Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Arr, Me Hearties!

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on March 4, 2009

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Click play: http://www.breakthruradio.com/index.php?show=6267
Part 2 of Drunken Politics interview with Johann Hari!

Glorious topics of conversation include:

** Mother “I Lied About Everything” Theresa
** Coca-Cola
** PIRATES
** Homophobia
** Super AIDS

Listen! You know you want to. And then join us on Breakthru Radio.

Despite the Riots and Threats, I Stand By What I Wrote

Posted in religion by allisonkilkenny on February 14, 2009
EPA)

Calcutta's troubled population is easily stirred up into protests (Photo: EPA)

Drunken Politics’ interview with Johann Hari will air next week.

Johann Hari

Last week, I wrote an article defending free speech for everyone — and in response there have been riots, death threats, and the arrest of an editor who published the article.

Here’s how it happened. My column reported on a startling development at the United Nations. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights has always had the job of investigating governments that forcibly take the fundamental human right to free speech from their citizens with violence. But in the past year, a coalition of religious fundamentalist states have successfully fought to change her job description. Now, she has to report on “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets.” Instead of defending free speech, she must now oppose it.

I argued this was a symbol of how religious fundamentalists — of all stripes — have been progressively stripping away the right to freely discuss their faiths. They claim religious ideas are unique and cannot be discussed freely; instead, they must be “respected” — by which they mean unchallenged. So now, whenever anyone on the UN Human Rights Council tries to discuss the stoning of “adulterous” women, the hanging of gay people, or the marrying off of ten year old girls to grandfathers, they are silenced by the chair on the grounds these are “religious” issues, and it is “offensive” to talk about them.

This trend is not confined to the UN. It has spread deep into democratic countries. Whenever I have reported on immoral acts by religious fanatics — CatholicJewish, Hindu or Muslim — I am accused of “prejudice”, and I am not alone. But my only “prejudice” is in favor of individuals being able to choose to live their lives, their way, without intimidation. That means choosing religion, or rejecting it, as they wish, after hearing an honest, open argument.

A religious idea is just an idea somebody had a long time ago, and claimed to have received from God. It does not have a different status to other ideas; it is not surrounded by an electric fence through which none of us can pass.

That’s why I wrote: “All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him. I don’t respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice…. When you demand “respect”, you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.”

An Indian newspaper called The Statesman — one of the oldest and most venerable dailies in the country — thought this accorded with the rich Indian tradition of secularism, and reprinted the article. That night, four thousand Islamic fundamentalists began to riot outside their offices, calling for me, the editor, and the publisher to be arrested — or worse. They brought Central Calcutta to a standstill. A typical supporter of the riots, Abdus Subhan, said he was “prepared to lay down his life, if necessary, to protect the honour of the Prophet” and I should be sent “to hell if he chooses not to respect any religion or religious symbol… He has no liberty to vilify or blaspheme any religion or its icons on grounds of freedom of speech.”

Then, two days ago, the editor and publisher were indeed arrested. They have been charged — in the world’s largest democracy, with a constitution supposedly guaranteeing a right to free speech — with “deliberately acting with malicious intent to outrage religious feelings”. I am told I too will be arrested if I go to Calcutta.

What should an honest defender of free speech say in this position? Every word I wrote was true. I believe the right to openly discuss religion, and follow the facts wherever they lead us, is one of the most precious on earth — especially in a democracy of a billion people rivven with streaks of fanaticism from a minority of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. So I cannot and will not apologize.

I did not write a sectarian attack on any particular religion of the kind that could lead to a rerun of India’s hellish anti-Muslim or anti-Sikh pogroms, but rather a principled critique of all religions who try to forcibly silence their critics. The right to free speech I am defending protects Muslims as much as everyone else. I passionately support their right to say anything they want — as long as I too have the right to respond.

It’s worth going through the arguments put forward by the rioting fundamentalists, because they will keep recurring in the twenty-first century as secularism is assaulted again and again. They said I had upset “the harmony” of India, and it could only be restored by my arrest. But this is a lop-sided vision of “harmony”. It would mean that religious fundamentalists are free to say whatever they want — and the rest of us have to shut up and agree.

The protesters said I deliberately set out to “offend” them, and I am supposed to say that, no, no offense was intended. But the honest truth is more complicated. Offending fundamentalists isn’t my goal — but if it is an inevitable side-effect of defending human rights, so be it. If fanatics who believe Muslim women should be imprisoned in their homes and gay people should be killed are insulted by my arguments, I don’t resile from it. Nothing worth saying is inoffensive to everyone.

