Saturday, March 16, 2013

Paul edges Rubio to win CPAC straw poll

Rand Paul edged out Marco Rubio in the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference Saturday, reinforcing their standing as the preeminent favorites of the Republican base heading into 2016.

Sen. Paul (R-Ky.) received 25 percent and Sen. Rubio (R-Fla.) 23 percent of the 2,930 votes cast by attendees at the conference. Former Sen. Rick Santorum finished third, with 8 percent.

As the results were read to the crowd, Paul and Rubio both received large cheers and ovations. Trailing further behind: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie finished fourth with 7 percent, then Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisc.) with 6 percent and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with 5 percent.

(PHOTOS: CPAC straw poll results)

Trailing them were Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The other 14 names on the straw ballot, and an additional 44 names written in, received a total of 14 percent.

Half of the votes cast in the straw poll came from attendees between the ages of 18 and 25, and two-thirds were men. The crowd was torn over the Republicans in Congress: only 54 percent approved of their performance.

Earlier Saturday, Palin riled up the crowd on the third and final day of CPAC with a speech that unloaded on the entries of her lengthy enemies list: know-it-all Beltway insiders, Karl Rove, big-government nannies and, of course, the mainstream media.
Taking the stage to Shania Twain’s “She’s Not Just A Pretty Face” and pulling out a Big Gulp mid-speech — a dig at Republican New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s crackdown on oversized sugary soda — Palin served up almost 30 minutes of uninterrupted red meat and left the crowd of activists more than satisfied based on their response.

At one point, she even made an off-color joke about her and her husband Todd’s anatomy, as she was belittling Democrats’ gun control push. She noted how Todd bought her a gun rack for Christmas, then said: “He’s got the rifle, I’ve got the rack.”

Her appearance before a crowd that was very much her element highlighted Palin’s transition from No. 2 on the party ticket to conservative entertainer. With no obvious interest in running for another political office and no TV presence anymore on Fox News, Palin’s clout within the party is vastly diminished — and other Republican rising stars like Rubio, Paul and Ted Cruz have filled the void.


In her typical boisterous and confrontational style, Palin delivered an unapologetic defense of conservative principles, asserting that the GOP doesn’t need to “rebrand” itself but instead needs to fight back against President Barack Obama and establishment Republicans.

The straw poll results reflected a divide among conservative activists on a few key issues. Half of respondents said the U.S. should take a step back on foreign policy and let allies fend for themselves. Only one-third favored a more muscular approach to national security. One in five described themselves as on the fence.

On the use of drones, an issue that Paul filibustered over last week in the Senate, 86 percent of straw poll participants opposed the use of drones to kill U.S. citizens and 70 percent oppose them to spy on U.S. citizens.

On fiscal issues, 16 percent said politicians should cut spending and raise taxes to deal with the deficit. But the vast majority want only spending cuts. Seven in 10 support targeted cuts to replace the sequester, as opposed to across-the-board cuts.

As for Palin, who dominated the day’s headlines out of the conference, she had one overarching message for Washington politicians of both parties: “Get over yourself.” 

“Let’s be clear about one thing: we’re not here to rebrand a party, we’re here to rebuild a country,” she said, getting a standing ovation from the crowd. “We’re not here to dedicate ourselves to new talking points coming from D.C. We’re not here to put a fresh coat of rhetorical paint on our party. We’re not here to abandon our principles in a contest of government giveaways, that’s a game we’ll never ever win.”

She quoted former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in insisting that conservatives stand strong in their principles even in the face of defeat.

“Mrs. Thatcher advised conservatives to focus their concern first and foremost on the people. She said look at every problem from the grassroots, not from the top down,” Palin said. “She also cautioned conservatives not to go wobbly on their beliefs to which I offer a hearty, ‘Amen, sistah!’”

The former vice presidential candidate also took a less-than-veiled dig at Karl Rove and his efforts to avoid nominating bad Republican candidates like Todd Akin who go on to lose.

“The last thing we need is Washington, D.C., vetting our candidates,” she said. “The Architects can head on back to the great Lone Star State and put their names on some ballot.”

She reveled in the attention from the CPAC crowd, saying the conference “feels like home even though it’s only my second time here.”

Palin accused Obama of introducing a state of permanent campaigning in the country. 

“The election came and went but the campaign never stopped. At the time when our count is desperate for leadership we get a permanent campaign,” she said. “Mr. President, we admit it, you won. Accept it. Now step away from the teleprompter and do your job.”

(Palin, too, was speaking from a teleprompter.)

Ultimately, she said, politicians in D.C. are “too scripted” and conservatives need to fight for new leaders.

“America, you deserve better than that,” she said. “We deserve better than the people who call themselves our leaders, but we won’t get it unless we’re ready to fight.”

Palin was among a collection of speakers on the third and final day of the conference that included both rising stars in the party and presidential campaign veterans who offered their thoughts on the GOP’s future.

The CPAC crowd gave standing ovations to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Conservative activists also heard from ex-presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann.

Saturday closes the three-day conservative confab, which will culminate in the evening with the results of the CPAC presidential straw poll.

Though Palin was by far the crowd favorite of the day, another speaker who got an enthusiastic response — albeit of a different style — was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who spoke to a packed house despite the early hour of his speech.

Walker spoke about how he’s worked to ease dependence on government aid in his state. In particular, he highlighted his work to require Wisconsin’s food stamp recipients to be actively seeking work or in a job training program.

“You can only imagine what the left said about that. They said, ‘Well the governor hates poor people,’” he said. “I said no, I love the people of my state. In fact, I love them so much I don’t want them to be permanently dependent on the government … what I want is to make it easier to get a job.”

Another fresh face who got an enthusiastic response from the audience was Carson, who made headlines with his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast last month.

When Carson announced his retirement and made a hypothetical joke about what he’d do as president —“Let’s say you magically put me in the White House,” he said — the crowd went crazy, cheering and applauding for him.

Newt Gingrich, introduced by his wife Callista, spoke about the Republican Party’s need to stop being “stupid” and start framing its principles in a positive way that appeals to voters.

“The dominant wing of this party has learned nothing,” he said. “It is as stupid as it was in 1976.”

Gingrich, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush Friday night, said the GOP needs to stop being “anti-” things and instead present a positive vision for the future.

“We are not the anti-Obama movement,” he said. “We are for a greater American future.”

Democrat-turned-Republican Artur Davis, too, lamented the movement’s inability to capture voters who might agree with conservative principles but haven’t accepted the party’s rhetoric in the past.

Many of those voters “think like us,” he said, “they just need to hear it from our politicians that our values will work for their lives and their circumstances.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s speech in the morning focused on Obama, blasting the president for his “lifestyle of excess” at the White House and on board Air Force One.

“They deserve to live in the White House, they deserve to fly on a private plane,” she told the crowd, but said the Obamas live “a lifestyle that is one of excess.”

