Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Former Merrill Lynch Exec takes bailout money to buy palatial digs

scarce, Video Cafe: I don't, as a rule, get surprised by the utter gall of these Wall Street executives, or the complete farce of how these TARP bailout funds are managed but this is a bit much.
Peter Kraus worked hard in the three months he spent at Merrill Lynch this fall — and the $25 million in bonus cash he earned for his troubles was just enough to allow him to afford to buy Carl and Barbaralee Spielvogel's apartment at 720 Park for $36.63 million, twice what they paid for it two years ago.
LSB: Bailout money... your money and mine meant to shore up our economic system... apparently he sleeps well at night.

Divorce A Lot Harder After The Equity Is Gone

Susie Madrak, Crooks and Liars: I know several couples right now who would break up in a minute if they had any equity left:
Chalk up another victim for the crashing real estate market: the easy divorce.
With nearly one in six homes worth less than the mortgage owed on it, according to Moody’s, divorce lawyers and financial advisers around the country say the logistics of divorce have been turned around. “We used to fight about who gets to keep the house,” said Gary Nickelson, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “Now we fight about who gets stuck with the dead cow.”
As a result, divorce has become more complicated and often more expensive, with lower prospects for money on the other side. Some divorce lawyers say that business has slowed or that clients are deciding to stay together because there are no assets left to help them start over.
“There’s an old joke,” said Randall M. Kessler, Ms. Needle’s lawyer.
“Why is a divorce so expensive? Because it’s worth it. Now it better really be worth it.”
In a normal economy, couples typically build equity in their homes, then divide that equity in a divorce, either after selling the house or with one partner buying out the other’s share. But after the recent boom-and-bust cycle, more couples own houses that neither spouse can afford to maintain, and that they cannot sell for what they owe. For couples already under stress, the family home has become a toxic asset.

LSB: Being gay, divorce isn't something I have to worry about!

Everything the EPA Never Wanted You To Know About Ash Toxins

Susie Madrak, Crooks and Liars: Well, my goodness. It looks as though the people in the path of that massive ash spill are going to be, um, immunologically challenged!
Yes, despite offical assurances, it turns out there's all kinds of nasty stuff in the sludge. And surprise, surprise - the EPA knew, because they'd already released a study:
The risk assessment examined 181 coal combustion waste disposal sites throughout the country and found that unlined coal ash waste ponds pose a cancer risk 900 times above what the government considers "acceptable." The report also found that coal ash disposal sites release toxic chemicals and metals such as arsenic, lead, boron, selenium, cadmium, thallium, and other pollutants at levels that endanger human health and the environment.
"Clean" coal, huh?
LSB: A billion gallons of toxic sludge spilled onto 300 acres... if my math is correct, that is 333,333 per acre (approximately)... of toxic waste... leeching into the soil and water tables... posing a risk 900 times above what the government considers acceptable... If that is the "Bush government," the unacceptable risk is probably several times that amount in reality. We can't get green technology soon enough!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bush Refuses To Interrupt His Final Vacation As Middle East Crisis Escalates In an effort to “prevent Palestinians from attacking towns in southern Israel” with rockets, Israel today undertook its third day of offensive military airstrikes in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, raising the death toll to more than 300. The Palestinian casualty numbers have been described as the highest over such a brief period since the 1967 Six-Day war. Scores of Israelis have been wounded — and at least one killed — by rocket attacks fired by Palestinians. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the situation “all out war.
”While Bush has been briefed on the situation by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, he has opted not to interrupt his final vacation as president to make a public statement on the crisis. For someone who has enjoyed the most vacation days as sitting president — including days spent relaxing in comfort during Hurricane Katrina and in the lead-up to 9/11 — it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Bush prioritizes vacationing over crisis management. ABC News reports:
Even an emerging crisis in the Middle East, one he pledged to resolve just 13 months ago, has not drawn President George W. Bush from his final vacation before leaving office. Despite his personal pledge at Annapolis last year to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians before 2009, this weekend Bush sent his spokesmen to comment in his stead. […]
Since departing Washington for Crawford on Friday, President Bush has made no attempt to be seen in public. In fact, he has yet to leave his ranch.
Today, in a press briefing delivered from the “Western White House” in Crawford, TX, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe was asked what is on Bush’s schedule today. In addition to receiving “updates on the ongoing situation,” Johndroe said, “I expect he’ll probably ride his bicycle today and spend time with Mrs. Bush.” Watch it:
President-elect Barack Obama has also been monitoring the violence from his vacationing spot in Hawaii, staying in contact with Bush and Rice. “President Bush speaks for the United States until Jan. 20 and we’re going to honor that,” Obama adviser David Axelrod said.
One senior Bush administration official told the Washington Post that he thinks the Israelis acted in Gaza “because they want it to be over before the next administration comes in” and because “they can’t predict how the next administration will handle it.” Indeed, Bush has become fairly predictable in how he manages these sorts of crises.
Update: On ABC's This Week yesterday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) expressed his hope that removing Bush's hands-off approach may help address the situation. "I'm hopeful that as this transition comes, as we look to January, that strong presidential leadership can make a difference here."
LSB: I understand Obama's reluctance to weigh in on the situation ('we only have one president at a time'), but when the one president we do have won't interrupt his bicycle riding on the Crawford Ranch long enough to deal with a Middle East crisis for which he has claimed such concern in the past, it seems that there is already a leadership vacuum. I used to think that this ten-week transition between presidents was necessary in order to allow the incoming administration to get approved and up-to-speed, but that only works when the current administration continues to be engaged until the actual transfer of power on January 20th. "W" has already checked-out, so Obama needs to find a way to jointly work with "W" on this problem in the interim: joint press conferences (look how effective Obama's transition team announcements were on calming the economic markets); a trip to the Middle East to meet with Israeli leaders (a symbolic "let me introduce you to the new guy"); etc. Can we afford to wait another three weeks to get a leader in Washington? While he's waiting to take charge, Obama could reluctantly be pulled into yet another military action - something the U.S. just cannot afford, - so it is time to show some leadership and derail this situation before it gets worse. If "W" can't or won't lead, Obama needs to drag him around by the nose to get the work done.

