28 February 2014

House passes Medicaid expansion & House prepares to vote on Senate health care plan & the rust report 19&23&28FEB14

IN a typical tea-bagger anti government rant about Obamacare tom rust r delegate 86th district, in his rust report sent out 28FEB14 says " As an example according to the Human Resources Director of my engineering firm which self funds its insurance program, has electronic communications and enrollment capabilities, and outsources payroll our costs are therefore 'muted', but we are still paying $135,945 for 2013-2014 in taxes and fees to the federal government and not receiving any benefit." That pretty much sums up the the lack of compassion, the lack of morality and the greed that drives tom rust and his fellow gop tea-baggers. He is one of those pro lifers that is only pro life until birth, after that he would throw the child with his / her family to the wolves rather than provide health care, SNAP, and other support to those Virginians who need it. As a person of faith his rejection of the teachings of Christ, the Beatitudes, for the gospel of prosperity, the lust for increasing his own power and profits at the expense and of others is disturbing. He must be sleeping through the sermons at St Timothy's Episcopal Church. Here is some of the reporting on the health care debate in Richmond and delegate rust's report...

House passes Medicaid expansion

state-capitol2The House of Delegates and State Senate both voted Saturday to pass a state budget bill with language that will form a 10-person commission to review and examine health care reforms before allowing Virginia to proceed with full Medicaid expansion.
The vote in the House was 83-17 in favor of the bill. The Senate voted 31-8 to advance the legislation to Gov. Bob McDonnell.
The bill heading to the governor would authorize the expansion of the Medicaid program to 400,000 Virginians if specific reforms to the program are met. The legislation also establishes a special committee to certify whether the reforms have been put in place to allow the expansion, effective July 1, 2014.
“The budget language is a step in the right direction, but many of us would have liked a clearer statement that we intend to expand Medicaid immediately.  Medicaid expansion will bring health care coverage to 400,000 low-income workers, veterans and children, create 30,000 jobs, and delaying enactment costs Virginia millions of dollars per day.  The failure means that hard working Virginia taxpayers will subsidize health care coverage in neighboring states which have expanded Medicaid,” said House Democratic Leader David J. Toscano (D- Charlottesville).
“We have put Virginia on a clear path to expanding Medicaid. Isn’t it immoral to deprive 400,000 Virginians – our neighbors – of medical insurance? Isn’t it immoral to deprive 30,000 Virginians – our neighbors — of good-paying jobs? Isn’t it immoral to send the hard-earned money of tax-paying Virginians, that should be coming here, to other states? Today, we have made a wise choice and done the right thing,” State Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) said.
  1. McDonnell outlines opposition to Medicaid expansion
  2. Victory, defeat for Medicaid expansion in General Assembly
  3. Committees vote to block Medicaid expansion
  4. Bolling backs proposed expansion of Virginia Medicaid program
  5. House passes health-care reform

House prepares to vote on Senate health care plan

Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 10:45 pm
House Republicans have filed a budget amendment mirroring the state Senate’s approach to extending health care coverage, setting the stage today for a robust debate and recorded vote on the proposal.
Today the House of Delegates and the Senate vote on their versions of the state’s two-year spending plan.
“We have stated all along that our caucus is opposed to Medicaid expansion. We want reforms first,” Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters Wednesday. “This will certainly demonstrate as to where the House is vis-a-vis Medicaid expansion.”
House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said lawmakers are down to “crunch time” as both chambers get ready to back their respective versions of the budget.
A group of conferees — senior negotiators from the two chambers — will begin meeting to hammer out differences between the plans. The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn March 8.
A sharp difference between the two plans is Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law.
“I think it’s very instructive that we get a definitive read right now with their language — there’s no other language before us — where we are,” Cox said.
The GOP-dominated House opposes expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. In its budget, it chose instead to reimburse hospitals for money removed in former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed budget and cuts in reimbursement under new federal health care regulations.
The Democratic-controlled Senate provides more money to hospitals. It also proposes “Marketplace Virginia,” a private insurance plan that would serve the same population that would be covered by Medicaid expansion. It also would replace the federal health insurance marketplace that began operating Jan. 1.
“For business and human reasons, we must take action to close the coverage gap to extend access to affordable health care to thousands of uninsured Virginians and ensure that our federal tax dollars are used in the state,” said House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville.
“I am glad we will have the opportunity to debate one plan to do this on the floor. While there are other plans that may also work, this plan will use market based approaches to close the coverage gap.”
Earlier Wednesday, members of a coalition of Medicaid expansion advocates again urged lawmakers to make health insurance available to potentially 400,000 uninsured Virginians.
As of Tuesday, Virginia has forfeited $250 million in federal funding by refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, said Jill Hanken of Healthcare for All Virginians.
“That’s a troubling milestone. That’s a lot of money that’s been paid by a lot of companies and individual Virginians, but it’s not being used in Virginia,” Hanken said in a news conference at the state Capitol.
“It’s bad enough to lose such a large amount of money, but what troubles us the most is the loss of medical care that the money could have provided for so many uninsured Virginians,” she said.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe said of the reported $250 million: “Today’s announcement is the latest evidence that Virginia cannot afford to let partisan politics prevent us from closing the coverage gap.”
House Republicans maintain that Virginia cannot count on Washington living up to its promised contributions.
“Virginia is one of the nation’s top recipients of federal dollars, receiving well over $125 billion in federal aid, grants, contracts and spending,” said Matthew Moran, a spokesman for House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford County. “That’s nearly double what Virginians paid in federal taxes in 2012. In his remarks to the joint assembly last month, Governor McAuliffe said Virginia was overly dependent on federal spending.
“The House has been very clear that we will not bet the fiscal future of the commonwealth on empty promises and borrowed money from Washington,” Moran said.
At the news conference, Hanken also criticized the budget proposed Sunday by the Republican-dominated House of Delegates. It opposes Medicaid expansion, but it is prepared to restore some cuts made in then-Gov. Bob McDonnell’s introduced budget and provides an additional $3 million a year to free clinics and community health centers.
“The thing about that, $3 million a year compared to $5 million per day through expanding coverage for individuals, that is less than a drop in the bucket,” Hanken said.
The Senate’s “Marketplace Virginia” plan “offers a creative way to cover insurance and keep tax dollars in the commonwealth,” Hanken said.
Dr. Richard Szucs, a Richmond radiologist, said that disease and illness does not distinguish between people who have health insurance and those who don’t.
“As it stands today, Virginia has a basic disparity. People with insurance have a way to pay for diagnosis and treatment that they need. Individuals without coverage must often delay their care or simply do without it,” Szucs said.