“We found out there are five chefs on Air Force One. There are two projectionists who operate the White House movie theater. They regularly sleep at the White House in case the First Family wants a really, really late show. I don’t mean to be petty here, but can’t they just press the play button?”

Appointment of emergency financial manager for Detroit challenged in court

March 16, 2013

Kevyn Orr named Detroit emergency financial manager: Gov. Rick Snyder introduces Kevyn Orr as Detroit's new Emergency Financial Manager. Orr is a University of Michigan graduate who knows he has 18 months to get Detroit's finances in order. Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press

LANSING -- Legal challenges are pending to Thursday's appointment of an emergency financial manager for Detroit, and an activist said Friday a new Michigan Court of Appeals opinion is helpful to one of his cases.

Robert Davis of Highland Park, who heads Citizens United Against Government Corruption, said he filed a lawsuit late Thursday in Ingham County Circuit Court alleging violations of the Open Meetings Act by the Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board, which formalized the appointment of Kevyn Orr, a Washington, D.C., attorney.

Washington, D.C. lawyer Kevyn Orr, 54, addresses the media at the Cadillac Center in Detroit on Thursday, March 14, 2013 after being named as a candidate by Governor Rick Snyder as the emergency financial manager for the city of Detroit. The state's Loan Board voted 3-0 to accept Snyder's appointment of Orr.Davis also filed a lawsuit March 8 alleging Gov. Rick Snyder overstepped his legal authority by recruiting and interviewing candidates for the emergency financial manager job. Davis argues only the loan board has that authority.

• Related: Kevyn Orr: My goal is to create a blueprint for Detroit growth

• Full coverage: Detroit's emergency financial manager

The board voted 3-0 Thursday to appoint Orr, based on Snyder's recommendation, and after conducting a public interview with Orr through a video hookup.

The Court of Appeals released an opinion Friday upholding a $332,837 judgment against former Highland Park emergency financial manager Arthur Blackwell II, who was sued by the loan board in 2009 for breach of contract, conversion of funds and breach of fiduciary duty.

The suit alleged Blackwell unlawfully paid himself $264,000.

Washington, D.C. lawyer Kevyn Orr, 54, addresses the media at the Cadillac Center in Detroit on Thursday March 14, 2013, after being named as a candidate by Governor Rick Snyder as the emergency financial manager for the city of Detroit. Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press

Blackwell argued he had a verbal understanding with former Gov. Jennifer Granholm allowing him a salary after working the first year for $1.

A three-judge appeals panel said Granholm had no authority to make such a deal.

"The governor's authority is limited to determining whether a financial emergency exists and assigning the responsibility for managing the emergency to the board," the court said. "Public officers have
 and can exercise only such powers as are conferred on them by law."

Davis, who is under federal indictment in connection with theft from the Highland Park Schools as a board member, said the opinion strengthens his argument that Snyder overstepped his authority in recruiting Orr. A hearing is set for April 8 before Judge James Jamo.


Dad's letter to gay son becomes online sensation

6:18 PM, March 16, 2013  
A letter written from a dad to his gay son Nate is going viral on the Internet because of its simple, hopeful message of love.

“I overheard your phone conversation with Mike last night about your plans to come out to me,” it reads. “The only thing I need you to plan is to bring home OJ and bread after class. We are out, like you now. I’ve known you were gay since you were six, I’ve loved you since you were born.”

He signs it “Dad” and finishes with a post script: “Your mom and I think you and Mike make a cute couple.”

The letter was posted on the Facebook page of, an organization aimed at empowering youth through its snarky, gay-positive T-shirts, videos and activist campaigns. Fans often send in photos of inspiring items, from cakes topped with “I’m gay!” to jack o’lanterns carved with “FCKH8.”

“We get a lot of crazy stuff, so I almost didn’t look at it,” founder Luke Montgomery told Yahoo! Shine about the letter, which was emailed to them by Nate, a Michigan high-school student. But when he did read it, he said, “I cried.”

He said Nate’s family did not want to share any information besides the letter itself. But the four sentences alone have been enough to inspire a bit of an online frenzy.

“It’s actually sad so many people are excited about it,” Mongtomery said. “And what I think that says is, one, it’s rare, and that’s really bad. And two, people are really craving this kind of reaction.” The website founder, a 39-year-old gay man who has a strained relationship with his Christian fundamentalist parents—especially since he drove around the country in a “Legalize Love” campaign in support of Obama last fall—was personally touched by the note’s simple, powerful message.

“It’s what I want,” he explained. “It’s what everyone wants.”

The national organization Parents and Families of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG) also saw the letter and loved it.

“This letter is what PFLAG is all about—what child doesn’t want to receive unconditional love from his or her parents?” a spokesperson told Yahoo! Shine. “For some, like this dad, it comes quickly. For others, it may take time. But regardless of how or when they get there, parents need to have their kids’ backs, no matter what. So applause for Nate’s dad. And Nate? You better remember the OJ and bread!”

'It's on me': Kevyn Orr says liens on Maryland home are paid up

5:00 PM, March 16, 2013

New Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr speaks to ...: Detroit's newly appointed emergency financial manager speaks to media at the Cadillac Square Building in Detroit on Thursday, March 14, 2013. Jarrad Henderson/DFP

Detroit’s soon-to-be emergency financial manager says he’s now paid up on state liens filed on his Maryland home for unpaid taxes on child care for his two children.

Washington, D.C., lawyer Kevyn Orr apologized for the oversight, saying he always tries to be attentive to such matters and wasn’t aware of the liens until he learned of them Friday.

“It’s on me — it’s something that fell through the cracks,” he said today, two days after Gov. Rick Snyder announced Orr as his pick to take charge of fixing Detroit’s finances and restructure a city government drowning in debt.

Orr, 54, a University of Michigan graduate, worked for the powerful Jones Day law firm until he resigned last week to take the Detroit job.

“It’s remarkably embarrassing,” he said of the liens. “I called and paid it up Friday. I wanted to make sure I addressed it as soon as I could.”

Newly appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr speaks to media on Thursday, Mar. 14, 2013 at the Cadillac Square building in Detroit. / Jarrad Henderson/Detroit Free Press

Montgomery County Circuit Court records show the state of Maryland has filed four liens in the last four years against the $1 million Chevy Chase, Md., home where Orr lives with his wife, Dr. Donna Neale, and their two children.

More: Full coverage of Detroit's financial crisis

Two liens from 2009 and 2010, totaling $16,432.58, are listed as paid in the records. Two additional liens totaling $15,797.68 from 2011 and 2012 were listed as unpaid, the records show. Those are the two Orr said he paid Friday. The payments could not be verified by the Free Press today.

Orr took responsibility for the liens, the two most recent of which were for unpaid unemployment insurance taxes.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Orr and his wife use “an outside tax accountant to prepare and file their returns, and help ensure full compliance with all federal, state and local tax laws.”

“There was apparently an oversight related to a childcare provider unemployment insurance payment,” Wurfel said in a statement. “Immediately upon learning of the potential issue, he took action at once to look into and resolve with state of Maryland. He takes full responsibility for ensuring any necessary fix and making payment in full ASAP.”

