October 31, 2015

Special Ops are the “Boots on the ground” to Syria


President Obama is sending a small number of Special Operations troops to northern Syria, marking the first full-time deployment of U.S. forces to the chaotic country.
The mission marks a major shift for Obama, whose determination to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has been balanced by an abiding worry that U.S. troops not be pulled too deeply into the in­trac­table Syrian conflict.
The latest deployment will involve fewer than 50 Special Operations advisers, who will work with resistance forces­ battling the Islamic State in northern Syria but will not engage in direct combat, Obama administration officials said. “This is an intensification of a strategy that the president announced more than a year ago,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
The move, which the president’s national security team recommended late last week, reflects Obama’s growing dissatisfaction with the halting progress in Iraq and Syria and his commanders’ sense that the Islamic State has significant vulnerabilities that can be exploited.
The troops are expected to begin arriving over the next month in Syria, where their main focus will be advising Syrian Arab and Kurdish forces­ who have fought to within 30 miles of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital, said a senior defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. The U.S. troops are expected to remain largely at the “headquarters level,” where they will assess the local forces­ and help plan military operations to put continued pressure on Raqqa and a 60-mile-long stretch of the Syria-Turkey border.
A successful attack on Raqqa would mark a major victory for the forces­ battling the Islamic State.
The Special Operations forces, even though they are focused on advising U.S. allies and not direct combat, still face a real threat. “This is a dangerous place on the globe, and they are at risk,” Earnest said. “There is no denying it.” The deployment, like the recent commitment to keep 5,500 troops in Afghanistan after 2016, would be essentially open-ended, he said.
The introduction of U.S. advisers follows Russia’s stepped-up involvement in the war in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opening at a hastily convened meeting of diplomats in Vienna on Friday to discuss ways to end the increasingly bloody conflict
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he has ordered his country’s military to strike Islamic State ­forces, but White House officials said that the Russians are indiscriminately targeting all rebel forces­ arrayed against the regime. Russia’s military actions on behalf of the Assad regime have complicated U.S. efforts to help rebels in northern Syria, where U.S. officials are worried that American-backed forces­ will feel compelled to shift their focus from battling the Islamic State to helping their beleaguered allies fight Assad.
The Russian operations have, in particular, sapped momentum from a push by Syrian Arab fighters to drive the Islamic State from the contested stretch of the border between Syria and Turkey, U.S. officials said. In the past few weeks, U.S. airstrikes in Syria have dropped off dramatically, prompting concern from local fighters allied with the Americans.
The recent deployment of Special Operations forces­ along with new U.S. warplanes headed to Turkey suggest that the airstrikes will soon intensify. The White House plans to send A-10 ground attack planes and F-15 fighter jets to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, where they will be able to support ground operations against the Islamic State. The heavily armored A-10s, which fly low and slow over the battlefield, are built to back ground troops engaged in combat.
The planes will also focus on attacking the Islamic State’s supply lines that connect its base in Syria to its fighters in Iraq. Russia was not made aware of the deployment of U.S. troops into the country, the senior defense official said.
The new deployment of ground troops and planes drew a mixed reaction from Democrats, who worried about the deepening U.S. involvement in the war, and Republicans, who said that the small U.S. force was insufficient and disconnected from a broader, coherent strategy. 
"These steps may prove to be too little, too late,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “I do not see a strategy for success, rather it seems the administration is trying to avoid a disaster while the president runs out the clock.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the latest moves “yet another insufficient step in the Obama administration’s policy of gradual escalation.”
Obama first asked for a broader set of options in Iraq and Syria when he visited the Pentagon in July. That meeting came two months after Iraqi army troops were driven from Ramadi, about 80 miles west of Baghdad, by a much smaller Islamic State force.
Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the administration’s new plan for Iraq and Syria would focus on aiding the slow-moving Iraqi army assault on Ramadi, the military operations around Raqqa and more raids on Islamic State leaders in both countries.
Obama also spoke Friday with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to outline U.S. plans to intensify support for the Ramadi operation and an increase in raids aimed at the Islamic State leadership in the country.
Administration officials said that the U.S. and Iraqi governments are working on plans to establish a joint Special Operations task force to target Islamic State leaders and their network. The raids would be conducted with the backing of U.S. Special Operations forces backed with U.S.-supplied intelligence.
The move was foreshadowed this week by Carter, who told lawmakers that the military’s elite counter­terrorism forces­ would increase the pace of raids like the one in northern Iraq that freed as many as 70 captives being held by the Islamic State and resulted in the death of Army Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler.
Senior defense officials said Obama remained open to deploying Apache attack helicopters and forward air controllers, who are trained to move with Iraqi forces­ and call in airstrikes, if needed for future operations. 
More costly and ambitious measures in Syria, such as no-fly zones or buffer zones that would require tens of thousands of ground troops, did not receive the backing of Obama’s top policy advisers and weren’t among the options forwarded to the president. Many Republicans and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton have said they favor a no-fly zone in Syria.
Even as the White House announced the measures in Iraq and Syria, senior administration officials played down hopes that the additional forces­ would fundamentally change the circumstances in either country.
“The president has been quite clear that there is no military solution to the problems that are plaguing Iraq and Syria,” Earnest said. “There is a diplomatic one.”
by Greg Jaffe covers the White House for The Washington Post, where he has been since March 2009.
and Thomas Gibbons-Neff is a staff writer and a former Marine infantryman
on: Washington Post

Pres.Obama Makes the Refugee-Repatriation Program more LGBT Friendly


There are currently more refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons around the world than at any time since World War II. Less than 1 percent of all refugees will be resettled worldwide, and of more than half of these resettled refugees will come to in the United States. In 2011 President Barack Obama recognized that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, people who flee persecution continue to face barriers to access refugee protection and assistance. As part of his memorandum on “International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons,” President Obama directed federal agencies to take steps to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.

Despite significant progress toward ensuring that LGBT people have equal access to the U.S. immigration system—including training asylum officers to adjudicate claims that are based on sexual orientation and gender identity—LGBT people continue to face significant barriers to protection in the United States, particularly when it comes to family recognition. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, or INA, asylees and refugees can bring their children who are younger that age 21 and spouses to the United States. In the INA, however, the term spouse is usually interpreted to require a legally recognized marriage. Since only 22 countries have marriage equality, LGBT people who face persecution are in the impossible position of choosing between seeking safety in the United States or remaining in dangerous situations with their loved ones. As Ugandan LGBT rights activist Victor Mukasa has said, “Homophobia separated me from my family, but so has the immigration system that has made it difficult for me to reunite with my family, just because of a document.”

