Friday, November 25, 2011

Republican presidential candidates shuffle again, 'fringe' candidate Ron Paul rises in polls



For entertainment’s sake it just doesn’t get any better than watching Republican candidates vying for the 2012 presidential nomination give it their all – or lack of it -- for a national TV audience.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who is now polling as a frontrunner in Iowa and New Hampshire, is the most recent  to take center stage after months of sharing his political views on the sidelines while being dismissed as a “fringe” candidate by the political establishment and the national media. Judging from his appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” broadcast Sunday, Nov. 20, he intends to make the most of it.

TV news host Bob Schieffer often showed signs of exasperation as he struggled to get in the last word during the interview with the controversial candidate. After the broadcast it was clear Paul, who is known as the “intellectual godfather” of the Tea Party movement, had burst out of the “media blackout” his campaign flacks claim has thwarted him since he entered the race in May.

While his fellow Texas presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry might often be at a loss for words, that’s obviously not the case with Paul, who lobbed the ball back to Schieffer every time it came flying at him. In the process, Paul probably left most federal employees – especially career bureaucrats and military brass -- a bit shaken now that he is rising in the polls.

Paul’s most controversial theory focused on the reason he believes Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. He claimed it occurred because of the influence of “flawed” U.S. foreign policy on other nations, and he placed the blame on U.S. “policy makers.”

The nation’s 12,000 diplomats should be put to work in improving relations with countries like Iran rather than trying to scare other countries’ leaders into submission, said Paul, who is a medical doctor in addition to being a politician. Sanctions against other countries are a bad idea because they are a preamble to war, he said.

In connection with his peaceful approach to foreign affairs, Paul said if he was elected president he would close the 900 military bases the U.S. now operates in 130 countries and bring the troops home to protect the country. Because the U.S. is “bankrupt,” Paul said he also would shut down several federal agencies, including the departments of energy, education, interior, commerce, HUD and FEMA.

On top of that, Paul said he wants to reduce the federal workforce across the board by 10 percent.

Clearly Paul has thought his proposal through more carefully than Gov. Perry, who near fatally embarrassed himself in a recent debate, because the congressman can remember the names of all the agencies he wants to close. But what on earth is going to happen to all of those federal employees when they are put out of work, and what is to become of the programs they administer?

This can’t be a popular idea with federal employees, who make up the largest workforce in the U.S., and members of the U.S. Armed Services. When you add in all of the relatives and friends of people who are on the federal payroll, it’s possible that Paul’s numbers are going to fall as fast as they suddenly rose.

The latest financial reports for campaign contributions show large numbers of federal employees supporting him, but those reports reflect the period ending Sept. 30. He unveiled his plan to streamline the federal government Oct. 17. It’s possible federal employees will be giving the stability of their jobs a second thought, “progressive” layoff plan or not.

Paul’s stand on LGBT issues didn’t come up during the interview, but they wouldn’t appeal to anyone who considers advancement of them critical to voting for a presidential candidate, according to his past statements about marriage equality. Paul is opposed to legalization of same-sex marriage, and he supports the Defense of Marriage Act.

In contrast, Paul opposes a Constitutional amendment to protect the current definition of marriage, but that is likely based on a widespread belief that the document should be inviolate. He did support the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” so he has gained some LGBT voter support.

On other progressive issues, Paul’s views are similarly divergent. With a medical background in gynecology, he is pro-life and opposed to abortions, yet he supports homeschooling and the legalization and regulation of marijuana and other drugs.

At this point the most recent national poll by USA Today/Gallup is showing that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, at 20 percent and 19 percent respectively, are tied for the top spot in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. They are trailed by businessman Herman Cain at 16 percent, Paul at 10 percent, Perry at 8 percent, Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann at 5 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum at 1 percent each, who with the exception of Paul are all virulently anti-LGBT.

Of course, those figures could go absolutely anywhere during the next year. Perry and Bachmann were once frontrunners, and Gingrich has seen his fortunes rise, fall and rise again since he announced his candidacy. Allegations of past sexual harassment will likely bring down Cain, and Gingrich’s past association as a highly-paid “consultant” for federal housing agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae will likely prove to be his undoing.

Romney’s numbers have remained more stable than the other candidates, and he seems to carry less baggage than the others. That has led many to speculate that the former Massachusetts governor will eventually wind up with the nomination.

