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Civil Rights: A Changing Debate

Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay civil rights group, yesterday announced the first-ever televised presidential forum devoted solely to issues concerning lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender Americans, to be aired on Aug. 9 on the Logo network.

July 11, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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CIVIL RIGHTS

A Changing Debate

Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay civil rights group, yesterday announced the first-ever televised presidential forum devoted solely to issues concerning lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender Americans, to be aired on Aug. 9 on the Logo network. “Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Christopher Dodd have agreed to participate in the forum, with questions to be posed by a panel that includes singer Melissa Etheridge and Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.” (All presidential candidates were invited, and the Republicans declined.) A May 2007 Gallup poll found that “public tolerance for gay rights” is at a “high-water mark” in America. This historic presidential forum is yet another sign of the country’s shift, and is further evidence that Americans are rejecting the long right-wing campaign to attack and deny rights to gay Americans for political gain.

AMERICANS INCREASINGLY UNITED ON GAY RIGHTS: Fully 79 percent of Americans believe openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the military, versus 18 percent who do not, a CNN poll found last month. In the same survey, a majority of Americans supported either gay marriage (24 percent) or civil unions (27 percent), compared to 43 percent who did not support either; 57 percent said gay and lesbian couples should have the legal right to adopt children; and 56 percent said they “do not believe sexual orientation can be changed,” up from 45 percent in 2001 and 36 percent in 1998. Indeed, support for gay civil rights is increasingly bipartisan. A poll last month of 2000 self-identified Republican voters by GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio found that 77 percent “believe an employer should not have the right to fire an employee based solely on their sexual orientation,” while 49 percent believe gays should be able to serve openly in the U.S. military (versus 42 percent opposed).

RIGHT WING STUCK IN THE PAST: As the presidential season heats up, all candidates should consider these notable shifts in public opinion. Yet while the American people are increasingly united on gay rights issues, conservatives are still playing to the religious political extremists. A comprehensive report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force finds a “shockingly stark” divide among the candidates on gay rights issues, with several of the most prominent Republicans — including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Reps. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), and former governor Mitt Romney — opposing virtually all major LGBT issues. Former mayor Rudy Giuliani opposes the constitutional ban on gay marriage, and has supported civil unions in the past, although in April he announced his opposition to New Hampshire’s new civil unions law. Only two of 19 presidential candidates support marriage equality for same-sex couples, though every leading Democrat backs partnership recognition rights, such as civil unions.

THE BATTLE WAGES ON: The Bush administration and its allies in Congress and in the states continue to advance an aggressive anti-gay agenda, from supporting a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage to opposing hate crimes legislation. The agenda was in stark display in May, when Vice President Cheney’s daughter Mary gave birth to Samuel David Cheney. Under Virginia law, Mary’s partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, “will have no legal relationship with her child. She can’t adopt as a second parent. She won’t have her name on the birth certificate.” President Bush will still not say whether or not he supports gay adoption, and last month, Bush “yet again dipped his cup into the well of anti-gay bigotry,” issuing a veto threat of the Washington, D.C., appropriations bill because it allows for residents to register as domestic partners. Bush’s new surgeon general nominee James Holsinger has long history of prejudice against gays and lesbians, including founding a church that “ministers to people who no longer wish to be gay or lesbian.” Yet some positive signs are coming from unlikely sources. Former congressman Bob Barr, who authored the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, recently called for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and last month, the Pentagon released a statement that “includes the first language from Pentagon leaders suggesting that lesbian and gay service personnel should continue to use their skills in support of national security efforts, even after facing dismissal under the law.”

UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — REPORT: SIX MONTHS LATER, TIME’S UP FOR ESCALATION PROPONENTS: Six months ago, on Jan. 10, President Bush announced the troop escalation in Iraq, claiming that “if we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.” A host of administration officials and media pundits embraced Bush’s call and asked that the American public give it a chance to succeed. The Progress Report has compiled a list of administration officials and media pundits who promised a reassessment after giving the surge a chance. For example, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated on Jan. 12, “I think in the next few months you’re going to know whether or not this is working.” Six months later, there is no trend of success: tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died, as well as 590 U.S. soldiers. Military assessments suggest that “the U.S. military’s plan to secure Baghdad against a rising insurgency is falling far short of its goal” and a report to be released later this week will show that “no progress has been made on the political benchmarks” by the Iraqi government. Begging for more time, the White House now suggests the escalation has been in place for only a few weeks. Yesterday, Bush said, “You have got all the troops there a couple of weeks ago. … They have just showed up and are beginning operations in full and you have people in Washington saying ‘Stop.'”

ADMINISTRATION — WHITE HOUSE MUZZLED, CENSORED FORMER SURGEON GENERAL: Richard Carmona served as President Bush’s first Surgeon General from 2002-2006. Yesterday, he spoke before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and revealed that political appointees in the Bush administration muzzled him on key issues such as “stem cell research, contraceptives and his misgivings about the administration’s embrace of ‘abstinence-only’ sex education.” Carmona explained, “[T]he reality is that the ‘nation’s doctor’ has been marginalized and relegated to a position with no independent budget, and with supervisors who are political appointees with partisan agendas. Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological, or political agenda is ignored, marginalized, or simply buried.” When he tried to explain the science of stem cell research to the American public, he was “blocked at every turn, told a decision had already been made, stand down, don’t talk about it,” Carmona said. Additionally, political appointees were specifically assigned to “vet his speeches” and “spin [his] words in such a way that would be preferable to a political or ideologically pre-conceived notion that had nothing to do with science.” Carmona said that “administration officials even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because…of that charitable organization’s longtime ties” to the Kennedy family. “I was specifically told by a senior person, ‘Why would you want to help those people?‘” Carmona said. During his tenure, Carmona “consulted six previous surgeons general, Republican and Democratic, and all agreed, he said, that he faced more political interference than they had.” On Thursday, the Senate will consider the nomination of Dr. James Holsinger to be the next Surgeon General. This time, Bush was sure to nominate someone who has no problem putting ideology over sound science. Holsinger has repeatedly espoused views of homosexuality that have been rejected by the medical community.

ETHICS — INTERIOR DEPARTMENT OVERSIGHT CHIEF LEAVES TO JOIN FIRM THAT LOBBIES THE DEPARTMENT: Last month, “the day after J. Steven Griles, former deputy Interior secretary, received a 10-month prison sentence for his involvement in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal,” Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne issued a memo detailing his ethics plan for the department. The plan included “more comprehensive training and standards for all department employees, including political appointees.” Emphasizing his commitment to ethics reform, Kempthorne noted in the memo that he had created a Conduct Accountability Board headed by Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Mark Limbaugh. But Limbaugh, who is “a distant cousin of radio host Rush Limbaugh,” announced two days after the memo was released that he will soon “leave the department for the Ferguson Group, a lobby firm that advocates for several local and state water authorities before Interior.” “From my perspective, these are temporary jobs. You have to make a living,” Limbaugh said. “When you are in a business like natural resources, you are not going out to work for a tire store.” “Limbaugh’s departure comes on the heels of his deputy Jason Peltier’s resignation. Peltier left the department in late June to join the Westlands Water District in California, which has interests before Interior, as its chief deputy general manager.” Peltier’s departure caught the ire of House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV), who wrote a letter with Rep. George Miller (D-CA) to Kempthorne, saying they were “deeply troubled by the potential impact Mr. Peltier’s use of the ‘revolving door’ will have on the Department’s policymaking.” Facing similar questions of impropriety, “Limbaugh says he will adhere to federal rules and not lobby his old post during the one-year ‘cooling-off’ period.”

THINK FAST

Former White House aide Sara M. Taylor will refuse to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee today “about matters President Bush has deemed shielded by executive privilege, but she will offer to respond to other questions from senators that do not breach White House confidentiality.”

