Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

The Criminalization of Everyday Life

Posted in civil rights, law, police state by allisonkilkenny on March 24, 2009

City Limits, Robert Neuwirth

police_stateI spent 24 hours in the slammer the other day. My crime? Well, the police couldn’t tell me when they locked me up. The prosecutor and judge couldn’t either, when I was arraigned the following day. I found out for myself when I researched the matter a few days after being released: I had been cited for walking my dog off the leash – once, six years ago.

Welcome to the ugly underside of the zero-tolerance era, where insignificant rule violations get inflated into criminal infractions. Here’s how it worked with me: a gaggle of transit cops stopped me after they saw me walk between two subway cars on my way to work. This, they told me, was against the rules. They asked for ID and typed my name into a hand-held computer. Up came that old citation that I didn’t know about and they couldn’t tell me about. I was immediately handcuffed and brought to the precinct. There, I waited in a holding cell, then was fingerprinted (post-CSI memo: they now take the fingers, the thumbs, the palms, and the sides of both hands) and had the contents of my shoulder bag inventoried. I could hardly believe it: I was being arrested without ever having committed a crime.
Read more
(more…)

Uphold the Voting Rights Act

Posted in civil rights, politics, racism, Supreme Court, voter disenfranchisement by allisonkilkenny on January 25, 2009

New York Times

m319-150bSome people claim that Barack Obama’s election has ushered in a “postracial” America, but the truth is that race, and racial discrimination, are still very much with us. The Supreme Court should keep this reality in mind when it considers a challenge to an important part of the Voting Rights Act that it recently agreed to hear. The act is constitutional — and clearly still needed.

Section 5, often called the heart of the Voting Rights Act, requires some states and smaller jurisdictions to “preclear” new voting rules with the Justice Department or a federal court. When they do, they have to show that the proposed change does not have the purpose or effect of discriminating against minority voters.

When Congress enacted Section 5 in 1965, officials in the South were creating all kinds of rules to stop blacks from voting or being elected to office. Discrimination against minority voters may not be as blatant as it was then, but it still exists. District lines are drawn to prevent minorities from winning; polling places are located in places hard for minority voters to get to; voter ID requirements are imposed with the purpose of suppressing the minority vote.

After holding lengthy hearings to document why the Voting Rights Act was still needed, Congress reauthorized it in 2006 with votes of 98 to 0 in the Senate and 390 to 33 in the House. Now, a municipal utility district in Texas that is covered by Section 5 is arguing that it is unconstitutional, and that it imposes too many burdens on jurisdictions covered by it.

If the Supreme Court — which is expected to hear arguments in the case this spring — strikes down Section 5, it would be breaking radically with its own precedents. The court has repeatedly upheld the Voting Rights Act against challenges, and as recently as 2006 it ruled that complying with Section 5 is a compelling state interest. It would also be an extreme case of conservative judicial activism, since the 14th and 15th Amendments expressly authorize Congress to enact laws of this sort to prevent discrimination in voting.

A perennial criticism of Section 5 is that it covers jurisdictions it should not, or fails to cover ones it should. There is no way to construct a perfect list, but Congress has done a reasonable job of drawing up the criteria, and it has built flexibility into the act. Jurisdictions are allowed to “bail out” if they can show that they no longer need to be covered, and courts can add new jurisdictions if they need to be covered.

In last fall’s election, despite his strong national margin of victory — and hefty campaign chest — Mr. Obama got only about one in five white votes in the Southern states wholly or partly covered by Section 5. And there is every reason to believe that minority voters will continue to face obstacles at the polls.

If Section 5 is struck down, states and localities would have far more freedom to erect barriers for minority voters — and there is little doubt that some would do just that. We have not arrived at the day when special protections like the Voting Rights Act are not needed.

Dennis Blair Refuses to Say Waterboarding is Torture

Posted in Barack Obama, civil rights, politics, torture by allisonkilkenny on January 22, 2009

Note from Allison: Add this to Blair’s connection with the East Timor massacre and the question becomes glaringly obvious: is this really the best person we can find for the Director of National Intelligence? Blair disobeyed his orders from Washington and informed top Indonesian general Wiranto that he had unwavering U.S. support. The ruthless attacks in East Timor resulted in hundreds dead and thousands displaced. 

At the very least, Blair is an accessory to war crimes if his complacency in this massacre doesn’t directly link him to war crimes. Now, he refuses to call waterboarding torture, which is a pretty huge prerequisite for someone who will serve as the head of the intelligence community.

Think Progress

blairwebDuring his confirmation hearings, Attorney General Eric Holder clearly expressed that “waterboading is torture.” But President Obama’s nominee to be Director of National Intelligence, ret. Adm. Dennis Blair, refused to call waterboarding torture in his confirmation hearing today. “There will be no waterboarding on my watch. There will be no torture on my watch,” Blair said, “refusing to go further,” according to Reuters. Sen Carl Levin (D-MI) told Blair, “If the attorney general designee can answer it, you can too.”