Ex-Aides: Bush Never Recovered From Katrina

Associated Press - Hurricane Katrina not only pulverized the Gulf Coast in 2005, it knocked the bully pulpit out from under President George W. Bush, according to two former advisers who spoke candidly about the political impact of the government's poor handling of the natural disaster.
"Katrina to me was the tipping point," said Matthew Dowd, Bush's pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign. "The president broke his bond with the public. Once that bond was broken, he no longer had the capacity to talk to the American public. State of the Union addresses? It didn't matter. Legislative initiatives? It didn't matter. P.R.? It didn't matter. Travel? It didn't matter."
Dan Bartlett, former White House communications director and later counselor to the president, said: "Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin."
Their comments are a part of an oral history of the Bush White House that Vanity Fair magazine compiled for its February issue, which hits newsstands in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday, and nationally on Jan. 6. Vanity Fair published comments by current and former government officials, foreign ministers, campaign strategists and numerous others on topics that included Iraq, the anthrax attacks, the economy and immigration.
Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that as a new president, Bush was like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee whom critics said lacked knowledge about foreign affairs. When Bush first came into office, he was surrounded by experienced advisers like Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell, who Wilkerson said ended up playing damage control for the president.
"It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin-like president - because, let's face it, that's what he was - was going to be protected by this national-security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire," Wilkerson said, adding that he considered Cheney probably the "most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur" he'd ever met.
"He became vice president well before George Bush picked him," Wilkerson said of Cheney. "And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush - personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum.
On other topics, David Kuo, who served as deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, disputed the idea that the Bush White House was dominated by religious conservatives and catered to the needs of a religious right voting bloc.
"The reality in the White House is - if you look at the most senior staff - you're seeing people who aren't personally religious and have no particular affection for people who are religious-right leaders," Kuo said.
"In the political affairs shop in particular, you saw a lot of people who just rolled their eyes at ... basically every religious-right leader that was out there, because they just found them annoying and insufferable. These guys were pains in the butt who had to be accommodated."

Bernie's Cash Stash: Offshore Loot Sought

Laura Italiano, New York Post: Investigators believe that Bernard Madoff has stuffed hundreds of millions of dollars in Ponzi profits into offshore tax havens from which they could prove tricky to recover.
In the weeks since his Dec. 11 arrest, forensic accountants have been scouring Madoff's books as federal officials ready an indictment against the hated hedge-funder, who remains under house arrest in his $7 million Upper East Side penthouse.
The accountants believe Madoff regularly sent bundles of money to offshore accounts in the Caribbean and Europe, the Observer newspaper in London reported yesterday.
Madoff, 70, has been ordered by a Manhattan fed eral judge to provide to the Securities and Exchange Commission by New Year's Eve a detailed list of all of his assets - in cluding investments, loans, lines of credit, business interests and brokerage accounts.
But tracking what happened to the estimated $50 billion Madoff is accused of making off with is already promising to be one of the longest and most complicated financial investigations on record, the Observer noted.
And should Madoff prove less than forthcoming regarding his offshore accounts, investigators could be in for an even tougher time.
The tax havens are designed under local laws to be nearly impervious to subpoenas or other investigative inquiries, making it notoriously tough for US officials to seize or even see what's there.
Still, officials promised they'll be dogged in their pursuit.
"We will trace funds wherever the trail goes," the Observer quoted Stephen Harbeck, chief executive of the Securities Investor Protection Corp., the receiver of Madoff's now-defunct fund, as saying.
The paper quoted a "senior source" as saying, "There are accounts at New York Mellon Bank that we have been looking at that appear to have sent and received money from offshore locations."
Bernie's funda-mental defense: If you thought Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion investment scheme was audacious, get ready for his alibi. Lawyers for the accused scammer are exploring an insanity defense, we hear.
“Bernie’s family and his attorneys may argue that, somewhere along the line, he had a mental break,” says a Madoff acquaintance. “They may even say he has a multiple personality disorder.”
LSB: Anyone who hides hundreds of millions of dollars in off-shore accounts is NOT insane!

Palin's daughter gives birth to son named Tripp

Associated Press, Yahoo News: The daughter of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has given birth to a son, a magazine reported Monday.
Bristol Palin, 18, gave birth to Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston on Saturday, People magazine reported online. He weighed 7 pounds, 4 ounces. Colleen Jones, the sister of Bristol's grandmother, told the magazine that "the baby is fine and Bristol is doing well."
The governor's office said it would not release information because it considers the baby's birth a private, family matter. Palin family members, hospital employees and spokespeople for the governor's former running mate, John McCain, either would not confirm the birth or did not return messages from The Associated Press.
The father is Levi Johnston, a former hockey player at Alaska's Wasilla High School. (More)
LSB: Where to start? In no particular order: (1) Why was this announced by PEOPLE magazine and not the local/state newspaper, especially if this was a "private, family matter?" Might the Palin 2012 Committee have had anything to do with this announcement? (2) How ironic that this birth by an unwed mother was announced the same weekend as the release of a large federal study that found "viriginity pledges" are ineffective. (3) I guess the theocrats are too busy worrying about "the gays" getting married to obsess about these two new parents becoming wed. (4) What baby name book are these people using? Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig... and now Tripp. These names are from a soap opera. (5) Wonder how often they'll take the baby to prison to visit Grandma Johnston. Ok, I'm done now.
UPDATE: MSNBC is reporting that the Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston may receive up to $300,000 for the first pictures of their son Tripp. [LSB: So that's why People got the announcement first. She learned quickly how to exploit her 15 minutes.]

As if Things Weren't Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S. (UPDATED)

Andrew Osborn, The Wall Street Journal: For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument -- that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. -- very seriously. Now he's found an eager audience: Russian state media. ...
Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.
But it's his bleak forecast for the U.S. that is music to the ears of the Kremlin, which in recent years has blamed Washington for everything from instability in the Middle East to the global financial crisis. Mr. Panarin's views also fit neatly with the Kremlin's narrative that Russia is returning to its rightful place on the world stage after the weakness of the 1990s, when many feared that the country would go economically and politically bankrupt and break into separate territories.
"There's a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur," [Panarin] says. "One could rejoice in that process," he adds, poker-faced. "But if we're talking reasonably, it's not the best scenario -- for Russia." Though Russia would become more powerful on the global stage, he says, its economy would suffer because it currently depends heavily on the dollar and on trade with the U.S.
Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces -- with Alaska reverting to Russian control. ...
[Panarin] based the forecast on classified data supplied to him by FAPSI analysts, he says. He predicts that economic, financial and demographic trends will provoke a political and social crisis in the U.S. When the going gets tough, he says, wealthier states will withhold funds from the federal government and effectively secede from the union. Social unrest up to and including a civil war will follow. The U.S. will then split along ethnic lines, and foreign powers will move in.
California will form the nucleus of what he calls "The Californian Republic," and will be part of China or under Chinese influence. Texas will be the heart of "The Texas Republic," a cluster of states that will go to Mexico or fall under Mexican influence. Washington, D.C., and New York will be part of an "Atlantic America" that may join the European Union. Canada will grab a group of Northern states Prof. Panarin calls "The Central North American Republic." Hawaii, he suggests, will be a protectorate of Japan or China, and Alaska will be subsumed into Russia. ... Interest in his forecast revived this fall when he published an article in Izvestia, one of Russia's biggest national dailies. In it, he reiterated his theory, called U.S. foreign debt "a pyramid scheme," and predicted China and Russia would usurp Washington's role as a global financial regulator. ...
The professor says he's convinced that people are taking his theory more seriously. People like him have forecast similar cataclysms before, he says, and been right. He cites French political scientist Emmanuel Todd. Mr. Todd is famous for having rightly forecast the demise of the Soviet Union -- 15 years beforehand. "When he forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1976, people laughed at him," says Prof. Panarin.
LSB: This reminded me of the 1980's TV mini-series, Amerika. Anyone remember this? Immigration issues, state economic issues (stories abound of how states are selling off or leasing some of their assests - toll roads, land, etc. - in order to meet their budget shortfalls), race (we've already seen that the Obama presidency is reviving racial tensions among some of our citizens), and moral issues (Prop 8 anyone?) could have an impact on how the states relate to one another. But to the degree Panarin predicts? No! Panarin GREATLY overestimates the effects of these problems and greatly underestimates the psyche of the American public. This is simply Russian Fantasyland.
UPDATE: Unrest caused by bad economy may require military action, report says. Diana Washington Valdez, El Paso Times:
A U.S. Army War College report warns an economic crisis in the United States could lead to massive civil unrest and the need to call on the military to restore order.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Nathan Freir wrote the report "Known Unknowns: Unconventional Strategic Shocks in Defense Strategy Development," which the Army think tank in Carlisle, Pa., recently released.
"Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities ... to defend basic domestic order and human security," the report said, in case of "unforeseen economic collapse," "pervasive public health emergencies," and catastrophic natural and human disasters," among other possible crises.
The report also suggests the new (Barack Obama) administration could face a "strategic shock" within the first eight months in office.