You do not have a right to be ring-fenced from offense. Every day, I am offended — not least by ancient religious texts filled with hate-speech. But I am glad, because I know that the price of taking offense is that I can give it too, if that is where the facts lead me. But again, the protesters propose a lop-sided world. They do not propose to stop voicing their own heinously offensive views about women’s rights or homosexuality, but we have to shut up and take it — or we are the ones being “insulting.”

It’s also worth going through the arguments of the Western defenders of these protesters, because they too aren’t going away. Already I have had e-mails and bloggers saying I was “asking for it” by writing a “needlessly provocative” article. When there is a disagreement and one side uses violence, it is a reassuring rhetorical stance to claim both sides are in the wrong, and you take a happy position somewhere in the middle. But is this true? I wrote an article defending human rights, and stating simple facts. Fanatics want to arrest or kill me for it. Is there equivalence here?

The argument that I was “asking for it” seems a little like saying a woman wearing a short skirt is “asking” to be raped. Or, as Salman Rushdie wrote when he received far, far worse threats simply for writing a novel (and a masterpiece at that): “When Osip Mandelstam wrote his poem against Stalin, did he ‘know what he was doing’ and so deserve his death? When the students filled Tiananmen Square to ask for freedom, were they not also, and knowingly, asking for the murderous repression that resulted? When Terry Waite was taken hostage, hadn’t he been ‘asking for it’?” When fanatics threaten violence against people who simply use words, you should not blame the victim.

These events are also a reminder of why it is so important to try to let the oxygen of rationality into religious debates — and introduce doubt. Voltaire — one of the great anti-clericalists — said: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” If you can be made to believe the absurd notion that an invisible deity dictated The Eternal Unchanging Truth to a specific person at a specific time in history and anyone who questions this is Evil, then you can easily be made to demand the death of journalists and free women and homosexuals who question that Truth. But if they have a moment of doubt — if there is a single nagging question at the back of their minds — then they are more likely to hesitate. That’s why these ideas must be challenged at their core, using words and reason.

But the fundamentalists are determined not to allow those rational ideas to be heard — because at some level they know they will persuade for many people, especially children and teenagers in the slow process of being indoctrinated.

If, after all the discussion and all the facts about how contradictory and periodically vile their ‘holy’ texts are, religious people still choose fanatical faith, I passionately defend their right to articulate it. Free speech is for the stupid and the wicked and the wrong — whether it is fanatics or the racist Geert Wilders — just as much as for the rational and the right. All I say is that they do not have the right to force it on other people or silence the other side. In this respect, Wilders resembles the Islamists he professes to despise: he wants to ban the Koran. Fine. Let him make his argument. He discredits himself by speaking such ugly nonsense.

The solution to the problems of free speech — that sometimes people will say terrible things — are always and irreducibly more free speech. If you don’t like what a person says, argue back. Make a better case. Persuade people. The best way to discredit a bad argument is to let people hear it. I recently interviewed the pseudo-historian David Irving, and simply quoting his crazy arguments did far more harm to him than any Austrian jail sentence for Holocaust Denial.

Please do not imagine that if you defend these rioters, you are defending ordinary Muslims. If we allow fanatics to silence all questioning voices, the primary victims today will be Muslim women,Muslim gay people, and the many good and honourable Muslim men who support them. Imagine what Europe would look like now if everybody who offered dissenting thoughts about Christianity in the seventeenth century and since was intimidated into silence by the mobs and tyrants who wanted to preserve the most literalist and fanatical readings of the Bible. Imagine how women and gay people would live.

You can see this if you compare my experience to that of journalists living under religious-Islamist regimes. Because generations of people sought to create a secular space, when I went to the police, they offered total protection. When they go to the police, they are handed over to the fanatics — or charged for their “crimes.” They are people like Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the young Afghan journalism student who was sentenced to death for downloading a report on women’s rights. They are people like the staff of Zanan, one of Iran’s leading reform-minded women’s magazines, who have been told they will be jailed if they carry on publishing. They are people like the 27-year old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman who has been seized, jailed and tortured in Egypt for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah law.

It would be a betrayal of them — and the tens of thousands of journalists like them – to apologize for what I wrote. Yes, if we speak out now, there will be turbulence and threats, and some people may get hurt. But if we fall silent — if we leave the basic human values of free speech, feminism and gay rights undefended in the face of violent religious mobs — then many, many more people will be hurt in the long term. Today, we have to use our right to criticise religion — or lose it.