The State Department’s solution for reuniting LGBT refugee families

In 2015, the Council for Global Equality—of which the Center for American Progress is a member—made the fair and equal treatment of same-sex partners of refugees and asylees a top administrative priority.  The U.S. Department of State recently took a major step toward that goal. In its annual report to Congress on refugee program admissions for fiscal year 2016, the State Department announced a more inclusive interpretation of what constitutes a spouse in its Process Priorities, or P-3, program. This expanded interpretation recognizes that the vast majority of refugee-producing and refugee-hosting countries do not have marriage equality. The expanded categories within the P-3 process now allow qualifying resettled refugees and asylees who live in the United States to file an affidavit of relationship, or AOR, for their partners—thereby bypassing the need for a referral from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, a process that can take years.

As a result of this change, refugees and asylees can file for their same-sex partners to join them in the United States through the P-3 family reunification program for spouses, unmarried children younger than age 21, and parents of qualified refugees and asylees. Because of P-3 program requirements, the expanded categories for family reunification are limited to certain nationalities that are of special humanitarian concern. A CAP analysis of data about LGBT asylum seekers found that 15 percent of the cases in the dataset represented LGBT people among those fleeing humanitarian crises in P-3 priority countries. Subhi Nahas, a Syrian refugee who was resettled in the United States and recently addressed the U.N. Security Council during its first-ever meeting on LGBT rights, is just one example of the many LGBT people who sought protection in the United States.

Remaining barriers to reunification

While the State Department’s new policy will help reunite many LGBT families, it represents just one step on a long road toward greater LGBT inclusivity. Many LGBT refugees and asylees will still be unable to bring their partners to the United States due to the fact only 24 countries currently qualify for P-3 status. The State Department determines the countries on its P-3 list by examining the total number of arrivals per country per calendar year. Significantly, the countries that LGBT people appear to flee most often are not accounted for in the P-3 countries list.

This decision can be explained by at least two reasons. First, the State Department does not collect data about the number of LGBT refugees who are resettled in the United States and as a result is unable to ensure that the countries where the most LGBT refugees come from are represented in the P-3 countries list. Second, the State Department does not take asylees—who arrive in the United States on their own rather than through the resettlement process—into account when determining P-3 countries. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power estimates that the United States resettles between 75 to 100 LGBT refugees annually—which indicates that a higher proportion of LGBT people come to the United States as asylees rather than refugees. In CAP’s analysis of the countries from which LGBT people fled from 2010 to 2014, Russia and Jamaica consistently topped the list; neither of these countries is on the P-3 list. Uganda and Nigeria—which have atrocious human rights records and abuses of LGBT people—are also missing from the list, despite large numbers of refugees who flee from these countries each year.

There are simple measures that the State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can take to further promote the reunification of LGBT families. Establishing universal P-3—rather than limiting the provision to certain countries—would open P-3 family reunification to all refugees and asylees, regardless of their country of origin. Another potential way to reunite LGBT families would be to make partners of LGBT refugees and asylees eligible for humanitarian parole. Such eligibility would enable LGBT refugees and asylees to bring their partners to the United States for a limited period of time during which they can marry and extend protected status to their spouses.
While the State Department’s expansion of P-3 eligibility to same-sex partners of refugees and asylees in the United States will help reunite many LGBT families, more can and should be done to ensure that LGBT people who seek protection in the United States are not forced to choose between their safety and living with the ones they love.

Gay Priest Says The Church Makes Gay People’s Lives “Hell”


The Rev. Krzysztof Charamsa, left, and his boyfriend Eduard
(surname not given) left a restaurant after a news conference in downtown Rome Oct. 3
 at which he said he was gay and in a relationship. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
A former Vatican official, who was stripped of his post early this month after acknowledging publicly that he was gay and in a relationship, has renewed his criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, accusing it of homophobia.

The official, the Rev. Krzysztof Charamsa, made public an Oct. 3 letter he had sent to Pope Francis in which he denounced the Church, saying that it had made the lives of gay and transgender people “a hell.” He wrote that the Church had persecuted gay Catholics and had caused them and their families “immeasurable suffering.”

“Be merciful — at least leave us in peace, let the civil states make our lives more humane,” Charamsa wrote in the letter, which he released Wednesday. (Note: The full text of the letter is below.)

The Vatican declined to comment.

Charamsa, 43, a former official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has made such assertions before. Earlier this month, on the eve of the synod, the Church’s assembly of bishops from around the world, he announced in the Italian and Polish news media, and then at a news conference in a restaurant in central Rome, that he was gay and had a partner.

He spoke of the “often paranoid homophobia” in the Church and contended that many Church officials were gay. 

Within hours, the Vatican issued a terse statement calling “irresponsible” his decision to come out just before the synod. The Vatican also immediately dismissed Charamsa from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical universities where he had taught theology.

His diocese in Poland then suspended him indefinitely from his functions as a priest, urging him to return to the “true teaching of the Church and Christ’s priesthood,” a reference to Roman Catholic priests’ vow of celibacy.

In the final document produced by the bishops at the synod, which was presented to Francis for his consideration, the bishops reiterated the Church’s position that gays should be respected, avoiding “any mark of unjust discrimination.” But the bishops reiterated that same-sex marriage was not acceptable and had no “remote” founding in God’s plan on marriage and the family.

Charamsa, who is working on a book about his years at the Vatican, said Wednesday that the synod had taken a step backward on gay and transgender issues.

“The homophobic closure of the synod on gays resuscitated my passion for this battle to bring the Church into the modern era,” he said in an interview on Skype from Barcelona, Spain, where he lives with his partner. “That’s why I made my letter to the Holy Father public, in the hope he can go beyond the synod on the issue.”

While criticizing the synod’s final document for repeating stereotypes on homosexuality, Charamsa singled out the words of Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, who had told the bishops, “What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today.”

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“That’s why I renew my appeal to the Holy Father,” Charamsa said in the interview. “No one publicly said a word against those defamatory sentences. What kind of respect does that show to us all?”

Charamsa said that the Church should provide marriage equality for all Catholics and revise its teaching on homosexuality. “If the Church can’t make a serious, scientific reflection on homosexuality and include it in its teachings,” he said, “even the Holy Father’s openings and warm words on gays are empty.”

Francis appears to have a more open-minded approach on homosexuality than his predecessors. He famously said he did not judge people based on their sexual orientation, and during his recent trip to the United States, he met privately with a former student who is gay and was accompanied by his partner.

Unlike Charamsa, some gay activists say they view the synod’s results more hopefully, citing what they see as positive aspects of the final document.

