Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Choice Is Ours Now by Melissa Etheridge...

“Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts.”

This is a message for my brothers and sisters who have fought so long and so hard for gay rights and liberty. We have spent a long time climbing up this mountain, looking at the impossible, changing a thousand year-old paradigm. We have asked for the right to love the human of our choice, and to be protected equally under the laws of this great country. The road at times has been so bloody, and so horrible, and so disheartening. From being blamed for 9/11 and Katrina, to hateful crimes committed against us, we are battle weary. We watched as our nation took a step in the right direction, against all odds and elected Barack Obama as our next leader. Then we were jerked back into the last century as we watched our rights taken away by prop 8 in California. Still sore and angry we felt another slap in the face as the man we helped get elected seemingly invited a gay-hater to address the world at his inauguration.

I hadn't heard of Pastor Rick Warren before all of this. When I heard the news, in its neat little sound bite form that we are so accustomed to, it painted the picture for me. This Pastor Rick must surely be one hate spouting, money grabbing, bad hair televangelist like all the others. He probably has his own gay little secret bathroom stall somewhere, you know. One more hater working up his congregation to hate the gays, comparing us to pedophiles and those who commit incest, blah blah blah. Same 'ole thing. Would I be boycotting the inauguration? Would we be marching again?

Well, I have to tell you my friends, the universe has a sense of humor and indeed works in mysterious ways. As I was winding down the promotion for my Christmas album I had one more stop last night. I'd agreed to play a song I'd written with my friend Salman Ahmed, a Sufi Muslim from Pakistan. The song is called "Ring The Bells," and it's a call for peace and unity in our world. We were going to perform our song for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a group of Muslim Americans that tries to raise awareness in this country, and the world, about the majority of good, loving, Muslims. I was honored, considering some in the Muslim religion consider singing to be against God, while other Muslim countries have harsh penalties, even death for homosexuals. I felt it was a very brave gesture for them to make. I received a call the day before to inform me of the keynote speaker that night... Pastor Rick Warren. I was stunned. My fight or flight instinct took over, should I cancel? Then a calm voice inside me said, "Are you really about peace or not?"

I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say "In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him." They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn't want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife's struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.
When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.

Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world.
Maybe if they get to know us, they wont fear us.

I know, call me a dreamer, but I feel a new era is upon us.

I will be attending the inauguration with my family, and with hope in my heart. I know we are headed in the direction of marriage equality and equal protection for all families.

Happy Holidays my friends and a Happy New Year to you.

Peace on earth, goodwill toward all men and women... and everyone in-between.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

That Weird Hug From Rick Warren

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Jeff Lutes is the Executive Director of Soulforce, a national civil rights and social justice organization dedicated to freedom for LGBT people through nonviolent direct action.

According to the first three books of the New Testament, Judas identified Jesus to the soldiers by means of a kiss. An act of ultimate betrayal, that peck on the cheek led to the arrest of Jesus.

I know how Jesus felt. Well, sort of.

On June 15, 2008, mega-church pastor Rick Warren embraced me and my husband, and each of our three young children. Then, he apportioned his considerable power and influence to eliminate our California marriage. But the story really begins six months before that hug of pretense.

In December of the previous year, I wrote a letter to Warren outlining my plan to bring a group of gay and lesbian couples, and their children, to visit his Saddleback Church over Father's Day weekend. I expressed our intent to attend worship on Sunday, and my hope that he and some families in his congregation would share a meal with us in an effort to reach beyond our differences and focus instead on the commonalities we share as parents and people of faith. In due course, I began a series of phone conversations with Warren's chief of staff. Over the next several weeks, we agreed that eight of our families would eat lunch on June 16 with Warren, his wife Kay, and six of their staff members. After the family meal, eight people from our group would then convene for a 90 minute conversation with Warren, his wife, and the six other church leaders. Here's where it gets interesting.

The week before our visit, Newsweek senior editor Lisa Miller published an article that contained a single sentence about Warren's upcoming get-together with a bunch of gay dads. Suddenly, the tone and demeanor from those paid to protect Warren's public image began to deteriorate.

First, we were told that things had changed and Warren and his wife "might" attend the meal and forum. A few days later, Warren posted a message on a religious blog saying that he never intended to meet with our families. Once we arrived in California, I called his chief of staff to discuss final details. Implausibly, I was told that Saddleback had now decided to only feed the eight people from our group who were going to be in the meeting, but not our children or spouses.

I pushed back by expressing my opinion that it was not very Christ-like to renege on our covenant after we had already traveled thousands of miles from Texas. "We'll discuss your visit again and call you back," they said. An hour later they telephoned - this time with a much more serious tone. I felt like I was negotiating a nuclear arms deal rather than the breaking of bread and some fellowship among families. With seeming reluctance, they finally settled on feeding everyone but announced that now only four Saddleback staff members would attend and that Warren and his wife would not be among them.

They made a new offer. Warren had decided to preach from one of Saddleback's satellite facilities, 45 minutes away from the main campus. He would sit down with my family for ten to fifteen minutes after the early service, if we agreed to attend. I accepted that offer and on Sunday morning we waited near our seats at the conclusion of church.

Eventually, I heard Warren call out my name. As I turned to greet him, he hugged me, my partner, and our three children . . . and then walked away. No conversation. Minimal eye contact. Just an awkward hug and he was gone.

The following day we tried to initiate heartfelt conversation with the four Saddleback staff members who managed to show up. From the opening moments it was clear that this was a meeting to save face without any real interest in hearing our stories or getting to know us.