Media Desperately Tries to Assure Us That Obama Loves Torture

Posted in Barack Obama, civil rights, human rights, politics, torture by allisonkilkenny on January 22, 2009

digby

torture-abuIn his post today, Glenzilla thoroughly parses the new Washington Post poll which indicates that solid majorities of the American people believe that torture should not be used in any circumstances, that terrorist suspects should be tried in regular courts and that there should be official investigations into the Bush era torture regime. It would seem that the beltway elite’s characterization of people who hold such opinion as being “liberal score settlers” would both indicate that a majority of the country is liberal and that they actually believe that torture is wrong. Imagine that.

This brings up an interesting dilemma for our old pal Christopher Hitchens who held a fabulous village gala the other night at his place andsaid:

“I know something for a sure thing,” Hitchens continued. “The demand for torture and other methods I would describe as illegal, the demand to go outside the Geneva conventions — all this came from below. What everyone wants to say is this came from a small clique around the vice-president. It’s not educational. It doesn’t enlighten anyone to behave as if that were true. This is our society wanting and demanding harsh measures.” Therefore, he went on, the demand for prosecution or other measures against Bush administration officials would likewise have to come from below, via the grassroots. “Otherwise it’s just vengeful, I suppose, and partisan.”

But, as I wrote earlier, when Hitchens talks about coming from below he really means the media elite who “represent” Real Americans. They don’t listen to the polls, they listen to their guts, which are a far more reliable gauge of what the grassroots really believe than polls or elections.

Meanwhile, here’s Town Crier Chuck Todd reassuring us all that these new executive orders won’t allow the terrorists to kill us all in our beds:

Todd: There are still some loopholes. Those who are worried that somehow there isn’t going to be a way to get intelligence out of them… for instance, while there is a mandate, one of these executive orders says that the Army Field Manual is what needs to be used to decide how to interrogate these folks, there is also going to be an allowance by this new commission to come up with a protocol to deal with intelligence, you know detainees that are detained from the intelligence battlefield, not necessarily the actual combatant, you know, one that would be soldier to soldier.

Now the administration says this does not mean they will invite new methods of interrogation back into the fold, but like I said Andrea, you could go through here with a fine tooth comb and could find plenty of loopholes that would allow certain things to happen.

Now, it’s hard to make sense out of that, and I don’t know specifically what loopholes he’s talking about, but it’s clear that Chuck Todd is seeking to reassure everyone that some kind of torture will be allowed if it’s really necessary. (Boy that’s a relief, huh?)

In fact, the whole tenor of the coverage of today’s executive orders seems to be about how Obama has done this because Guantanamo and torture “look bad” but that he’s got to find some legal means to circumvent constitutional principles because well … he just does:

Pete Williams: The most controversial aspect of this is that there will still be a category of detainees that can’t be released but can’t be put on trial because there isn’t enough evidence or because the evidence was obtained in some way that couldn’t be used in court and they seem to say in this document, “we’re still probably going to have to hold those people if they’re dangerous, we just don’t know how,” so one of the things this document says is to the government, look at our legal options, there must be some legal way to do this.

And, of course, human rights groups have been saying “you can’t have it both ways” you can’t both detain them and not put them on trial.

Where do those human rights groups get those crazy ideas?

I honestly don’t know why we shouldn’t apply this logic across the board. If the authorities “know” that someone is guilty of murder but they don’t have any evidence or coerced an unreliable confession out of them under torture, why isn’t there some legal way to hold this alleged murderer anyway? Indeed, it would save a lot of time and money if we could just dispense with the whole trial process at all — if the government just “knows” when someone is dangerous and that they’ve committed crimes then what’s the point of all this “proof” business in the first place?

I have no idea what Obama really has in mind with these orders — although they are certainly a welcome step in the right direction this commission he’s forming to assess interrogation techniques seems superfluous to me. The Geneva Conventions aren’t obscure on these points and neither is the scholarship on effective interrogation techniques. I assume that he’s simply trying to appease the intelligence community by not being unequivocal in the first few days. 

But regardless of his intentions, it’s clear that the media has decided that he’s trying to have it both ways. I’m sure that’s very reassuring to them — they all love torture and indefinite detention (except for themselves and their friends, who “suffer enough” if they are simply publicly embarrassed.) But if Obama’s intention is to send a clear signal that America is not going to torture and imprison people in violation of the law and the constitution, the media that’s supposed to convey that view isn’t getting the message.

Let’s hope they are just being myopic and stupid as usual. If they aren’t, or this “confusion” is allowed to stand, then it’s likely that the foreign policy benefit of changing the policies are going to be compromised. I hear that the foreigners have the internet these days.

Here’s the Center For Constitutional Rights’ statement on today’s orders.

The Washington Establishment’s Plans for Obama’s Executive Orders

Posted in Barack Obama, CIA, civil rights, human rights, politics, torture by allisonkilkenny on January 22, 2009

“The case against Clevinger was open and shut. The only thing missing was something to charge him with.”

- Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Glenn Greenwald

tortureBarack Obama will have spent his first several days in office issuing a series of executive orders which, some quibbling and important caveats and reservations aside, meet or actually exceed even the most optimistic expectations of civil libertarians for what he could or would do quickly — everything from ordering the closing of Guantanamo to suspending military commissions to compelling CIA interrogators to adhere to the Army Field Manual to banning CIA “black sites” and, perhaps most encouragingly (in my view):  severely restricting his own power and the power of former Presidents to withhold documents and other information on the basis of secrecy, which was the prime corrosive agent, the main enabler, of the Bush era.  As a result, establishment and right-wing figures who have been assuring everyone (most of all themselves) that Obama, in these areas, would scorn “the Left” (meaning:  those who believe in Constitutional safeguards) and would continue most of Bush’s “counter-Terrorism” policies are growing increasingly nervous about this flurry of unexpected Bush-repudiating activity.

The Washington Post‘s Fred Hiatt has an Editorial today purporting to praise what he claims is Obama’s “appropriate prudence in taking things slowly — at least for now.”  Hiatt further praises Obama for his intention to scrap the current military commissions system, because, as Hiatt puts it, “a deeply flawed and unjust legal process such as the one in place at Guantanamo is untenable.”  Yet this is what Hiatt says about what should replace the Guantanamo military commissions system:

Mr. Obama should order trials in federal court when possible. For those for whom traditional prosecutions would not be feasible, he should ensure robust due process, whether in courts-martial or aversion of existing military commissions. If there are dangerous detainees who cannot be tried– a possibility that Mr. Obama has acknowledged — the president should consider creation of a specialized court, akin to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in which such detainees would be guaranteed periodic review of their detentions by a federal judge empowered to order their release.

This paragraph, which more or less embodies the conventional wisdom about what should be done with Guantanamo detainees once that camp is closed, is about as ironic a claim as can be imagined.  Just think about what Hiatt, masquerading (as always) as the defender of democracy and Western justice, is actually saying:

In the name of due process, we should give Guantanamo detainees a trial in our normal civilian courts, using our normal rules of justice –but only if we’re certain ahead of time that we can win and convict them.  For those we’re not certain we can convict using our normal standards of due process (because the evidence against them is “tainted”), we should re-write the rules of justice and create a whole new tribunal (similar to the Guantanamo military commissions that Hiatt pretends to decry, which advocates, in Orwellian fashion, typically call “national security courts”) in order to make it easier for us to win against them and keep them incarcerated.  And then, for those who we can’t convict even in the new, “looser” tribunals, we’ll just create a wholly separate, new, presumably secret tribunal that has the power to keep people detained indefinitely without having to prove that they violated any laws at all.

Rather obviously, if you afford due process safeguards only to those people you’re sure you can convict anyway, but then deny them at will to whomever you think can’t be convicted under the normal rules, that isn’t “due process.”  That’s a transparent sham, a mockery of justice.  You can’t have different due process standards and entirely different courts that you pick and choose from based on how many rights you think you can afford to extend and still be assured of a conviction (e.g.: “we’ll probably lose in a real court against this detainee because the prime evidence we have against him is a coerced confession, so let’s stick this one in a national security court where we can use the coerced confession and don’t have to extend other rights and safeguards that will get in our way, and thus be assured of winning”).

More obviously still, the U.S. will not, as Hiatt puts it, “end the discredited practices for handling foreign detainees that have blemished the United States’ reputation worldwide” if we simultaneously, as Hiatt advocates, create a new court that is empowered to keep accused Terrorists in cages indefinitely without having to give them a trial at all (i.e., a “preventive detention” scheme).  If all we end up doing is re-creating the travesties of Guantanamo inside the U.S., we will not have taken a step forward.  One could plausibly argue that replicating Guantanamo inside the U.S. will be to do the opposite.

This is why the understandable enthusiasm (which I definitely share) over Obama’s pleasantly unexpected commitment in the first few hours of his presidency to take politically difficult steps in the civil liberties and accountability realms should be tempered somewhat.  There is going to be very concerted pressure exerted on him by establishment guardians such as Hiatt (and the Brookings Institution, Jack Goldsmith and friends), to say nothing of hard-line factions within the intelligence community and its various allies, for Obama to take subsequent steps that would eviscerate much of this progress, that render these initial rollbacks largely empty, symbolic gestures.  Whether these steps, impressive as they are, will be symbolic measures designed to placate certain factions, or whether they represent a genuine commitment on Obama’s part, remains to be seen.  Much of it will depend on how much political pressure is exerted and from what sides.

Obama deserves real praise for devoting the first few days of his presidency to these vital steps — and doing so without there being much of a political benefit and with some real political risk.  That’s genuinely encouraging.  But ongoing vigilance is necessary, to counter-balance the Fred Hiatts, Brookings Institutions and other national security state fanatics, to ensure that these initial steps aren’t undermined.