Orr, who officially starts the new job March 25, will lead efforts to resolve Detroit’s financial crisis. The city has more than $14 billion in bond debts and long-term employee pension and health care benefits, in addition to a $327 million accumulated budget deficit.

Orr has built a career on bankruptcy turnarounds and helped in Chrysler’s 2009 bankruptcy restructuring.

Ted Cruz CPAC 2013 Speech

ND governor faces choice on abortion restrictions

Associated Press

Mar 16, 4:46 PM EDT
AP Photo/Mike McCleary

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- North Dakota has all but enacted what would be two of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Now the state's governor faces a choice. He can join with his fellow Republicans and approve measures that are likely to lead to a costly legal battle that opponents say will end in utter failure. Or he could veto bills that have enough support to pass without him, a move that would draw the ire of social conservatives in a state that is historically socially conservative.

Even those in North Dakota who normally balk at government spending don't seem concerned about spending money on a fight over the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

"We have a lot of important things to spend money on," said Sen. Dwight Cook, a Republican from Mandan who chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee and calls himself a fiscal conservative. "But I didn't give any consideration to the cost (of abortion litigation)."

Lawmakers on Friday sent Gov. Jack Dalrymple two anti-abortion bills, one banning the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and another prohibiting women from having the procedure based on the fetus' gender or because it has a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome. Abortion-rights activists have vowed to fight the measures in court. The battle is likely to be closely-watched by abortion foes and supporters of legal abortion across the U.S.

Dalrymple hasn't offered any hints as to where he stands on the abortion bills. But whether or not he thinks it's wise for the state to spend its money on such a fight may not matter: The measures have enough support in the House and Senate for the Legislature to override him.

"I think plenty of people in the party would love to push this to the Supreme Court and they would love to be the state that overturns Roe v. Wade," said Mark Jendrysik, a University of North Dakota political science professor who expects Dalrymple to sign the abortion measures into law.

The Republican-led Legislature "is clearly willing to pass bills that are going to tie up the state in expensive litigation," Jendrysik said. "It's been a main plank of the party in North Dakota to be as strong as pro-life as possible. The ideological position is very strong and worth the money to them."

Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley told The Associated Press on Saturday that he and the governor were reviewing several measures over the weekend and would meet Monday to discuss the abortion bills, among others. He would not comment on whether the governor would sign or veto the abortion measures.

"We take the same methodical approach on abortion bills as we do on bills for roads, water or schools," Wrigley said.

Cook, who has served in the Legislature for 17 years, said he expects Dalrymple to sign the legislation.

"He's as pro-life as I am, and to what degree he looks at cost, I don't know," Cook said. "If I had to bet, I'd bet he signs them."

North Dakota is one of several states with Republican-controlled Legislatures and GOP governors that is looking at abortion restrictions. Arkansas passed a 12-week ban earlier this month that prohibits most abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected using an abdominal ultrasound.

A fetal heartbeat can generally be detected earlier in a pregnancy using a vaginal ultrasound, but Arkansas lawmakers balked at requiring women seeking abortions to have the more invasive imaging technique. North Dakota's measure doesn't specify how a fetal heartbeat would be detected.

North Dakota is uniquely positioned to undertake an expensive legal fight. Fueled by the unprecedented oil bonanza in the western part of the state, North Dakota now leads the nation in population growth, boasts a nearly $2 billion budget surplus and has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation.

Still, the record production that has thrust the state to the nation's No. 2 oil producer behind Texas also has brought challenges, including more crime brought on by an exploding population and torn-up roads from increased traffic. Hundreds of millions of dollars in new housing construction and infrastructure improvements haven't kept pace.

Democratic Sen. Mac Schneider, an attorney from Grand Forks and the Senate's minority leader, said the Legislature should focus on those needs instead of "expensive and potentially protracted abortion litigation."

"There hasn't been near enough attention given to the costs as we've debated these issues. We need to be honest with taxpayer funds and that is: We will be spending money on attorneys," Schneider said.

Abortion-rights activists are urging Dalrymple to veto the bills, which they say is aimed at shuttering North Dakota's sole abortion clinic in downtown Fargo. They say there's no way the courts would uphold the laws and the state would be better off spending its money on other things.

"The amount of money somebody spends on this is not the issue. They're clearly unconstitutional," she said. "Certainly North Dakotans have better things to spend their money on than blatantly unconstitutional laws."

The Center for Reproductive Rights is already representing the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo for free in a lawsuit over a 2011 law banning the widely accepted use of a medication that induces abortion. A judge has temporarily blocked enforcement of the law, and a trial is slated for April, the center said.

CPAC 2013 - All Star Panel

 Do you want to hear a bunch of right-wing men who make hot air manufacturing look quite easy. And they are bipartisan on cutting down both sides. They say both sides are not doing their jobs, about cutting the deficit, balancing the budget, making the '47%' understand the so called complex wrong way the USA is heading.

Published on Mar 16, 2013
Featuring Robert Costa (National Review), Ralph Hallow (The Washington Times), Larry O'Connor (Breitbart News Network), Rusty Humphries ("The Rusty Humphries Show"), moderated by Genevieve Wood (The Heritage Foundation)

Contract battles, lawsuits, underscore messiness of post-Act 10 world

By   /   March 15, 2013  /  

REMEMBER WHEN: Six months after a Dane County Judge struck down major portions of Wisconsin’s Act 10, confusion, lawsuits abound.