That frustrating experience behind us, my husband and I were married in Malibu the next day as our kids and friends stood watch on the beach. Thanks to Warren and others who worked diligently to eliminate equality with the passage of Proposition 8, our marriage now hangs in limbo.

On January 20, Warren will lead the invocation at Obama's inauguration. I'll pray with him because our country and our new Commander in Chief need all the prayers we can muster. Afterwards, I'll say another prayer - this one for Rick Warren. When I'm done, I'll get up off my knees and keep marching until all people, all couples, and all families have the same civil rights. I won't quit until the church and its leaders cease spreading fear and misunderstanding about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

That's my purpose driven life.

Who did this guy blow to get the invocation at the inagural ceremony?

Here is the petition text from HRC, sign it if you wish:

I am disappointed by the invitation to anti-LGBT and Prop. 8 supporter Rev. Warren to give the invocation at your inauguration next month.

But I am writing to you today as a Human Rights Campaign supporter urging you to turn the corner on this controversy by officially committing to HRC's Blueprint for Positive Change -- a concrete plan for LGBT equality:

-- Issue an Executive Order within the first 100 days that reaffirms protections for federal workers based on sexual orientation and expands them to also include gender identity;

-- Work with Congress to sign Hate Crimes legislation into law within 6 months;

-- Support only a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA);

-- In the first 100 days develop a plan to begin the process of eliminating the failed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy; and

-- Work with Congress to end unequal tax treatment of domestic partnerships benefits.

Yesterday, you defended your selection of Rev. Warren by saying "I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans."

I ask you to restore my trust by pledging to support HRC's Blueprint for Positive Change.

Signed by:
William Rosen
---- ---------------
Kansas CIty, MO 64114

Thursday, December 18, 2008

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force denounces selection of

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force denounces selection of
Rick Warren to give invocation at inauguration

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17 — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force denounces the selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Jan. 20 inauguration. Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California, is an outspoken opponent of marriage equality, reproductive choice and stem-cell research. Warren has gone so far as to equate marriage between same-sex couples with incest and pedophilia.

Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

“President-elect Obama campaigned on a theme of inclusivity, yet the selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation is a direct affront to that very principle. This was a divisive choice, and clearly not one that will help our country come together and heal. We urge President-elect Obama to withdraw his invitation to Rick Warren and instead select a faith leader who embraces fairness, equality and the ideals the president-elect himself has called the nation to uphold.”

Dobson Lite


Jim Burroway is understandably pissed about Rick Warren being chosen to deliver the invocation:

This is the same Rick Warren who recently said that the relationships of his “many gay friends” are no different from child rape, incest or polygamy... Warren himself has acknowledged that the only difference between himself and Focus On the Family’s James Dobson is just “a matter of tone.” So given President-elect Obama’s stated commitment to bringing the country together, it’s hard to fathom the reasoning behind choosing such a divisive figure. What’s worse, this decision to include Warren revives memories of the controversy surrounding ex-gay advocate Donnie McClurkin’s partication in a Obama campaign event in South Carolina during the primaries.

I think the choice of Warren is almost certainly designed, in fact, as a unifying move - and it is a signal that Obama has every intention of reaching out to Christianists who have some liberal leanings on poverty, the environment, and heterosexual HIV and AIDS. (Check out the last time Rick Warren reached out to gay people with HIV or AIDS.) I understand where Obama's coming from, and I don't think this is an inherently bad idea. Building such a liberal Christianist coalition is something I saw coming, and sadly see no way to avoid.

But not on the backs of gay people, please, Mr president-elect. Wedge politics is wedge politics, whether practised by Clintons, Bushes, or, yes, Obama.

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Rick Warren's Controversial Comments on Gay Marriage

BELIEFNET: Which do you think is a greater threat to the American family - divorce or gay marriage?

WARREN: [laughs] That's a no brainer. Divorce. There's no doubt about it.

Here's an interesting thing. The divorce statistics are quite bandied around. People say half the marriages end in divorce. That's just not true. 40% of first time marriages end in divorce. About 61% of second time marriages end in divorce and 75% of third time marriages end in divorce. So the odds get worse and what's balancing this out...when you hear 50% end in divorce, that's just not true. The majority of marriages do last....

BELIEFNET: So why do we hear so much more - especially from religious conservatives - about gay marriage than about divorce?

Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? Why do we hear more about anything else than about wasting time or gossip? We want to point that my sins are perfectly acceptable. Your sins are hideous and evil.

BELIEFNET: One controversial moment for you in the last election was your support for proposition 8 in California. ... Just to clarify, do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships?

WARREN: I don't know if I'd use the term there but I support full equal rights for everybody in America. I don't believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles so I fully support equal rights.

[Clarification from Pastor Warren 12/15: I now see you asked about civil UNIONS -and I responded by talking about civil RIGHTS. Sorry. They are two different issues. No American should ever be discriminated against because of their beliefs. Period. But a civil union is not a civil right. Nowhere in the constitution can you find the "right" to claim that any loving relationship identical to marriage. It's just not there. ]

BELIEFNET: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation?

WARREN: You know, not a problem with me.

[Clarification from Pastor Warren 12/15: I favor anyone being able to make anyone else the beneficiary of their health or life insurance coverage. If I am willing to pay for it, I should be able to put a friend, partner, relative, or stranger on my coverage. No one should be turned away from seeing a friend in the hospital. But visiting rights are a non-issue in California! Since 1999, California has had a domestic partnership law that grants gay couples visiting rights and all the other rights. Prop 8 had no -zero -effect on those rights.]