If you are appalled by the erosion of secularism across the world and want to do something about it, there are a number of organizations you can join, volunteer for or donate to.

Some good places to start are the National Secular Society, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason, or – if you want the money to go specifically to work in India – theInternational Humanist and Ethical Union. (Mark your donation as for their India branch.)

Even donating a few hours or a few pounds can really make a difference to defending people subject to religious oppression – by providing them with legal help, education materials, and lobbying for changes in the law.

An essential source of news for secularists is the terrific website Butterflies and Wheels.

(VIDEO) HBO Doesn’t Air Robinson’s Prayer

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

Update: the decision to nix Robinson seems to have been made by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and Robinson was “not a part of (HBO’s) show from the start.”  In a related note, some bloggers have mentioned that the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington was not identified on-air. However, none of the choirs that performed were named on air except the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club, which was introduced by Tiger Woods.

Dallas Voice

generobinson-1In what some are characterizing as an intentional snub, HBO didn’t air openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson’s invocation yesterday prior to the the pre-inaugural “We Are One” concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Bloggers today are speculating that the move was intentional, because the network wanted to avoid controversy. They are also urging people to contact HBO and complain. If you’ll remember, the selection of Robinson to deliver the prayer was considered an olive branch to the LGBT community after President-elect Obama chose evangelical Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration itself. What do you think?

(The above video of Robinson’s prayer was provided via YouTube by Christianity Today. You can read a transcript of Robinson’s remarks on the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire’s Web site.)

UPDATE: To read HBO’s initial response, go here.

[TEXT OF PRAYER]

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O
good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he
might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.

AMEN.

WATCH VIDEO HERE
(more…)

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.”

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.

Obama Is “Very Rational-Sounding Sort Of Bigot”

Posted in Barack Obama by allisonkilkenny on December 21, 2008

John Cloud, Time Magazine

obama-and-rick-warren1About three years ago, a reporter at Fortune asked Rick Warren, the successful pastorwhom the President-elect has asked to pray at his Inauguration, about homosexuality. “I’m no homophobic guy,” Warren said. His proof? He has dined with gays; he has a church “full of people who are caring for gays who are dying of AIDS”; he believes that “in the hierarchy of evil … homosexuality is not the worst sin.” So gays get to eat — sometimes even with Rick Warren! Then they get to die of AIDS — possibly under the care of Rick Warren’s congregants. And when they go to hell, they won’t be quite as far down in Satan’s pit as other evildoers.

But Warren did have a message of hope for gays: they can magically become heterosexuals. (He didn’t explain how, but I suspect he thinks praying really hard would do it, as if most of us who grew up gay and evangelical hadn’t tried that every night as teenagers.) Homosexuality, Pastor Warren explained in the virtually content-free language of the dogmatist, is “not the natural way.” And then he went right for the ick factor, the way middle-school boys do: “Certain body parts are meant to fit together.”

More recently, Warren told Beliefnet that he thinks allowing a gay couple to marry is similar to allowing “a brother and sister to be together and call that marriage.” He then helpfully added that he’s also “opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage.” The reporter, who may have been a little surprised, asked, “Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?” “Oh, I do,” Warren immediately answered. I wish the reporter had asked the next logical follow-up: If gays are like child-sex offenders, shouldn’t we incarcerate them?

Rick Warren may occasionally sound more open-minded than Jerry Falwell, another plump Evangelical who once played a prominent role in U.S. politics. But he’s not. Gays and lesbians are angry that Barack Obama has honored Warren, but they shouldn’t be surprised. Obama has proved himself repeatedly to be a very tolerant, very rational-sounding sort of bigot. He is far too careful and measured a man to say anything about body parts fitting together or marriage being reserved for the nonpedophilic, but all the same, he opposes equality for gay people when it comes to the basic recognition of their relationships. He did throughout his campaign, one that featured appearances by Donnie McClurkin, a Christian entertainer who preaches that homosexuals can become heterosexuals.

Obama reminds me a little bit of Richard Russell Jr., the longtime Senator from Georgia who — as historian Robert Caro has noted — cultivated a reputation as a thoughtful, tolerant politician even as he defended inequality and segregation for decades. Obama gave a wonderfully Russellian defense of Warren on Thursday at a press conference. Americans, he said, need to “come together” even when they disagree on social issues. “That dialogue is part of what my campaign is all about,” he said. Russell would often use the same tactic to deflect criticism of his civil rights record. It was a distraction, Russell said, from the important business of the day uniting all Americans. Obama also said today that he is a “fierce advocate for equality” for gays, which is — given his opposition to equal marriage rights — simply a lie. It recalls the time Russell said, “I’m as interested in the Negro people of my state as anyone in the Senate. I love them.”