(VIDEO) Dr. King Discusses America’s First Black President In Unearthed BBC Clip

Posted in Barack Obama, civil rights, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 19, 2009

martin-luther-king-jr-picBBC

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE

BBC World News America has unearthed a fascinating clip of Dr Martin Luther King speaking to the BBC’s Bob McKenzie in 1964 in which Dr King predicts an African-American president “in less than 40 years.”

Prop. 8 Part of ‘Christian Taliban’s’ Move to Make Bible the Law

Posted in civil rights, religion by allisonkilkenny on January 13, 2009

The Raw Story

gay_wedding_cake_0The Protect Marriage Coalition, which led the fight to pass an anti-gay marriage initiative in California, is now suing to shield its financial records from public scrutiny.

The lawsuit claims that donors to Protect Marriage and a second group involved in the suit have received threatening phone calls and emails. It asks for existing donation lists to be removed from the California secretary of state’s website and also seeks to have both plaintiffs and all similar groups be exempted in the future from ever having to file donation disclosure reports on this or any similar campaigns.

Although public access advocates believe this sweeping demand for donor anonymity has little chance of success, it does point up the secretive and even conspiratorial nature of much right-wing political activity in California.

Howard Ahmanson and Wayne C. Johnson

The man who more than any other has been associated with this kind of semi-covert activity over the past 25 years is reclusive billionaire Howard Ahmanson.

Ahmanson is a Christian Reconstructionist, a devout follower of the late R.J. Rushdoony, who advocated the replacement of the U.S. Constitution with the most extreme precepts of the Old Testament, including the execution — preferably by stoning — of homosexuals, adulterers, witches, blasphemers, and disobedient children.

Ahmanson himself has stated, “My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives.”

As absurd as this Reconstructionist agenda may seem, the success of Proposition 8 demonstrates the ability of what is sometimes called the “Christian Taliban” to pursue its covert objectives behind the screen of seemingly mainstream initiatives and candidates.

Ahmanson’s role in promoting Proposition 8 has drawn a lot of attention, but he appears to serve primarily as the money man, leaving his associates to carry out the practical details. One name in particular stands out as Ahmanson’s chief lieutenant: political consultant Wayne C. Johnson, whose Johnson Clark Associates (formerly Johnson & Associates) coordinated the Proposition 8 campaign.

Johnson has spent many years working for Ahmanson-funded causes — such as the battle against a 2004 initiative to promote stem cell research — and organizations, like the anti-spending California Taxpayer Protection Committee.

Johnson Clark has also operated PACs for many candidates supported by Ahmanson. It ran Rep. John Doolittle’s leadership PAC, which became notorious for sending a 15% commission to Doolittle’s wife out of every donation received. It currently runs the PAC for Rep. Tom McClintock, a strong Proposition 8 supporter who was narrowly elected last fall to succeed the scandal-plagued Doolittle.

Proposition 8

The series of events leading to the approval of Proposition 8 began in 2000 with the passage of Proposition 22, which defined marriage in California as being solely between one man and one woman — but did so only as a matter of law and not as a constitutional amendment.

Proposition 22 was quickly challenged in court, leading to the creation by its supporters of the the Proposition 22 Legal Defense Fund. In 2003, Johnson Clark Associates registered the domain ProtectMarriage.com on behalf of that fund.

ProtectMarriage.com began campaigning in early 2005 for an initiative that would add its restrictive definition of marriage to the California constitution, but it failed to gather sufficient signatures and was terminated in September 2006.

In 2008, however, a reborn ProtectMarriage.com, flush with nearly a million dollars in funding from Howard Ahmanson and tens of millions from other doners, succeeding in getting Proposition 8 placed on the ballot and approved by 52% of the voters.

Proposition 8 is now California law — at least for the moment, pending challenges to its constitutionality — and ProtectMarriage.com has turned its attention to demanding that all 18,000 existing same-sex marriages be declared invalid.

The Ahmanson-Johnson Strategy

The partnership between Ahmanson and Johnson, however, did not begin in 2003 or even in 2000. It goes back to at least 1983, if not earlier, and has been a continuing factor in California politics for the last 25 years.

In a 1994 article on Christian Reconstructionism, Public Eye described Johnson’s central role in an Ahmanson-financed attempt by the Christian Right to take control of the California state legislation. The strategy involved first pushing through a term limits initiative, which was accomplished in 1990, and then promoting its own candidates for the seats this opened up:

“The practical impact of term limits is to remove the advantage of incumbency … which the extreme Christian Right is prepared to exploit. … At a Reconstructionist conference in 1983, Johnson outlined an early version of the strategy we see operating in California today. … The key for the Christian Right was to be able to: 1) remove or minimize the advantage of incumbency, and 2) create a disciplined voting bloc from which to run candidates in Republican primaries, where voter turn out was low and scarce resources could be put to maximum effect. …

“Since the mid-1970s, the extreme Christian Right, under the tutelage of then-State Senator H. L Richardson, targeted open seats and would finance only challengers, not incumbents. By 1983, they were able to increase the number of what Johnson called ‘reasonably decent guys’ in the legislature from four to 27. At the Third Annual Northwest Conference for Reconstruction in 1983, Johnson stated that he believed they may achieve ‘political hegemony. . .in this generation.’”