"Please don't divorce...": Courage Campaign community photo project

Courage Campaign website: Infamous prosecutor Ken Starr has filed a legal brief -- on behalf of the "Yes on 8" campaign -- to nullify the 18,000 same-sex marriages performed in California between May and November of 2008.
It's time to put a face to Ken Starr's shameful legal proceedings. To put a face to the 18,000 couples facing forcible divorce. To put a face to marriage equality. Because, gay or straight, YOU are the face of the Marriage Equality Movement.
Please click through the photos in the slideshow and then submit your own photo, as an individual, a couple or in a group (perhaps with your family over the holidays). Take a picture holding a piece of paper that says "Please don't divorce us," "Please don't divorce my moms,""Please don't divorce my friends, Dawn and Audrey," "Please don't divorce Californians" or whatever you want after "Please don't divorce..." and send it to:
We want to share this beautiful project with as many people as possible. Please tell your friends about this slideshow by clicking here to use our simple and easy invite page.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

25% of Retailers May Go Bankrupt

Henry Blodget, Silicon Alley Insider: Retailing has always been a tough business. Now it's a brutal business. Some observers now predict that more than 25% of retailers may go bust in the the next two years.
A great WSJ quote driving home how this truly is retail's Schumpeterian moment:
Analysts estimate that from about 10% to 26% of all retailers are in financial distress and in danger of filing for Chapter 11. AlixPartners LLP, a Michigan-based turnaround consulting firm, estimates that 25.8% of 182 large retailers it tracks are at significant risk of filing for bankruptcy or facing financial distress in 2009 or 2010. In the previous two years, the firm had estimated 4% to 7% of retailers then tracked were at a high risk for filing.
More here.
Granted, many retailers are perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy, but these are still unprecedented numbers. Retail, as we know it, is going to look very, very different a decade from now.
The first retail casualty of the weak holiday season could be Goody's Family Clothing Inc., a Southeast apparel retailer. The 287-store chain emerged from bankruptcy court in October but its holiday sales were below plan and financing it was counting on didn't materialize, according to a person familiar with the situation. The retailer is negotiating with lenders to avoid potential liquidation, say two people familiar with the matter.
A representative for Goody's was unavailable to comment. But in October, Chief Executive Paul White was upbeat about its prospects, saying "we are energized by the opportunity in front of us and are focused on continuing to fulfill the Goody's mission."
Other retailers are saying they will trim inventory and reduce the number of suppliers. That, in turn, will cause a ripple effect, prompting a number of weaker manufacturers, small brands and underfunded fashion labels to fail. New retail formats and concepts stores are likely to be curtailed in the coming year. And luxury-goods makers already are working to cut the long lead times between orders and store delivery as a way to reduce risk. "We will have a lot fewer stores by the middle of 2009," says Nancy Koehn, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. "It's happening very, very quickly because of the financial crisis and the recession."
LSB: So explain to me then why they are still building retail strip malls like there is no tomorrow in my neighborhood? I understand many of them were on he drawing boards and had financing in place before the credit crisis, but what will become of all of them now?

Beltway Bozos: FDR's New Deal Made Great Depression Worse

Susie Madrak, Crooks and Liars: Oh, to live in that happy place where Fox News resides: where the sun shone out of Ronald Reagan's behind, and FDR, not Hitler, was the real villain of his time...
After Wise Men Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes pull their chin hairs and speak in somber tones about how Obama's economic stimulus package will actually hurt the economy - just like FDR's New Deal did - they wax rhapsodic over Reaganomics. (After tsk-tsking about unions quite possibly wrecking the economy under Obama, of course.)
I, too, have fond memories of Reaganomics. Why, until Reagan waved his magic wand, our unemployment checks weren't even taxed! I was absolutely thrilled to be able to make that sacrifice to fund tax cuts for the wealthy:
Another Reagan proposal that came in for criticism was the plan to tax all unemployment compensation.
[...] "What he's doing is taxing something to a person who is under a rough time to begin with," noted Herbert Paul, a New York tax lawyer. "But you don't seem to have a strong lobby group to push to eliminate that, so I think it may well stick."
And stick it did. Why, thanks to Reagan's Tax Reform Act of 1986, I only recently finished paying the taxes (and interest) due on unemployment income from 2001 - and here I am, unemployed again, thanks to yet another Republican-sponsored economic crash.
But I digress. The fact is, facts simply aren't relevant to Republicans, since their economic views and objects of veneration are more appropriate to a religious cult than intellectual rigor. (You might want to get Will Bunch's new book for a look at this phenomena - and why it's so important.)
I'm not going to pick apart the specifics of everything Morton Kondracke and Fred Barnes said, because they're only interchangeable players in the larger conservative game plan. We've seen just about every possible Republican bobblehead spouting this same nonsense in the past few weeks, fresh off the RNC talking-points fax machine.
Yes, faced with a massive worldwide economic crisis that threatens our entire society, the GOP response is ... to manufacture a meme attacking the only policies that can possibly fix things. They are more than willing to throw the country under the policy bus if it means they can lay the foundation for a political comeback.
"Yeah, yeah, you people are out of work and companies are collapsing. But what about our needs?"
Republicans are so used to cynically gaming the system, it doesn't even occur to them that the obvious path to political rehabilitation is to put the country's interests ahead of their own. But then, no one ever said True Believers were logical.
New York Times economic writer Daniel Gross debunks the wingnut mythology here:
It was only with the passage of New Deal efforts--the SEC, the FDIC, the FSLIC--that the mechanisms of private capital began to kick back into gear. Don't take it from me. Take it from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who wrote the following in Essays on the Great Depression: "Only with the New Deal's rehabilitation of the financial system in 1933-35 did the economy begin its slow emergence from the Great Depression."...
The argument that the New Deal's efforts "perhaps had prolonged, the Depression," is a canard. One would be very hard-pressed to find a serious professional historian--I mean a serious historian, not a think-tank wanker, not an economist, not a journalist--who believes that the New Deal prolonged the Depression. (emphasis added)
It simply galls them that there's simply no factual way to argue that Republicans are good for the economy - so they simply make things up.