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  • ARTICLE: Chamber of commerce groups present health plan
  • Rising costs Rising costs
  • ARTICLE: Senate Finance Committee hears analysis about Medicaid 
  • Medicaid Expansion (From the rust report 28FEB14)
    One of the most controversial issues the General Assembly is dealing with this session is Medicaid expansion. You have read much about it! As you know, Medicaid is a program funded by the U.S. federal and state governments that pays the medical expenses of people who are in certain age and income brackets and therefore unable to pay some or all of their own medical expenses. The question now is whether or not to expand Medicaid.

    The Problem:
    • 1 million Virginians are uninsured (1 in 8 residents) with 359,000 of those earning an income under 138% of poverty, including 47,000 veterans and their families.
    • Since 2004, Virginia has spent more than $1.2 billion subsidizing the cost of indigent care at Virginia hospitals. The cost in 2013 was $137 million and it is increasing every year.
    • The cost of caring for the uninsured is reflected in a 'hidden' tax paid by Virginia health insurance policyholders - that is you and me! It is estimated to be between 2 percent and 10 percent of our insurance premiums.
    • Virginia tax payers and businesses are sending money to Washington for health care for low income Virginians for which we receive no funds back. Between FY2015-FY2022 Virginians will send $13.6 billion and receive nothing in return.
    • The cost of waiting
      • Each day we wait to provide health care for low-income Virginians we forego about $5 million in funds from the federal government from taxes that we are currently sending to the federal government.
      • The uninsured won't disappear if we do nothing. These individuals will seek care in emergency rooms - the most expensive option.
      •  We will continue to subsidize the cost of caring for the uninsured at a cost of more than $137 million from our General Fund budget each year. 
    The Solution - Marketplace Virginia: In its simplest form, Virginia would take the federal money, set up a state exchange (we now have a federal exchange) and allow individuals to purchase healthcare coverage through a private insurance network utilizing the federal funds. This would be a Managed Care Program.

    The Benefits:  
    • Virginia would recapture about $1.7 billion each year we are currently sending to Washington which could be used for:
      • Additional funding for behavioral health, about $202 million
      • Meaningful General Fund Savings, about $137 million
      • Improved access, better outcomes and reduced costs for Virginia
      • Improved mental health facilities in corrections institutions, about $6 million.
      •  According to Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources, about $1 billion in Affordable Care Act costs will be saved between FY2014-FY2022. 
    Recipients of health care insurance:
    • Promotes personal responsibility and accountability for health care services
    • Requires cost sharing up to 5% of income
    •  Includes incentives for job search and work activities. 
    The Risk: 
    • The federal government reneges on the financial commitment they have made. If that occurs, Virginia will discontinue the program as specified in the legislation.

    I am not happy with the Affordable Care Act, "Obamacare", and there are innumerable problems with it including the fact that it cuts into everyone's bottom line by forcing businesses and individuals to pay more to cover the uninsured. As an example according to the Human Resources Director of my engineering firm which self funds its insurance program, has electronic communications and enrollment capabilities, and outsources payroll our costs are therefore 'muted', but we are still paying $135,945 for 2013-2014 in taxes and fees to the federal government and not receiving any benefit. Despite the problems, Obamacare is the law of the land and while numerous efforts to overturn it have been made by Congress, none have been successful. Now we need to find a way to make this work for the benefit of Virginians by finding a solution that protects Virginia taxpayers' hard-earned money and return those dollars flowing across the Potomac to Washington back to Virginia. After carefully and deliberately weighing the options and listening to passionate debates on the floor of the House, I believe Marketplace Virginia is a solution for the citizens of the 86th district and all Virginians. Is it perfect? No, but we simply cannot afford to continue to give the federal government any more of our money and get nothing in return.

    As noted, this matter is very controversial but I would note Marketplace Virginia has broad support in the business community as evidenced by numerous Chambers of Commerce's support. In addition, health providers and the faith community have indicated their support. Finally, I would note the healthcare question is not concluded and I will surmise the debate will go on until the end of this budget cycle which is June 30, 2014.

Did we just prevent a war with Iran? 28FEB14

I hope and pray we did prevent a war with Iran. Check out this latest victory of the people over the warmongers of the gop and the US military-industrial complex. 

For the last four days, Senate Republicans have been holding up every bill in Congress, trying to force a vote on an Iran sanctions bill that experts believe would put us on a path to war.
Hawkish foreign policy bills often pass unanimously. But this time, it's not going to work. And the reason why is a fantastic story.
We've just released a new episode of "The Good Fight" that tells the whole tale—about a grassroots uprising, led by an unlikely crew of outsiders and MoveOn members like you and me who turned the tide.
If you don't like needless war, if you want to know the real story behind the headlines, if believe in giving diplomacy a chance to succeed, then you should check out this podcast.
President Obama is in the middle of high-wire negotiations to ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons—and to take war off the table. But those negotiations were nearly torpedoed by the Iran sanctions bill that popped up just before Christmas and instantly racked up dozens of Senate co-sponsors. The last time a bill like this came to a vote, it passed 99 to 0.
What happened next surprised everybody.
Or at least, almost everybody. If you were one of the MoveOn members who called your senators during the last month or two, maybe it didn't surprise you. And our guests weren't totally surprised, either—because they were at the heart of the lightning grassroots campaign to stop the bill and save the negotiations. They'd learned their lessons from the Iraq war. And they were laser-focused on preventing the next one.
The guests you'll meet on this episode are a fascinating bunch. A young Iranian woman who moved here from Australia to organize for peace—and started a MoveOn petition that drew 150,000 signatures. The leaders of the pro-peace, pro-Israel group J Street. And Ilya Sheyman, who got his start in activism by opposing the Iraq invasion while he was in high school—and now serves in's national leadership. But this isn't just their story: it's a story about all of us.
Remember the time before the Iraq war began? Millions of us marched in the streets—but we were ignored. So we decided to build something unignorable. We've built a progressive movement that has changed American politics, helped elect a president... and can now move the country away from military action, before it happens. Politics is rife with frustrations and disappointments and defeats—but there's something extraordinary here. Something to be proud of. Something we've all helped create.
I'm grateful for the chance to share one of these movement victory stories. Listen in here.
Thanks for all you do.

‘There will be costs’ – Text of Obama’s statement on Ukraine 28FEB14

NOTHING specific, like the freezing of Russian financial assets or halting Aeroflot flights to the U.S. if putin uses any of the Russian military or Russian speaking Ukrainian militias to violate the territory of the Ukrainian nation. I doubt putin is impressed or afraid. I am afraid once he takes over Crimea he will invade and "liberate" all the Ukrainian districts with majority Russian speakers. I am afraid for Ukraine.