The mention of H. L. “Bill” Richardson as the originator of the Johnson-Ahmanson strategy is both eye-catching and significant. Richardson, a former John Birch Society member, was considered to be one of the most extreme right-wing politicians of his time. In 1975, he co-founded Gun Owners of America (GOA), an organization which is widely regarded as being well to the right of the National Rife Association.

Wayne Johnson began his political career in 1976 by working for Richardson — and Johnson Clark Associates still operates a PAC for GOA’s state affiliate, the Gun Owners of California Campaign Committee.

In 1992, Johnson and Ahmanson managed to help send a batch of conservative Republicans to Congress. Foremost among these was Richard Pombo, one of whose first acts after taking office was to introduce a resolution of commendation for the Reconstructionist Chalcedon Foundation.

In 2004, Johnson told an interviewer that Pombo’s election was a high point of his political career. “There have been a lot of great moments, but Richard Pombo’s 1992 upset victory in his first congressional primary has got to be near the top. The television stations didn’t even have his name listed on their pre-programmed screens election night. Today, he’s chairman of the House Resources Committee.”

Two years after Johnson’s enthusiastic declaration, Pombo was defeated by a Democratic challenger, following wide-ranging allegation of corruption, including being named as the Congressman who had received more donations from Jack Abramoff than any other.

The Anti-Homosexual Agenda

Although the Christian Right never achieved its original goal of taking over California state government — which may be why Ahmanson and Johnson have turned their attention to passing socially conservative initiatives instead — it has been far more successful in establishing dominance over that state’s Republican Party.

In 1998, Mother Jones reported:

“First they packed the then-moderate California Republican Assembly (CRA), a mainstream caucus with a heavy hand in the state party’s nominating process, with their Bible-minded colleagues. By 1990 they controlled the CRA, and since then the CRA’s clout has helped the religious conservatives nominate and elect local candidates and—crucially—catapult true believers into state party leadership slots. …

“From radical fringe to kingmakers in a decade — how did they do it? ‘Basically, there’s two places you have influence: one is in the nominating process in the primaries, where you can elect people in ideological agreement with your views, and the other is in the party structure,’ says former CRA vice president John Stoos, a former gun lobbyist, member of the fundamentalist Christian Reconstructionist movement, and senior consultant to the State Assembly.”

Stoos appears to come out of precisely the same background as Johnson and Ahmanson. He served as the executive director of Gun Owners of California and was also the chief of staff and a legislative advisor to Tom McClintock from 1998 until 2003, when he got into trouble for his over-the-top Reconstructionist sentiments.

In the Mother Jones interview, Stoos referred to Christian politicians as God’s “vice-regents … those who believe in the Lordship of Christ and the dominion mandate” and pointed to the repeal in the 1970′s of laws against homosexual acts as an example of the need for rule by “biblical justice.”

“The proof is in the pudding,” Stoos told Mother Jones. “Since we lifted those laws, we’ve had the biggest epidemic in history.”

To many who voted for it, Proposition 8 may have been no more than a nostalgic attempt to keep a changing world more like the way it used to be. But for Reconstructionists like Ahmanson, Johnson, and Stoos, it clearly represents something else — a dramatic first step towards “the total integration of biblical law into our lives.”

A Modest Inauguration Proposal

Posted in Barack Obama, civil rights, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 12, 2009

Yolanda Pierce

12009Over the weekend I got news from a family member that she had lost her job of 12 years. I also heard from a former student who is dealing with bankruptcy and possible foreclosure on her home, due, in part, to her student loan debt. And finally, I met a terrific woman at yoga class who had signed up as a way to deal with the financial and emotional stress from being caught in the “sandwich generation,” as she is a caretaker for her small children and elderly father. All three of these stories remind me of the ways in which “ordinary” people are suffering these days. I only need to look at the brisk business our local food bank and crisis ministry center is doing to know that we are in a depression, with little light at the end of the tunnel.

So I’ve been unable to work up much excitement for the forthcoming inaugural festivities. On one hand, I understand the desire people have to be witnesses to the historical occasion of seeing Barack Obama become the 44th president of the United States. It is a moment that should be captured, documented, and recorded for all posterity. But I fear that the occasion has become an excuse for an endless stream of parties, which are starting as early as this week. So as the media turns its attention to the haute couture, gourmet cuisine, and glitterati, will it forget to discuss the very reasons that a majority of Americans voted for Obama in the first place?