The Noose Tightens: Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and other top Bush officials could soon face legal jeopardy.

Jonathan Tepperman, Newsweek: The United States, like many countries, has a bad habit of committing wartime excesses and an even worse record of accounting for them afterward. But a remarkable string of recent events suggests that may finally be changing—and that top Bush administration officials could soon face legal jeopardy for prisoner abuse committed under their watch in the war on terror.
In early December, in a highly unusual move, a federal court in New York agreed to rehear a lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft brought by a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar. (Arar was a victim of the administration's extraordinary rendition program: he was seized by U.S. officials in 2002 while in transit through Kennedy Airport and deported to Syria, where he was tortured.) Then, on Dec. 15, the Supreme Court revived a lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld by four Guantánamo detainees alleging abuse there—a reminder that the court, unlike the White House, will extend Constitutional protections to foreigners at Gitmo. Finally, in the same week the Senate Armed Service Committee, led by Carl Levin and John McCain, released a blistering report specifically blaming key administration figures for prisoner mistreatment and interrogation techniques that broke the law. The bipartisan report reads like a brief for the prosecution—calling, for example, Rumsfeld's behavior a "direct cause" of abuse. Analysts say it gives a green light to prosecutors, and supplies them with political cover and factual ammunition. Administration officials, with a few exceptions, deny wrongdoing. Vice President Dick Cheney says there was nothing improper with U.S. interrogation techniques—"we don't do torture," he repeated in an ABC interview on Dec. 15. The government blamed the worst abuses, such as those at Abu Ghraib, on a few bad apples.
High-level charges, if they come, would be a first in U.S. history. "Traditionally we've caught some poor bastard down low and not gone up the chain," says Burt Neuborne, a constitutional expert and Supreme Court lawyer at NYU. Prosecutions may well be forestalled if Bush issues a blanket pardon in his final days, as Neuborne and many other experts now expect. (Some see Cheney's recent defiant-sounding admission of his own role in approving waterboarding as an attempt to force Bush's hand.)
Constitutionally, Bush could pardon everyone involved in formulating and executing the administration's interrogation techniques without providing specifics or naming names. And the pardon could apply to himself. Such a step, however, would seem like an admission of guilt and thus be politically awkward. Even if Bush takes it, civil suits for monetary damages could still proceed; such cases, though hard to win, are proliferating. Yet most legal scholars argue that a civil suit would not the best approach here. Neuborne calls it an "excessively lawyer-centric" strategy and says judges are extremely reluctant to award damages in such cases. Conservative legal experts like David Rifkin (who served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations) argue that no accounting is necessary, since the worst interrogation techniques, like waterboarding, have already been abandoned and Obama is expected to make further changes.
A growing group of advocates are now instead calling for a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, says that although "we know what went on," "knowledge and a change in practices are not sufficient: there must be acknowledgment and repudiation as well." He favors the creation of a nonpartisan commission of inquiry with a professional staff and subpoena power, calling it "the only way to definitively repudiate this ugly chapter in U.S. history."
But for those interested in tougher sanctions, one other possibility looms. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and author of "The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld," points out that over 20 countries now have universal jurisdiction laws that would allow them to indict U.S. officials for torture if America doesn't do it itself. A few such cases were attempted in recent years but were dropped, reportedly under U.S. pressure. Now the Obama administration may be less likely to stand in their way. This doesn't mean it will extradite Cheney and Co. to stand trial abroad. But at the very least, the threat of such suits could soon force Bush aides to think twice before buying plane tickets. "The world is getting smaller for these guys," says Ratner, "and they'll have to check with their lawyers very carefully before they travel." Jail time it isn't—but it may be some justice nonetheless.
LSB: (Emphasis added is mine.) A “truth and reconciliation commission” only happens in Fantasyland. There is not a single Congressional majority leader who has the backbone to stand-up to these Republican thugs – even those out of office. They’ll all huff and puff and carry on like they usually do, and all that will happen is more hot air is let loose in DC. And does anyone really think any of the 20 countries that have universal jurisdiction will bring a case against Bush et al? No, because the minority leadership will threaten the Obama administration or call it names until the Obama administration threatens that country initiating a trial. I can’t imagine any scenario in which the true perpetrators of these war crimes are brought to justice in this lifetime.