The following is the text of President Obama's Friday afternoon statement on Ukraine, as provided by the White House press office.
Good afternoon, everybody.
Over the last several days, the United States has been responding to events as they unfold in Ukraine. Throughout this crisis, we have been very clear about one fundamental principle: The Ukrainian people deserve the opportunity to determine their own future. Together with our European allies, we have urged an end to the violence and encouraged Ukrainians to pursue a course in which they stabilize their country, forge a broad-based government and move to elections this spring.
I also spoke several days ago with President Putin, and my administration has been in daily communication with Russian officials, and we've made clear that they can be part of an international community’s effort to support the stability and success of a united Ukraine going forward, which is not only in the interest of The people of Ukraine and the international community, but also in Russia’s interest.
However, we are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine. Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine, including cultural and economic ties, and a military facility in Crimea, but any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe.
It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people. It would be a clear violence of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws. And just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. And indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.
The events of the past several months remind us of how difficult democracy can be in a country with deep divisions. But the Ukrainian people have also reminded us that human beings have a universal right to determine their own future.
Right now, the situation remains very fluid. Vice President Biden just spoke with Prime Minister — the Prime Minister of Ukraine to assure him that in this difficult moment the United States supports his government’s efforts and stands for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic future of Ukraine. I also commend the Ukrainian government’s restraint and its commitment to uphold its international obligations. We will continue to coordinate closely with our European allies. We will continue to communicate directly with the Russian government. And we will continue to keep all of you in the press corps and the American people informed as events develop.
Thanks very much.

A Short Quiz: How to Determine If Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions & The Long, Sordid History Of Discrimination Against Christians in America 5SEP12&27FEB14

HERE is a refresher for those "martyrs", those propagandist decrying the "war on Christianity" in the US, just a little quiz to verify if your religious liberty is being threatened by our government and / or their leftist agents. From HuffPost.....
Rev. Emily C. Heath
Clergy, United Church of Christ
Posted: 09/05/2012 11:33am

It seems like this election season "religious liberty" is a hot topic. Rumors of its demise are all around, as are politicians who want to make sure that you know they will never do anything to intrude upon it.

I'm a religious person with a lifelong passion for civil rights, so this is of great interest to me. So much so, that I believe we all need to determine whether our religious liberties are indeed at risk. So, as a public service, I've come up with this little quiz. I call it "How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions." Just pick "A" or "B" for each question.

1. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to go to a religious service of my own choosing.
B) Others are allowed to go to religious services of their own choosing.

2. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to marry the person I love legally, even though my religious community blesses my marriage.
B) Some states refuse to enforce my own particular religious beliefs on marriage on those two guys in line down at the courthouse.

3. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am being forced to use birth control.
B) I am unable to force others to not use birth control.

4. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to pray privately.
B) I am not allowed to force others to pray the prayers of my faith publicly.

5. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Being a member of my faith means that I can be bullied without legal recourse.
B) I am no longer allowed to use my faith to bully gay kids with impunity.

6. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to purchase, read or possess religious books or material.
B) Others are allowed to have access books, movies and websites that I do not like.

7. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious group is not allowed equal protection under the establishment clause.
B) My religious group is not allowed to use public funds, buildings and resources as we would like, for whatever purposes we might like.

8. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Another religious group has been declared the official faith of my country.
B) My own religious group is not given status as the official faith of my country.

9. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious community is not allowed to build a house of worship in my community.
B) A religious community I do not like wants to build a house of worship in my community.

10. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to teach my children the creation stories of our faith at home.
B) Public school science classes are teaching science.

Scoring key:

If you answered "A" to any question, then perhaps your religious liberty is indeed at stake. You and your faith group have every right to now advocate for equal protection under the law. But just remember this one little, constitutional, concept: this means you can fight for your equality -- not your superiority.

If you answered "B" to any question, then not only is your religious liberty not at stake, but there is a strong chance that you are oppressing the religious liberties of others. This is the point where I would invite you to refer back to the tenets of your faith, especially the ones about your neighbors.

In closing, no matter what soundbites you hear this election year, remember this: Religious liberty is never secured by a campaign of religious superiority. The only way to ensure your own religious liberty remains strong is by advocating for the religious liberty of all, including those with whom you may passionately disagree. Because they deserve the same rights as you. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 02:25 PM EST

The Long, Sordid History Of Discrimination Against Christians in America

Many of you of you may have heard that Christians have had their freedom trampled upon - again - because AZ Governor Brewer vetoed a bill that would have legalized the ability to discriminate a Christian's god-given right to refuse to do business with icky homosexuals anyone on the basis of their religious convictions.  The first amendment of the Constitution allegedly protects the religious freedom of all Americans.  Just read the religious freedom clause:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...
Despite the language that clearly protects the rights of every person of faith to practice their religion without interference from the government, Christians have been marginalized and attacked for their beliefs for centuries in America.  You may find this hard to believe, but it's all perfectly true.  Consider, for example, the first god-given right that was taken away from Christians in America: The Right to Persecute Witches
Before the constitution was written, Christians freely exercised their religious beliefs regarding the necessity to kill demonic witches.  Consider  perhaps the most famous example of the freedom to exercise one's religion in American History: the Salem Witch Trials.
From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft. Dozens languished in jail for months without trials.
Those were literally the good old days.  Sadly, after the Constitution was ratified, the record of Christians freely exercising their right to eradicate witches from our great nation essentially ended.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Just try to find a state where Christians are permitted to lawfully try and execute the many witches in our midst.  You can't!  Witches are even a protected class according to the US courts!  What better example exists of the current atmosphere of persecution and discrimination against the Christian religion by the Government?  Witches can cast their spells and curses and true believers in the Risen Christ can do nothing to protect themselves from these witches evil influences on our nation.
Imagine yourself as a good Christian man (or woman) today, who, by happenstance or the many demonic influences that run rampant in our society, has the misfortune to run across a witch (or any number of other, similar devil worshiping practitioners of the dark arts).  Can you take out your trusty Bushmaster XM-15 or other firearm and shoot them dead right there on the spot?  Of course you can't, at least not if you claim you shot them in the exercise of your religious faith.  Sure, you could lie and claim you acted out of a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm and thus shooting that witch was a justified act of self-defense, but honestly, should a God-fearing, Jesus-walking believer have to lie merely to pursue the dictates of his or her faith by sending said witch straight to Hell?  Yet that is precisely the position in which today's Christians find themselves.
However, taking away the right of Christians to rid the world of witches was only the beginning of numerous instances where the Government denied the rights of Jesus' followers to put their faith into practice. Follow me below the orange stylized pentagram (* shudders involuntarily *) for the rest of the story.
The Right to Own Slaves
Now I know what some of you are going to say, that slavery is immoral, cruel and savage, and that no one - ever - should be allowed to buy and sell human beings as if they were cattle.  In response all I can say is that it's in the damn (forgive me Lord) Holy Bible!  It's God's own word that some of us are intended to be slaves and others to be slave owners, and when you mess with God's plan for mankind, you set yourself up for a world of cow manure.  It's pretty clear that slave owners back in the day were just practicing their faith as they saw it.  You want proof?  Here's your proof right at ya from Josiah Priest (a Godly name if there ever was one), from his book "Bible Defence of Slavery" published in 1853!
[S]ee Genesis ix, 24—27, as follows: "And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him: and he said, cursed be Canaan (Ham); a servant of SERVANTS shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan (Ham) shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan (Ham) shall be his servant." ...[Bishop] Newton maintains ... that the curse of Noah upon Ham, had a general and an interminable application to the whole [negro] race, in placing them under a peculiar liability of being enslaved by the races of the two other brothers.
The curse, therefore, against Ham and [the negro] race was not sent out on the account of that one sin only. But as the deed was heinous, and withal was in unison with his whole life, character and constitutional make, prior to that deed, the curse, which had slumbered long, was let loose upon him and his posterity, as a general thing, placing them under the ban of slavery, on account of his and their foreseen characters. [...]
The appointment of this race of men to servitude and slavery was a judicial act of God, or, in other words, was a divine judgment. [...]
... The great and everywhere pervading fact of their degraded condition, both now and in all time, more or less, is the very climax-witness that, in the above conclusion, we are not mistaken—namely, that the negro race, as a people, are judicially given over to a state or peculiar liability of being enslaved by the other races.
Hey, you don't mess with divine judgment, if that's what you believe.  Now I am well aware of all the prominent so-called 'anti-slavery' Christians of the time who vehemently argued that slavery was against God's will, but they were free to exercise their right not to own slaves based on their religious beliefs.  Christians who believed that slavery was divinely ordered by God, on the other hand, had their right to own slaves ripped from the cold dead hands in the terrible War of Northern Aggression.  Why were the abolitionists' religious beliefs tolerated, while the faith of so many good Christian slave owners disregarded and their property rights stolen by the same Federal Government that tolerated the beliefs of Muslims, Jews and "Liberal Christians" (which we all know are not true Christians - but I digress).  Hypocrisy, thy name is Abraham Lincoln!
Of course, after the end of that terrible war, other Christians have fought many losing battles in defense of their right of religious freedom.  For example:
The Right to Take More Than One Wife
The Mormons (okay, I know they're heretics, but in this one instance let's accept that they are at least semi-Christians) were coerced into accepting monogamy before the State of Utah was permitted to join the Union.