African American churches from the New York City and Philly area are sending literally hundreds of buses to Washington, D.C. next week. Since these are my folks, I have appealed to the various pastors I know: would their members be willing to take the money they are spending for a seat on a bus (that will leave NYC or Philly and have to turn right back around) and donate that money to help a member of their congregation who can’t pay their heating bill? Or donate that money to the “Children’s Defense Fund” or “Save Dafur” or some other charity in Obama’s name? The answer has been a unanimous “no.” People feel the need to say “they were there” when history was made. And so thousands from this area, and millions in total, will descend on Washington, D.C. for a glimpse of the first black president.

The part of me that understands this desire competes with the part of me that hopes people will truly hear the message of the hour, the inaugural speech that Obama will give to usher in his presidency. Will we remember who attended Oprah’s inaugural bash or will we remember the words Obama will speak? Will our focus be on the fashions or will our focus be on the work that needs to be done? I would have been there to march on Washington, D.C. in 1963 (had I been born!) because that collective show of force across race, religion, creed, and culture, sent a message loudly and clearly that the case for civil rights was the case for human rights. But I will not be in Washington, D.C. in 2009, because that is not where the battle is. The battle is in the unrest in Gaza; the battle is in the economic crisis in Detroit; the battle is in the health care system; the battle is in the crumbling urban infrastructure. So on January 20, 2009, while D.C. may be at the center of our nation’s thoughts, it is not the only place that so strikingly merits our undivided attention.

But recognizing and respecting the historical importance of the moment, I have a modest proposal: let every young American who was planning to attend the inauguration donate their train/plane/bus ticket, and their hotel room to an older American who never thought he or she would live long enough to see an African American president. As we would do on the bus or the subway, let’s give up our seats to those who have earned the right to sit. Let an older generation take their proper place at the front of the line for this historical event. Because in my lifetime, which I pray is long and healthy, I expect to see not only another president of color, but the first woman president as well. Let the internet and media-savy generation watch in HDTV, with Dolby-enhanced surround sound. Let our grandmothers and our grandfathers, many of whom literally had to sit at the back of the bus, enjoy their moment at the front. They are the shoulders upon whom Obama stands.

Condom Burnings and Anti-Gay Witch Hunts: How Rick Warren Is Undermining AIDs Prevention in Africa

Posted in Barack Obama, civil rights, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 8, 2009

Max Blumenthal

ribs-warren-rickOnce hailed by Time magazine as “America’s Pastor,” California megachurch leader and best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren now finds himself on the defensive. President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of Warren to deliver the inaugural prayer has generated intense scrutiny of the pastor’s beliefs on social issues, from his vocal support for Proposition 8, a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage in California, to his comparison of homosexuality to pedophilia, incest and bestiality. Many of Obama’s supporters have demanded that he withdraw the invitation.

Warren’s defense against charges of intolerance ultimately depends upon his ace card: his heavily publicized crusade against AIDS in Africa. Obama senior adviser David Axelrod cited Warren’s work in Africa as one of “the things on which [Obama and Warren] agree” on the Dec. 28 episode of Meet the Press. Warren may be opposed to gay rights and abortion, the thinking goes, but he tells evangelicals it is their God-given duty to battle one of the greatest pandemics in history. What could be wrong with that?

But since the Warren inauguration controversy erupted, the nature of his work against AIDS in Africa has gone unexamined. Warren has not been particularly forthcoming to those who have attempted to look into it. His Web site contains scant information about the results of his program. However, an investigation into Warren’s involvement in Africa reveals a web of alliances with right-wing clergymen who have sidelined science-based approaches to combating AIDS in favor of abstinence-only education. More disturbingly, Warren’s allies have rolled back key elements of one of the continent’s most successful initiative, the so-called ABC program in Uganda. Stephen Lewis, the United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, told the New York Times their activism is “resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred.”

Warren’s man in Uganda is a charismatic pastor named Martin Ssempa. The head of the Makerere Community Church, a rapidly growing congregation, Ssempa enjoys close ties to his country’s first lady, Janet Museveni, and is a favorite of the Bush White House. In the capitol of Kampala, Ssempa is known for his boisterous crusading. Ssempa’s stunts have included burning condoms in the name of Jesus and arranging the publication of names of homosexuals in cooperative local newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them.

Dr. Helen Epstein, a public health consultant who wrote the book, The Invisible Cure: Why We’re Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa, met Ssempa in 2005. Epstein told me the preacher seemed gripped by paranoia, warning her of a secret witches coven that met under Lake Victoria.

“Ssempa also spoke to me for a very long time about his fear of homosexual men and women,” Epstein said. “He seemed very personally terrified by their presence.”

When Warren unveiled his global AIDS initiative at a 2005 conference at his Saddleback Church, he cast Ssempa as his indispensable sidekick, assigning him to lead a breakout session on abstinence-only education as well as a seminar on AIDS prevention. Later, Ssempa delivered a keynote address, a speech so stirring it “had the audience on the edge of its seats,” according to Warren’s public relations agency. A year later, Ssempa returned to Saddleback Church to lead another seminar on AIDS. By this time, his bond with the Warrens had grown almost familial. “You are my brother, Martin, and I love you,” Rick Warren’s wife, Kay, said to Ssempa from the stage. Her voice trembled with emotion as she spoke, and tears ran down her cheeks.

