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Civil Rights: Breaking Down Barriers

Yesterday, LogoOnline and Human Rights Campaign (HRC) hosted a Democratic presidential candidate forum focusing specifically on the issue of gay rights. The forum, moderated in part by HRC President Joe Solmonese and lesbian singer Melissa Etheridge,

August 10, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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CIVIL RIGHTS

Breaking Down Barriers

Yesterday, LogoOnline and Human Rights Campaign (HRC) hosted a Democratic presidential candidate forum focusing specifically on the issue of gay rights. The forum, moderated in part by HRC President Joe Solmonese and lesbian singer Melissa Etheridge, “broke new ground” on issues related to the GLBTQ community. Topics raised included same-sex marriage, HIV/AIDS funding, health care and partner benefits, discrimination, and hate crimes, to name a few. One key issue addressed was the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which bans openly gay military servicemembers. The issues and problems facing the gay community as seen through last night’s forum are increasingly important for candidates to openly discuss and embrace. “This event was incredibly validating. Gays and Lesbians are a voting bloc — four percent or more and that can swing an election,” noted Logo head Brian Graydon. Last night, “we pulled the curtain back a bit,” said Solmonese.

CONSERVATIVES MOVE FORWARD: In yesterday’s forum, several candidates were asked about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Since the policy was instituted, at least 11,000 servicemembers, hundreds of whom had key specialty skills such as training in Arabic, have left the military. With our “broken” armed forces, the military could attract as many as 41,000 new recruits if gays could serve openly. Now, the divide on the issue is increasingly breaking down, as key conservatives are embracing the repeal of DADT. In June, former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), argued that “the military is firing badly needed, capable troops simply because they’re gay.” The LA Times reports that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Navy Adm. Michael Mullen stated he would “love to have Congress make its own decision” on the repeal of DADT — in contrast to the remarks of former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell in 1993, who claimed the “presence of homosexuals in the force would be detrimental to good order.” Now Powell, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. John Warner (R-VA), and Secretary of State Bob Gates, have publicly recognized the contributions of gays in the military. In a March op-ed entitled “Bigotry That Hurts Our Military,” former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) called for DADT’s repeal. Nevertheless, all conservative Presidential candidates support banning gays in the military.

DISCRIMINATION STILL PREVALENT: Hate crimes and discrimination were also key issues in yesterday’s forum. Under current law, the federal government “is not able to help in cases where women, gay, transgender or disabled Americans are victims of bias-motivated crimes for who they are.” In 33 states, it is legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation. In 2005 alone, there were at least 1,017 crimes based on sexual orientation. Federal law protecting gays from discrimination and hate crimes is imperative. Faith-based groups are also seeing the need for such workplace and anti-violence protections. In April, more than “230 religious leaders representing congregations from every state” gathered in Washington to talk with lawmakers about hate violence. More than 210 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations support the passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA).

CONGRESS STEPS UP: As of last week, 131 lawmakers signed onto the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal DADT, including Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), Congress’ highest-ranking veteran. In May, the House overwhelmingly passed the hate crimes prevention act, which “seeks to extend federal authority and jurisdiction to allow the FBI and Department of Justice to work with state and local officials to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.” Currently, it awaits action in the Senate, but President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation. “The proposals they’re talking about are not sufficiently narrow,” said White House spokesperson Tony Fratto, falsely claming the bill suppresses free speech. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), “considered one of the strongest gay rights supporters in Congress,” has pledged to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, “making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote employees simply based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” to the floor this year. Congress, however, notably took a step back on gay rights when the Senate Judiciary Committee recently endorsed the nomination of Leslie Southwick, who once ordered the removal of an 8-year old child from her mother because of the mother’s sexual orientation, to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

UNDER THE RADAR

RELIGION — CONGRESSMAN SAYS RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY IN FEDERAL OFFICE WAS NOT ENVISIONED BY FOUNDING FATHERS: When Idaho State Rep. Bill Sali was running for Congress in 2006, Vice President Cheney visited his state and said, “Bill is ready to make a difference in Washington, and he’s going to be the kind of Congressman who will make you proud.” Now-Congressman Bill Sali (R-ID) is demonstrating his worth by criticizing the new religious diversity embodied in the 110th Congress. “We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota,” he said. “They are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers.” Sali may want to take a peek at Article VI of the Constitution, which notes that there is no religious test for public office: “[N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Sali’s not alone in his bigotry. In Dec. 2006, shortly after Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) was elected as the first Muslim congressman, Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) warned that “American citizens” need to “wake up” or “there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office.” Last month, protesters belonging to the Christian Right anti-abortion group Operation Save America loudly interrupted the first Hindu prayer delivered in the Senate. Sali said that when a Hindu prayer is offered, it “creates problems for the longevity of this country.”