...Church president Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal on Sept 25, 1890, “I have arrived at a point in the history of my life as the president of the Church…where I am under the necessity of acting for the temporal salvation of the church.”  On that date, just four months after the fateful decision of the Supreme Court, President Woodruff issued the “Official Declaration” which proclaimed the end of polygamy among the Mormons:
    Inasamuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.
    In the October 6 session of the general conference of the church, the congregation “unanimously sustained” this declaration as “authoritative and binding.”  Polygamy no longer had official sanction.
Losing the right to enjoy the sexual favors take more than one wife might not have been as bad as losing all of one's slaves, but it was still a persecution of people of faith and a denial to practice that faith as they saw fit.  And, if that meant denying 60 year-old patriarchs from marrying thirteen year old girls, well so be it.
A Brief List of Other Examples of Christian Persecution
Well, I could go one forever (and I would if I had the time and energy), but a brief list of other rights the federal and state governments have taken from the faithful should be sufficient to make my point.
Health Care
Christians no longer can pray to God to heal their children, but instead face imprisonment for practicing their beliefs regarding spiritual health care.
Defense of Christianity from Baby Killers
The right to execute abortionists and bomb abortion clinics has also been denied the most devout followers of Jesus Christ. Whatever happened to "Onward Christian Soldiers?"  Apparently they are all deemed terrorists now instead of freedom fighters.
The Gay Agenda to Stick It to Christians
And of course, the latest blow, Gov. Brewer's veto of a bill that would have protected the right of any individual to practice his or her religion by discriminating against teh Gay.  One can only hope that our Lord will be merciful, and not punish the State of Arizona with a plague of toads or possibly an ever worsening drought for failing to allow his people to follow his dictates and not force themselves to become servants to Sodomites.
Why All the Hate For Christ's Most Devoted Followers?
One must ask oneself, where did our great nation, founded on Judeo-Christian principles (mostly Christian, no offense to the Jews), go so disastrously off track when it came to protecting the rights of Christians?  Well, the answer to that question, as to most issues that plague us, was an activist Supreme Court. Specifically the Supreme Court of 1878, which decided the case of Reynolds v. United States when it interpreted the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment as narrowly as possible.  Naturally the case involved a Christian (okay, a Mormon, but as previously noted we'll stretch the definition of Christianity in cases like these).  The case involved a man charged with violating the law against polygamy.  he argued protection under the first amendment. Of course, the Court found a way to screw him over.  Here is the core of their decision:

Accordingly, at the first session of the first Congress, the amendment now under consideration was proposed with others by Mr. Madison. It met the views of the advocates of religious freedom, and was adopted. Mr. Jefferson afterwards, in reply to an address to him by a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association (8 id. 113), took occasion to say: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions -- I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."
Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.
Let me remind you that this same Supreme Court held heathen Indians members of the Native American Church could be discriminated against when they smoked peyote as part of their "religion." Then our liberal Congress turned right around and changed the law to permit them to smoke peyote as often as they wished as part of their religious rituals.
So, taking psychedelic drugs if you're part of some cult (or a resident of Colorado and the Socialist State of Washington) is okay, but obeying the commands of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and his Father, get spit upon.  I mean, what is more subversive of good order than gays flamboyantly prancing around and holding orgies in front of the kids spending their tourist dollars at desert resorts and spas while young people get high (legally in Colorado and Washington)?  No wonder our country is in such a mess.
All I can add to this, is God* help us.
* By which I mean the true God of the Bible as revealed by scripture, prophecy, and broadcast to millions every day by outstanding evangelical preachers like Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham and others too numerous to mention.
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27 February 2014

To Young Christians Speaking Out Against Anti-Gay Discrimination: Thank You & You Brought Me a Beer — and Took My Picture 27&24FEB14