Joining Ssempa at Warren’s church were two key Bush administration officials who controlled the purse strings of the president’s newly minted $15 billion anti-AIDS initiative in Africa, PEPFAR. Museveni also appeared through a videotaped address to tout the success of her country’s numerous church-based abstinence programs.

These Bush officials — Randall Tobias, the Department of State’s Global AIDS coordinator, and Claude Allen, the White House’s chief domestic policy adviser — are closely linked to the Christian Right. Tobias, the so-called global AIDS czar, declared in 2004 that condoms “really have not been very effective,” and crusaded against prostitution, until he resigned in 2007 when he was exposed as a regular client of the D.C. Madam’s escort service. Allen, once an aide to the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., resigned in 2006 after he was arrested for felony thefts from retail stores.

During the early 1990s, when many African leaders denied the AIDS epidemic’s existence, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni spoke openly about the importance of safe sex. With the help of local and international nongovernmental organizations, he implemented an ambitious program emphasizing abstinence, monogamous relationships and using condoms as the best ways to prevent the spread of AIDS. He called the program “ABC.” By 2003, Uganda’s AIDS rate plummeted 10 percent. The government’s free distribution of the “C” in ABC — condoms — proved central to the program’s success, according to Avert, an international AIDS charity.

On New Year’s Eve 1999, Janet Museveni, who had become born-again, convened a massive stadium revival in Kampala to dedicate her country to the “lordship” of Jesus Christ. As midnight approached, the first lady summoned a local pastor to the stage to anoint the nation. “We renounce idolatry, witchcraft and Satanism in our land!” he proclaimed.

Two years later, Janet Museveni flew to Washington at the height of a heated congressional debate over PEPFAR. She carried in her hand a prepared message to distribute to Republicans. Abstinence was the golden bullet in her country’s fight against AIDS, she assured conservative lawmakers, denying the empirically proven success of her husband’s condom-distribution program. Like magic, the Republican-dominated Congress authorized over $200 million for Uganda, but only for the exclusive promotion of abstinence education. Ssempa soon became the “special representative of the first lady’s Task Force on AIDS in Uganda,” receiving $40,000 from the PEPFAR pot.

Emboldened by U.S. support, Ssempa took his anti-condom crusade to Makerere University in Kampala, where senior residents of a men’s dormitory promoted safe sex by greeting incoming freshmen with a giant effigy wearing a condom. According to Epstein, one day after she visited the school, Ssempa stormed onto campus, tore the condom from the effigy, grabbed a box of free condoms and set them ablaze. “I burn these condoms in the name of Jesus!” Ssempa shouted as he prayed over the burning box.

“It was a very controversial time,” Epstein told me. “After the Bush administration authorized PEPFAR, a number of the local evangelical preachers began to get excited about this and get involved in AIDS very rapidly. To try to prove his credentials, Ssempa became increasingly active and vociferous in his antipathy towards condoms.”

By 2005, billboards promoting condom use disappeared from the streets of Kampala, replaced by billboards promoting virginity. “Until recently, all HIV-related billboards were about condoms. Those of us calling for abstinence and faithfulness need billboards, too,” Ssempa told the BBC at the time. A 2005 report by Human Rights Watchdocumented educational material in Uganda’s secondary schools falsely claiming condoms had microscopic pores that could be penetrated by the AIDS virus and noted the sudden nationwide shortage of condoms due to new restrictions imposed on condom imports.

AIDS activists arrived at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto in 2006 with disturbing news from Uganda. Due, at least in part, to the chronic condom shortage, HIV infections were on the rise again. The disease rate had spiked to 6.5 percent among rural men and 8.8 percent among women — a rise of nearly two points in the case of women. “The ‘C’ part [of ABC] is now mainly silent,” said Ugandan AIDS activist Beatrice Ware. As a result, she said, “the success story is unraveling.”

Troubled by what he was witnessing in Africa, the late Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., led the new Democratic-controlled Congress to reform PEPFAR during a reauthorization process in February 2008. Lantos insisted that Congress lift the abstinence-only earmark imposed by Republicans in 2002 and begin to fund family-planning elements like free condom distribution. His maneuver infuriated Warren, who immediately boarded a plane for Washington to join Christian Right leaders, including born-again former Watergate felon Chuck Colson, for an emergency press conference on the Capitol lawn. In his speech, Warren claimed that Lantos’ bill would spawn an increase in the sex trafficking of young women. The bill died and PEPFAR was reauthorized in its flawed form. (Days later, Lantos died of cancer after serving for 27 years in Congress.)