The issue to me, I'm not opposed to that as much as I'm opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

BELIEFNET: Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

Oh , I do. For 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion - this is not a Christian issue. Buddhist, Muslims, Jews - historically, marriage is a man and a woman. And the reason I supported Proposition 8, is really a free speech issue. Because first the court overrode the will of the people, but second there were all kinds of threats that if that did not pass then any pastor could be considered doing hate speech if he shared his views that he didn't think homosexuality was the most natural way for relationships, and that would be hate speech. We should have freedom of speech, ok? And you should be able to have freedom of speech to make your position and I should be able to have freedom of speech to make my position, and can't we do this in a civil way.

Most people know I have many gay friends. I've eaten dinner in gay homes. No church has probably done more for people with AIDS than Saddleback Church. Kay and I have given millions of dollars out of Purpose Driven Life helping people who got AIDS through gay relationships. So they can't accuse me of homophobia. I just don't believe in the redefinition of marriage.

[Clarification/addition from Pastor Warren 12:15:


1. God, who always acts out of love and does what is best for us, thought up sex. Sex was God's idea, not ours. Like fire, and many other things God gave us, sex can be used for good, or abused in ways that harm. The Designer of sex has clearly and repeatedly said that he created sex exclusively for husbands and wives in marriage. Whenever God's parameters are violated, it causes broken hearts, broken families, emotional hurt and shame, painful memories, and many other destructive consequences. There would be so STDs in our world if we all played by the rules.

2. God gives me the free choice to follow his commands or willfully disobey them so I must allow others to have that same free choice. Loving, trusting, and obeying God cannot be forced. In America, people already have the civil right to live as they wish.

3. If anyone, whether unfaithful spouses, or unmarried couples, or homosexuals or anyone else think they are smarter than God and chooses to disobey God's sexual instructions, it is not the US government's role to take away their choice. But neither is it the government's role to classify just any "loving" relationship as a marriage. A committed boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is not a marriage. Two lovers living together is a not a marriage. Incest is not marriage. A domestic partnership or even a civil union is still not marriage.

4. Much of this debate is not really about civil rights, but a desire for approval. The fact that 70% of blacks supported Prop 8 shows they don't believe it is a civil rights issue. Gays in California already have their rights. What they desire is approval and validation from those who disagree with them, and they are willing to force it by law if necessary. Any disapproval is quickly labeled "hate speech. Imagine if we held that standard in every other disagreement Americans have? There would be no free speech. That's why, on the traditional marriage side, many saw Prop 8 as a free speech issue: Don't force me to validate a lifestyle I disagree with. It is not the same as marriage." And many saw the Teacher's Union contribution of $3 million against Prop 8, as a effort to insure that children would be taught to approve what most parents disapprove of.]

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Discovered: Cosmic Rays from a Mysterious, Nearby Object

Nov. 19, 2008: An international team of researchers has discovered a puzzling surplus of high-energy electrons bombarding Earth from space. The source of these cosmic rays is unknown, but it must be close to the solar system and it could be made of dark matter. Their results are being reported in the Nov. 20th issue of the journal Nature.

"This is a big discovery," says co-author John Wefel of Louisiana State University. "It's the first time we've seen a discrete source of accelerated cosmic rays standing out from the general galactic background."

An artist's concept of cosmic rays hitting Earth's upper atmosphere. Credit: Simon Swordy, University of Chicago

Galactic cosmic rays are subatomic particles accelerated to almost light speed by distant supernova explosions and other violent events. They swarm through the Milky Way, forming a haze of high energy particles that enter the solar system from all directions. Cosmic rays consist mostly of protons and heavier atomic nuclei with a dash of electrons and photons spicing the mix.

To study the most powerful and interesting cosmic rays, Wefel and colleagues have spent the last eight years flying a series of balloons through the stratosphere over Antarctica. Each time the payload was a NASA-funded cosmic ray detector named ATIC, short for Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter. The team expected ATIC to tally the usual mix of particles, mainly protons and ions, but the calorimeter found something extra: an abundance of high-energy electrons.

Wefel likens it to driving down a freeway among family sedans, mini-vans and trucks—when suddenly a bunch of Lamborghinis bursts through the normal traffic. "You don't expect to see so many race cars on the road—or so many high-energy electrons in the mix of cosmic rays." During five weeks of ballooning in 2000 and 2003, ATIC counted 70 excess electrons in the energy range 300-800 GeV. ("Excess" means over and above the usual number expected from the galactic background.) Seventy electrons may not sound like a great number, but like seventy Lamborghinis on the freeway, it's a significant surplus.

Friday, December 12, 2008

This is too cool!

Dear William Rosen,

Thank you for contacting us with questions regarding the policy agenda of President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden. They have listened to the hopes, concerns and ideas of people across our country and developed innovative approaches to challenge the status quo in Washington and bring about the change America needs.

The incoming Obama-Biden administration has a comprehensive and detailed policy agenda. Among many important domestic and foreign policy objectives, the priorities of the new Administration include: reviving the economy; provide affordable, accessible health care to all; strengthening our public education and social security systems; defining a clear path to energy independence and tackling climate change; ending the war in Iraq responsibly and finishing our mission in Afghanistan; and working with our allies to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

To learn details about the Obama-Biden policy agenda and share your ideas, please click here: http://www.change.gov/agenda/

We appreciate the outpouring of interest in the new administration and hope you will stay involved.