By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Lawyers seemingly have been among the biggest winners in the aftermath of Gov. Scott Walker’s sweeping collective bargaining overhaul.
The latest in the lineup of Act 10 chasers includes legal counsel in the Janesville School District’s contract — or non-contract — war of words and legal action.
The Janesville Education Association is threatening to sue the school board unless the district agrees to sit down at the negotiating table by next Wednesday evening, even though Walker’s Act 10 restricts most collective bargaining for most unionized public employees in the state.
David Parr, president of the JEA, told Wisconsin Reporter that this week administrators showed teachers a video in which it was first announced the union would receive a blank contract on April 10.
“All it says is, ‘Sign this contract and be willing to work under any conditions. If you don’t sign it by April 17, you will be fired,’” Parr said.
“Have you ever signed a contract that was blank?”
The union contends Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas’ ruling last September, which struck down most of Act 10, applies to all public sector bargaining units — and not just the Madison and Milwaukee-based plaintiffs of the case.
While the state is appealing the case — and despite the fact that a federal appeals court has upheld Act 10 in its entirety — the union believes Colas’ ruling trumps all for now and that the school board needs to bargain on a new contract, sans collective bargaining reforms.
Act 10 limits collective bargaining to wage increases, up to the rate of inflation. It also forces union members to recertify the union every year, prohibits automatic dues deductions and agency fees for public employees who prefer not to join a union.
A federal appeals court has upheld Act 10 in its entirety, while state District IV Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected the state’s request for a stay of Colas’ ruling while the case is under review. The state appeals court wrote that “ongoing litigation is inevitable” until the Wisconsin Supreme Court resolves the issue.
Case in point: the Janesville School District.
“We’re following the law,” Parr said. “We want a discussion. Let’s get this worked out so we know what we’re signing.”
The school board, likewise, argues it is following the law, which has evidently caused confusion for both public employers and unions.
“I don’t know where this all comes from,” said Bill Sodemann, Janesville School Board president. “They’ve liked what we’ve done so far. They’ve been responsive in a positive way. Now all of a sudden we get this.”
Janesville is joining school districts around the state, moving from pre-Act 10 contracts driven by powerful unions to post-Act 10 contracts of effectively one-way negotiations. Districts are required to put together handbooks outlining the terms of the labor agreement under the provisions of Act 10.
Sodemann said the contract the board will offer teachers will allow them to “resign without penalty by June 15,” if they don’t like the terms of the new handbook. He said school administrators took the same deal recently.
Parr says that’s a load of Wisconsin Guernsey bull. He doesn’t expect to see a handbook by June 15.
“He’s misunderstanding,” said Sodemann, who expects the handbook will be completed soon. “This is nothing new. Every time we come to a negotiation year, we don’t have the contract settled by this time. We’re not sure of all the details yet.”
The board appears to be in a damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t position, according to one constitutional expert.
“If the Janesville School Board negotiates a contract that is not compliant with Act 10, it runs the risk of being sued by a taxpayer or a teacher that wishes to negotiate individually on terms that are not permissible topics for collective bargaining,” said Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. “It also runs the risk of the contract being unlawful should the Dane County Circuit Court decision be reversed.”
Barry Forbes, associate executive director and staff counsel at the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said most school boards, like Janesville’s, have refused to negotiate contracts post-Act 10.
“We’ve advised boards not to get into a protracted argument whether Colas’ decision applies to them or not. Or whether they can bargain something beyond what Act 10 allows,” Forbes told Wisconsin Reporter.
Government unions could instead take their case to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, as JEA appears to be threatening.
Other legal action pending
Wisconsin Reporter obtained documents showing that, in December, the Kenosha Education Association and the Weyauwega-Fremont Education Association filed separate “prohibited practice complaints” with the Employment Relations Commission against their respective boards of education for “refus(ing) to bargain collectively with a majority of employees” under state statute.
Both cases cite the Colas ruling as the basis for the complaint. In both cases, attorneys representing the school districts argued it was premature to negotiate new contracts while Act 10 is moving through legal system.
Peter Davis, general counsel for the commission, said Bayfield County and Marinette County unions also filed complaints based on the Colas ruling.
“Generally speaking, none of those cases have moved forward in the process in part or in whole because everybody was waiting to hear what the Court of Appeals had to say on that matter,” Davis said.
“People may have different views as to what the Court of Appeals decision holds. Some unions might decide they’re not willing to wait for the (final) decision. They might ask to proceed,” he said.
If a union decided to move forward, it could be at least four months before any decision comes from the commission, according to Davis.
The commission has ruled on a similar case regarding the uncertainty of Act 10 in the court system.
A previous “window of opportunity” used by unions to try to rush employers back to the bargaining table occurred in 2011 when a Dane County Circuit Court judge ruled Republicans had violated the state open meetings law when passing the bill. The state Supreme Court, in a narrow ruling, sided with Republican lawmakers, upholding Act 10.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 965 filed a complaint against the Public Utility Commission in Richland Center.
“That decision said that it was reasonable for the city of Richland Center to delay bargaining because they don’t know what the law is. I imagine in Janesville it’s a very similar circumstance,” said Forbes.
Tom Monaghan

Tom Monaghan / John Gallagher/Detroit Free Press

By JC Reindl

Detroit Free Press Business Writer

Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan won another temporary court order Thursday that allows him to avoid a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that he offer contraceptive coverage to employees at his Ann Arbor Domino's Farms property-management company.
U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Zatkoff granted Monaghan a preliminary injunction, citing First Amendment rights and freedom to exercise religion.
The injunction frees Monaghan from providing any form of contraception coverage during the duration of his lawsuit against the federal government and the Affordable Care Act mandate.
Zatkoff previously granted Monaghan a temporary restraining order against the mandate on Dec. 31.
"The government will suffer some, but comparatively minimal harm if the injunction is granted," Zatkoff wrote in Thursday's decision.
Monaghan's case is one of about 16 pending nationwide. Detroit-area Weingartz Supply received a similar injunction last fall.
Certain religious employers are exempt from the health care law's contraception requirement.
Monaghan, a devout Catholic, founded Domino's Pizza in 1960 and sold it in 1998. He also owned the Detroit Tigers from 1983-92 and founded the Ave Maria School of Law, a Catholic law school that moved from Ann Arbor to Naples, Fla., in 2009.
His Domino's Farms has 45 full-time and 44 part-time employees. Absent a court order, the business would have had to offer contraception and sterilization services with no co-pay starting Jan. 1 or face about $200,000 in annual penalties under the health care law.
Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate took effect Aug. 1, Domino Farms had until Jan. 1 to comply, the start of its health care plan year with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Monaghan's attorney, Erin Mersino of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, said she was pleased with the Eastern District court's decision. Monaghan is the law center's co-founder.
Mersino said her client is particularly opposed to providing coverage for so-called morning-after pills.
"All of his employees have the same freedoms as anyone else," Mersino said. "He is just asking that he himself, because it violates his religious views, that he doesn't have to directly provide it."
Domino's Pizza was tweeting back people Thursday who called for a boycott of the pizzamaker on Twitter, pointing out that Monaghan is no longer associated with the company and that it has not made any statements about the health care law.
U.S. Justice Department representatives did not return messages seeking comment Thursday afternoon.
The government says contraception coverage benefits women's health and can improve their social and economic status.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a court brief in support of granting Monaghan's injunction, while the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the court order.

Iraq: 10 years later
A decade on from the US invasion, the country is still struggling to find its future
A man walks with his son in Kadhamia, a Shia district in Baghdad©Sebastian Meyer
Baghdad, Kadhamia district

The man had approached me in the decaying lobby of Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel 10 years ago, with a little piece of paper in his hand, my name scribbled in Arabic. His name was Abbas al-Sarray, he was an Iraqi Shia, sometime driver, sometime construction worker. He had 10 children and he was looking for a job. A few days earlier, across the street in Firdos Square, a new Iraq had been born, as the towering statue of Saddam Hussein, the dictator who had turned the country to ruin during more than two decades of rule, came tumbling down, with help from American troops who had marched into the capital.