With safe sex advocates on the run, Warren and Ssempa trained their sights on another social evil. In August 2007, Ssempa led hundreds of his followers through the streets of Kampala to demand that the government mete out harsh punishments against gays. “Arrest all homos,” read placards. And: “A man cannot marry a man.” Ssempa continued his crusade online, publishing the names of Ugandan gay rights activists on a Web site he created, along with photos and home addresses. “Homosexual promoters,” he called them, suggesting they intended to seduce Uganda’s children into their lifestyle. Soon afterward, two of President Museveni’s top officials demanded the arrest of the gay activists named by Ssempa. Terrified, the activists immediately into hiding.

Warren, in his effort to dispel criticism, has denied harboring homophobic sentiments. “I could give you a hundred gay friends,” hetold MSNBC’s Ann Curry on Dec. 18. “I have always treated them with respect. When they come and want to talk to me, I talk to them.”

But when Uganda’s Anglican bishops threatened to bolt from the Church of England because of its tolerant stance towards homosexuals, Warren parachuted into Kampala to confer international legitimacy on their protest.

“The Church of England is wrong, and I support the Church of Uganda on the boycott,” Warren proclaimed in March 2008. Declaring homosexuality an unnatural way of life, Warren flatly stated, “We shall not tolerate this aspect [homosexuality in the church] at all.”

Days later, Warren emerged so enthusiastic after a meeting with first lady Museveni, he announced a plan to make Uganda a “Purpose Driven Nation.”

“The future of Christianity is not Europe or North America, but Africa, Asia and Latin America,” he told a cheering throng at Makerere University. Then, Ugandan Archbishop Henry Orombi rose and predicted, “Someday, we will have a purpose-driven continent!”

Max Blumenthal is a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at The Nation Institute in Washington.

Bobby Jindal Stocks “Marriage Commission” With Anti-Gay Crusaders

Posted in civil rights by allisonkilkenny on January 6, 2009

Bilerico Project

bobby-jindalLouisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is often cited as a rising star in Republican politics. One of the party’s most visible state executives, he has worked hard to endear himself to the GOP faithful, and has been widely mentioned as a possible White House candidate in 2012. And, true to form for some of those who seek to carry the Republican mantle on a national ticket, he is already beginning to pander to the most extreme factions of his party and his state.

In December, Jindal announced the formation of the Louisiana Commission on Marriage and Family, billed as “an entity within the executive department that serves to propose programs, policies, incentives and curriculum regarding marriage and family by collecting and analyzing data on the social and personal effects of marriage and child-bearing within the state of Louisiana.”

In other words, Jindal’s Commission is going to be looking at – and making recommendations regarding – marriage and family issues within the state. And a quick look at some of those appointed by the Governor to serve on the panel leaves no doubt that, in the end, the line-up will do nothing more than promote an extreme, anti-gay agenda that sets back, blocks and battles any attempts to recognize or respect Louisiana’s same-sex families.

Among those who have been appointed by Jindal to serve on the Commission are Tony Perkins (who hails from Baton Rouge), the president of the anti-gay advocacy group known as The Family Research Council . . . Gene Mills, executive director of the far-right Louisiana Family Forum . . . Mike Johnson, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund . . . and numerous members of the clergy. All, Jindal has said, “have significant academic and/or professional expertise” on issues of marriage and family.

And each has a long history of spouting anti-gay rhetoric, too.

Perkins and Mills, especially, are vociferous anti-gay advocates, and have been the driving forces behind attempts to ban legal protections for same-sex couples. And on his website, Mills promotes publications with titles such asMorally Straight, Protect Your Children, and Three Myths About Homosexuality. All are inflammatory, inaccurate and outrageously biased papers that demean and degrade lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. (The Family Research Council’s list of similarly harmful publications is too long to list in a single blog entry.)

Every family in Louisiana should be alarmed by Jindal’s “Commission.”

Following the passage of Proposition 8 in California, and a successful bid to strip same-sex couples of adoption rights in Arkansas, there is little question that Perkins and Mills, especially, will push for similarly anti-gay measures in Louisiana. By giving the movement to deny lesbian and gay couples adoption rights a facade of credibility via a gubernatorial panel, the two will no doubt use the resulting recommendations to spread inaccurate, unproven and harmful rhetoric about the issue . . . and then push their anti-gay agenda in the legislature, and at the ballot box.

Governor Jindal is setting Louisiana up to be one of the next battlegrounds in the fight for family equality.

Following his decision to roll-back an LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination order implemented by his predecessor, the Governor is now taking another, unmistakable step to the right in an attempt to shore up a base he believes he may need down the road.

The truth is that Perkins and Mills are no experts on our families. Their appointment to the Louisiana Commission is a thinly veiled attempt to tip the panel to the far right and begin the process of eroding civil liberties in the Bayou State.

On November 5th, many LGBT families rightly feared that he vote tallies on election day would lead to further attacks on our rights. Jindal has wasted no time in proving that prophecy to be true. By shoring up extremists’ support for a potential White House bid, he has put the safety, and rights, of Louisiana families in jeopardy.

Tell Governor Jindal to put families first and remove anti-gay bigots from his Commission. Call the Governor’s Mansion at (225) 342-0991.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 62 other followers