“Bishops write that families with members with homosexual tendencies need a particular care, and that, in the Church language, opens to consider same-sex families, as their members are homosexuals or lesbians,” said Andrea Rubera, a spokesman in Rome for the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, an international network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholic associations.

“We need to work with, and not against, the Church,” he added.

But Charamsa rejected any compromise, saying that by ignoring gays, lesbians, and transgender people, the Church is asking the faithful to believe that the Earth is still flat.

Asked whether he would like to marry his partner, Charamsa said, “I see no difficulty in a priest to be married, and that’s regardless of their sexual orientation.”

* * * * *

The following is the full text of a letter addressed to Pope Francis on Oct. 3 by Polish Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, a former Vatican official who publicly revealed that he’s gay and in a long-term relationship on the eve of a Synod of Bishops in Rome in which discussion of how the Church relates to gays and lesbians was expected to be a major topic of conversation. Crux translated the letter from Italian.

Holy Father, Dear Francis,

I have always loved the Church of Christ.

Today, as a baptized person, as a priest and a theologian who’s wanted to serve the Church with my entire life, I turn to you, my superior and pastor of this Church.

After a long and painful period of inner discernment and prayer, before God and with full consciousness of the gravity of the moment, I’ve made the decision to publicly refuse the violence of the Church with regard to people who are homosexual, lesbian, bi-sexual, transsexual and intersexual.

Being myself a man with a homosexual orientation, I can’t continue any more to tolerate the homophobic hatred of the Church – the exclusion, marginalization and stigmatization of people who, like me, are continually offended in their dignity and human rights, rights which are denied and struck down by this violent Church and its individual faithful.

Today I stand on the side of courageous homosexual people, who for centuries have been humiliated by the fanatical Church. I no longer accept a salvation that gratuitously excludes a part of humanity. We homosexuals don’t need the compassion that the Church promises us. We’re neither the enemies of the Church or of the family, which is the false and offensive image that Church has succeeding in creating about us. We desperately seek only to be respected in our dignity and our rights. If the Church is so obtuse, so incapable of reflection, so behind the times in terms of the conscience of humanity, as Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini put it so well, if it can’t come up with an adequate welcome for this innocent people, it should at least stop pressuring states and nations that want to respect the human right of homosexual people to a civil marriage.

[Note: Martini, a former Archbishop of Milan frequently mentioned during his lifetime as a papal candidate, died in 2012. In his final interview, Martini said he believed the Catholic Church was “200 years behind the times”.]

Let the Church focus on its own religious marriage and make its heterosexuals happy, who right now don’t seem all that happy behind the prison walls of the cold doctrinal rigidity of the Church! But stop spreading hate against those who want to live their own love in peace on this earth! A Church incapable of dialogue with humanity should be quiet, if it’s not capable of using reason!

I thank you for some of your words and gestures as pontiff with regard to some homosexual people. But your words will have value only and exclusively when all the violent and offensive declarations of the Holy Office about homosexual people are cancelled, as well as the obscene instruction of Benedict XVI that prohibits admission to the priesthood for homosexual people. In the meantime, the clergy, which is full of homosexuals and at the same violently homophobic, should be consistent with this diabolical instruction: All the gay cardinals, the gay bishops and gay priests – including fantastic gay priests, as they are – should have the courage to abandon a Church that’s inhuman, insensitive, unjust and violent.

[Note: The “Holy Office” is a reference to the Vatican’s powerful doctrinal watchdog agency, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The instruction under Pope Benedict XVI to which Charamsa refers appeared in 2005 and was issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education, which is responsible for supervising seminaries.]

I stand with homosexual people to be at their service and to help them wake up this dormant Church, which is Pharisaical and hypocritical, locked into its cold and inhuman doctrine without mercy or charity, a homophobic Church that knows only how to hate the other because he or she isn’t heterosexual. It knows how to persecute and destroy the loves of thousands of gays who are spiritual people, open to the transcendent and sensitive to the divine. They’re treated as excluded lepers by the Church, as if human beings choose their own sexual orientation, heterosexual or homosexual.

I stand with this people that’s oppressed and persecuted by the Church. I stand with that people as a Polish priest representing a particularly hateful Church, which is presently led by pastors without hearts or brains, for whom one can only ask forgiveness and show the proper compassion. Some of them are with you in the synod, with their language of hate lacking any human sensitivity, interested only in how to pressure democratic governments and get them to submit, how to steal more and more from the common good, and how to deny fundamental rights to free people.

I’ve lived a long period of discernment and inner struggle in order to reach the full awareness that I will no longer accept this hatred of exclusion: If the salvation the Church has to offer does not respect the nature of homosexual people, I refuse that salvation. I refuse it in the name of God, who created us and loves us as we are.

I reflected a long time about this decision, in part because I know how violent the Church is toward anyone who leaves it. I’m afraid of how violent the Church could be towards my family, which has no responsibility at all for my decision. I’m especially worried for my mother, a woman of unbreakable faith, who’s not to blame for my decisions. I know the risks she runs in this violent and uncaring Church, to which she’s unreservedly dedicated her entire life. Catholics can be people without hearts, without mercy, without any human feeling, following the logic of collective responsibility for individual decisions and destroying the lives of the innocent. In Poland, Catholics are true maestros of hatred, of stigmatization and exclusion of others, of homophobia. My mother does not deserve any offense from this inhuman Polish church!

“I want mercy from you, not sacrifices!” [Note: This is a quote from the Old Testament, Hosea 6:6]. God does not want human nature to be sacrificed. God respects the mystery of created human nature, yet the Church hates everything about human nature that’s different from its project of power and dominion over people and their sexuality. The church serves only the heterosexual part of humanity, and does not want to reflect calmly and rationally on the nature of homosexual people.

Holy Father, the challenge facing the Synod of Bishops, the major part of which is intellectually dormant and has never experienced the smell of the sheep, is not only the faithful who are divorced and remarried, but also those of us who are sexual minorities who have the right to live our love in dignity, a love which the Church is stubbornly killing. [Pope Francis has said he wants pastors who “carry the smell of their sheep,” meaning who are close to ordinary people.] We have the right to a family life, even if the Church doesn’t want to bless it. We exist and will continue to exist, even if the Church reduces us and keeps reducing us to nothing, as it still does with faithful who are divorced and happily remarried.

In order not to upset your happy journey of heterosexual salvation, which is different from us, many of those of us who are sexual minorities have already withdrawn from your Church. Absolutely do not pity us! Have pity only on yourselves, the hypocrites and Pharisees over whom you’re presiding in the synod. But please, have mercy! Have just a touch of mercy! Have mercy: At least leave us in peace, allowing civil states to make our life more human, while you with your Church have succeeded in making our lives as homosexuals and lesbians nothing but a Hell.

