponents of the drug, however, argue that the French company and the FDA would be misleading the public by labeling ella as an emergency contraceptive. Its chemical similarity to RU-486 makes it more like the controversial abortion pill, which can terminate a pregnancy at up to nine weeks, they say. RU-486 has soared in popularity since approval 10 years ago in the United States, raising the possibility that ella (ulipristal acetate) might become ubiquitous in American women's medicine cabinets.
As voters head to the polls Tuesday for a crucial set of primary elections, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds antipathy toward their elected officials rising and anti-incumbent sentiment at an all-time high.
The national survey shows that 29 percent of Americans now say they are inclined to support their House representative in November, even lower than in 1994, when voters swept the Democrats out of power in the that chamber after 40 years in the majority.
The poll also finds growing disapproval of the "tea party" movement, with half the population now expressing an unfavorable impression of the loosely aligned protest campaign that has shaken up politics this year.
And at a time when Republicans anticipate significant gains in House and Senate elections, there is also fresh evidence of the challenges facing the GOP. Six in 10 poll respondents say they have a negative view of the policies put forward by the Republican minority in Congress, and about a third say they trust Republicans over Democrats to handle the nation's main problems ...
Elected officials nationwide are feeling their constituents' dissatisfaction. In the new Post-ABC poll, 69 percent of all Americans say they are either dissatisfied or angry with the government, and 60 percent say they are inclined to look for other candidates in November, the most ever in a Post-ABC poll.
Democrats are likely to suffer disproportionately from the tough climate: They are in the majority in both houses of Congress and are defending many more districts than Republicans. The public sees little improvement in the nation's direction or the state of the economy. Six in 10 say the country is on the wrong track and 88 percent rate the economy as not good or poor, with just 30 percent saying it is improving.
Yet Democrats maintain at least one advantage: They hold a double-digit edge over the GOP as the party that people trust to handle the country's main problems.
Another big element that may mute the threat to Democrats is that the GOP has not gained significant traction. Most Americans -- including nearly a third of self-identified Republicans -- say they are dissatisfied with or angry at the policies of congressional Republicans. These numbers have changed little since last November, despite the GOP's focus on offering a more concrete agenda rather than simply Democratic proposals.
Obama's overall approval ratings have remained fairly steady.
Just as the right fears, it's only a matter of time. Charles Blow:
Last week, while many of us were distracted by the oil belching forth from the gulf floor and the president’s ham-handed attempts to demonstrate that he was sufficiently engaged and enraged, Gallup released a stunning, and little noticed, report on Americans’ evolving views of homosexuality. Allow me to enlighten:
1. For the first time, the percentage of Americans who perceive “gay and lesbian relations” as morally acceptable has crossed the 50 percent mark. (You have to love the fact that they still use the word “relations.” So quaint.)
2. Also for the first time, the percentage of men who hold that view is greater than the percentage of women who do.
3. This new alignment is being led by a dramatic change in attitudes among younger men, but older men’s perceptions also have eclipsed older women’s. While women’s views have stayed about the same over the past four years, the percentage of men ages 18 to 49 who perceived these “relations” as morally acceptable rose by 48 percent, and among men over 50, it rose by 26 percent.
I warned you: stunning.
There is no way to know for sure what’s driving such a radical change in men’s views on this issue because Gallup didn’t ask, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate. To help me do so, I called Dr. Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the author or editor of more than 20 books on men and masculinity, and Professor Ritch Savin-Williams, the chairman of human development at Cornell University and the author of seven books, most of which deal with adolescent development and same-sex attraction.
Here are three theories:
1. The contact hypothesis. As more men openly acknowledge that they are gay, it becomes harder for men who are not gay to discriminate against them. And as that group of openly gay men becomes more varied — including athletes, celebrities and soldiers — many of the old, derisive stereotypes lose their purchase. To that point, a Gallup poll released last May found that people who said they personally knew someone who was gay or lesbian were more likely to be accepting of gay men and lesbians in general and more supportive of their issues.
2. Men may be becoming more egalitarian in general. As Dr. Kimmel put it: “Men have gotten increasingly comfortable with the presence of, and relative equality of, ‘the other,’ and we’re becoming more accustomed to it. And most men are finding that it has not been a disaster.” The expanding sense of acceptance likely began with the feminist and civil rights movements and is now being extended to the gay rights movement. Dr. Kimmel continued, “The dire predictions for diversity have not only not come true, but, in fact, they’ve been proved the other way.”
3. Virulent homophobes are increasingly being exposed for engaging in homosexuality. Think Ted Haggard, the once fervent antigay preacher and former leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, and his male prostitute. (This week, Haggard announced that he was starting a new “inclusive” church open to “gay, straight, bi, tall, short,” but no same-sex marriages. Not “God’s ideal.” Sorry.) Or George Rekers, the founding member of the Family Research Council, and his rent boy/luggage handler. Last week, the council claimed that repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” would lead to an explosion of “homosexual assaults” in which sleeping soldiers would be the victims of fondling and fellatio by gay predators. In fact, there is a growing body of research that supports the notion that homophobia in some men could be a reaction to their own homosexual impulses. Many heterosexual men see this, and they don’t want to be associated with it. It’s like being antigay is becoming the old gay. Not cool.