The Obama-Biden Transition Project

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Return To Science

A Return To Science

According to the annual Climate Change Performance Index published yesterday, the United States has third-worst record on tackling greenhouse gas emissions, just beating Saudi Arabia. Annual greenhouse emissions are now 17 percent higher than they were in 1990. The Bush environmental record will be remembered as one that placed politics over science, neutered international efforts, and allowed big industry to shape policy. President-elect Obama has shown that he intends to fill the void created by Bush and will allow science to dictate policy. Today, reports indicate that Obama will select Dr. Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy, Carol Browner as head of the new National Energy Council, and Lisa Jackson as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator. Nancy Sutley, Los Angeles's deputy mayor for energy and environment, will chair Obama's Council on Environmental Quality. Although Chu "is likely to focus his attention on the Energy Department's core missions: basic science, nuclear weapons and cleaning up a nuclear-weapons manufacturing complex contaminated since the Cold War," his selection is a strong signal of Obama's progressive intentions for science-based climate policy. If confirmed, the new team will be working closely with leaders in Congress such as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the new chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, to forge a new path in solving the climate crisis. Commenting on Obama's personnel selections, CAP's Director of Climate Strategy Daniel J. Weiss said, "After the anti-science Bush administration, this is like going to a Mensa meeting after eight years of being trapped in the Flat Earth Society."

SCIENCE IS BACK: The choice of Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, is a clear signal from Obama that he intends to restore the role of science in climate policy (Bush's first Department of Energy (DOE) head, Spencer Abraham, had previously advocated abolishing the department). Chu is the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a DOE-funded research institute, where he is on a "mission" to make the lab "the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy." He was an early advocate of finding scientific solutions to climate change. As Chu explained at this summer's National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, the best way to reduce greenhouse emissions is to reduce energy consumption by investing in energy efficiency -- policies that are congruent with Obama's stated goals. Furthermore, given the Bush administration's history of obstruction at international climate summits, the global community will likely welcome Chu's selection. As one of 30 members of the Copenhagen Climate Council, Chu is currently part of an effort to push the international community to have the "urgency to establish a global treaty by 2012 which is fit for the purpose of limiting global warming to 2ÂșC."

THE FIRST 'ENERGY CZAR': The Center for American Progress Action Fund's Change For America blueprint for a progressive administration recommends a National Energy Council to shape "both policy and strategic options with respect to energy and climate change." Aides said while the exact role is still under development, Browner would coordinate administration policy across departments and advocate for policies on Capitol Hill. "In her new role, Browner will need her legislative and administrative experience in a job that will cover everything from climate change to energy policy," the Washington Post notes today. Browner, a former aide to Al Gore, was the longest-serving administrator of the EPA, where she successfully beat back conservative efforts to gut safeguards from pollution. She is currently on the Board of Directors of CAP, Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, and the National Brownfield Association. Speaking at CAP on Dec. 1, Browner proposed cap-and-trade solutions to global warming that would drive economic growth, observing, "What the government is doing is creating a market opportunity."

RESTORING THE EPA: As the government's chief regulator of air quality, the EPA plays a pivotal role in formulating global warming policy. Thus, perhaps the most important climate policy position will be the new EPA Administrator, who will spearhead efforts to revive an agency torn apart by the abysmal leadership of Administrator Stephen Johnson. Jackson, a chemical engineer, recently led the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). At DEP, Jackson has had a mixed record, earning praise for her work ethic but also criticism for her difficulties achieving the department's mission. Jackson has "worked to pass mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases, to reform the state's cleanup of contaminated sites and to establish a scientific advisory board to review agency decisions," the AP noted today. But the agency has suffered from budget cuts and the loss of thousands of staff positions. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) argued that the DEP has engaged in "suppression of scientific information, issuance of gag orders," and "closed-door deal-making with regulated industry executives and lobbyists." Vouching for Jackson's environmental credentials, Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) told The Progress Report that she "is absolutely committed to the kind of clean-up that some her critics would say she should have done more of." He added, "I think Lisa has done a remarkable job of trying to move the environmental agenda forward within a constrained world.

ECONOMY -- BUSH'S IRS QUIETLY SLASHING CORPORATE TAXES: In its final days in office, the Bush administration is looking to push through about "about 20 highly contentious rules," that weaken health care and workers' rights and degrade the environment. The administration is also making sure to wreck the tax system on its way out the door. Time Magazine's Stephen Gandel reported that in the past year, the Internal Revenue Service has been "unusually aggressive in doing what it can to lower corporate taxes, going above and beyond what has been allowed in the past." In 2008, the IRS has issued 113 notices, "many of which will lower the taxes companies will pay this year and in the future." Gandel noted that this number breaks the record of 111 notices, set in 2006, "and is nearly double the 65 issued in the last year of Bill Clinton's presidency." These changes "drain billions of dollars of badly needed tax revenue at a time when the federal deficit is mushrooming," and many of the changes "may lower corporate tax revenue for years to come." One proposed change would enable companies to significantly reduce their taxes for as long as 20 years.

ECONOMY -- NEW JOBLESS CLAIMS REACH 26-YEAR HIGH: The Labor Department said today that the number of "first-time filings for state unemployment benefits jump[ed] by 58,000 to a 26-year high of 573,000." The total number of individuals collecting unemployment benefits rose to 4.43 million, the highest level since 1982, while the rate at which total unemployment increased was the highest since 1974. Bloomberg reports this morning that the extended rise of unemployment increases the likelihood that the current recession "will turn into the longest slump in the postwar era." Economic analysts at UCLA are releasing a report today predicting that the recession will "feature four quarters of negative growth (followed by very tepid growth rates) and rising unemployment rates that last through 2010." In addition, the report predicts that the national economy will contract by 4.1 percent in this quarter alone. Notably, the increases in unemployment figures may understate actual numbers of unemployed, because such figures count only those individuals actively looking for work and many workers have all but given up on finding a new job.