Your Church should only apologize and then keep quiet forever! Or, it should convert during its path in the synod and start to think about that part of the Church and of humanity made up of homosexual believers, whom you denigrate, offend and stigmatize, humiliating and excluding them as if they were lepers.

I pray for you, knowing that you’re a man of God, but I will do everything I can to help homosexual people wake the Catholic Church from its inhuman sleep, which by now has reached bestial limits of intolerability.


Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa

Adjunct Secretary of the International Theological Commission

Official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Professor of theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome.


October 30, 2015

Ireland Signs Same Sex Marriage into Law


Same-sex marriage was signed into law in Ireland, five months after a historic referendum saw the traditionally Catholic nation become the world's first country to vote for gay unions.

"The Presidential Commission today signed the 'Marriage Bill 2015' into law," the president's office said in a statement, paving the way for the first weddings within a month.

Ireland voted 62.1 percent in favour of allowing marriage between two people "without distinction as to their sex" in May, the first time anywhere that gay marriage has been legalised in a referendum.

The president's endorsement was the final hurdle for the bill after legal challenges briefly delayed the legislation from coming into effect.

The first ceremonies should be possible by mid-November, according to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

Senator Katherine Zappone, who had long campaigned for her Canadian marriage to her wife to be recognised in Ireland, called it "a defining moment".
"It is a deeply emotional moment for those of us who have campaigned for so long," Zappone said in a statement.
 Irish Statue of Liberty
"This victory truly belongs to the nation, it is a moment for us all."

In a memorable moment that unfolded live on national television after the referendum result was announced, Zappone proposed to her wife Ann Louise Gilligan to re-marry her under Irish law.

International gay rights campaigners congratulated efforts by Irish activists to win public support for a "Yes" vote in the referendum.

"Tribute must also be paid to national politicians in Ireland, as all the main political parties put aside their partisan differences to campaign for the greater goal of equality," Evelyne Paradis of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association said in a statement.

Marriages between same sex couples that took place outside of Ireland will now be recognised under Irish law.

Couples already in civil partnerships, which were introduced in Ireland in 2011, will be able to marry within weeks.

May's referendum generated a lively, and at times divisive, debate in Ireland, which only decriminalised homosexual acts in 1993.

"The referendum confirmed that Irish people want a society that embraces diversity while valuing the family and marriage," Fitzgerald said last week, as the bill passed through the upper house of parliament.

"On 22 May 2015, the people of Ireland showed the scale of their ambition for our society."

President Michael D Higgins is on a visit to the United States, so in his place the bill was signed by senior delegates of the Presidential Commission.

Ben Carson Attempts to Rehabilitate Himself on Gay Rights


Ben Carson has surged in the Republican primary race and his views on social issues have played well with conservative voters. The retired neurosurgeon elaborated on his stance on same-sex marriage during Wednesday night’s debate, but seemed unconvincing in his response.

Ben Carson at the CNBC Republican debate.
Same-sex marriage and LGBT rights has become one of the most important social issues in American politics. Split down partisan ideology, liberals push for increased equal rights for the LGBT community, while conservatives cite their Christian faith for their opposition. During the Republican debate on CNBC on Oct. 28, Carson spoke more about his views on the subject.

When debate moderator Carl Quintanilla pressed Carson on his views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the Tea Party favorite responded. "Obviously you don’t understand my views on homosexuality," Carson told Quintanilla. “I believe our Constitution protects everybody regardless of their sexual orientation," Carson noted, despite pushing for anti-gay legislation, and holding views against same-sex marriage and adoption by gay couples. 

Carson repeated the traditional conservative line, “marriage is between one man and one woman," then said that he could be "fair to the gay community."

Despite the scientific evidence to refute his claim, Carson has stated in the past that homosexuality is a choice, and has compared it to bestiality. Carson is on the recordsupporting Indiana Gov. Mike Pences' "Right To Discriminate" law, saying that many allegations of discrimination against the LGBT community are just examples of "political correctness." While Carson’s views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage might seem radical to the majority of the country that supports those issues, he appears right at home with the conservative base.

The Run Away Military Blimp is Shot Down! [You Just Saw the Future..]

Highly Intelligent blimp with classified
tracking information systems
State police used shotguns Thursday to deflate a wayward surveillance blimp that broke loose in Maryland before coming down into trees in the Pennsylvania countryside.
It could take days, or even weeks, to remove the blimp, which came down Wednesday, said U.S. Army Captain Matthew Villa. He said it is in two "mostly intact" pieces, with the main body and the tail section a few hundred meters apart.
Very sensitive electronics onboard have been removed but the vast majority of blimp is still there, Villa said. The wreckage was secured with additional ropes and state police troopers were using shotguns to deflate it Thursday morning, he said.
The blimp's remains were in trees along a ravine in a hard-to-access area with no roads leading directly to the site and officials are working on the removal plan.
"The terrain is extremely steep," he said. "It's rocky, slippery, leaves, in fact there's a stream going through the site as well."
The slow-moving, unmanned Army surveillance blimp broke loose from its mooring at Aberdeen Proving Ground and then floated over Pennsylvania for hours Wednesday afternoon causing electrical outages as its tether hit power lines.
The 240-foot helium-filled blimp, which had two fighter jets on its tail, came down near Muncy, a small town about 80 miles north of Harrisburg, the state capital. No injuries were reported.
The radar-equipped blimp, fitted with sensitive defense technology, escaped from the facility around 12:20 p.m. Authorities said it drifted northward, climbing to about 16,000 feet. It covered about 150 miles over about 3½ hours.
Villa said it was also unknown how the blimp broke loose, and an investigation was underway.
Michael Negard, spokesman for the Army Combat Readiness Center, said a two-person accident-investigation team is heading to the site. He said the investigation is considered "Class A," a label applied to an event that might have caused at least $2 million in property damage; involved a destroyed, missing or abandoned Army aircraft or missile; or caused injury.
People gawked in wonder and disbelief as the blimp floated silently over the sparsely populated area, its dangling tether taking out power lines.
Ken Hunter, an outdoors writer and wildlife illustrator, was working from home when he got a call from his wife that a blimp was coming down nearby.
He drove up the road a short distance and, sure enough, there was the tail section hanging from a tree, looking to him like a big white sheet. He took some pictures before state police closed the road.
Hunter said it came within a few hundred yards of his son's house.
"We're very fortunate that there weren't some people hurt up here," he said Thursday.
Hunter took a dim view of the military?s handling of the ordeal, questioning how such a pricey piece of equipment could just float away.
"I don't drive a brand-new car, but I take pretty good care of it. And it’s probably a $10,000 vehicle if I'm lucky," he said. 