People such as Abbas, who came from the long-suppressed Shia majority, were optimistic, if a little apprehensive, about what lay ahead and how long the Americans would stay. This was the time when “stuff” was happening, as Donald Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, had infamously dismissed the destructive wave of looting that convulsed a capital that was now in the hands of everyone, and no one. Iraqis, deprived of their freedom by Saddam and of a livelihood by a decade of the toughest sanctions in history, were taking every advantage liberation had to offer, good and bad. The city was there for the taking, with only a few sites, including the oil ministry, guarded by US forces.
It was also the time when Iraqis were searching for mass graves and raiding security offices for information about lost relatives; when new political parties were suddenly surfacing, squatting in old offices of Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath party across the city, and pavements were brimming with stalls of looted or smuggled goods. These were the days when, for the first time, the Shia marched freely on the main roads leading to their holy sites in Karbala, a human tidal wave determined to experience a ritual that had been denied to them in the past.
In the most vivid memory I have of those days, I had watched them as I made my way from Kuwait to Baghdad, through a volatile Basra and the Shia heartland, past the checkpoints manned by edgy US soldiers (and their more relaxed British colleagues). I’d heard about how afraid they had been in the past, as they crawled through fields to the Karbala shrine to mark the martyr­dom of their revered Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed – but also of their hopes now that Saddam had been removed. It mattered little to the worshippers why or how the Americans had landed in Iraq – whether under the pretence of weapons of mass destruction, or through a bombing campaign. The roads to Karbala were theirs for the first time.
Forty-eight-year-old Abbas became the FT’s driver in the years that followed, and also a friend to correspondents. Now that I was back in the country 10 years after the US invasion, there he was, looking barely a day older, his sarcastic humour as piercing as ever. He’d had another child since then but was no longer in the mood for driving in Baghdad’s clogged streets. One of his sons now has a government job so he helps finance the family. Abbas has been taking philosophy courses and is preparing to run for a seat on the Baghdad provincial council in the April elections. He is about to start his door-to-door campaigning. “I’ll still be the same Abbas if I win,” he reassures me. When I ask him about life in Baghdad, he bursts out laughing. Like most Iraqis I would meet on this trip, he was disillusioned, at times livid at the disparity between what Iraq is today and what it could be. “Nothing’s changed,” he tells me, time and time again. “In fact, it’s all going backwards. I might as well go into politics since I have nothing else to do. Even people who have jobs don’t do anything at their work. We Iraqis just consume now, we don’t actually produce anything.”
Ten years later – and more than a year after Barack Obama pulled out the last troops – Iraq is indeed sovereign, as the US president declared. But it is not, as he also said, stable. It has a government of national unity that brings together the majority Shia population and the minority Sunni and Kurds but it is not being governed. Thanks to US spending and training, it has a collection of military and security agencies with an estimated 1.2 million personnel, for a population of 32 million. The north of the country is inhabited by the Kurds, who were already semi-autonomous and have benefited the most, their lands spared much of the sectarian fighting that blighted the rest of the country and protected by their own militias. Their economy is also booming, and they are exploiting their own oil resources.

US Marines patrol in Baghdad as the capital was being ransacked by looters in April 2003 during the US-led coalition invasion of Iraq 
April 2003: the Iraqi capital, soon after the Americans marched in

Southern Shia parts of the country too are re-emerging from conflict, and reconstruction is starting apace around religious shrines in Karbala and Najaf. However, the centre of the country and the capital Baghdad seems to belong to a different time. A veneer of modern trappings conceals an Arab capital stuck in the 1970s rather than the 21st century.

American military color guard depart a casing ceremony in Iraq
December 2011: 'flag casing ceremony' at US Baghdad air base

American and British officials had calculated that the quest for ­“normality” would, in the aftermath of the invasion, push Iraq’s various sects – including the once dominant Sunni – towards compromise and peaceful cohabitation. What I found was a society traumatised by decades of war and sanctions, in the midst of a constant political storm. The new Iraq has a prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whose partners in government denounce him on a fairly regular basis as an aspiring Shia dictator; a Sunni vice-president who fled the country more than a year ago after being accused of terrorism; and a long-time central bank governor who was sacked after being targeted in a corruption investigation. Iraq also has a finance minister who has just resigned after his bodyguards were arrested on terrorism charges. (All the officials deny the accusations.) “A black, black comedy,” is how Sarmad al-Tahai, a columnist for al-Mada newspaper, describes the state of the country’s politics. A young colleague from the same media organisation, 24-year-old Hamad al-Sayyed, is equally disenchanted. “We went from one-party rule to constant confrontation, to a lack of consensus, to parties which say they represent God on earth but which corrupt civil life.” An engineer who can’t find work in his field and is instead employed by al-Mada’s radio station, he tells me that his dream is to rebuild Iraq but “our dreams have been postponed.”

. . .
For a superpower that occupied Iraq for eight years, spent $60bn on reconstruction and lost more than 4,400 US lives, America has left few traces behind, except perhaps for the GI-style gear and rifles of local soldiers, far too many of them all over the city. The Baghdad that US forces abandoned in December 2011 is no longer bloodied by the violent onslaught of the middle of the last decade, when civil war raged and hundreds were killed every day. Many people are confident that, however intense the political battles, there can be no return to full-blown civil war. But Iraqis still worry about security when moving around the country and the army is on constant alert.
Baghdad feels besieged by security forces guarding against cars laden with explosives whose drivers try to make their way into residential areas and food markets – far less deadly a threat than before but still a regular occurrence. The city is divided by concrete walls that surround politicians’ houses and official buildings, sometimes sealing off whole neighbourhoods. Side streets are blocked and permanent checkpoints erected all over, sometimes turning a 10-minute drive into an hour of traffic agony. Yet the bombs, presumed to be the work of a much weakened but not eradicated al-Qaeda, still sneak in. One day while I was in town, the roads emptied as news filtered in of at least nine consecutive explosions, many in poor Shia neighbourhoods.
Iraqis are now used to such incidents. “It’s normal,” quips a soldier at a checkpoint, as he jokes with Abbas and points to where a truck exploded the night before. The banality of violence is part of a strange combination of simultaneous progression and regression. Baghdad’s potholed streets are crumbling, with only rare signs of new infrastructure. Residents still receive only a few hours of electricity a day. Many young people are unemployed, while others take up three jobs to make ends meet. But the fa├žades of old shops have been covered with shiny hoardings advertising the glut of consumer goods now available, from mobile telephones to flatscreen televisions.
Iraq’s factories are still idle but there are several new malls under construction, as well as fancy car dealerships and private banks. In parts of the Kerrada shopping district, the streets are lively at night and the restaurants busy. In this rentier state, the government accumulates oil revenues (production is back to 1990 levels of three million barrels per day, and could double by the end of the decade) and doles part of them out in salaries, with some of it (the Iraqi perception is most) wasted in inefficiency and corruption. A teacher’s salary of $1 a month in the last years of Saddam has now risen to $500. A policeman makes twice as much. In many cases, though, landing a government job requires political connections and money, as can a promotion and often the supply of a government service.
A boy on his bicycle near Rashid Street in Baghdad
©Sebastian Meyer
Central Baghdad, February 2013