JUST as the wildly popular prosperity gospel (a perversion of Christianity justifying greed and the neglect of the needy), the discrimination gospel, a perversion of Christianity justifying adaptation of secular laws that are based on hate and prejudice, do more harm to Christianity in this country than any of the right wing fabricated attacks on our faith. There is nothing Christian about endorsing, encouraging and participating in discrimination in the secular world against anyone, for any reason. The religious can live their private and public religious lives as they feel their faith teaches them to. But in this Republic, and I thank God this is still a Republic and not a theocracy, the rights of all are protected equally (at least are supposed to be) by our constitution and laws. Churches and all other faith communities can not be forced to accept practices they believe violate their faith. They can not be forced to endorse and perform any marriage they feel is immoral, they can deny whoever they choose membership in their church and deny whoever they choose access to the sacraments of their faith. But individuals do not have the right, in a Republic, to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else in the public sphere. That is the beauty of the separation of Church and State. Not only is the Church (all religions) protected from the State, the State (all citizens) are protected from the Church. This from Sojourners on the controversy over LGBT rights, same sex marriage and legalized secular discrimination raging in all parts of the Christian church in America....
“Never in my life has my very faith been called into question like this.”
Jesus is love illustration, patrice6000 /
Jesus is love illustration, patrice6000 /

That’s what young evangelical writer Jonathan Merritt told me this week. His statement followed a media firestorm, ignited when both he and Kirsten Powers, weighed in on proposed laws in Kansas and Arizona that would have allowed business owners to deny service to gay couples, based on conservative religious beliefs about homosexuality. Merritt and Powers each suggested that justifying legal discrimination against gay and lesbian couples might not be the best form of Christian outreach and raised consistency issues of whether discrimination would also be applied to other less than “biblical” marriages, or if just gays and lesbians were being singled out.
Their columns in both the Religion News Service and the Daily Beast have provoked intense responses from many Southern Baptists (where Merritt has his own heritage), those who call themselves Neo or “New” Calvinists, and other assorted critics from the political right.
Neither Merritt nor Powers took clear theological positions on all the sexuality issues involved. But both have been stunned by the responses from emails, tweets, and angry phone calls. The 1,200 Twitter notifications, messages, and calls from “leaders” that Merritt has received in the last few days include, “You only pretend to worship Jesus.” “You’re not a Christian.” “You are the enemies of Christianity.” “You’re marginalized now.” “You’re damaged goods.” “You’re on the outs now.”
Merritt and Powers were not questioning the gospel; they were “just asking whether we should discriminate against a whole group of people.” Both columnists believe Christians can honestly disagree on these complicated questions surrounding sexuality, but wanted to raise a discussion about whether passing laws that discriminate based on one religious point of view was wise, especially in this rapidly changing culture.
As proof of the cultural shifts that are underway, some striking new data in a report by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute came out this week. The report shows that most religiously unaffiliated Americans now support civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. But so do most white mainline Protestants, white and Hispanic Catholics, and Jews. The generational divide is even more dramatic: strong majorities — across the political spectrum — of 18- to 33-year-old millennials support protecting gays and lesbians in the workplace, and most, religious and not, support the right of same-sex couples to marry. The report even states that “White evangelical Protestant millennials are more than twice as likely to favor same-sex marriage as the oldest generation of white evangelical Protestants (43% vs. 19%).”
The PRRI polling also confirms earlier data showing that 70 percent of young people believe “that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues.” More religious leaders are becoming painfully aware that this is one of the primary reasons that young people are leaving or not joining churches today.
That is why the articles by young Christian writers like Jonathan Merritt and Kirsten Powers are so important, and the vitriolic attacks on them by some of their elders is so alarming and sad.
Many argue that the heart of this debate isn’t sexuality, but religious liberty. Merritt addresses that concern, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s insightful distinction between private and public domain:
“I think there is a great difference between the two … I don’t think anybody should have the right to just come in my house that I may privately own …. But now if I turn my house into a store — if I turn it into a department store, if I turn it into a lunch counter, or anything like that — then I have certain obligations to the public beyond my particular whims … If a business is in the public market, then it cannot deny access …. [a business owner] should not have the freedom to choose his customers on the basis of race or religion.”
Differing theological views on important issues of sexuality will need time, patience, deep biblical reflection, respectful discourse, and religious liberty to be worked out in the churches. But the perception of Christian faith is in grave danger when Christians try to use the law to publically discriminate against those who don’t adhere to their point of view. I am a deep believer in religious liberty, but it must not be used as an excuse for discrimination in the public square or the public marketplace against people with whom we disagree.
And let me express my gratitude for a new generation of Christians who are trying to positively raise these tough issues for the sake of our witness in the world. As one of the few wise commentators said back to Merritt and Powers, “It’s hard to witness to people that you won’t serve.” Unlike what some of their critics have said, I say to these young voices: you will not be “on the outs” but rather, you are keeping many of your generation “in” the conversation about faith. Thank you.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners . His book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE . Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

You Brought Me a Beer — and Took My Picture

My flight home from Phoenix over the weekend got pushed back, so I wound up spending an extra night at an airport hotel. Also, I got an $8 food voucher from the airline. I decided to eat at the hotel.
Mug of beer, Yellowj /
Mug of beer, Yellowj /

The restaurant was located on the top floor of the hotel with a nice view of downtown. There was a small bar near the entrance. A handful of hotel visitors were enjoying complimentary drinks and watching the Olympics on a flat-screen television.
I was greeted at the door by Melody, a transplant from Erie, Pa., who doubles as a bartender and a server. When I mentioned that I had a food voucher, she offered condolences for my scrambled travel plans. She also offered me a free beer.
Glass of red ale in hand, I picked a table in a corner of the restaurant, ordered a spinach salad and went back to reading a book about the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the long struggle to get the country to live up to its ideal that everyone should be treated as an equal child of God.
I couldn’t help but think about my 10 days in Arizona watching the state legislature debate and ultimately pass a bill that would allow business owners and individuals to refuse service to anyone on grounds of religious freedom. The impetus was a New Mexico case involving a photographer who refused to take photos of a gay couple.
The bill was promoted as a religious liberty issue. Opponents pointed out that it was the definition of discrimination — people would be singled out for unequal treatment.
The bill isn't limited to sexual preference. It could allow anyone to refuse to serve anyone so long as they can justify it as an exercise in religion. And there would be no requirement that the person refusing service is being consistent in their practice. For instance, they could refuse to serve someone who violates one Biblical injunction while readily serving those who violate many other Biblical injunctions.
Isn’t this discrimination counterfeiting as religion? Personal prejudice cross-dressing as devotion?
And I couldn’t escape the delicious irony in all of it: The bill was promoted by those claiming to follow a Jewish rabbi who urges his followers to love without hesitation or reservation and to serve others without condition or judgment.
Is it any wonder why so many people throw up their hands and run away from what sometimes gets passed off as religion? Isn't it interesting that those who describe themselves as non-religious often grasp the spirit of religion far better than those who go to church religiously?
As those thoughts went through my head, another glass of beer showed up at my table. During one of her passes down the aisle, Melody noticed that I was nearly finished with the first one and went out of her way to bring me another.
She showed me an act of kindness. She did it without inquiring about my beliefs, my lifestyle, or my values.
She saw I was thirsty and gave me a drink. That’s all.
Sound familiar?
When I was thirsty, you brought me a beer. When I wanted a photo, you took my picture. You did it with kindness and without question. You showed me what it means to serve unconditionally.
You lived those words: Love one another.
Joe Kay is a professional writer living in the Midwest.