These sound plausible, but why aren’t women seeing the same enlightening effects as men? Professor Savin-Williams suggests that there may be a “ceiling effect,” that men are simply catching up to women, and there may be a level at which views top out. Interesting.
All of this is great news, but it doesn’t mean that all measures relating to acceptance of gay men and lesbians have changed to the same degree. People’s comfort with the “gay and lesbian” part of the equation is still greater than their comfort with the “relations” part — the idea versus the act — particularly when it comes to pairings of men.
As Professor Savin-Williams told me, there is still a higher aversive reaction to same-sex sexuality among men than among women.
For instance, in a February New York Times/CBS News poll, half of the respondents were asked if they favored letting “gay men and lesbians” serve in the military (which is still more than 85 percent male), and the other half were asked if they favored letting “homosexuals” serve. Those who got the “homosexual” question favored it at a rate that was 11 percentage points lower than those who got the “gay men and lesbians” question.
Part of the difference may be that “homosexual” is a bigger, more clinical word freighted with a lot of historical baggage. But just as likely is that the inclusion of the root word “sex” still raises an aversive response to the idea of, how shall I say, the architectural issues between two men. It is the point at which support for basic human rights cleaves from endorsement of behavior.
As for the aversion among men, it may be softening a bit. Professor Savin-Williams says that his current research reveals that the fastest-growing group along the sexuality continuum are men who self-identify as “mostly straight” as opposed to labels like “straight,” “gay” or “bisexual.” They acknowledge some level of attraction to other men even as they say that they probably wouldn’t act on it, but ... the right guy, the right day, a few beers and who knows. As the professor points out, you would never have heard that in years past.
All together now: stunning.
It took the Great Recession and a Democratic President but it seems the Defense Dept. might actually start cutting back on the annual growth of its budget. The NY Times:
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has ordered the military and the Pentagon’s civilian bureaucracy to find tens of billions of dollars in annual savings to pay for war-fighting operations, senior officials said Thursday.
His goal is $7 billion in spending cuts and efficiencies for 2012, growing to $37 billion annually by 2016.
Every modern defense secretary has declared war on Pentagon waste and redundancy. And there have been notable, but relatively narrow successes, in closing and consolidating military bases or in canceling a handful of weapons systems.
But if Mr. Gates’s sweeping plan is fully enacted, none of the armed services or Pentagon civilian agencies and directorates would be immune from the pain of annual cost-cutting, which would become institutionalized across the Defense Department.
The spending guidelines were delivered orally to senior military officers and civilian officials before Mr. Gates’s departure this week for an Asian security conference in Singapore, and the official signed guidance will be issued over coming days.
The goal is to force all of the Defense Department agencies and organizations, and all of the armed services, to save enough money in their management, personnel policies and logistics to guarantee 3 percent real growth each year, beyond inflation, in the accounts that pay for combat operations.
Current budget plans project growth of only 1 percent in the Pentagon budget, after inflation, over the next five years.
“Given the nation’s fiscal situation, there is an urgency to doing this, rather than shifting more of the nation’s resources toward national defense,” William J. Lynn III, the deputy defense secretary, said in an interview.
Mr. Gates’s spending orders offer a considerable incentive to the armed services. Each dollar in spending cuts found by a military department would be reinvested in the combat force of that branch, and not siphoned away for other purposes.
Senior officials acknowledge that powerful constituencies are expected to line up in opposition to cuts of favorite programs — with criticism anticipated from the defense industry, Congress, military headquarters, Pentagon personnel and retirees.
“We will need to address the reasons things are in the budget in order to be able to reduce overhead,” Mr. Lynn said. “We are going to have to be engaged in dialogue with industry, with Congress, with other agencies, with the White House and inside the Pentagon — all the stakeholders.”
The new directives are aimed at three distinct areas of spending.
The same-sex partners of gay and lesbian federal workers can start applying next month for long-term health-care insurance, the Office of Personnel Management said Tuesday.
President Obama signed a memo last June extending some benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers, including access to the government's Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program. On Tuesday, OPM essentially broadened the definition of relatives eligible for the program to include same-sex domestic partners of eligible federal workers, U.S. Postal Service workers and federal retirees.
OPM will not extend access to opposite-sex domestic partners, because they can obtain the insurance through marriage, "an option not currently available to same-sex domestic partners," the agency wrote in Tuesday's Federal Register.
OPM said same-sex couples can visit www.ltcfeds.com to complete a form that states they are each other's domestic partner and intend to stay together indefinitely. The federal worker must submit the form to their employer. Couples will not be required to provide further proof of the relationship, OPM said, because that "would impose a greater burden on domestic partners than other qualified relatives." The agency said it does not ask opposite-sex couples for bank statements or other proof of marriage.
Tuesday's ruling applies only to FLTCIP, no other federal health-care or insurance programs. Same-sex partners must answer the same questions about their health as other qualified relatives, and are not guaranteed to be approved for coverage. Eligible federal workers do not need to be enrolled in FLTCIP in order for a same-sex partner to apply or be eligible, OPM said.