An Immigrant Against All Immigrants

 Tomio Okamura, anti poor, immigrant, the Czech Tea party Evangelist

Tomio Okamura is scanning the menu in one of those Chinese restaurants that could be anywhere in the world except China — excessive gold decoration, a fish tank in the entrance, swooning traditional music. (This one is in Prague, Czech Republic.) He selects tea and a basic cabbage salad with sliced carrots, smiling as he murmurs a Mandarin phrase to the young waitress. Now, where were we? Oh, right. “We don’t need immigrants,” proclaims Okamura, founder of the nation’s most popular far-right party, gesturing toward the restaurant staff. “The Czech Republic will be stronger if we keep our traditions.”

You might be sensing a disconnect here. It only gets stronger. We’re seated near a courtyard that houses a Thai massage parlor, a Vietnamese fast-food joint, KFC and Miki Travel, a U.K.-based travel agency where Okamura works. It’s kind of a strange place for one of the country’s most popular, and controversial, politicians to be hanging out. His former party, Dawn of Direct Democracy, rode a wave of anti-immigrant fervor into the Czech Parliament in 2013. From there, Okamura managed to piss off almost every politician and minority group in the country, eventually including other leaders of his own party. The resulting furor has him down for the moment, though far from out.

Okamura — who, as you’ve probably guessed by now, wasn’t born in the Czech Republic — is nevertheless a striking representative of Europe’s exclusionist movement. His views echo those of other right-wing movements throughout the continent, like Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and Greece’s Golden Dawn Party, which are growing in prominence by campaigning on an anti-EU, tough-on-crime and anti-immigration platform. Though unlike, say, Le Pen — who has tried to moderate her party’s image, even suspending her father from the party he founded — Okamura seems to delight in sharpening his edge.

Given Okamura’s part-Japanese ancestry and the fact that he immigrated to the Czech Republic in his 20s, his anti-immigrant stance is, well, “very ironic,” says Jiří Pehe, a well-known Czech political analyst. Okamura ping-ponged between Japan and Europe as a kid and was bullied in both places; despite that, he sees nothing untoward about suggesting that Czechs insult Muslims by walking pigs in front of mosques or burying porcine remains at the sites of future mosques. (When I ask him about those comments, Okamura insists that they’re perfectly “normal.”) He’s also unrepentant about telling the Roma, the Czech Republic’s largest and most disenfranchised minority, to pull up stakes and create their own state elsewhere. 

Okamura claims he never really sought political power and even insists he had more influence before he was elected to public office. He was previously a prolific blogger and claims to have reached an average of 100,000 people with each post, covering topics from immigration (naturally) — he wrote that the Czech Republic would soon be aflush with African migrants behaving like “animals” — to homosexuality and Christian values. After running away from his Tokyo home at 18 to work as a garbageman and then a popcorn vendor at a movie theater, Okamura headed to the Czech Republic for good, where he was (naturally) a model immigrant. He eventually opened a travel company — a later venture took clients’ stuffed animals on tours around Prague (seriously) — and made appearances on TV cooking shows as an expert in Japanese cuisine.

Indeed, Okamura still speaks with the practiced emphasis and colorful phrases of a TV presenter. Back in the Miki Travel office, his booming voice and harsh rhetoric strike an incongruent note with the soft-pink-and-purple wallpaper behind him. But he’s still measured and careful, turning often to his laptop to check translations of English words he doesn’t know. A simple V-neck sweater, worn blue jeans and sneakers suggest he isn’t working in Parliament today, an impression belied by his unshakable attachment to his iPhone, which buzzes incessantly.

Okamura denies criticism that he’s nothing but a naysayer. Ostensibly, Dawn stands squarely for “direct democracy,” which boils down mostly to allowing popular votes to overrule legislatures and recall elected politicians. In practice, of course, such measures might also encourage conservative regions to discriminate against immigrants regardless of national policy — something like the way the states’ rights arguments once buttressed Jim Crow laws in the U.S. Okamura is also critical of a recent decision to accommodate some 70 Syrian refugees, a notably low number, in the country. Okamura thinks the money is better spent on the Czech Republic’s own poor or in refugee camps where the Syrians came from. “Poor Czechs should come first,” he says.

Okamura, however, has his own problems. Earlier this year, most of his fellow Dawn legislators staged what he calls a coup by leaving to form their own organization. The rebellious members said Okamura was too authoritarian — there’s that irony again, given Dawn’s promotion of direct democracy — and alleged that he used some $23,000 of party funds without approval. Okamura has since started a splinter party called Freedom and Direct Democracy. Still, his chances of seriously getting back into the game are “negligible,” says Ondrej Cisar, a professor in the department of sociology at Charles University.

But don’t count Okamura out. As our check comes, the conversation drifts toward his father, a Japanese marketer, and his mother, a power plant engineer from the Czech Republic. “I can’t be racist,” he muses. “I’m half-Japanese.”

OZY Author Reporter

Nathan covers global business, sports and culture for OZY, where he landed after putting his dreams of basketball stardom on hold ... for now. After a childhood of jumping from country to country, Nathan is used to feeling like a tourist everywhere he goes.

October 29, 2015

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Putin, A Product of the West


 “ I look into his eyes and saw his heart” GWBush

Five years after Vladimir Putin became president of Russia for the first time and began to rebuild the Soviet police state, I experienced a rebirth of my own. In 2005, I retired from 20 years on top of the professional chess world to join the fledgling Russian pro-democracy movement. I had become world champion in 1985, at the age of 22, and had achieved everything I could want to achieve at the chessboard. I wanted my children to be able to grow up in a free Russia. And I remembered the sign my mother once put up on my wall, a saying of the Soviet dissidents: “If not you, who else?”
Watch What Putin Does, Not What He Says

Like many Russians, I was troubled by the little-known Putin’s KGB background and his sudden rise to power, which involved overseeing the brutal 1999 war to pacify Chechnya as Boris Yeltsin’s prime minister. But at the start I was grudgingly willing to give Putin a chance. Russia’s 1998 default had left the economy in a very shaky state; crime, inflation, and a general sense of national weakness and uncertainty made the technocratic and plainspoken Putin an appealingly safe option. Physical and social insecurity are easy targets in fragile democracies, and throughout history, autocrats and military juntas have been empowered by the people’s call for order and a strong hand to steady a wobbly democratic regime.