TORTURE -- REP. REYES URGES OBAMA TO KEEP TORTURE DEFENDERS HAYDEN AND McCONNELL: CongressDaily reported yesterday that House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX) said that President-elect Obama should keep Michael McConnell on as Director of National Intelligence and Michael Hayden as head of the CIA. Reyes said such action is needed to preserve "continuity" in the intelligence sector because we live in "a world that is very dangerous." Reyes dismissed concerns that both Hayden and McConnell have defended the Bush administration's use of torture on suspected terrorists and insisted that "there are some options that need to be available" to interrogators. "We don't want to be known for torturing people. At the same time we don't want to limit our ability to get information that's vital and critical to our national security," Reyes said. Indeed, Hayden and McConnell have similar views. McConnell has refused to make the CIA comply with the Army Field Manual rules, which forbid torture, while Hayden has dismissed torture as a mere "legal term." Hayden also reportedly retaliated against the CIA's inspector general for being an outspoken critic of waterboarding.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, President-elect Obama said his presidency is an opportunity for the U.S. to rebuild its relations with the Muslim world. He is planning to "set the tone with a major speech in a Muslim capital early in his presidency." Obama also said he would take the oath of office using his middle name, Hussein.

76 percent: Share of Americans who believe that financial banks that are receiving bailout funds should not dole out bonuses this year. "Though most Wall Street firms plan to pay employees' bonuses this year, the most senior executives at the companies will see their bonuses slashed by as much as 70 percent."
Despite Secret Service screenings, employees of a Maryland cleaning company used by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for the last four years have "turned out to be illegal immigrants." The owner said five of the company's undocumented employees "were part of crews sent to Chertoff’s home and whom ICE told him to fire because they were undocumented."

One year ago today CIA Director Michael Hayden went before Congress "to answer questions about his agency's destruction of videotaped interrogations of terrorist suspects" being subjected to the "enhanced techniques" authorized by the Bush administration. Hayden may be asked to stay on as CIA director.
"President-elect Obama is entering the White House with an enormous reservoir of goodwill," a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds. Seventy-three percent of Americans approve of his handling of the transition, and two-thirds of the public view him favorably. Meanwhile, just 18 percent say they will miss President Bush when he's gone, and 78 percent say that he is not as good as, or definitely worse than, most other presidents.

The Obama transition site is open for your questions. Change.gov launched a new feature yesterday that allows users to submit questions and then vote on the ones they most want answered. Check it out here.

The House voted yesterday 237 to 170 "to approve a $14 billion government rescue of the American automobile industry" that would "provide emergency loans to General Motors and Chrysler." However, the deal is "in jeopardy because of strong Republican opposition in the Senate."

The Coalition of the Willing is nearing its end. Most of the coalition's members are quickly leaving Iraq before the UN mandate authorizing their presence comes to an end on December 31. Currently, "fewer than a dozen" of the 49 countries that once made up the coalition remain.

Self-described "little oinker" Rep. Don Young (R-AK) has "stepped down under pressure" as ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, saying that "he wants to focus on clearing his name in a corruption investigation." Young reportedly made the move after House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) "told him privately he would oppose him if he sought another two years in the post."
And finally: The Washington Post's Mary Ann Akers writes, "Run, don't walk, to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va., for an amazing Blowout Sale! Computers, blackberries, televisions, desks, you name it -- everything must go." The McCain campaign is currently having a fire sale, getting rid of all its office equipment at deep discounts. "This is a great opportunity to own a piece of history, finish your Christmas shopping, or simply replace your old laptop," wrote one campaign staffer, pitching the sale.

Monday, December 8, 2008

I'll Be Broadcasting Soon (personally)

I just haven't had enough gumption to sit down and actually type out a blog post. There will be more to come, have no fear! Fear not! If you just can't wait...you cah check out my podcast here, and my under construction website here. Thank you and good night.

Halliburton accused of supplying rotten food to U.S. forces

Monday 8th December, 2008

Halliburton accused of supplying rotten food to U.S. forces

Big News Network.com Monday 8th December, 2008

U.S military contractor KBR, a former subisidary of Halliburton, is facing a number of lawsuits over its activities in Iraq, and elsewhere.

KBR is the largest contractor for the United States Army and a top-ten contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense.

In one class-action suit Joshua Eller, a civilian who worked for the U.S. Air Force in 2006 at the Balad air force base northeast of Baghdad, alleges KBR 'knowingly and intentionally supplied to U.S. forces and other individuals food that was expired, spoiled, rotten, or that may have been contaminated with shrapnel, or other materials'.

KBR 'supplied water which was contaminated, untreated, and unsafe', Eller charged, detailing a number of examples.

He said Halliburton and KBR 'shipped ice served to U.S. forces in trucks that had been used to carry human remains and that still had traces of body fluids and putrefied remains.'

The lawsuit says the 'defendants burned medical waste that contained human body parts on the open air burn pit. Wild dogs in the area raided the burn pit and carried off human remains. The wild dogs could be seen roaming the base with body parts in their mouths.'

Eller said the companies 'prevented their employees from speaking with government auditors' inspecting the military base.

Eller alleged in the suit that in May 2006 he developed lesions on his skin. The lesions spread, 'filled with fluid and finally burst.' He also 'developed blisters on his feet', and 'gastrointestinal problems'.