Many gays I know gave money to Obama, which mystified me. The favored explanation was that he doesn’t “really” believe gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry; he just has to say that in order to win. People seemed to feel that once he had won, he would find a way — in his contemplative style — to help convince Americans that gay people really do deserve basic equality. Instead, he has found a way to insult gay people deeply.

In California, some gay activists are planning to put marriage on the 2010 ballot so that Proposition 8 — which (thanks partly to Warren’s support) passed last month, banning marriage equality in the state — can be undone. Gays will need to reach older, religious, and African-American voters in order to overturn Prop. 8 (those three groups all voted disproportionately for it). If gays hoped that President Obama would help, they may want to reconsider.

The only piece of good news is that Obama loves to raise money, and he won’t want significant gay donors to stop organizing fundraisers for him. Having picked Warren to pray at the Inauguration and Republican Robert Gates to stay on at the Department of Defense (where Gates will likely continue the policy of investigating gay service members — a policy he has the legal power to end with the stroke of a pen), Obama will now have to do something nice for the gays. Today, the Washington Times brings news that some retired military leaders are supporting William White, an openly gay man who is chief operating officer of the Intrepid Museum Foundation, to be Secretary of the Navy. That would be cool. But I’m not getting my hopes up.

United Nations: First Gay Rights Declaration Wins Much Support, United States Opposes It

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 19, 2008

New York Times

s-gays-largeUNITED NATIONS — An unprecedented declaration seeking to decriminalize homosexuality won the support of 66 countries in the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, but opponents criticized it as an attempt to legitimize pedophilia and other “deplorable acts.”

The United States refused to support the nonbinding measure, as did Russia, China, the Roman Catholic Church and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Holy See’s observer mission issued a statement saying that the declaration “challenges existing human rights norms.”

The declaration, sponsored by France with broad support in Europe and Latin America, condemned human rights violations based on homophobia, saying such measures run counter to the universal declaration of human rights.

“How can we tolerate the fact that people are stoned, hanged, decapitated and tortured only because of their sexual orientation?” said Rama Yade, the French state secretary for human rights, noting that homosexuality is banned in nearly 80 countries and subject to the death penalty in at least six.

France decided to use the format of a declaration because it did not have the support for an official resolution. Read out by Ambassador Jorge Argüello of Argentina, the declaration was the first on gay rights read in the 192-member General Assembly itself.

Although laws against homosexuality are concentrated in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, more than one speaker addressing a separate conference on the declaration noted that the laws stemmed as much from the British colonial past as from religion or tradition.

Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, speaking by video telephone, said that just like apartheid laws that criminalized sexual relations between different races, laws against homosexuality “are increasingly becoming recognized as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all.”

The opposing statement read in the General Assembly, supported by nearly 60 nations, rejected the idea that sexual orientation was a matter of genetic coding. The statement, led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the effort threatened to undermine the international framework of human rights by trying to normalize pedophilia, among other acts.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference also failed in a last-minute attempt to alter a formal resolution that Sweden sponsored condemning summary executions. It sought to have the words “sexual orientation” deleted as one of the central reasons for such killings.

Ms. Yade and the Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, said at a news conference that they were “disappointed” that the United States failed to support the declaration. Human rights activists went further. “The Bush administration is trying to come up with Christmas presents for the religious right so it will be remembered,” said Scott Long, a director at Human Rights Watch.

The official American position was based on highly technical legal grounds. The text, by using terminology like “without distinction of any kind,” was too broad because it might be interpreted as an attempt by the federal government to override states’ rights on issues like gay marriage, American diplomats and legal experts said.

“We are opposed to any discrimination, legally or politically, but the nature of our federal system prevents us from undertaking commitments and engagements where federal authorities don’t have jurisdiction,” said Alejandro D. Wolff, the deputy permanent representative.

Gay-rights advocates brought to the conference from around the world by France said just having the taboo broken on discussing the topic at the United Nations would aid their battles at home. “People in Africa can have hope that someone is speaking for them,” said the Rev. Jide Macaulay of Nigeria.