Somehow, people always forget that it’s much easier to install a dictator than to remove one.
With Russia’s military intervention in Syria, the United States now faces an old adversary on a new battlefield. Putin wants to support the murderous regime of his ally Bashar al-Assad while at the same time boosting his tough-guy image at home and undermining U.S. influence. As usual, Putin leads with force—artillery in Ukraine, jets in Syria—and then welcomes negotiations while doing as he likes on the ground. So far this strategy of bluffing and bullying has paid off; the White House has meekly gone along with the charade of diplomacy, with any political chill between the United States and Russia quickly criticized as a potential “return to the Cold War.”

The Democracy Report

The use of the cliché is ironic, given that the way the Cold War was fought and won seems to have been forgotten today. Instead of standing on principles of good and evil, right and wrong, and the universal values of human rights and human life, the West has offered engagement, resets, and moral equivalence, repeatedly meeting Russian aggression with little more than press releases expressing concern. The United States and the European Union at last imposed sanctions on Russia following the invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014. But the move arrived timidly, and sanctions have been insufficient to deter Putin or to reverse the years of damage done by the so-called leaders of the free world, who talk about promoting democracy while treating the leaders of the most repressive regimes as equals. Their embrace is what helped keep Putin in power for so long, immunizing him against charges of being anti-democratic. I know. I watched it happen.

* * *                                         

I did not expect my new career in what can only generously be called Russian “politics” to be an easy one. The opposition was not trying to win elections; we were fighting just to have meaningful ones. In 2000, Putin was Yeltsin’s handpicked successor; when he came up for reelection in 2004, there was never any real doubt about the outcome. Even in 2007, when I won an opposition primary for the next year’s presidential election, I maintained I was an activist, not a politician. I knew I would never be allowed to appear on an official ballot, whose spots were reserved for the loyal opposition; the point was to expose that fact and to try to strengthen the atrophied muscles of the Russian democratic process.

So while our movement made some progress in drawing attention to the undemocratic reality of Putin’s Russia, we were in a losing position from the start. The Kremlin’s domination of the mass media and ruthless persecution of the opposition made it impossible to build any lasting momentum. In November 2007, I was arrested at a Moscow rally and sentenced to five days in jail under new anti-demonstration laws. Meanwhile, a new diplomatic position was slowly being adopted in the West—one that feebly acknowledged the differences between Russia and its democratic counterparts. However, according to this position, those differences were minor and “within an acceptable range,” according to one European Union official. For me and for a dozen of my colleagues marching for democracy, that “acceptable range” was 120 square feet—the size of the jail cell several of us occupied as punishment for “disobeying a police officer” at the opposition rally in Moscow.

When Putin loaned the presidency to Medvedev, it should have been clear that Russian democracy was dead.
By 2008, when Putin, having reached the constitutional limit of two consecutive terms in office, loaned the presidency to his reliable subordinate Dmitry Medvedev, it should have been clear to all that Russian democracy was dead. And yet one democratic leader after another lined up to play along with the charade. U.S. President George W. Bush phoned his new counterpart to offer congratulations. French President Nicolas Sarkozy warmly invited Medvedev to Paris. The leaders of Germany, the United Kingdom, and many other countries offered similar encomiums. This despite the fact that the election that brought Medvedev to the presidency had been boycotted by the main European election-monitoring body, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in protest against restrictions imposed on observers.

* * *

Barack Obama was elected president of the United States later in 2008—a few months after giving a speech in Berlin about freedom and shared values, one that evoked the famous speeches there by John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who stood up to the Soviet Union and the tyranny it represented in Eastern Europe. Of course, there were complex issues around how Obama should deal with Russia’s official president, Dmitry Medvedev, and Russia’s real leader, Vladimir Putin. But the central choice he faced on coming to office was straightforward. Obama could treat them like fellow democratic leaders or he could be honest. He could take strength from the fact that he had received nearly 70 million votes while Medvedev had needed only one, that of Putin. Had Obama labeled the Putin dictatorship clearly and openly from the start he might have helped bring hope and change to an entirely different constituency: 140 million Russians.

On July 7, 2009, Obama gave a speech at the New Economics School in Moscow. It was, of course, a very good speech. I said in a press conference after Obama met with me and other opposition leaders that the speech was “less than what we wanted but more than what we expected.” He repeatedly emphasized that the important relationship between America and Russia was about the people, not their regimes, which was exactly what I had hoped for. Obama opened direct lines of communication instead of dealing only with official Kremlin channels.

Obama raised expectations that he would ally with the Russian people instead of our government. But instead we got words in the air.
Ideally he would have named names. Obama made some strong statements about the failure of totalitarianism and pointed to the solution of democracy; in fact, he made far stronger statements regarding Putin’s Russia than anything we had heard from the two American administrations before him. But he avoided criticizing the track records of Putin and Medvedev. As a guest in Russia, Obama could hardly insult his hosts, but remarking on the anti-democratic trend of the previous nine years would have made the point. Nor did Obama mention Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose 2003 jailing by Putin and continued imprisonment by Medvedev exemplified everything Obama was criticizing about authoritarian states.

Experiencing a sentiment soon to be shared by many Americans, Russians quickly felt let down after a great Obama speech. The American president had raised expectations that his administration would look at the Kremlin’s record of brutality at home and transgressions abroad, and attempt to ally with the beleaguered Russian people instead of our repressive government. But instead of lines in the sand we got words in the air. Following the fraudulent elections of March 4, 2012 that returned Putin to the presidency—complete with fake polling stations; an incredible swelling in the size of the supplementary voter rolls, intended for those who need to vote in a different location than where they are registered; and threats to CEOs and school administrators to get out the vote for Putin, or face funding cuts or worse—Obama did wait a few days to contact Russia’s new leader. But eventually he called Putin to congratulate him. The modern dictatorship was taking shape behind the scenes, but the performance of a democracy was continuing onstage, and Obama played his part.

In my first years as an activist, I often said that Putin was a Russian problem for Russians to solve, but that he would soon be a regional problem and then a global problem if his ambitions were ignored. This regrettable transformation has come to pass, and lives are being lost from Ukraine to Syria because of it. When Assad and Putin danced a waltz across Obama’s red line against the use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2013, with Putin brokering a deal that allowed the Syrian president to escape the punishment of American airstrikes, I warned that dictators and would-be dictators from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang were watching closely. Did the Obama administration have the courage to keep promises when they were challenged? While there were other factors, I’m convinced that Syria gave Putin added confidence to find out. At the end of February 2014, for the second time in six years, Putin ordered Russian troops across an internationally recognized border to occupy territory.