The class-action lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by newswire AFP, was filed November 6 in a Texas court.

Meantime sixteen members of the Indiana National Guard have filed a suit against KBR, seeking unspecified damages for alleged exposure to a toxic chemical at an Iraqi water treatment plant in 2003.

According to the Houston Chronicle, in their suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Evansville, Ind., the plaintiffs contend KBR knowingly allowed them to be exposed to sodium dichromate, a chemical used as an anti-corrosive but containing the carcinogen hexavalent chromium. The alleged exposure occurred while the guardsmen were providing security for KBR workers at the Qarmat Ali water plant in southern Iraq.

KBR was restoring the facility so the water could be used to help increase production from Iraqi oil wells.

The guardsmen allege KBR officials repeatedly told the soldiers there was no danger, even though blood tests on some civilian workers had shown elevated chromium levels.

And when some at the water plant began experiencing symptoms associated with hexavalent chromium poisoning — particularly bleeding from the nose known as 'chrome nose'— KBR managers 'told men on site it was simply an effect of the 'dry desert air' and they must be 'allergic to sand,' the suit alleges.

KBR spokeswoman Heather Browne told the Houston Chronicle, 'We deny the assertion that KBR harmed troops and was responsible for an unsafe condition. KBR appropriately notified the Army Corps of Engineers upon discovery of the existence of the substance on the site, and the Corps of Engineers concluded that KBR's efforts to remediate the situation were effective.'

Ten former KBR workers, meanwhile, contend they also were exposed to sodium dichromate at the water plant and have filed a separate arbitration case, said the Chronicle report.

They are scheduled to argue their case before an arbitrator in Houston on Monday, said Houston attorney Michael Doyle, who is representing the guardsmen and the workers.

Bunnatine Greenhouse, a civil servant with 20 years of contracting experience, had complained to Army officials on numerous occasions that Halliburton had been unlawfully receiving special treatment for work in Iraq, Kuwait and the Balkans. Investigations were opened by the U.S. Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Pentagon's inspector general to open criminal investigations that continue today.

In one of the many examples of abuse, Greenhouse said that military auditors caught Halliburton overcharging the Pentagon for fuel deliveries into Iraq. She also complained that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office took control of every aspect of Halliburton's $7 billion no-bid Iraqi oil/infrastructure contract. After her testimony Greenhouse was demoted, allegedly for poor performance.

Separately, the SEC and the Department of Justice are investigating claims corrupt payments were paid to government officials in Nigeria by a company in which Kellogg Brown & Root LLC (a subsidiary of KBR) held a 25% interest. The investigations, mirrored by a separate probe by the Serious Fraud Office in the UK, concern the construction and expansion of a multi billion dollar liquefaction complex at Bonny Island, in Rivers State, Nigeria.

Additionally, the SEC has issued subpoenas to Halliburton and KBR over its connections in multiple other projects.
On Tuesday morning, beginning at 10am Central Time, PFLAGers can watch history unfold - live - as the Iowa Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case that could bring marriage equality to the heartland. Six Iowa couples are asking the court to recognize their relationships by affirming the right of lesbian and gay couples to marry.

"The case, Varnum v. Brien, could make Iowa the first state in the Midwest to legalize gay marriage," University of Iowa law professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig told USA Today.

"This is the heartland of America — a place where family values are revered," says Onwuachi-Willig, who signed a court brief supporting gay-marriage rights. "It would be an incredibly strong signal for the Iowa Supreme Court to find that same-sex marriages are legal."

The lawsuit includes David Twombley and Larry Hoch, pictured, who are a couple from Urbandale, Iowa, who say they would like to marry after nearly eight years together, the paper reports.

PFLAGers are invited to watch the hearings live, beginning at 10am local time tomorrow, by visiting the Iowa Supreme Court website, or the Des Moines Register online. Both sites will broadcast the hearing as it happens.

And PFLAG supporters in Iowa are invited to several events hosted by One Iowa, the Iowa LGBT statewide group. One Iowa will be hosting Tuesday watch parties at the Des Moines Public Library (1000 Grand Avenue) . . . a party at Iowa State Memorial Union (2229 Lincoln Way) . . . and at Iowa City Public Library (123 South Linn). And from 6-8pm on Tuesday evening, supporters are invited to the "Making the Case" reception, celebrating the historic hearing, at the Pappajohn Center at 1200 Grand Avenue in Des Moines.

For more information on the Varnum case, and marriage equality in Iowa, visit One Iowa online . . . and don't forget to tune in on Tuesday morning for live coverage of these historic hearings.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dear William,

In Washington, we're hearing rumblings that the Right may be looking to start a fight over Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, whose confirmation hearing will be in early January. It's tough to imagine the kind of audacity it would take to challenge Holder's nomination after Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales.

After eight years of being dominated by politicization, cronyism and extremism, the Department of Justice is in desperate need of a good housecleaning. The Department, like the Attorney General, is supposed to defend the rule of law and Americans' constitutional rights. But under the Bush administration, the DOJ has been used as a weapon against constitutional values, used to fight the administration's ideological and political battles.

In the wake of 9/11, John Ashcroft's Justice Department led the Bush administration's relentless assault on civil liberties. The DOJ was on the forefront of the draconian expansion of surveillance and police powers, and contributed heavily to post-9/11 era of extreme government secrecy. Career lawyers at the DOJ were subtly -- and not so subtly -- pushed out in favor of attorneys more politically and ideologically aligned with the administration. The Civil Rights Division was completely politicized and instead of using its resources to protect voters' rights (by enforcing the Voting Rights Act among other things), the DOJ waged an attack on voting rights by supporting disenfranchising policies like Georgia's restrictive voter ID law. The Department also exploited the 'widespread voter fraud' myth for politically motivated witch hunts -- part of a larger trend of selectively targeting political and ideological opponents for investigation and prosecution.