You’re Likable Enough, Gay People

Frank Rich, The New York Times: In his first press conference after his re-election in 2004, President Bush memorably declared, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” We all know how that turned out.
Barack Obama has little in common with George W. Bush, thank God, his obsessive workouts and message control notwithstanding. At a time when very few Americans feel very good about very much, Obama is generating huge hopes even before he takes office. So much so that his name and face, affixed to any product, may be the last commodity left in the marketplace that can still move Americans to shop.
I share these high hopes. But for the first time a faint tinge of Bush crept into my Obama reveries this month.
As we saw during primary season, our president-elect is not free of his own brand of hubris and arrogance, and sometimes it comes before a fall: “You’re likable enough, Hillary” was the prelude to his defeat in New Hampshire. He has hit this same note again by assigning the invocation at his inauguration to the Rev. Rick Warren, the Orange County, Calif., megachurch preacher who has likened committed gay relationships to incest, polygamy and “an older guy marrying a child.” Bestowing this honor on Warren was a conscious — and glib — decision by Obama to spend political capital. It was made with the certitude that a leader with a mandate can do no wrong.
In this case, the capital spent is small change. Most Americans who have an opinion about Warren like him and his best-selling self-help tome, “The Purpose Driven Life.” His good deeds are plentiful on issues like human suffering in Africa, poverty and climate change. He is opposed to same-sex marriage, but so is almost every top-tier national politician, including Obama. Unlike such family-values ayatollahs as James Dobson and Tony Perkins, Warren is not obsessed with homosexuality and abortion. He was vociferously attacked by the Phyllis Schlafly gang when he invited Obama to speak about AIDS at his Saddleback Church two years ago.
There’s no reason why Obama shouldn’t return the favor by inviting him to Washington. But there’s a difference between including Warren among the cacophony of voices weighing in on policy and anointing him as the inaugural’s de facto pope. You can’t blame V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and an early Obama booster, for feeling as if he’d been slapped in the face. “I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” he told The Times, but “we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most-watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”
Warren, whose ego is no less than Obama’s, likes to advertise his “commitment to model civility in America.” But as Rachel Maddow of MSNBC reminded her audience, “comparing gay relationships to child abuse” is a “strange model of civility.” Less strange but equally hard to take is Warren’s defensive insistence that some of his best friends are the gays: His boasts of having “eaten dinner in gay homes” and loving Melissa Etheridge records will not protect any gay families’ civil rights.
Equally lame is the argument mounted by an Obama spokeswoman, Linda Douglass, who talks of how Warren has fought for “people who have H.I.V./AIDS.” Shouldn’t that be the default position of any religious leader? Fighting AIDS is not a get-out-of-homophobia-free card. [LSB: Especially when AIDS in Africa is primarily a heterosexual disease. I guess that makes it easier for Warren and Bush to stomach.] That Bush finally joined Bono in doing the right thing about AIDS in Africa does not mitigate the gay-baiting of his 2004 campaign, let alone his silence and utter inaction when the epidemic was killing Texans by the thousands, many of them gay men, during his term as governor.
Unlike Bush, Obama has been the vocal advocate of gay civil rights he claims to be. It is over the top to assert, as a gay writer at Time did, that the president-elect is “a very tolerant, very rational-sounding sort of bigot.” Much more to the point is the astute criticism leveled by the gay Democratic congressman Barney Frank, who, in dissenting from the Warren choice, said of Obama, “I think he overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences.” That’s a polite way of describing the Obama cockiness. It will take more than the force of the new president’s personality and eloquence to turn our nation into the United States of America he and we all want it to be.
Obama may not only overestimate his ability to bridge some of our fundamental differences but also underestimate how persistent some of those differences are. The exhilaration of his decisive election victory and the deserved applause that has greeted his mostly glitch-free transition can’t entirely mask the tensions underneath. Before there is profound social change, there is always high anxiety.
The success of Proposition 8 in California was a serious shock to gay Americans and to all the rest of us who believe that all marriages should be equal under the law. The roles played by African-Americans (who voted 70 percent in favor of Proposition 8) and by white Mormons (who were accused of bankrolling the anti-same-sex-marriage campaign) only added to the morning-after recriminations. And that was in blue California. In Arkansas, voters went so far as to approve a measure forbidding gay couples to adopt.
There is comparable anger and fear on the right. David Brody, a political correspondent with the Christian Broadcasting Network, was flooded with e-mails from religious conservatives chastising Warren for accepting the invitation to the inaugural. They vilified Obama as “pro-death” and worse because of his support for abortion rights.
Stoking this rage, no doubt, is the dawning realization that the old religious right is crumbling — in part because Warren’s new generation of leaders departs from the Falwell-Robertson brand of zealots who have had a stranglehold on the G.O.P. It’s a sign of the old establishment’s panic that the Rev. Richard Cizik, known for his leadership in addressing global warming, was pushed out of his executive post at the National Association of Evangelicals this month. Cizik’s sin was to tell Terry Gross of NPR that he was starting to shift in favor of civil unions for gay couples.
Cizik’s ouster won’t halt the new wave he represents. As he also told Gross, young evangelicals care less and less about the old wedge issues and aren’t as likely to base their votes on them. On gay rights in particular, polls show that young evangelicals are moving in Cizik’s (and the country’s) direction and away from what John McCain once rightly called “the agents of intolerance.” It’s not a coincidence that Dobson’s Focus on the Family, which spent more than $500,000 promoting Proposition 8, has now had to lay off 20 percent of its work force in Colorado Springs.
But we’re not there yet. Warren’s defamation of gay people illustrates why, as does our president-elect’s rationalization of it. When Obama defends Warren’s words by calling them an example of the “wide range of viewpoints” in a “diverse and noisy and opinionated” America, he is being too cute by half. He knows full well that a “viewpoint” defaming any minority group by linking it to sexual crimes like pedophilia is unacceptable.
It is even more toxic in a year when that group has been marginalized and stripped of its rights by ballot initiatives fomenting precisely such fears. “You’ve got to give them hope” was the refrain of the pioneering 1970s gay politician Harvey Milk, so stunningly brought back to life by Sean Penn on screen this winter. Milk reminds us that hope has to mean action, not just words.
By the historical standards of presidential hubris, Obama’s disingenuous defense of his tone-deaf invitation to Warren is nonetheless a relatively tiny infraction. It’s no Bay of Pigs. But it does add an asterisk to the joyous inaugural of our first black president. It’s bizarre that Obama, of all people, would allow himself to be on the wrong side of this history.
Since he’s not about to rescind the invitation, what happens next? For perspective, I asked Timothy McCarthy, a historian who teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and an unabashed Obama enthusiast who served on his campaign’s National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council. He responded via e-mail on Christmas Eve.
After noting that Warren’s role at the inauguration is, in the end, symbolic, McCarthy concluded that “it’s now time to move from symbol to substance.” This means Warren should “recant his previous statements about gays and lesbians, and start acting like a Christian.”
McCarthy added that it’s also time “for President-elect Obama to start acting on the promises he made to the LGBT community during his campaign so that he doesn’t go down in history as another Bill Clinton, a sweet-talking swindler who would throw us under the bus for the sake of political expediency.” And “for LGBT folks to choose their battles wisely, to judge Obama on the content of his policy-making, not on the character of his ministers.”
Amen. Here’s to humility and equanimity everywhere in America, starting at the top, as we negotiate the fierce rapids of change awaiting us in the New Year.
LSB: Emphasis added is mine.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

One Wise Man

Hard Candy Christmas

Dan Savage, SLOG: Courtesy of Slog tipper Jubilation T. Cornball, who writes: "What could be better than a bunch of whores singing a poignant Christmas song? Hooray, Dolly! Hooray, whores!"
But here's what I want to know: what's so damn sucky about hard candy that you can modify Christmas with it and ruin Christmas for everyone? Or is hard candy like kryptonite for hookers?
LSB: While I am missing some of my favorite columnists who have taken time off to spend with their families this holiday, I have been enjoying some of the YouTube clips they have left behind. This one in particular is a blast from the past! (I wonder if there is a clip of "We Need a Little Christmas" from MAME. Update: Of course there is a clip!)