At a dealership for Chinese cars, which are popular with taxi drivers, Maisam Fawzi, a 26-year-old saleswoman whose made-up face is wrapped by a colourful headscarf, says she has a civil engineering degree but can’t find employment in her field. She paid $5,000 to someone close to someone important in the government to secure a job, but has been waiting for a year and is now asking for her money back. “That’s how you get a job, that’s our government,” she told me. “They’re keeping people busy with cars, electronics and mobiles and they give us no services, no security or jobs and no housing.” Even so, surely life is better than under Saddam’s dictatorship, I ask her? She shrugs. “We had one oppressive regime but now we have 100 political parties that are oppressive. We can express ourselves but so what? No one is listening.”
Outside Baghdad University, I sit in a minibus and chat with students. Alia, a 24-year-old studying for a master's degree in biology, says young people are enjoying access to the internet, to the dozens of satellite channels that have been set up in Iraq, and adds that, despite the political struggle between the elite, there is no sense of division between Sunni and Shia at the university. Yet she too is dissatisfied, her family always worried about her where­abouts, particularly when they hear of bomb blasts. “Freedom is important but it doesn’t give me enough,” she says. “Freedom should be about being able to do what you want, not just talk.”
Such expressions of disenchantment are part of the Iraqi nature, Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s gregarious foreign minister, tells me. We are at his ministry on a main avenue in the city. The building was reconstructed at record speed after the 2009 bombing when 250kg of explosives hidden in a truck blew up the original structure, killing 43 people. “I followed this change from the beginning [as foreign minister since 2003] and my honest feeling is that the change has been worth [it] for those of us who can compare,” he says. “A few years ago you wouldn’t be able to talk to me without hearing gunfire outside.” The new system has brought “unprecedented freedom, media, travel, access to the internet and satellite, all that was taboo … Iraq was [previously] isolated, an outlaw state, and this is no longer”. He acknowledges, however, that the country has failed to make an “overall” change, and goes on to list the many shortcomings. “The government has not done a good job on providing services or resetting the bad deeds of the occupation … or on settling the issue of the disputed territories [between Arabs and Kurds] or on corruption in the system. It’s the fault of the politicians.” And then there is the confusion between the executive and other powers and the judiciary. “Parliament acts like the government and the executive interferes in the work of the judiciary, that’s a key problem,” he says.
Unlike many of his colleagues, Zebari works outside what is now called the international zone but is known in Iraq, and across the world, as the Green Zone. This swath of Baghdad real estate near the Tigris river, around Saddam’s old presidential palace, is where the Americans set up their headquarters when they arrived in the city. It continues to be the heart of political power, of plotting and intrigue, and is home to the prime minister’s office and parliament. Still surrounded by blast walls, but its entry points now controlled by Iraqi forces, the Green Zone is a world apart from the chaos of the city.
The US embassy, the largest US mission in the world, is here of course. It is the first time that I have seen the massive new compound, with its apartment blocks for staff, sports facilities including tennis and basketball courts, and even a power station. In a fitting image of the US’s declining influence, though, the 10,000 staff – mostly contractors – who work here and across the other missions in Iraq – are being slashed to 5,000-6,000 by the end of this year. The US puts a brave face on Iraq’s predicament. An embassy official says the country’s trajectory is “upward” and that there has been dramatic change since Saddam. “There’s life in Baghdad,” he tells me. “It’s much better than it was five years ago.”
. . .
Abbas lives in Sadr City, which used to be called Saddam City – an overpopulated and troublesome Shia district 3km from the centre of Baghdad, which the late dictator tried to subdue, partly by punishing its people with neglect. So deep was the poverty, so overflowing the sewage and garbage, that the city was of particular concern to the Americans keen to win the approval of the local population. They set up shop in an old cigarette factory and called it Camp Marlboro. The locals, though, were not amused. When I visited a hospital there with Abbas a few weeks after the fall of Saddam, Shia clerics had beat the Americans to the task and taken charge, delivering supplies and posting guards at the gate. A stronghold of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the city soon became a battleground as Shia militias joined in the fight to force the US out of Iraq. The Hospital of Martyr Sadr couldn’t keep up with the flow of dead and injured.

Abbas al-Sarray, driver©Sebastian Meyer
Abbas al-Sarray, driver: ‘Nothing’s changed. In fact it’s all going backwards.’ On her return visit, Roula Khalaf was reunited with her driver from 2003
As Abbas had warned me, the drive to Sadr City takes two and a half hours, despite the short distance, because every single car is inspected at the entry checkpoint. Two days earlier three bombs had exploded in the area, and it is one of the locations in the city which continues to be regularly targeted. Entering Sadr City, we pass a new amusement park with a ferris wheel. It is called “Fantasy Land”. The district feels more crowded than I remember, and not much cleaner. So little space is left that property prices have skyrocketed. The pavements, meanwhile, have been taken over by traders.
Salam Khalaf, the spokesman for the Martyr Sadr hospital, moonlights as a photographer and is also taking evening classes in economics and management. He says the hospital has been renovated and expanded, with a new operating theatre and a lab. The militias are no longer on the streets (the main one in Sadr City, the Mahdi Army, is “dormant”, according to its supporters, and others are now more active). The hospital is guarded by 50 policemen and another 30 soldiers: a bomb was detonated in the car park last year. “There’s relative improvement in Sadr City – relative,” says Khalaf.
As I wait for him to get permission to speak to me – the ministry of health told him to proceed but stress the positives – the leg of a desk in the director’s reception room cracks and two security guards rush to hold the top together. One turns to me with a chuckle: “Here’s how Iraq has improved.” The crumbling desk, he says, was damaged when a disgruntled family of a patient who had died at the hospital stormed the office determined to punish the doctors. One of the problems for hospitals – indeed for many other sectors – is the tribes who demand compensation when accidents befall one of their own.
A soldier patrols a Baghdad street
©Sebastian Meyer
A soldier patrols a Baghdad street. A heavy military presence is visible across the city

The tribes have always been powerful in Iraq, and were bolstered by Saddam before the 2003 war. They are now even more influential as police and security forces, busy chasing car and truck bombers, have little time to uphold the law. One of the many Iraqis who dream of a modern state and is outraged by the power of the tribes is Hana Edward, a leading human rights activist I meet in central Baghdad. A small and fiery woman who opposed the Saddam regime for 30 years, she now challenges the Maliki government.