Today: Judge Who Let Off "Affluenza" Teen Murderer Rules Out Any Jail Time At All & Texas teen sentenced to 10 years for deadly punch 6FEB14&15MAR12

THIS story had a brief appearance in the national media, but not enough to slam it home to the American people. Expect a lot more of this as the 1% get closer to transforming our nation from a Republic to a Third World Plutocracy? Think I'm taking it a bit too far? Really? If it isn't so how is it that this judge was able to get away with her brand of justice? And especially when this same FOTZE judge sentenced a black teen to 10 years in prison for causing the death of a man in 2011. The reason for the difference in these sentences is right there in black and white (and rich and poor). If you are really outraged you can call District Judge fotze jean boyd 817 838 4600

by SemDem
Recall last year a 16-year old rich kid, intoxicated and on Valium, plowed into and killed four pedestrians. He was indignant and non-remorseful from the moment the cops arrived and throughout the trial. The defense attorney argued that the kid's "cushy upbringing" should set him free because it didn't allow him to understand the consequences.  Incredibly, District Judge Jean Boyd agreed with the defense and awarded 10 years probation.  America was introduced to a new term:  "affluenza".  
Jean Boyd, who had no trouble sentencing a less affluent black kid to a 10-year prison term for less, had the final opportunity to do the right thing this week.
She already ruled out any punishment for the guilty pleas of intoxicated manslaughter last year, but at the time did not sentence the teen regarding the intoxication assault charges for the people who didn't die but were severely injured (one is paralyzed and the other suffers severe injuries).
Prosecutors this week asked again for jail time.
Again, Judge Boyd said absolutely not.  She closed the hearing and declined to add a separate verdict for the two disabled victims.
Maybe she thinks the kid will learn about responsibility when he goes horseback riding, does yoga and has chef-prepared meals at the Newport Academy in Newport, California.
Something for you to think about today as you muddle through your day as part of the "other" America.
Join the thousands who signed the petition to get Judge Jean Boyd OFF THE BENCH!

9:37 AM PT: Several have noted that Judge Boyd retires this year in December.  This is so egregious that I hope the media keeps a close eye on who her next employer is.
From posted comments
Judge Jean Boyd is a Republican judge who has presided over the 323rd Family District Court since 1995. Her office can be reached at 817-838-4600.
Boyd, ironically, will never face voters again after announcing her retirement. Her term ends in December 2014. You may wonder if a re-election campaign on the heels of this decision might have affected her position, but you should know that Tarrant County prosecutors already worried about her. “But she was just following the law,” her defenders argue. And, yes, the juvenile justice system weighs more toward rehabilitation than punishment, unlike the adult system. These are not unfair points.
They also don’t matter as much as this: Boyd didn’t have to sentence young Ethan Couch to 20 years, as the prosecution asked, even if that meant only 5 years per death caused by his stolen-beer-fueled joyride and chain-reaction wreck June 15. She could have split the difference between 20 and, well, nothing, as the defense asked.
And not just the injured
Killed in the crash were Burleson youth minister Brian Jennings, mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles and budding chef Breanna Mitchell. Brian Jennings’ wife, Shauna Jennings, Hollie Boyles’ husband and surviving daughter, Eric Boyles and Marguerite Boyles, and Breana Mitchell’s mother, Marla Mitchell, have all filed civil suits against Couch, his parents, Fred and Tonya Couch, and Fred Couch’s company, Cleburne Metal Works. The families of three teens injured in the crash —Sergio Molina, Lucas McConnell and Isaiah McLaughlin — have also filed civil suits
Fred and Tonya Couch have been included as defendants in the lawsuits because of allegations they did not properly supervise their son. Cleburne Metal Works is included as a defendant because the truck Ethan Couch was driving at the time of the accident was registered to the company.

Texas teen sentenced to 10 years for deadly punch

Posted: March 15, 2012 - 10:29pm

FORT WORTH — A 14-year-old Fort Worth boy has been sentenced to 10 years in a juvenile jail for killing a stranger with a single unprovoked punch.
State District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced the boy Thursday. The teen, who is not being identified because he is a juvenile, admitted to a manslaughter charge earlier this year following the October attack on 40-year-old Mark Gregory.
A statement from the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office says the boy and two friends hopped out of a car that night when they saw Gregory walking. The punch knocked the 106-pound Gregory down and he hit his head on the pavement. He died two days later. 

Harry Reid slams Koch brothers & VIDEO Harry Reid doubles down on Koch criticism 26FEB14

THE koch brothers are evil. They are greedy and they are liars and they are behind the massive propaganda campaign attacking Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. The don't give a damn about the common American, their goal is amass as much money and power as they can for their own benefit because they feel they are entitled to it. At least Sen Majority leader Harry Reid D NV isn't afraid of them, and isn't afraid to challenge their lies in public. Check out the documentary on david and charles koch, The Koch Brothers: Exposed, and search for more post on the koch brothers on this blog. From Daily Kos.....
Joan McCarter
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks to the media after a caucus meeting with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill in Washington August 1, 2011.
Harry Reid isn't going to turn the Senate over to the Koch brothers without a fight.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused the billionaire Koch brothers of having “no conscience” and spreading lies about Obamacare through political ads. Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by Charles and David Koch, is spending millions attacking vulnerable Democrats for their Obamacare support using “horror stories” that are untrue, Reid said on Wednesday.
“The Koch brothers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars telling Americans that Obamacare is bad for them. It’s easy to do if you have no conscience and are willing to lie like they are, through the ads they’re promoting. But the Kochs should stick to what they know: The oil business … where they’ve made their multi-billions of dollars,” Reid said.
The Koch brothers' response? Of course Charles and David Koch aren't personally responsible for the ads the astroturf organizations they wholly fund run, and also too, Harry Reid is a bad person. Misdirection alert! “It is disgraceful that Senator Reid and his fellow Democrats are attacking a cancer victim as part of their campaign against Charles Koch and David Koch,” says Koch spokesman. Since the Kochs don't actually want to answer to the fact that they're lying in their ads, they play the cancer victim card. A cancer victim who, by the way, would lose all the protections she just received from the Affordable Care Act if the Koch brothers get their way. Reid can take heart in the fact, however, that the Koch's have a lack of sense to go with their lack of conscience. With AFP, they spent $122 million in 2012 to get the law repealed. The $27 million spent as of February 4 in this cycle is just spending good money after bad. Their crusade for repeal is an increasingly losing cause.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Wed Feb 26, 2014 at 11:13 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos

Wed Feb 26, 2014 at 02:54 PM PST

Harry Reid doubles down on Koch criticism

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a few things to say about the Koch brothers and the false campaign ads they're running around the country in Senate races. After some more thought, Reid decided he had a lot more to say:
"What is going on with these two brothers who made billions of dollars last year in an attempt to buy our democracy is does honest, deceptive, false and unfair. Just because you have huge amounts of money you should not be able to run these false, misleading ads by the hundreds of millions of dollars. They hide behind all kinds of entities," Reid said. "It's not just their front organization, Americans For Prosperity. But they give money to all kinds of organizations, lots of money. You see, when you make billions of dollars a year you can be as immoral and dishonest as your money will allow you to be. It's too bad that they're trying to buy America and it's time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers, who are about as un-American as anyone that I can imagine."
Democrats are recognizing a salient fact: people don't like the idea that a couple of billionaire brothers think they can buy a government. So they're specifically running against that big money and the Koch brothers. They're responding to the ads the Kochs are running in Michigan by pointing out that they are trying to buy a Senate seat. Which is exactly what they're trying to do.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Wed Feb 26, 2014 at 02:54 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos. 


Major General Criticizes Dick Cheney For Attacking Obama On Foreign Policy 27FEB14

dick cheney slapped down big time! Well said Maj Gen Eaton!!!!! Thank you!!!!!
Major General Paul D. Eaton criticized former Vice President Dick Cheney for hitting President Barack Obama on foreign policy.
On Monday, Cheney criticized a proposal that called for shrinking the Army to its smallest size in 74 years, saying it would do "long-term damage to our military."
“And I think the whole thing is not driven by any change in world circumstances, it is driven by budget considerations," Cheney said. "[Obama] would much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.”
Cheney failed to note that military families redeemed more than $100 million in food stamps on military bases in 2013.
During a phone interview with SiriusXM Progress, Eaton slammed Cheney for his comments considering his role in Iraq.
"Vice President Cheney is one of the architects of the worst foreign policy disaster of the 21st century," Eaton said. "We're young, but the decision to attack Iraq, and to do so in such an incompetent manner, does not give him a platform to say anything about the foreign policy under execution today."
"Vice President Cheney is who he is. It's unfortunate that he has not followed the guidance and the model of his former boss, President Bush, and gone off quietly to write his memoir," Eaton also said.
Listen to Eaton's comments on SiriusXM Progress below: 

Ukraine: Pro-Russia Gunmen Seize Government Buildings In Crimea 27FEB14

FULFILLING his role as fascist dictator aggressor Russian pres vladmir put has moved troops closer to the Ukrainian border and is making threats about the safety and security and rights of Russian speaking Ukrainians. He will use the Russian Naval base in Crimea to encourage Crimean separatists and will fabricate persecution of Russian speaking Crimeans to seize the entire peninsula. The American government and the EU have warned putin and Russia against military action against Ukraine, don't expect any decisive action once putin makes his move. From HuffPost.....
Posted: Updated:

By Alessandra Prentice

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Armed men seized the parliament in Ukraine's Crimea region on Thursday and raised the Russian flag, alarming Kiev's new rulers, who urged Moscow not to abuse its navy base rights on the peninsula by moving troops around.

Crimea, the only Ukrainian region with an ethnic Russian majority, is the last big bastion of opposition to the new leadership in Kiev since President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted at the weekend and provides a base for Russia's Black Sea fleet.

"I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet," said Olexander Turchinov, Ukraine's acting president.

"Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory (the base) will be seen by us as military aggression," he said, a day after 150,000 Russian troops near Ukraine were put on high alert.

The Ukraine Foreign Ministry also summoned Russia's acting ambassador in Kiev for immediate consultations as the face-off between Moscow and the West over Ukraine revived memories of the Cold War.

The United States called on Moscow to avoid doing anything risky over Ukraine, which has been in crisis since November, when Yanukovich abandoned a proposed trade pact with the EU and turned instead towards Russia.

The fresh turmoil in Crimea sent the Ukrainian hryvnia tumbling to a new record low of 11 to the dollar on the Reuters dealing platform.

The International Monetary Fund said it would send a team to Kiev in the coming days.

Ukraine's new finance minister, Oleksander Shlapak, said he hoped the IMF would work on an aid package of at least $15 billion. Ukraine says it needs $35 billion over the next two years to avoid bankruptcy.

The minister also said he expected the hryvnia to strengthen soon at around 10 to the dollar.


Ukraine's new rulers pressed ahead with efforts to restore stability to the divided country, approving formation of a national coalition government with former economy minister Arseny Yatseniuk as its proposed head.

Yatseniuk told parliament that Yanukovich had driven the country to the brink of collapse. He accused the deposed president of stripping state coffers bare and said $70 billion had disappeared into offshore accounts.

"The state treasury has been robbed and is empty," he said.

Yanukovich said on Thursday he was still president of Ukraine and warned its "illegitimate" rulers that people in the southeastern and southern regions would never accept mob rule.

In a statement sent to Russian news agencies from an unknown location, Yanukovich railed against the "extremists" who had stolen power in Ukraine, threatened violence against himself and his closest aides and passed "illegal" laws.

As the drama unfolded in Crimea, there were mixed signals from Moscow, which put warplanes along its western borders on combat alert. Earlier it said it would take part in discussions on an IMF package for Ukraine.

The fear of military escalation prompted expressions of concern from the West, with NATO urging Russia not to do anything that would "escalate tension or create misunderstanding".

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski called the seizure of government buildings in Crimea a "very dangerous game".

"This is a drastic step, and I'm warning those who did this and those who allowed them to do this, because this is how regional conflicts begin," he told a news conference.

It was not immediately known who was occupying the parliament and government buildings in the regional capital Simferopol and they issued no demands, but witnesses said they appeared to be ethnic Russian separatists.


Interfax news agency quoted a witness as saying there were about 60 heavily armed people inside. No one had been hurt when the buildings were seized in the early hours by Russian speakers in uniforms that did not carry identification markings.

"We were building barricades in the night to protect parliament. Then this young Russian guy came up with a pistol ... we all lay down, some more ran up, there was some shooting and around 50 went in through the window," Leonid Khazanov, an ethnic Russian, told Reuters.

"I asked them what they wanted, and they said 'To make our own decisions, not to have Kiev telling us what to do'."

There was also anger at the invasion of parliament.

Alexander Vostruyev, 60, in a leather flat cap and white beard, said: "It's disgrace that the flag if a foreign country is flying on our parliament ... It's like a man coming home to find his wife in bed with another man."