RNC Candidate Distributes ‘Barack The Magic Negro’ As His Christmas Greeting Last year, Rush Limbaugh came under intense criticism for repeatedly airing a parody song called “Barack the Magic Negro” by conservative satirist Paul Shanklin. The song, which dealt with Obama’s popularity amongst white voters, was widely attacked as being racist. Doing an Al Sharpton impersonation, Shanklin sings the song to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Limbaugh, however, tried to defend it as “creative” and “funny.” [LSB: I'm deleting the link to the song, as I don't want to give any additional exposure to this trash.]
The Hill reports that for his Christmas greeting this year, RNC chair candidate Chip Saltsman sent out a CD of the “Barack the Magic Negro” song. Saltsman’s Christmas message:
“I look forward to working together in the New Year,” Saltsman wrote. “Please enjoy the enclosed CD by my friend Paul Shanklin of the Rush Limbaugh Show.”
Shanklin’s CD, “We Hate the USA,” also contains songs such as “Star Spanglish banner” and “Wright place, wrong pastor.”
Saltsman is refusing to apologize, telling CNN: “I think most people recognize political satire when they see it. I think RNC members understand that.”
Saltsman isn’t the only RNC candidate who has come under fire on race issues. South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson was a member of a whites-only country club until recently, when he withdrew his membership in order to lay the groundwork for his RNC candidacy.
LSB: How much lower can Limbaugh, the RNC and some in the GOP sink? I won't paint all Republicans with the racist label, but clearly someone in the party needs to stand up to this shit.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Final Six Minutes of the Six Feet Under Series Finale

LSB: OK, it may be a bit bizarre to post this particular video on Christmas, but I just came across it on another blog and wanted preserve it. I loved this show and never missed an episode. Let me try to connect the dots for you.
Claire's road trip is an allegory (symbolic narrative) for her journey through life; as her road trip continues, we, the viewers, find out what happens to all of those she loved most. Claire's road trip is not unlike the journey we take every day, watching as others come in and go out of our lives. Some are here with us for a short time, and others are with us for a lifetime. In the end, as the old cliche goes, it's the journey, not the destination, that matters most... and those that take the journey with us are to be treasured most.
I guess I'm thinking this morning about some of those that have made a part of this journey with me, as well as all of those that continue to be by my side as the journey continues. Each has contributed to my life, and for that I am grateful. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa's G-Mail Account

You must embiggen to enjoy. The whole thing is a riot: the IM box, the subject lines, even the status messages. (Via - Someone In A Tree)

Mmm, Mmm, Gay

Joe.My.God.: Here we go again. The Campbell Soup Company booked an ad in The Advocate depicting a two-mom family and right on cue, the American Family Association crawled out their sewer.
"Not only did the ads cost Campbell's a chunk of money," writes AFA Chairman Donald Wildmon in an email alert, "but they also sent a message that homosexual parents constitute a family and are worthy of support." Wildmon is seeking people who will contact the soup company and ask Campbell's to "stop supporting the gay agenda." According to the Campbell's Soup website, the company's businesses strive to avoid advertising that disparages any religious, ethnic or political group or that "implies that Campbell supports specific points of view." For Wildmon, however, spending advertising dollars in a magazine called "The Advocate" and promoting a lesbian couple and their son with the line "no matter the structure of your family" clearly indicates the company's support of redefining traditional family norms to fit a "specific point of view." "Campbell Soup Company," writes Wildmon, "has openly begun helping homosexual activists push their agenda."
However, the Advocate is reporting that Campbell is shrugging off the AFA protest.
Campbell rep Anthony Sanzio said the company stands behind the ads. "Our position on this is pretty straightforward. Inclusion and diversity play an important role in our business, and that fact is reflected in our marketing plan," he said. "For more than a century people from all walks for life have enjoyed Campbell's products, and we will continue to try to communicate in ways that are meaningful and relevant to them." Sanzio said plans for the Swanson brand include further placements in The Advocate.
Click over to the Advocate story for links to thank Campbell for not bowing to the haters.

Call To Appoint Openly Gay William White As Secretary Of The Navy Grows Louder

Joe.My.God.: Equal Rep, a grassroots group founded by Join The Impact co-founder Paul Sousa, is calling for support in their bid to get Barack Obama to nominate William White as the first openly gay Secretary of the Navy.
In a short amount of time, White has already earned some impressive endorsements. Retired general Hugh Shelton, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said White "would be phenomenal." He added that White's extensive background as a fund-raiser for veterans' and military causes would be helpful in the job. Congressman Jerrold Nadler said White is "very capable" on the basis of observing his work at the Intrepid, located on the Hudson River, which is in Nadler's district. Nadler added that White has been a friend of service members and their families through his work with the museum and philanthropic efforts, according to The Washington Times."
With the whole Rick Warren fiasco ensuing and the fact that gay Americans were completely shut out of Obama's cabinet, this is the perfect opportunity for our President-elect to show gay Americans they have not been forgotten and he truly is committed to equal representation." said Paul Sousa, Equal Rep founder. "William White is not only the most qualified candidate, but appointing him would also send a strong message that change is coming and the antiquated, discriminatory policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will be repealed soon."
The vile Elaine Donnelly of the Center For Military Readiness allows that William White has done "admirable good work" in raising millions of dollars for the temporary housing and support of the families of injured soldiers. She also concedes that there is no law against civilian homosexuals working for the Pentagon and that White would not be the first Naval Secretary without prior military experience. But then she reverts to form and raises the straw man of predatory homos in the showers:
Civilian service secretaries do not have to live in the same conditions of what the law describes as “forced intimacy” offering little or no privacy. Congress should protect the interests of surface sailors, Navy SEALS, and submariners who do accept these living conditions, and not pass legislation that would make military life even more difficult. But instead of considering the harmful consequences of repealing the 1993 law, Mr. White’s perceived status as a “poster man” for the cause of gays in the military would distract attention from the serious consequences of repealing the 1993 law. Such an appointment would call into question the judgment of President Obama, the next Commander-in-Chief. Despite his personal views, President Obama should put the needs of the military above the demands of homosexualists who want to use government power to impose their agenda on military men and women.
Donnelly goes on to predict that White's appointment would not only hasten the end of DADT (hooray!) but that its repeal would "increase threefold" the number of sexual harassment incidents in the military. (Donnelly points to her ass as the source of that statistic.)
The Facebook action page for William White is here.

Joseph Lowery, The Other Inaugural Pastor, Is Also Against Marriage Equality

Joe.My.God.: From last night's episode of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on MSNBC:
JOSEPH LOWERY: "Well, I've never said I support gay marriage. I support gay rights and I support civil unions. Like a whole lot of people, I have some difficulty with the term gay marriage. Because deep in my heart, deeply rooted in my heart and mind, marriage is associated with man and woman. So I have a little cultural shock with that. But I certainly support civil unions, and that gay partners ought to have all the rights that any other citizens have in this country."
DAVID SHUSTER: "Fair enough, but when somebody suggests that gay partners are somehow like incest or pedophiles, um, what should the response be from people to that?"
JOSEPH LOWERY: "Well, I think that's wrong. I condemn it. I take all kinds of sharp and robust differences with that kind of denigration. But even so, I will not refuse to be on a program with him because we have these differences. That's what the president-elect proposes to do. Bring people together with different views and hopefully out of these discussions and out of association we can find common ground to serve common good."
RELATED: Rick Warren drops loaded references to incest and pedophilia into the conversation when same sex marriage comes up, only to claim he wasn't saying that at all. A commenter on SF Gate nails it:
Context means everything. It seems highly unlikely for someone as well-versed in the Right's "culture wars" as Rick Warren to raise the issue of incest & pedophilia when talking about gays without intending it as a slur. It's like talking about stinginess & Jews, welfare & Blacks - when you raise certain issues that play on peoples' prejudices, you are committing slander on a group of people. The context of the Inauguration is also important. Sure, we need to be tolerant & include all sorts of people. But there is one and only one group in society that lost something in the last election, and Obama should have been particularly sensitive to the fact that gays and those who believe in their equality feel extremely vulnerable right now. We've had 28 years of administrations that have treated us poorly, an election that took away our rights in four states, and even a homophobic murder in New York. Could he not have chosen someone else at this sensitive time?