Students at Baghdad University
©Sebastian Meyer
Students at Baghdad University. Students are still frustrated by the lack of real freedom

Edward tells me that despite the phenomenal expansion of security agencies in Iraq, tribes and militias still get their way if they don’t like a doctor or a judge or if a teacher fails a student. In fact, members of tribes donate to the leaders what amounts to an insurance policy so that they can pay someone off if they get into trouble. It is a system that is supported, if not promoted, by the police, which, in many reported cases, suggests that people settle their differences through their tribes. “There’s no state, no institutions, no system to protect you,” she says. “Even if someone is sentenced by the courts, the tribes will interfere and try to find a different solution.” Edward related the story of an electronics store owner who died when his shop went up in flames. The shop was then looted by thieves, one of whom suffered an electric shock and also died. “The family of the dead thief went to the tribe of the dead owner and asked for compensation. They had to pay,” she says.
. . .
I am dressed in the black shroud of Umm Haidar, Abbas’s wife, and sitting with my head down on the back seat of the car. We are driving to Fallujah, the Sunni town that prides itself as the hub of the insurgency against the American forces (though in the past it was better known for its numerous mosques and the quality of its kebabs). In one of the most bloody and controversial episodes of the US occupation, Fallujah was devastated by a major American offensive in 2004, after insurgents killed four American contractors and hanged their mutilated bodies from a bridge.
To avoid any questioning and delays I’m told by Abbas not to look the soldiers in the eyes at the highway checkpoints – they rarely if ever ask for a covered woman’s identity papers. We go past spectacular palm groves and the notorious Abu Ghraib prison before a Fallujah minaret appears in the distance. Ali Ghazal Abbas al-Hiali, who heads a development organisation in the Anbar province, takes me on a tour of the town.
Though some buildings still bear the scars of fighting, much has also been rebuilt, including a hospital. In the neighbourhood that saw some of the worst confrontations with US troops, al-Hiali points to a destroyed minaret. “It was kept as a memorial of Fallujah’s resistance,” he says.

Sunni protesters in Fallujah, February 2013
Sunni protesters in Fallujah, February 2013

Fallujah is still in rebellion, but this time peacefully. The main attraction in town is the protest camp that has been set up on an empty plot at the entrance, part of a wave of demonstrations in the Sunni region that was triggered by the December arrest of the Sunni finance minister’s bodyguards. “The intifada of Fallujah” reads a banner above a stage, flanked by Iraqi flags from the era of Saddam Hussein, with the three stars restored. Tribes have set up tents at the camp, with green and white plastic chairs and reed mats across the floor.
The country’s Sunni population were the big losers in the new Iraq. The more radical among them joined the ranks of the insurgency. Many others were alienated by the American decision to dissolve Saddam’s army and impose a policy of de-Baathification, rooting out members of the Ba’ath party from the Iraqi bureaucracy. The Americans eventually realised their appalling mistake and tamed the insurgency by enlisting – and paying – the tribes who had tired of war, turning them against al-Qaeda. The Iraqi government, however, did not live up to its promise to integrate and keep these fighters on the payroll, instead pursuing a heavy-handed policy that human rights organisations say includes unfair arrests and detentions without trial.

Roula Khalaf and Sheikh Khaled Hammoud Mahal al-Jumaili in Fallujah
Roula Khalaf and Sheikh Khaled Hammoud Mahal al-Jumaili in Fallujah

One of the leaders of the Fallujah protest is Sheikh Khaled Hammoud Mahal al-Jumaili, a powerful cleric with a bushy white beard. Iraqis in general and the Sunni in particular have had enough, he says, of both the government and what he calls the occupation of Iraq by Iran (the state with the greater influence on the Shia parties). When the protests started, he tells me, two of their major demands were repeal of antiterrorism legislation that the Sunni feel targets only them and the release of prisoners held without charge. But since January 25, when clashes with the army left several protesters dead, the demands have hardened. Fallujah wants to get rid of the government and of the constitution.
When he steps on to the podium to address a crowd, the Sheikh declares that Fallujah rejects “Bremer’s constitution”, in reference to Paul Bremer, the former de facto American governor of Iraq and the man most Iraqis blame for the catastrophic US handling of the Iraq occupation.
. . .
Back in Baghdad, I hear words of sympathy for the Sunni from both Shia and Kurdish politicians, perhaps because of the widespread political disillusionment with Maliki’s rule. “It’s unusual for a person who heads the government to have all his partners telling him that he should change his policies – and he thinks they are all wrong and conspiring against him and against Shia Islam,” says Diaal-Asadi, a senior official in Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc. “There are attempts to bring the cult of dictatorship back. But no one is going to allow it to happen.”
I go to see Hussein Shahrestani, Iraq’s deputy prime minister and the point man on the Sunni crisis. In an ironic twist of fate, the former nuclear scientist’s office in the Green Zone is in a sumptuous palace that once belonged to Izzat al-Douri, Saddam’s ex-vice-president and the presumed leader of the post-2003 insurgency. He tells me that the “legitimate” demands of protesters, including releases of prisoners and pensions and salaries for those deprived of them, are now being met. “But people demanding the abrogation of the constitution and people carrying al-Qaeda flags and Saddam’s flags, are not really a problem; they are part of the old political system and still see Saddam as their hero. They are a small minority,” he says.
When I suggest that the Sunni problem is a symptom of a larger political malaise, Shahrestani is dismissive. “People used to sell their doors and windows to feed their children, now they have mobiles and cars. We have to take our time practising democracy, improving the system and the standard of living.”
One evening, I visit an art gallery in one of Baghdad’s upscale districts, Mansour, expecting to hear of a reinvigorated art scene in the era of greater freedom. But Mazen Iskandar, the gallery owner, is grumpy. Many artists have left Iraq and people who appreciate art and can afford it also fled the violence of the last decade. “In the past some of the houses in this neighbourhood were like museums but now they’re empty. Foreign embassies that also bought art are in the Green Zone, they don’t come here. And people with money now aren’t interested in buying art.”