But for now it’s Paul’s turn in the spotlight, and that’s likely to make for some pretty intriguing debates when the seven candidates get on stage together in the coming days as the media pays more attention to the Texas congressman. It will be interesting to see if they remember their goal is to prevent President Obama’s re-election or if they succumb to another dogfight.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Child sexual abuse concerns all, especially LGBT parents



Most people would probably agree there is no resource that a society cherishes more than its children so it is hard to fathom how sexual predators manage with such apparent ease to carry out horrendous, undetected assaults on children practically under the noses of their families and others who are charged with their protection.

As horrific as the crime of child sexual abuse is there are no firm estimates of its prevalence because it often goes undetected and underreported, according to agencies that study child abuse. Less than 100,000 crimes of sexual abuse are reported each year because children fear telling anyone, and adults who become aware of the activity are often reluctant to contact law enforcement agencies even though there is usually a legal requirement to do so.

With so many LGBT households now raising children, it is obviously vital that all parents be aware of the tactics used by sexual predators to seduce children without arousing the suspicion of their families -- and of the symptoms victims of child sexual abuse exhibit.

The critical need for sustained intervention into child sexual abuse recently gained national attention following a grand jury’s indictment of retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on 40 counts of child sex abuse involving eight victims over a 15-year period. The victims reportedly came into contact with the now 67-year-old married Sandusky in connection with the Second Mile, a children’s charity the former football coach founded.

Although Sandusky denied this week in an NBC interview of engaging in any type of sexual activity with the pre-pubescent boys, he acknowledged showering and “horsing around” with them after exercise. He also admitted hugging young boys and putting his hand on their legs when they sat next to him. His admission shocked viewers and confirmed in many minds what was already suspected – Sandusky is most likely a pedophile who has taken advantage of young boys with the unwitting complicity of their families.

It is a devastating scandal that will likely rival the one that rocked the Catholic Church a decade ago when it became known that untold numbers of Catholic Church priests sexually abused young boys and violated the trust of their families.

If the charges against Sandusky are true the accounts by the victims portray a classic pattern of enticement and betrayal practiced by the former football coach in his pursuit of the young boys. Likewise, the lack of action by those who knew about Sandusky’s alleged criminal activity parallel what often happens when the abuser commands power and respect in a community.

Much of the difficulty in combatting child sexual abuse can be attributed to its relative youth in terms of public awareness about the crime. The first studies on the molestation of children began in the 1920s, and the first estimate of the prevalence of the crime was reported in 1948. In 1974 the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect was founded, and the Child Abuse and Treatment Act was created. Since then awareness about the problem has grown dramatically, and much more is known about deterring the crime and assisting victims of it.

Children’s advocates have identified “red flags” to help parents and others protect children from sexual predators. They warn parents to be wary of someone who wants to spend more time with their children than they do, who attempts to be alone with a child, who frequently seeks physical closeness to a child such as hugging or touching,  who is overly interested in the sexuality of a child,  who seems to prefer the company of children to people their own age, who lacks boundaries, who regularly offers to babysit,  who often gives presents or  money to children, who frequently walks in on children in bathrooms or locker rooms, who frequents parks where children gather, who makes inappropriate comments about a child’s appearance or who likes to photograph children.

Signs of possible sexual abuse in children include a fear of people, places or activities, reluctance to undress, disturbed sleep, mood swings, excessive crying, fear of being touched, loss of appetite, a drastic change in school performance, bizarre themes in drawing, sexually acting out on other children, advanced sexual knowledge, use of new words for private body parts and a reversion to old behavior such as bedwetting or thumb sucking.

Aside from the moral responsibility to protect children and other weaker members of society that all people share, it is essential to intervene in child sexual abuse because of the long-lasting psychological damage it usually causes.  The problems can include feelings of worthlessness, depression, anxiety,  suicidal thoughts and distorted views of sexuality. Victims of child sexual abuse tend to become sexual predators as adults, making it a crime that begets more crime.

The Sandusky scandal will undoubtedly lead to devastating repercussions for Penn State, for the Second Mile charity with which the former football coach is no longer affiliated and for law enforcement and university officials who became aware of concerns about the former football coach’s activities and failed to act on them. It’s hard to imagine that Sandusky’s future holds anything in store other than a lengthy prison center.

But the real tragedy – if the allegations are true – will be the lasting impact upon the victims.



Friday, November 18, 2011

Republican candidates' missteps work to Obama's advantage, gay rights movement



Anyone wanting to see President Barack Obama serve a second term in the White House for the sake of LGBT equality has got to be feeling pretty good about now as his Republican challengers struggle to survive what must be one of the most peculiar national campaign seasons ever.