And how can we forget the Gonzales era at the DOJ! The Attorney General is supposed to be the people's lawyer, but Gonzales was more the president's bag man. The problems that existed under Ashcroft continued or got worse. As more and more news came out about the NSA's illegal warrantless spying on Americans, the torture of U.S. detainees, legally questionable military tribunals and other subversions of the rule of law, we found out that the DOJ had expressly signed off on these administration policies and in some cases even supplied the legal and intellectual underpinning out of the Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). And when a scandal broke over the firing of U.S. attorneys, it became clear exactly how politically motivated hiring and firing practices had been at the DOJ, which evidently was staffed with a disproportionate number of graduates of Pat Robertson's law school (including one of the people tasked with the hiring/firing)!

Attorney General Mukasey has been arguably better than his two predecessors, but following the records of Ashcroft and Gonzales, that's not very hard. Eric Holder is a stellar choice: smart, capable and able to lead the DOJ in a new direction. But he will have his work cut out for him and he'll need help from people like you and me. First, we need to make sure he's confirmed, and that could mean a campaign to defeat whatever attacks right-wing senators throw at him. Then, because of the politically skewed hiring practices, he's going to need the support of the people to make dramatic changes at one of the government's most important agencies.

For eight years, the Department of Justice -- a government agency with a rich history of enforcing civil rights and the rule of law -- has served the worst ideological and partisan impulses of the Bush administration. The era of overzealous ideologues and partisans like Ashcroft and Gonzales is coming to an end.

Thank goodness.

But now it's time to dig in our heels and do our part to put the justice back in the Department of Justice. I hope you don't mind if I call on you for help in the coming months.

All the best,

Kathryn Kolbert, President

P.S. On Tuesday afternoon, People For's hosting a discussion on the future of the Supreme Court titled "Beyond the Sigh of Relief: Justices in the Mold of Marshall and Brennan" at the National Press Club. I'll be moderating a great panel of Court of experts. If you live in the Washington, DC area, I would love to see you there (event info here).

People For the American Way depends on the support of its members. Help make sure America lives up to the promise of freedom and equality for all by funding the work of People For with a gift today.

Bank of America

Dear William,

Yesterday, RAN celebrated a great victory! Bank of America posted a new coal policy on its website announcing that it will phase out financing of mountaintop removal coal mining!

Here's the commitment in their words:

"Bank of America is particularly concerned about surface mining conducted through mountain top removal in locations such as central Appalachia. We therefore will phase out financing of companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountain top removal. While we acknowledge that surface mining is economically efficient and creates jobs, it can be conducted in a way that minimizes environmental impacts in certain geographies."

This couldn't have happened without your help, and we are thrilled that less than three weeks after our day of action against coal and coal finance, Bank of America has shown necessary leadership in the finance industry. The decision to cease involvement in the egregious practice of mountaintop removal coal mining is the right thing to do and a tremendous validation of our work. Again, work that you make possible.

Since we launched our "No Coal" campaign against Bank of America and Citi last October, one of our central demands has been that they stop providing support for mountaintop removal coal mining. We applaud Bank of America for taking this important step to reduce its financing of dirty coal. But we also need to keep the pressure on them -- as well as on Citi and other banks that finance coal -- to ensure that they continue to curtail financing for dirty energy and start funding the future through energy efficiency and renewable energy.

This is a true grassroots win, and we want to all of you who have sent emails, made phone calls, signed petitions, donated money or time, and taken action to savor this victory! We also want to acknowledge the tireless work of our allies and partners who are fighting mountaintop removal and pressuring banks, including Coal River Mountain Watch, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Alliance for Appalachia, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Appalachian Voices, Rising Tide, Blue Ridge Earth First, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council.
Together we are making a better future possible.

For the planet,

Becky, Scott, Bill, Annie, Ananda and Dana
Global Finance Team

Thursday, December 4, 2008

World AIDS Day: Stop AIDS, Keep The Promise, 1988-2008
Florida Judge Rules Against Gay Adoption Ban
Support Soulforce When You Shop at Amazon.com

World AIDS Day: Stop AIDS, Keep The Promise, 1988-2008
Today marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day and Soulforce honors the activists, researchers, and medical professionals who have worked tirelessly to halt this global epidemic. According to UNAIDS, there are an estimated 33.2 million people living with HIV, including 2.5 million children. Approximately 95% of people with HIV and AIDS live in developing nations, but HIV is a threat to men, women and children on all continents around the world. Started on 1st December 1988, the goal of World AIDS Day is to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education. World AIDS Day seeks to remind people that HIV has not gone away, and that there is still much work to be done. Today, we renew our passion to stop the social and economic injustices that fuel the spread of HIV and AIDS.
For more information, please visit www.worldaidscampaign.org

Florida Judge Rules Against Gay Adoption Ban

On November 25, 2008, a Miami-Dade Circuit judge ruled that a Florida law which bans gays and lesbians from adopting children is unconstitutional. "Based on the evidence presented from experts from all over this country and abroad, it is clear that sexual orientation is not a predictor of a person's ability to parent," the judge wrote. "A child in need of love, safety and stability does not first consider the sexual orientation of his parent. The exclusion causes some children to be deprived of a permanent placement with a family that is best suited to their needs."
The state plans to appeal the decision, setting the stage for the state Supreme Court to rule on the issue. To read more, go to

Support Soulforce When You Shop at Amazon.com

For those of our supporters who do holiday shopping at Amazon.com, remember that Soulforce will receive 4-8% of the total amount of your purchase when you use our special link. Here's How: Whenever you want to shop at Amazon.com, first go to www.soulforce.org and under the Give menu, click Shop at Amazon.com. That's it! Now everything you purchase on that visit will earn Soulforce a 4-8% referral. (Our average is 6.3%) Remember, you must go to Amazon.com through the special link on the Soulforce website in order for Soulforce to receive a percentage of your total purchase.