A poor district of central Baghdad©Sebastian Meyer
A poor district of central Baghdad. The capital is decaying, signs of new building are rare
Later on, I hear more hopeful talk over dinner at Reef, a pizza restaurant that has been popular since the Saddam era. A band is playing a Shirley Bassey song while a group of professionals explains that Iraq’s failures today are also opportunities for the future. Suha Najjar, an old Iraqi friend who lives in London but visits Baghdad almost every month, is starting an investment fund to buy stocks on the Iraqi exchange. She says Iraq needs so much reconstruction and infrastructure that an economic boom is inevitable. Her friend Seif Abu Altimen, whose family trades wheat and rice, is a rare example of a young professional who has returned to live in Iraq, taking up a job at a telecoms company and helping develop the family business. “I thought I had an edge here,” he says. Although he was injured in an explosion, he is staying put.
Najjar, my friend, had arranged a meeting for me at a prominent business organisation run by Ibrahim al-Baghdadi – a rotund man, known as a savvy and energetic lobbyist for business. Over tea, juice and multicoloured biscuits, company representatives grab the microphone and launch into PowerPoints about projects they are working on worth billions of dollars. There’s a housing project and a cement factory in Najaf, a sports city in Basra, and malls and hotels in Baghdad.
Beyond business, too, young people are trying to find a purpose in Iraq. Hamad al-Sayyed, the engineer who works in media, is a co-founder of “I am Iraqi, I read it”, an association that encourages donations of books in ballot-like boxes on a Baghdad street and redistributes them for free, an initiative inspired by similar groups in other Arab states. “We’ve had so many problems in Iraq that people don’t read, they focus on basic needs,” says al-Sayyed.
Another group of 30 young volunteers who met on Facebook have launched a campaign intended to persuade voters to register their support for a civic state, accumulating votes that can then be channelled towards nonsectarian candidates. “Society is becoming tribal and sectarian, and we don’t want this to become enshrined. If we don’t move now the situation will get worse, there’s no time left,” says Ahmad Ibrahim, one of the founders of the initiative. “No one is happy with the situation except the parties which are benefiting.” Religious-based parties claim they are fighting in the name of religion, he goes on, “but they’re all fighting for money – Iraq is a treasure”.
People such as Ibrahim are still in a minority, though he is convinced that the mismanagement of Iraq by the current political class can only increase the numbers of those who reject sectarian parties. “Change will come with the new generation,” Hana Edward reassures me. “That’s what gives me hope.” For the sake of Iraq and the Middle East, I hope that Edward is right, though I know that political sectarianism is difficult to dislodge once it is entrenched.
When I leave Baghdad, I say goodbye to Abbas at the hotel. He can’t drive me all the way to the airport because it’s a restricted area. Passengers board buses long before the departure lounge, and then submit to a series of searches in an impressive security operation that is no doubt a legacy of the American occupation.
What I leave behind are two different Baghdads. The first one belongs to a people tired of conflict and eager for a normal life that goes beyond the ability to consume and talk freely: in this Baghdad desperate people have been forced to turn to party and tribe for guidance. The second Baghdad hides behind concrete blast walls: it is a city inhabited by greedy politicians struggling for control of the state. For this political class, sectarianism and patronage are the only means of survival.
One former senior official who spoke to me privately described Iraq’s problem. “No one wants to reform the state,” he said, “and because it is rich in oil, no one feels the need to reform it.”
Against the hope of its young people stands the formidable reality of Iraq’s poisonous politics.

Odawa Indian tribe hosts Michigan's first legal same-sex marriage

5:54 PM, March 15, 2013
Tim LaCroix, 53, of Boyne City, and his longtime partner Gene Barfield, 60, of Boyne City are married at the government headquarters complex of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians on Friday March 15, 2013 in Harbor Springs. / Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press
Gene Barfield, 60, of Boyne City, puts a wedding ring on the hand of his husband Tim LaCroix, 53, of Boyne City, during their wedding ceremony at the government headquarters complex of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians on Friday March 15, 2013 in Harbor Springs

Gene Barfield, 60, of Boyne City, puts a wedding ring on the hand of his husband Tim LaCroix, 53, of Boyne City, during their wedding ceremony at the government headquarters complex of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians on Friday March 15, 2013 in Harbor Springs / Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press
A wedding cake for the newly weds Tim LaCroix, 53, of Boyne City, and his longtime partner Gene Barfield, 60, of Boyne City sits before the start of their wedding ceremony at the government headquarters complex of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians on Friday March 15, 2013 in Harbor Springs.

A wedding cake for the newly weds Tim LaCroix, 53, of Boyne City, and his longtime partner Gene Barfield, 60, of Boyne City sits before the start of their wedding ceremony at the government headquarters complex of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians on Friday March 15, 2013 in Harbor Springs. / Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press

HARBOR SPRINGS — The groom wore a black sweater. The other groom wore a red one.
Tim LaCroix, 53, and Gene Barfield, 60, were in the enrollment office this morning at the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians government facility.
The couple took turns filling out an application to get married, paid the $15 fee and received a marriage license. Both smiled nervously.
It was a historic day. Not just for them and not just for the tribe that LaCroix belongs to, but for Michigan too.
The two men were about to be the first same-sex couple to be legally married in this state.
Last year, the Odawa tribal council debated a resolution to recognize gay marriage, but the measure failed by one vote. When it was reintroduced, the language was changed to require at least one spouse to be a tribal citizen, and that swayed support. On March 2, it passed by a 5-4 vote.
All that was needed was the signature of tribal chairman Dexter McNamara, whose veto would have required a difficult 7-2 council majority to override.
McNamara not only signed it, but also asked to perform the wedding ceremony.
“I’ve always felt that either you believe in equal rights or you are prejudiced,” McNamara said. “We don’t have a dividing line in this tribe. Everyone deserves to live the lives of their choice.”
Out of 500 federally recognized tribes in the country, and a dozen in Michigan, the Odawa tribe became the first ever to legalize gay marriage in the state and only the third in the nation.
And because of tribal sovereignty, neither the state’s constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage nor the federal Defense of Marriage Act can stop them.
“This is their turf,” Barfield said, standing in the tribal offices. “They have their own government, they have their own police force, they have their own rules and regulations. They’re very big on respect, and for them to say to us ‘We respect your relationship and your prerogative to define it as you choose’ is really special.”
“I’m so proud of my tribe for doing this,” LaCroix added. “I just can’t say enough.”
The couple met in 1983 while both were on active duty in the Navy. They live in northern Michigan, where they garden, assemble model railroads and share two dogs and a cat.
“We’ve been partners for 30 years in the way people use the word ‘partner’ for a same sex couple,” Barfield said. “Now we’re not going to be partners anymore. We’re going to be spouses.”
They wanted to get married at the signing ceremony for the statute, which gave them barely two weeks to prepare.
They hastily ordered cupcakes for the impromptu reception to follow. They found a tribal member to perform a traditional ceremony, alongside the secular one. They made little pouches of tobacco to hand out in a nod to tribal custom. And they invited friends and family from this small-town region.
About three dozen guests filled the seats arranged in the lobby this morning. There were relatives from both sides, beefy tribal members, employees who work in the building and wanted to wish the couple well, and a contingent from the hardware store where LaCroix works.
“We’re just all giddy over it,” said Kathy Hughes, his longtime coworker. “They’re like family to us.”
Once McNamara signed the bill, tribe communications coordinator Annette VanDeCar acknowledged it was a controversial decision.
“I’ll be honest,” she told the crowd. “There are people in our community that aren’t supportive of what is happening today, but that’s OK. We as Indians are taught to respect people as individuals, and as individual people have the right to decide what is best for them.”
For this couple, a few tweaks were necessary in both the paperwork and the ceremony, like changing the word “wife” in the vows and on the license application to “spouse.” But it otherwise was a standard civil ceremony.
The chairman read the vows, and LaCroix went first in repeating them.
For better or for worse, to love and to cherish, from this day forward.
“I do,” he said.
Then came Barfield’s turn, and his composure melted a little. As he read the vows, his voice began to crack and his eyes grew moist. All the while, he looked at LaCroix with a beam of a smile.
“I do.”
They exchanged rings, and the chairman pronounced them married. They punctuated the ceremony with a brief kiss and a long, long hug.
Then they repeated it with a tribal ceremony using the sage, the feathers, the maple branch and the drum that were carefully laid out on a table.
There were no activist speeches, no protesters — only a crowd witnessing a wedding that was unlike any they’d ever seen, but was really no different than any other.
“We’re just so excited for them,” Hughes said. “They’ve been together 30 years. It’s longer than a lot of marriages have lasted.”