The politicians of the free world know that it is easier and more popular to do nothing and claim to be peacemakers.
The United States, Canada, and even Europe responded to Putin’s aggression, it is true, but always a few moves behind, always after the deterrent potential of each action they took had passed. Strong sanctions and a clear demonstration of support for Ukrainian territorial integrity would have had a real impact when Putin moved on Crimea in February and March, and I recommended them at the time. A sign that there would be real consequences for the intervention in Crimea would have split Russia’s elites as they pondered the loss of their coveted assets on both sides of the Atlantic, and thereby threatened Putin’s hold on power. In April and May, supplying defensive weaponry to Ukraine would have slowed the invasion then underway, or at least raised the price of Russia’s actions considerably. Those like me who called for such aid at the time were called warmongers, and policymakers again sought dialogue with Putin. And yet war arrived regardless, as it always does in the face of weakness.
The humiliating failure of the two peace agreements signed in Minsk, Belarus, intended to halt the fighting in eastern Ukraine, proved what leaders of the free world simply refuse to admit: that there is no dealing with Putin the way they deal with one another. The model is repeating itself in Syria, as diplomats head to Vienna for peace talks. But confronting Putin doesn’t mean defeating the entire Russian army or starting World War III. Putin’s entire leadership cult in Russia is built on his image as an invincible strongman. He cannot afford to look like a loser, which is why he has maintained the feeble myth that Russian forces aren’t fighting in Ukraine, and why he picks targets NATO won’t defend. Any opposing force that threatened to inflict enough damage to pierce Putin’s illusion of invincibility would be enough to cause a real change in his behavior.

But the politicians of the free world know that it is easier and more popular to do nothing and claim to be peacemakers than to endure the criticism that inevitably comes with any action, which is why it will be so hard to break the cycle in Ukraine, Syria, and wherever Putin prods next—whether it’s Libya, the Baltics, or Venezuela. The United States and Europe have overwhelming military and economic advantages over Russia, but their leaders seem to lack the realization that diplomacy has its limits when facing dictators, and that diplomacy is only possible from a position of strength. As long as Putin sends jets and tanks while the West sends blankets and diplomats, the dictator will be calling the shots.

This article has been adapted from Garry Kasparov’s new book, Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped.

How Bernie Evolved on Gay Marriage

 Bernie Sanders (wikipedia)

He's long opposed anti-gay laws, but he was not an advocate for gay marriage until recently

At a marquee event on Saturday one hundred days before the Iowa caucuses, Bernie Sanders went after Hillary Clinton’s record on gay rights.

With Clinton waiting nearby, Sanders blamed her for supporting the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which barred federal recognition of gay marriage, arguing that she is now misleading the public about her past views when she says that she only supported the law to prevent a constitutional amendment.

“Today, some are trying to rewrite history by saying they voted for one anti-gay law to stop something worse,” Sanders told a group of top Democratic organizers, without saying Clinton’s name. “That’s not the case! There was a small minority opposed to discriminating against our gay brothers and sisters, and I am proud that I was one of those members!”

With both Democratic contenders mostly in agreement on the topic today, the Vermont Senator is criticizing the former Secretary of State’s past positions, attempting to tie them to a broader critique that she does what is politically expedient.

By all measures, Sanders was ahead of his time in supporting gay rights. In 1983, as mayor of Burlington, he signed a Gay Pride Day proclamation calling it a civil rights issue. He was one of just 67 members in the House of Representatives to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, a politically tough decision he prides himself on and points to as a key progressive bona fide. Sanders opposed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 1993, another President Bill Clinton-era policy, and supported civil unions in Vermont in 2000.

“I’m not evolving when it comes to gay rights. I was there,” Sanders told the New York Times earlier this year.
But his record on gay marriage is more complicated than he now makes it sound. While Sanders generally opposed measures to ban gay marriage, he did not speak out in favor of it until 2009. That’s still ahead of Clinton, who released a YouTube video announcing her support in 2013, as well as most other Democratic Senators, but not as early as he’s now casting it.

In addition, his reasoning for opposing efforts to restrict gay marriage was much narrower and legalistic than he now makes it seem.

When Sanders was asked on Sunday about his vote against the Defense of Marriage Act on CNN, he said that he believed back in 1996 that gay couples had the right to gay marriage. “I thought then and I think now that people have the right to love those folks that they want to love and get married regardless of their sexual orientation,” he said.

That wasn’t the answer his staff gave in 1996, however. His wife and chief of staff Jane Sanders told an Associated Press reporter in July of 1996 that he opposed the law because it weakened the section of the Constitution that says states must respect laws that are made in other states.

“We’re not legislating values. We have to follow the Constitution,” Jane Sanders said. “And anything that weakens the Constitution should be (addressed) by a constitutional amendment, not by a law passed by Congress.”

In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the state had to guarantee protections and benefits to gay couples, a stop short of legalizing gay marriage. Sanders approved of the decision.

“The Vermont Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that under the Vermont Constitution, all citizens of the state have the same right to the benefits of marriage,” Sanders said at the time. “I applaud that decision. Vermont has once again shown itself to be a leader in the struggle for human rights.”

But the court also said that the Vermont legislature should decide the issue. Many prominent Democrats, including Sanders’ successor as mayor of Burlington and a gubernatorial nominee, spoke out in favor of gay marriage, but Sanders kept mum.

Peter Freyne, a locally beloved Vermont writer and opinion writer whom Sanders later lauded as “the best political reporter in the state of Vermont,” accused the then-Congressman of obfuscating on his gay rights position.

“Obtaining Congressman Bernie Sanders’ position on the gay marriage issue was like pulling teeth … from a rhinoceros,” Freyne wrote. Freyne described repeated attempts to hear Sanders’ views on gay marriage, and the congressman only said he “supports the current process” in the state legislature. Though Sanders was not in the Vermont state legislature at the time, it was a hot topic in his home state at the time.

“It’s an election year, yet despite the lack of a serious challenger, The Bern’s gut-level paranoia is acting up,” Freyne wrote.

In 2006, when the Bush White House proposed an amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman, Sanders spoke out against the Republican plan, saying it was “designed to divide the American people.” 

But when Sanders was asked by a reporter whether Vermont should legalize same-sex marriage, he said no. “Not right now, not after what we went through,” he said.

That same year, Sanders was asked in a debate during his first run for the Senate about a Massachusetts state court decision that legalized gay marriage. The debate moderator wanted to know if Sanders thought the federal government should overturn that decision. He responded by talking about states’ rights, which is an argument often used by politicians who have argued against federal recognition of gay marriage as well.

“I believe the federal government should not be involved in overturning Massachusetts or any other state because I think the whole issue of marriage is a state issue,” Sanders said in the 2006 debate.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Sanders publicly voiced support for gay marriage, years after many of his contemporaries in Vermont. The state legislature voted to legalize gay marriage that March and overrode a gubernatorial veto to pass it into law in April. It’s unclear when exactly Sanders took his position. When asked, his campaign provided a news article from July of that year which noted that he had “previously supported” it.