HUMAN RIGHTS — BUSH ON TORTURE REPORT: ‘HAVEN’T SEEN IT, WE DON’T TORTURE’: During President Bush’s press conference yesterday, The Washington Post’s Peter Baker asked him if he “had read” a highly confidential report by the International Committee of the Red Cross that “has found an interrogation program in CIA detention facilities, [that] used interrogation techniques that were ‘tantamount to torture.'” Details of the report were revealed recently in the New Yorker. “Haven’t seen it; we don’t torture,” Bush bluntly responded before moving on to another question. Bush’s denial of torture is hardly convincing, considering he is apparently unaware of the allegations coming from the Red Cross, “which is known for its credibility and caution.” The report alleges “that American officials responsible for the abusive treatment” at CIA “black sites” may have committed “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions. Though Bush claims to have not “seen” the report, others in his administration have, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and CIA director Michael Hayden. Given the documented abuses at Abu Ghraib, Bush would be wise to actually read reports like the Red Cross’s before definitively declaring “we don’t torture.”

HEALTH — REPORT: TOBACCO TAXES PRODUCED SHARP DECREASE IN SMOKING: A USA Today report “finds that higher state taxes on smokers have produced sharp declines in consumption. The amount of decline in smoking is directly tied to the size of the tax increase.” Cigarette sales fell 18 percent in North Carolina last year after the tax was raised to 35 cents from a nickel. In New Jersey, smoking dropped by 35 percent after the state raised its taxes from 80 cents in 2002 to $2.40, and Connecticut saw a 37 percent drop in consumption after it increased its tax to $1.51 from 50 cents a pack in 2002. Recently, Congress approved an increase in the federal tax on tobacco products to fund the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program(SCHIP). But President Bush has promised to veto the measure. According to economists, “the nation may be about to experience one of the biggest one-time declines in smoking.” “I expect a bigger drop than almost anything we’ve seen before,” says Frank Chaloupka, a University of Illinois economist who has studied the effect of taxes on smoking. “He predicts that smoking will drop 6% if the 61-cent-per-pack tax hike is passed.” 

THINK FAST

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said yesterday there are no “defining moments” in Iraq. “I don’t think there is a date on the calendar, whether it’s in September or any other time in which you can say, ‘This is the defining moment. It’s all coming together, or it’s all falling apart.’ It’s an enormously complex situation.”

President Bush said he can’t recall when he learned that Army Ranger Pat Tillman died by friendly fire. Just days before Bush delivered a 2004 speech that made reference to Tillman, a top general had written a memo to Gen. John Abizaid, then head of Central Command, warning that it was “highly possible” that Tillman was killed by friendly fire and making clear that the information should be conveyed to the president.

“The next decade will be a hot one, according to scientists unveiling the first 10-year projection of global warming. �? The significance of the new study is that over the last century, global warming has contributed to about a one-degree rise in average temperatures.”

“Nearly half the people murdered in the U.S. each year are black, part of a persistent pattern in which African Americans are disproportionately victimized by violent crime, according to a new Justice Department study released yesterday.”

“I was at ground zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers,” said former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani yesterday. “I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I’m one of them.” Battalion Chief John McDonnell, head of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association in New York, responded, “I think he’s really grasping and trying to justify his previous attempts to portray himself as the hero of 9/11.”

The Bush administration on Friday will announce plans to enlist state and local law enforcement in cracking down on undocumented workers, which previously was largely a federal function. The plans call for the administration to “train growing numbers of state and local law enforcement officers to identify and detain immigration offenders whom they encounter in the course of daily law enforcement.”

“A car bomb struck a market in a Kurdish area in the northern city of Kirkuk on Friday, killing at least eight people and wounding dozens, police said. South of Baghdad, the U.S. military said a helicopter was forced down, leaving two soldiers injured.”

The State Department is enlisting baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken for a new diplomatic role. Ripken will travel the world as a public diplomacy envoy to increase young people’s understanding of the United States by sharing with them his “impressive personal history and life experiences.”

And finally: The Senate’s #1 Batman fan gets an appearance on the big screen. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will have a speaking part, though a “small role,” in the new flick The Dark Knight, out next year. Leahy, who “dabbles in Batman culture purely for fun,” had a cameo in the 1997 hit Batman & Robin.

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GOOD NEWS

In “a bipartisan survey of likely Democratic and Republican New Hampshire primary voters,” a strong majority “agree that reducing poverty, treating preventable diseases and improving education in poor countries around the world will help make the world safer and the United States more secure.”

STATE WATCH

MINNESOTA: Minnesota National Guard pioneers Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program “in hopes of changing how Soldiers and Airmen are reintegrated back to their communities.”

NEW JERSEY: Appeals court strikes a blow to gay couples hoping to file jointly for pre-civil union income.

ILLINOIS: Legislature defies Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and passes budget that hardly funds key health care programs.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Conservative blogs and newspapers spin Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)’s “very discouraging” Iraq assessment.

THINK PROGRESS: In a three minute monologue, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews gushes over President Bush’s “great neo-conservative mind.”

ESCHATON: Columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News says “another 9/11 would help America.”

SAVE THE INTERNET: AT&T censors Pearl Jam lyrics critical of President Bush.

DAILY GRILL

“Significant changes [are] taking place.”
— Brookings analysts Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack on progress in Iraq, 7/30/07

VERSUS

“I did not see any dramatic change in our position in Iraq during this trip.”
— Center for Strategic and International Studies military analyst Anthony Cordesman, who visited Iraq with O’Hanlon and Pollack, 8/9/07