About 100 police gathered in front of the parliament, and a similar number of people carrying Russian flags later marched up to the building chanting "Russia, Russia" and holding a sign calling for a Crimean referendum.

One of them, Alexei, 30, said: "Crimea is autonomous. The government in Kiev are fascists, and what they're doing is illegal ... We need to show our support for the guys inside."

About 50 pro-Russia supporters from Sevastopol, where part of Russia's Black Sea navy is based, lined up shoulder-to-shoulder facing police in front of parliament in Simferopol.

Gennady Basov, their leader, said: "We need to organize ourselves like this to maintain order while this illegal and unconstitutional government operates in Kiev.

Ukraine's new leaders have been voicing alarm over signs of separatism in Crimea. Acting interior minister Arsen Avakov said the attackers had automatic weapons and machine guns.

"Provocateurs are on the march. It is the time for cool heads," he said on Facebook.

The regional prime minister said he had spoken to the people inside the building by telephone, but they had not made any demands or said why they were inside. They had promised to call him back but had not done so, he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ignored calls by ethnic Russians in Crimea to reclaim the territory handed to the Soviet Ukraine by Soviet Communist leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Russia must be transparent about military exercises along Ukraine's border and not take any steps that could be misinterpreted or "lead to miscalculation during a delicate time".

But Russia's foreign ministry said Moscow would defend the rights of its compatriots. It expressed concern about "large-scale human rights violations", attacks and vandalism in Crimea.

Crimea is the only region of Ukraine where ethnic Russians are the majority, though many ethnic Ukrainians in other eastern areas speak Russian as their first language.
A respected Russian news organization reported that President Viktor Yanukovych, who was driven out of Kiev by a three-month protest movement, was staying in a Kremlin sanatorium just outside Moscow.
"I have to ask Russia to ensure my personal safety from extremists," Yanukovych said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies on Thursday. He said he still considers himself president and sees the new Ukrainian authorities as illegitimate.
Shortly after, the same three Russian news agencies quoted an unnamed Russian official saying that Yanukovych's request for protection "was satisfied on the territory of Russia."
Oleksandr Turchynov, who stepped in as acting president after Yanukovych's flight, condemned the takeover of government buildings in Crimea as a "crime against the government of Ukraine." He warned that any move by Russian troops off of their base in Crimea "will be considered a military aggression."
"Unidentified people with automatic weapons, explosives and grenades have taken over the governmental buildings and the Parliament building in the autonomous region of Crimea," he said. "I have given orders to the military to use all methods necessary to protect the citizens, punish the criminals, and to free the buildings."
In Kiev, lawmakers chose Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the new prime minister. He will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S.
Shortly before the lawmakers chose him as the leader of the new Cabinet, Yatsenyuk said Ukraine doesn't want a fight with Russia, but insisted the country wouldn't accept the secession of the southern Crimea region.
He said Crimea "has been and will be a part of Ukraine."
Yanukovych fled after riot police attacked protesters in Kiev's central square, killing more than 80 people, and European and Russian officials intervened. He has not been seen publicly since Saturday, when he said he remained the legitimately elected president — a position that has been backed by Russia.
Russia's respected RBK news organization reported Wednesday evening that Yanukovych was staying at the Barvikha sanatorium, which is run by the presidential administration's property department. The spokesman for this department, Viktor Khrekov, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he has no information about this.
The RBK report was impossible to confirm, but security at the Ukraina Hotel was unusually heavy late Wednesday, with police watching from parked vehicles outside and guards posted throughout the lobby. Some of Yanukovych's allies, also reported to have been at the hotel, may have still been there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman also said he had no information about Yanukovych's reported arrival in Moscow.
In a clear warning to Ukraine, Putin on Wednesday ordered massive military exercises involving most of the military units in western Russia. On Thursday, as part of the exercises, fighter jets were put on combat alert and were patrolling the border, Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement. It didn't specify the areas where patrol missions were being conducted. The military also announced measures to tighten security at the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on the Crimean peninsula in southeastern Ukraine.
The military maneuvers prompted a sharp rebuke from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who warned Russia that any military intervention in Ukraine would be a "grave mistake."
The Russian Foreign Ministry voiced concern Thursday about the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine and vowed to protect their interests. State-owned ITAR-Tass news agency quoted a statement read at a session of the ministry's board on Thursday, saying that Russia "will have a firm and uncompromising response to violations of the rights of compatriots by foreign states."
Russia has accused Ukraine's interim leaders of failing to control radicals who threaten the Russia-speaking population in Ukraine's east and south, which includes the Crimean Peninsula.
Witnesses said the gunmen in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital, wore unmarked camouflage uniforms and carried rocket-propelled grenades, sniper rifles and other weapons. They raised the Russian flag over the local parliament building.
The men did not immediately voice any demands and threw a flash grenade in response to a journalist's questions. They wore black and orange ribbons, a Russian symbol of the victory in World War II, and put up a sign reading "Crimea is Russia."
Maxim, a pro-Russian activist who refused to give his last name, said he and other activists had camped overnight outside the local parliament in Simferopol when 50-60 heavily armed men wearing flak jackets and carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers and sniper rifles took over the building.
"Our activists were sitting there all night calmly, building the barricades," he said. "At 5 o'clock unknown men turned up and went to the building. They got into the courtyard and put everyone on the ground.
"They were asking who we were. When we said we stand for the Russian language and Russia, they said: 'Don't be afraid. We're with you.' Then they began to storm the building bringing down the doors," he said. "They didn't look like volunteers or amateurs; they were professionals. This was clearly a well-organized operation."
"Who are they?" he added. "Nobody knows."
A convoy of seven armored personnel carriers was seen on a road near the village of Ukromnoye, about 10 kilometers (some 6 miles) away from the city of Simferopol. In Moscow, Russia's Foreign Ministry said that Russia was abiding by an agreement with Ukraine that sharply restricts troops movements, but acknowledged some unspecified troops movements, claiming they didn't violate the deal, the Interfax news agency reported.
In a statement, the local government said Crimean Prime Minister Anatoly Mogilyev had tried to negotiate with the gunmen but was told "they were not authorized to negotiate and present demands."
Ukraine's acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said on his Facebook page that police were sealing off the area.
"Measures have been taken to counter extremist actions and not allow the situation to escalate into an armed confrontation in the center of the city," he said.
Phone calls to the Crimean legislature rang unanswered, and its website was down.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's currency, the hryvnia, dropped further to a new record low of 11.25 to the U.S. dollar, a sign of the country's financial distress.
One of the new government's first tasks will be to seek rescue loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The finance ministry has pegged the country's needs at $35 billion dollars for this year and next to pay salaries and debts and cover the large budget deficit.
Associated Press writers Maria Danilova and Nataliya Vasilyeva and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
AP Photo

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