But a Sanders’ campaign spokesman, Michael Briggs, stressed that he has a “long and consistent record on gay rights.” He pointed to a YouTube video showing Sanders taking a fellow member of Congress to task over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 1995.

“You said something about ‘homos’ in the military,” Sanders said. “Was the gentleman referring to the many thousands and thousands of gay people who have put their lives on the line in countless wars defending this country? Is that the group of the people the gentleman was referring to? You used the word homos. You have insulted thousands of men and women who have put their lives on the line. I think you owe them an apology.”


October 28, 2015

AIDS Advocates Launched Campaign to Save Discount Drug program from PhRMA



PhRMA Needs to make a few more billions and is taken the business approach of ‘if you can’t afford it you shouldn’t buy it’ even if it cost you your life. We are back to the past with advocates and HIV people going to the streets to protest the gutting of this program to improve the already sky high profits. They have promised a big return to their share holders and how are going to keep their word if they don’t raise the prices? What if it kill some people, people die everyday. That seems to be the business model of some drug manufacturers. 

AIDS advocates and others launched a campaign to save the 340B discount drug program from being gutted by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), according to a press release by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), one of the groups leading the charge.

Protesters took to the streets outside PhRMA headquarters in Washington, DC, on October 22, as PhRMA held a roundtable discussion about the 340B program. 

AHF also launched a public service announcement titled “I Count,” in which people who rely on the discount meds say, “Actual people count, not profits. Stop counting profits and start counting people.”

Congress created the 340B program in 1992. It requires drug manufacturers to provide discount meds to nonprofits and groups such as AIDS service providers that meet the needs of underserved clients. The program accounts for only 2 percent of drug purchases nationwide, but drug lobbyists are intent on gutting the program, according to the AHF. 

“340B works beautifully. The only people who have a problem with it are greedy drug companies and the people who support them,” said AHF president, Michael Weinstein. “And 340B does not cost the government anything: all of the discounts come from the drug companies, simply in the form of reduced profits on the sales of these drugs. As the 340B program is only two percent of all drug sales, the drug companies can easily afford this. In fact, if 340B is cut, more people will turn to the government for help. Safety net providers participating in 340B are a vital part of the healthcare delivery system which need to be reinforced not cut.”

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Office of Pharmacy Affairs (OPA), the 340B discount drug pricing program, which was created by Congress in 1992, “…requires drug manufacturers to provide outpatient drugs to eligible health care organizations/covered entities at significantly reduced prices. The 340B Program enables covered entities to stretch scarce Federal resources as far as possible, reaching more eligible patients and providing more comprehensive services.”
“Under the guise of ‘leadership,’ the drug industry is trying to weaken and dismantle elements of the government’s successful and lifesaving 340B discount drug program, which serves underserved communities through pharmacies run by AIDS organizations like AHF as well as other community groups,” said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “340B works beautifully. The only people who have a problem with it are greedy drug companies and the people who support them. And 340B does not cost the government anything: all of the discounts come from the drug companies, simply in the form of reduced profits on the sales of these drugs. As the 340B program is only two percent of all drug sales, the drug companies can easily afford this. In fact, if 340B is cut, more people will turn to the government for help. Safety net providers participating in 340B are a vital part of the healthcare delivery system which need to be reinforced not cut.”
“The 340B program is under constant assault from PhRMA and the drug industry, which will not stop until they have killed or severely handicapped this program,” said Michelle Morgan, AHF’s Director of National Advocacy Campaigns, and who is spearheading Thursday’s protest. “Unfortunately, some in Congress and the administration in general seem to be far more concerned about what pharma thinks than in looking out for safety net providers and their patients. That is why we are protesting at PhRMA—to stop drug companies’ efforts to gut a federal program that helps the neediest so they can fatten their wallets. We are also demanding that HRSA abandon its ill-conceived and unlawful ‘Mega-Guidance’ recommendations.”
PhRMA Event Will Explain PhRMA’s Interpretation of HRSA’s Proposed ‘Mega-Guidance’ for 340B
The catalyst for the Roundtable Discussion hosted by PhRMA (and the protest) was the recent release of proposed ‘Mega-Guidance’ on the 340B program issued by HRSA and which is now open for public comment. This proposed Guidance, which allies of PhRMA have called “a good start,” will severely limit the ability of safety net providers to participate in the program, and restrict the amount of care and services they can provide to vulnerable populations. The luncheon roundtable is intended to discuss PhRMA’s interpretation of this Guidance. The purpose of the protest is to provide a countervailing voice, that the program works exactly as Congress intended: it saves the federal government money, and helps protect the public health.
“The Mega-Guidance that HRSA has proposed is a solution in search of a problem,” said Laura Boudreau, Chief Counsel for Operations for AHF. “The guidance goes outside the bounds of the 340B law in a number of key respects that deeply hurt safety net providers and the patients they serve. If the guidance goes through as written, there will inevitably be legal action by safety net providers to challenge it, just the way that the drug industry has previously challenged other 340B guidance.”
The pharmaceutical industry has twice sued to show that HRSA does not have the legal authority under the original 340B legislation to create regulations with the exception of in a very few areas, an assessment that AHF agrees with. In 2007, HRSA also started down the same path of issuing guidance but later withdrew it.
Harris Poll (Dec. 2013): Only 1 in 10 Americans Thinks Pharma Is “…Honest and Trustworthy.”
And from the industry that brazenly put the word ‘Integrity’ in the name of its pharmaceutical advocacy coalition, ‘Alliance for Reform and Integrity,’ a 2013 Harris Poll revealed: “Just one in ten (Americans) say they think … pharma and drug companies (10%) … are generally honest and trustworthy.”
Since then, the industry’s reputation has taken even further hits with widespread negative public reaction to the roll out of Gilead’s $1,000 per pill Hepatitis C treatment in 2013. In addition, news last month that former hedge fund manager and current Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli was raising the price of the drug Daraprim, a 62-year-old medication to treat toxoplasmosis, from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill drew enormous negative media coverage, widespread public outrage and prompted calls for a government investigation. All pharma’s actions on its pricing and policies—including price-gouging like Mr. Shkreli’s—is making the issue of drug pricing and access a significant 2016 presidential campaign issue.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, currently provides medical care and/or services to over 492,000 individuals in 36 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Eastern Europe. To learn more about AHF, please visit our website: www.aidshealth.org, find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/aidshealth and follow us on Twitter: @aidshealthcare.


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