“I believe we are entering a period this summer of increased risk,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board yesterday. He indicated that his “remarks were based on ‘a gut feeling’ formed by past seasonal patterns of terrorist attacks, recent Al Qaeda statements and intelligence he did not disclose.” Keith Olbermann responds.

Sen. David Vitter visited a Canal Street brothel several times “beginning in the mid-1990s, paying $300 per hour for services at the bordello.” Attempting to defend Vitter against the solicitation of prostitution charges, the so-called “Canal Street Madam” whose operation was shut down by a federal investigators in 2001 said, “I want his wife to know he’s a good man.”

“Two senior Justice Department officials said yesterday that they kept Attorney General Alberto Gonzales apprised of FBI violations of civil liberties and privacy safeguards in recent years.” Gonzales told Congress: “There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse” after 2001. But Assistant Attorney General for National Security Kenneth L. Wainstein said, “I’m sure we’ve discussed violations that have occurred in the past.”

Baseball bats going extinct. At a baseball bat factory tucked into the lush tree country in northwestern Pennsylvania, the operators have drawn up a “three-to-five-year emergency plan” if the white ash tree, which has been used for decades to make the bat of choice, is compromised by the effects of global warming. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service “took the first step yesterday” toward declaring 10 penguin species endangered. Their survival “is deemed at risk in part because of the increasing warmth of the atmosphere and the oceans” because of global warming.

Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) will unveil a bill today that would require “power producers, refiners and steelmakers in the U.S…to cut greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2030.” The so-called cap-and-trade system would create a market for trading greenhouse gas permits.

“More than two dozen mortar shells pounded the Green Zone on Tuesday, killing three people, including a U.S. military member, and injuring 18, among them five Americans.”

Yesterday, the White House promised to veto a House bill “that would slash subsidies paid to college student-loan companies.” The legislation has “been attacked by the $85 billion student-loan industry, but championed by industry critics, including some student groups.”

And finally: Congratulations, Springfield, VT! The small New England town (pop. 9,500) beat out 13 other Springfields to host the premiere of The Simpsons Movie. Yesterday, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) issued a statement: “After 18 years, it’s good to finally welcome the Simpsons home. Vermonters love The Simpsons. … Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie will look great on that yellow carpet with the Green Mountains as a backdrop.”

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GOOD NEWS

A “growing number of states are cutting college tuition for recent veterans. … The number of states offering a tuition break to recent veterans has more than tripled, from six to 19, since 9/11.”

STATE WATCH

NEW YORK: Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) “is poised to begin an ambitious and potentially expensive push to expand health coverage to nearly three million more residents.”

FLORIDA: Gov. Charlie Crist (R), upset by the smog outside his home, will unveil a cap on emissions this week.

VERMONT: “Attorney General William Sorrell (D) unveiled a new website yesterday where people can compare prices offered by Vermont pharmacies for prescription drugs.”

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Tony Snow: “new way” on Iraq = stay the course on escalation.

ELECTION CENTRAL: Flack for Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) blasts anti-war critics, “even though Boehner said we’d know whether surge was working by April.”

OPEN LEFT: President Bush’s “current disapproval rating in the latest Gallup poll, 66%, equals Richard Nixon’s highest Gallup disapproval rating of 66%, registered the week before he resigned from office.”

EDITOR & PUBLISHER: The Chicago Sun-Times decides to redefine itself as a “liberal, working class” paper.

DAILY GRILL

“The same people that attacked us on September the 11th is a crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women and children, many of whom are Muslims.”
— President Bush, 7/10/07

VERSUS

“While U.S. intelligence and military officials view al Qaida in Iraq as a serious threat, they say the main source of violence and instability is an ongoing contest for power between majority Shiites and Sunnis, who dominated Saddam Hussein’s regime.”
— McClatchy, 7/10/07