Red State Update: Gays Still Hate Obama, Rick Warren


Putting a stake through the "Bush legacy." Amen.
And now the same folks that brought us the needless $3 trillion war in Iraq have the mother of all swan songs left in store: redefining the Bush legacy as something other than a failure. Weekly Standard senior writer and GOP insider Stephen Hayes let slip earlier this month that an unofficial White House PR campaign is afoot - which Hayes dubbed the "Bush Legacy project" - with the mission of highlighting what they believe are the President's accomplishments and shirking responsibility for the more numerous and far more consequential failures....
The Bush legacy should be remembered as a grand and failed experiment of what happens when conservatives are in complete control of the government. Conservative ideology rails against government, argues that government is the problem, not the solution. So when a government run by conservatives is faced with the most important responsibility any government has - to protect its citizens - is it any wonder you wind up with a tragedy of epic proportions like Katrina?
For helping drive a stake in the heart of conservative governance for years to come, Bush actually deserves all the credit and thanks in the world.
In the end, the shame of Vice President Dick Cheney was total: unmitigated by any notion of a graceful departure, let alone the slightest obligation of honest accounting. Although firmly ensconced, even in the popular imagination, as an example of evil incarnate—nearly a quarter of those polled in this week’s CNN poll rated him the worst vice president in U.S. history, and 41 percent as “poor”—Cheney exudes the confidence of one fully convinced that he will get away with it all....
The Bush administration, with Cheney in the lead, did not so much fight the danger of terrorism as exploit it for partisan political purpose. The record is quite clear that the administration was asleep at the switch before 9/11, blithely ignoring stark warnings of an impending attack. But the hoary warmongering after 9/11 afforded a convenient distraction from the economic problems at home. As I asked in a column on June 26, 2002: “Has the war on terrorism become the modern equivalent of the Roman circus, drawing the people’s attention away from the failures of those who rule them? Corporate America is a shambles because deregulation, the mantra of our president and his party, has proved to be a license to steal.”
That is the true legacy of Dick Cheney and the president he ill-served.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

HomoQuotable - Harvey Fierstein

Joe.My.God.: "A couple of boys were calling my best friend a faggot one unhappy day at summer camp. Courses of action seemed slim to my adolescent mind. I could stand up for Jack branding myself a fag as well and insuring myself a miserable summer, or I could join in with the name callers, lose my closest friend, but assure my standing with the majority. I sacrificed my friend on the altar of popularity. I don’t think I need to tell you that political expediency was a terrific short-term solution but a long-term nightmare. My summer concluded uneventfully but none of those boys became my friend or did me any favors. And forty years later I still feel the loss of Jack along with a piece of my self respect that I can never win back. Mine was an act of cowardice and betrayal.
"It seems Obama is now maneuvering through the summer camp of his political adolescence and is about to make the same bad choice as I. He can call the placing of a hate monger like Rick Warren on the world dais political healing or inclusiveness or any other nicety he’d like, but I call it pandering to the lowest instinct of the worst kind of politics.
"President Elect Obama, your victory was made possible in no small part to the votes and wallets of the gay and lesbian community along with our supporters. Turning your back on us does not make you more mainstream American. It just makes you a coward." - Harvey Fierstein, writing on Facebook.

Exclusive: Cheney’s admissions to the CIA leak prosecutor and FBI

Murray Wass: Vice President Dick Cheney, according to a still-highly confidential FBI report, admitted to federal investigators that he rewrote talking points for the press in July 2003 that made it much more likely that the role of then-covert CIA-officer Valerie Plame in sending her husband on a CIA-sponsored mission to Africa would come to light.
Cheney conceded during his interview with federal investigators that in drawing attention to Plame’s role in arranging her husband’s Africa trip reporters might also unmask her role as CIA officer.
Cheney denied to the investigators, however, that he had done anything on purpose that would lead to the outing of Plame as a covert CIA operative. But the investigators came away from their interview with Cheney believing that he had not given them a plausible explanation as to how he could focus attention on Plame’s role in arranging her husband’s trip without her CIA status also possibly publicly exposed. At the time, Plame was a covert CIA officer involved in preventing Iran from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, and Cheney’s office played a central role in exposing her and nullifying much of her work.
Cheney revised the talking points on July 8, 2003– the very same day that his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, met with New York Times reporter Judith Miller and told Miller that Plame was a CIA officer and that Plame had also played a central role in sending her husband on his CIA sponsored trip to the African nation of Niger.
Both Cheney and Libby have acknowledged that Cheney directed him to meet with Miller, but claimed that the purpose of that meeting was to leak other sensitive intelligence to discredit allegations made by Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, that the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information to go to war with Iraq, rather than to leak Plame’s identity.
That Cheney, by his own admission, had revised the talking points in an effort to have the reporters examine who sent Wilson on the very same day that his chief of staff was disclosing to Miller Plame’s identity as a CIA officer may be the most compelling evidence to date that Cheney himself might have directed Libby to disclose Plame’s identity to Miller and other reporters.
This new information adds to a growing body of evidence that Cheney may have directed Libby to disclose Plame’s identity to reporters and that Libby acted to protect Cheney by lying to federal investigators and a federal grand jury about the matter. (More)

Other Editorials Condemning the Warren Selection

... I can understand Obama's desire to embrace constituencies that have rejected him. Evangelicals are in that category and Warren is an important evangelical leader with whom, Obama said, "we're not going to agree on every single issue." He went on to say, "We can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans." Sounds nice.
But what we do not "hold in common" is the dehumanization of homosexuals. What we do not hold in common is the belief that gays are perverts who have chosen their sexual orientation on some sort of whim. What we do not hold in common is the exaltation of ignorance that has led and will lead to discrimination and violence.
Finally, what we do not hold in common is the categorization of a civil rights issue -- the rights of gays to be treated equally -- as some sort of cranky cultural difference. For that we need moral leadership, which, on this occasion, Obama has failed to provide. For some people, that's nothing to celebrate. ...
...Obama has generally exhibited good judgment on gay issues. In June 2007, he rightfully slammed President Bush's nomination of cardiologist James Holsinger to be surgeon general. Holsinger was a highly credentialed former Kentucky health and family services secretary and former chancellor of the University of Kentucky medical center. But his nomination went nowhere, partially because of a 1991 religious paper he wrote titled "Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality." Holsinger wrote that "the varied sexual practices of homosexual men have resulted in a diverse and expanded concept of sexually transmitted diseases and associated trauma." He concluded that "when the complementarity of the sexes is breached, injuries and diseases may occur."
Obama issued a statement saying, "America's top doctor should be a doctor for all Americans, and so I have serious reservations about nominating someone who would inject his own anti-gay ideology into critical decisions about the health and well-being of our nation . . . the United States surgeon general's office is no place for bigotry or ideology that would trump science and good judgment."
Yet here is Obama exercising terrible judgment on someone who just got done injecting anti-gay ideology into politics in the biggest state in the nation. It is nice that Warren and many evangelicals are increasingly involved in the environment and global poverty. But it seems that Obama is having a little PJSD here, as in Post Jeremiah Stress Disorder. Having nearly had his campaign destroyed by the tapes of his former pastor Jeremiah Wright blasting America as a hopelessly racist nation, Obama seems compelled to close his eyes to one of the most powerful forms of conservative-driven bigotry left in this country. ...