Rick Warren to Lead Obama’s Invocation

Posted in Barack Obama by allisonkilkenny on December 17, 2008

Sam Stein

s-saddleback-largeEver since Barack Obama took office, the media has been pining to write a story about liberal dissatisfaction with his transition efforts. By and large, the meme has been blown out of proportion, as the press overestimated how divisive Obama’s cabinet choices were for progressives.

The press may now have its conflict moment. And it comes in the form of the spiritual leader chosen to launch Obama’s inauguration.

On Wednesday, the transition team announced that Rick Warren, pastor of the powerful Saddleback Church, would give the invocation on January 20th. The selection may not have been incredibly surprising. Obama and Warren are reportedly close — Obama praised the Megachurch leader in his second book “The Audacity of Hope.” Warren, meanwhile, hosted a values forum between Obama and McCain during the general election. Nevertheless, the announcement is being greeted with deep skepticism in progressive religious and political circles.

“My blood pressure is really high right now,” said Rev. Chuck Currie, minister at Parkrose Community United Church of Christ in Portland, Oregon. “Rick Warren does some really good stuff and there are some areas that I have admired his ability to build bridges between evangelicals and mainline religious and political figures… but he is also very established in the religious right and his position on social issues like gay rights, stem cell research and women’s rights are all out of the mainstream and are very much opposed to the progressive agenda that Obama ran on. I think that he is very much the wrong person to put on the stage with the president that day.”

Warren does have a rather peculiar relationship with the incoming president. The two share a general ethos that political differences should not serve as impediments to progress. On topics like AIDS and poverty relief, they see eye-to-eye. But Warren’s domestic and social agendas are at odds with Obama’s. And for the gay and lesbian community in particular, the choice is a bitter pill to swallow.

“Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church’s engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance,” read a statement from People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert. “He has repeated the Religious Right’s big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion.”

“Picking Rick Warren to give THE invocation,” wrote John Aravosis on AmericaBlog, “is abominable.”

“Let me get right to the point,” Joe Solomnese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a harsh letter to the president-elect, “Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans.”

Added Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge, author of the book: “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians”: “It is almost like he wants to poke the progressives with a sharp stick.”

Indeed, Chellew-Hodge and others see the move as motivated by politics, not religion or policy. They offer several explanations in this vein. Obama has his eye on the evangelical vote (young white evangelicals voted for Obama at twice the rate for John Kerry); he is charting a path that isn’t at its heart socially or religiously progressive (Chellew-Hodge noted that Warren recently said same-sex couples deserve equal rights, though not the right to marriage, a position at least superficially similar to Obama’s). Mainly, however, the argument is that the Warren choice falls under the president-elect’s stated objective of building a big tent government.

“I can’t read the transition team’s mind,” said one progressive religious figure, “but my guess here is that they’re crafting an inauguration meant to appeal to voters who voted against Obama as well as his supporters.”

Indeed, lost in the hubbub about Warren, is the fact that the man tasked with overseeing the benediction is a icon within progressive politics. Rev. Joe Lowry, a hero of the civil rights movement and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King famously called out President George W. Bush during Coretta Scott King’s funeral. He also is a supporter of same-sex marriage. But he is not garnering the same attention as Warren for his inauguration role.

It’s vintage Obama, several observers say — bringing the spectrum of the religious/political experience together for one event. And yet, it is also a big source of frustration for progressive leaders, many of whom aren’t interested in legitimizing viewpoints antithetical to their message.

“I think there is probably an actual friendship between the two, and I admire that because Barack Obama has an ability to be friends with people he disagrees with, and that is a good quality for a president,” said Rev. Currie. “But I think that he is very much the wrong person to put on the stage with the president that day. It sends a very wrong message about who America is and what our aspirations are.”

Requests for a comment from the Obama transition team went un-returned.

Click here to watch Rev. Joe Lowry’s amazing tribute to Coretta Scott King (where he says there were no WMDs, in front of the president,) and footage of the very anti-gay Rick Warren. (more…)

Funny + Politics = Drunken Politics

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 8, 2008

 

Now on Youtube!

Now on Youtube!

Like some funny with your politics? Check out Drunken Politics’ new Youtube page, and subscribe to our channel to get alerts!

 

Drunken Politics on Youtube

Newly uploaded videos include:

  • Mormons responding to Proposition 8 passing in California
  • A very special tribute to a great American patriot, Mrs. Sarah Palin
  • Walmart’s secret employee training video
  • The official Military-Industrial Complex commercial
  • Exclusive interview with award-winning director and author, Eugene Jarecki (director of Why We Fight and author of The American Way of War)