When the Republican candidates aren’t self-destructing in mass, they appear to be too busy destroying each other to make any headway with the nation’s voters.

Herman Cain, the black anti-gay Georgia businessman who has led the pack of Republican contenders for president in recent weeks, likely will soon suffer a steep plunge in opinion polls as a result of several women telling the New York Times and other members of the media he sexually harassed them years ago. Cain calls the allegations “baseless,” but Republican heavyweights, such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, are showing signs of nervousness and demanding answers as the controversy persists and the number of allegations grows.

Cain attempted at first to brush off the allegations by refusing to discuss them with the media, but that strategy obviously collapsed earlier this week when he finally called a press conference on the campaign trail near Phoenix to answer the charges. The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO denied guilt and defiantly vowed to remain in the presidential race.

In a debate with the other Republican candidates this week in Michigan, Cain insisted the sexual harassment allegations would not affect his campaign. He cited a continuing flow of campaign contributions from his supporters as proof of his invincibility.

That resolve could dissipate though if more details of Cain’s alleged improprieties emerge. Two of four women whom Cain allegedly sexually harassed when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s have spoken out publicly.

And a fifth report has emerged that he made a woman with whom he dined uncomfortable by allegedly asking her for an introduction to another woman -- in addition to sticking her for an $800 bill for two bottles of wine. The dinner followed a speech Cain gave to USAID in Egypt in 2002, according to the Washington Examiner.
Although Cain and his handlers no doubt thought that trying to ignore the controversy might make it go away, he instead came off to many as arrogant and inept.

Things aren’t going any better for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who quickly ascended in the polls after he announced his candidacy for president earlier in the fall. But Perry, another major foe of the LGBT community, fell to the bottom just as fast after giving a series of poor debate performances with other GOP candidates.

The governor continued his fall from grace when he spoke at an event in New Hampshire recently and appeared to be under the influence of some sort of intoxicant, although he issued a denial and attributed the odd behavior to a casual speaking style he had adopted for the evening.

In the Republican debate this week Perry again stumbled by being able to remember the name of a federal agency he wanted to eliminate if he was elected president. Before the debate Cain’s answer to the sexual harassment question was expected to dominate news coverage afterwards, but Perry’s slip-up instead became the lead.

It was Cain’s second break of the evening during the debate. Earlier, Romney had declined to answer a question about whether he thought Cain was unfit for the presidency because of the sexual harassment allegations.

The problems stunting the Cain and Perry campaigns ordinarily would work to the advantage of the other major Republican contender, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but the savagery the other GOP candidates’ campaigns will inflict on him in coming months no doubt will offset the advantage. Political analysts expect Romney, who also demanded answers from Cain this week, will be portrayed in multi-millions of dollars’ worth of advertising as a flip-flopper who can’t be trusted by Republican voters.

For that matter, LGBT voters probably can’t trust Romney either – and certainly not Cain or Perry who already have made it clear they would not support gay rights issues.

In the case of Romney, he does indeed appear to flip-flop on issues. Although he once seemed supportive of the LGBT community when he was the governor of Massachusetts, there’s no telling what stand he might take in an effort to win the Republican nomination and the presidency.

As for Perry, his disdain for the LGBT community is well known in Texas. He has long fought rumors that he is secretly gay, and that could be part of the reason for his vehement opposition to any LGBT human rights advances. It was for that reason the picture of him going down on a corn dog at a state fair made him the laughing stock of the country.

Likewise, Cain has already vowed to reverse any gay rights gains seen during Obama’s administration, and the revelations about his alleged sexual harassment of women should concern all LGBT voters. If he repeatedly treated women over whom he had power with disrespect, it’s unlikely that he showed any mercy to gay and lesbian associates he encountered.

But despite the dangers the three major Republican candidates pose to the gay rights movement, the one who wins the nomination will enjoy significant LGBT support. Many LGBT voters believe the Republican Party’s policies regarding economic, defense and other issues represent the best course for the country, regardless of the impact on the gay rights movement.

The saving grace for gay rights activists who want to see Obama remain in office is that the Republican Party has failed to come up with a candidate to electrify the nation’s voters. As discouraging as the country’s economic situation remains, Obama continues to outpoll other candidates and would likely win the election if it were held today.

And at this time it appears unlikely any of the Republican candidates are going to change that scenario by Election Day next year.