Soulforce needs the continued financial support of those who believe our activist work plays a vital role in the struggle for LGBT equality. Please consider making a new donation today.www.soulforce.org/donate

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Soon after thousands of caring people wrote letters on Sami al-Hajj's behalf during last year's Global Write-a-Thon, he was released from Guantanamo Bay prison.

Below is a message from Sami to you.

Dear Friends,

I was detained for more than six years by the U.S. government, primarily in the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. In late 2001, I was a journalist with the news agency al-Jazeera, assigned to cover the war in Afghanistan. While on that assignment, I was detained at the border of Pakistan-Afghanistan, and transferred to U.S. custody. I found that I had entered into a nightmare that would claim six years of my life and place great hardship on my family.

Fortunately, Amnesty International and other organizations called attention to my case and campaigned on my behalf. In December last year, my case was featured in Amnesty’s Global Write-a-thon. A few months later, I was released from Guantanamo in May 2008 without any charges.

I received more than 20,000 letters from members and supporters of Amnesty International. I received letters from all over the world. These letters really encouraged me during my very difficult time. They made me feel as though I was not alone and not to give up. Some people sent me songs, others poetry. I felt as though people had not forgotten me through these letters and I felt something change in my life for the better from these letters.

Also, I could notice that the administration of Guantanamo Bay began treating me better, as they knew I had people who cared about me. The guards said to me that they could see I was someone who mattered and must be important because of all the letters – this made them respect me more.

These letters led me to think about human rights: Why would all of these people write to me, a stranger, and want to help and encourage me? Why would these people who are from a different country, religion, race – everything – want to work on my behalf, wish good things for me and ask that I be released?

This made me decide to work for human rights and to help people upon my release. I hope, God willing, to continue this work for all of my life.

I ask you to join Amnesty’s Global Write-a-thon and help make a difference in the lives of people who are facing great adversity. Prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders risk their own freedom to fight for the rights of all. They deserve our support. Please join this year's Global Write-a-thon.

Your actions can make a difference. Believe me, I know. Thank you again to Amnesty International and to all of those who wrote and encouraged me during my hard time.


Sami al Hajj
2007 Write-a-thon case
Former Guantanamo Bay detainee

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hot Docs: AIDS in America, Criminalizing HIV, Obama's National Security Team

Hot Docs: AIDS in America, Criminalizing HIV, Obama's National Security Team

AIDS and HIV in the United States: AIDS is the No. 1 killer of black women between the ages of 25 and 34, says a new report by the Center for American Progress, released to mark World AIDS Day. The nonpartisan center outlines the scope of the crisis in the United States: 53 percent of new HIV infections in 2006 were in gay and bisexual men; black women are 15 times as likely to be infected with HIV as white women; the HIV rate in Washington, D.C., is 1 in 20, the same as in sub-Saharan Africa; and African-Americans make up more than 45 percent of new infections, even though they make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population.

Criminalizing HIV: With the high rates of people infected with HIV, many sub-Saharan African countries have passed criminal laws to try to prevent further spread of the virus. A report from the U.N.'s Integrated Regional Information Networks' PlusNews service discusses the existing and proposed laws and their impact. More than 10 countries in West Africa have passed laws concerning HIV. The model that many of the current laws are designed on was created at a September 2004 workshop in the West African country of Chad. In a few countries in West Africa, pregnant women can face criminal charges if they don't take preventive measures to inhibit transmission of the virus to their child. Some churches in Nigeria have adopted a "no test, no marriage" rule for couples, where the future bride and groom are required to have an HIV test before marrying. Critics fear that laws that "criminalize HIV" won't help decrease spread of the virus but will result in even more discrimination against people infected with the virus, among other things.

Obama National Security Team Announced: Calling this "a new dawn of American leadership," President-elect Barack Obama announced more key administration posts on Monday when he named six people to his national security team. Sen. Hillary Clinton will serve as secretary of state while Robert Gates will continue as secretary of defense. Former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano will head the Department of Homeland Security, and Susan Rice was named ambassador to the United Nations. The attorney general post will be filled by Eric Holder, and Gen. James Jones will serve as national security adviser. Obama praised the range of experience the appointees have and noted that in today's interconnected world, their task is profound: "From our markets to our security; from our public health to our climate—we must act with the understanding that, now more than ever, we have a stake in what happens across the globe."

Obama Administration Should Reverse Course on Cuba: Obama should adopt of series of measures that could lead to the normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba, a new report argues. Among other things, the report by Jake Colvin, vice president of global affairs for the National Foreign Trade Council, a pro-trade business group, calls on the new administration to remove travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans, remove restrictions on sending financial support to family in Cuba, and rescind the Bush administration's limits on "people-to-people travel and trade." The report notes that "these steps, combined with longer-term approaches aimed at dialogue and reconciliation with the Cuban people, would set the stage for normalization of relations."