"The God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know." Gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, who advised Obama several times during his campaign, weighed in on the invitation to Rick Warren, and said that hearing about the selection was like was like "a slap in the face.":
"I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table, but we’re not talking about a discussion, we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know."
LSB: This invitation is incredibly disappointing, and no matter how much sturm und drang is employed by the backers of Prop 8 in attempting to get Warren’s invitation rescinded – it ain’t happenin’, folks.
Obama fucked up… and he knows it now, but to try to disinvite Warren at this point would be seen to those on the right that Obama is trying to reach as a capitulation to the “pedophiles.” [Sidebar: As a gay man I am interested in other gay MEN – not kids. Hell, for me men don’t become interesting until they’re in their 40’s. Besides, aren’t most pedophiles self-proclaimed heterosexuals?]
If Warren had any class he’d excuse himself from the gig so as not to be a distraction from the momentous and historic occasion this will be. But Warren is as much a publicity whore as… well, Kathy Griffin (no offense, but she’s said this of herself in the past I feel alright repeating it), so there is no chance Warren will graciously step aside.
Here’s how all of this will play out:
  • Obama, Warren and their minions will continue to say this invitation to a dialogue is an effort to “reach across” the political divide (which, of course, is complete bull shit, as this will only be seen by those on the right for the stunt that it is, and the right will continue to talk about Obama as a baby killer and gay lover);
  • We ‘gays’ will continue to beat out chests and denounce this invitation; we will write letters and blog ad infinitum; we will make signs and march in protest (because we love a parade); and we will make the argument that this is about civil rights to the same crowd that knows it and doesn’t care about our civil rights; and
  • The inaugural will come and go, and the only controversy on the day of the event will be about Michelle’s gown – did we like it or not. And on the day AFTER the swearing-in, the new administration will still have no openly gay cabinet members, DOMA will still be the law of the land, and military gays will still not ‘ask nor tell.’
So does that mean nothing is to be done? NO! Civil rights have never come from the politicians – either Congress or the Executive Branch – as they are too beholding to the voting public; civil rights have always come from the courts. Therefore, all of our efforts need to focus on the highest courts of the land and the appointment of the justices to those courts that are fair-minded individuals not steeped in the religious bigotry of the simple-minded preachers who are out front yelling as loud as they can trying to distract us.
Sure, it would have been great to celebrate this historic inauguration with ‘hope’ and ‘change’ floating through the crowds. I never believed Obama would be the leader that would bring anything more than change to the courts. From Donny McClurkin to Jeremiah Wright to Rick Warren, Obama’s choice of preachers has always been problematic; however, I want to believe – and I choose to believe – that the justices Obama appoints to the Federal Courts and the Supreme Court will be the leaders we can really hang our hopes on.
So I’ll continue to blog and rant and rave about this appointment even though I know it is a done deal so that the message is clear: We’re here, we’re queer, and our hope is in the courts.

Rick Warren Raises Thousands of Dollars for LGBT Equality at Obama’s Inauguration

Driving Equality: “Rick Warren Raises Thousands of Dollars for LGBT Equality at Obama’s Inauguration.” That could be the headline on newspapers across the country the day after President-elect Obama’s inauguration.
Rick Warren, a staunch opponent of equal rights for LGBT people, has used his pulpit to spread lies about LGBT families and to raise money for anti-gay legislation, such as proposition 8, which stripped equal marriage rights away from same-sex couples. When Warren takes the stage on Inauguration Day, however, he will be raising thousands of dollars to advance LGBT equality across the country.
Driving Equality is hosting a Rick-A-Thon to turn Rick Warren’s anti-equality stance into positive change for LGBT people. Every second that Warren stands at the podium, he will be raising money to advance LGBT civil rights. (Pledge Online)
Rick Warren’s invocation will not last longer than a couple minutes. You can pledge any amount you chose, whether it be $0.05, $0.10, $0.25, or even $1 for every second he speaks.
You can even pledge a flat rate for the entire time he is at the podium. We will be displaying signs around Washington D.C. on Inauguration Day, tallying how much money Warren has raised for LGBT equality. We will make sure that everyone knows exactly how much money Rick Warren is raising for LGBT civil rights.

Inauguration Program

(Via Radical Russ @ Pam's House Blend)

Monday, December 22, 2008

U.S. Rejects U.N.'s Gay Rights Statement, Cites "Don't Ask"

Michelle Garcia, A joint statement addressing homophobia and LGBT rights for the first time at the United Nations was tabled Thursday, without the backing of the United States.
"We urge states to take all the necessary measures, in particular legislative or administrative, to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention," the draft document read.
The unprecedented gay rights declaration was proposed by the French and read by Argentinean ambassador Jorge Arguello. The nonbinding statement is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."
The United States did not sign the statement, but former U.N. spokesman Richard Grenell said the U.S. was hung up on its "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bars out gays and lesbians from serving in the military.
"The fact that the Bush administration hired as many gays and lesbians with top secret security clearances in and of itself means that we are not criminals," Grenell said. "To later suggest that because of 'don't ask, don't tell' we can't support this resolution flies in the face of real compassion."
Grenell added that before he left his post in October as the longest-running American spokesman for the United Nations, he explained to State Department officials that the United States should sign the statement immediately, as a means to show the Bush administration is compassionate and accepting. "Yet, they came up with this phony argument that legally they had a problem with 'don't ask, don't tell.'"
Sixty-six of the 192 member countries, including the full European Union, Central African Republic, Brazil, Cuba, Israel, and Japan urged the decriminalization of homosexuality on Thursday to fellow member countries. In addition to the United States, China, Russia, and all of the Arab nations refused to back the statement.
A rival statement, read by Syria, garnered 58 signatures, according to Bloomberg News. Syrian envoy Abdullah al-Hallaq, reading the statement, said homosexuality could "usher into social normalization and possibly the legitimization of many deplorable acts, including pedophilia."
More than 77 countries find consensual same-sex relations to be a punishable offense, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Association. Seven countries -- Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen -- punish homosexuality by death.