The blog of Frederick Clarkson

Archive for February, 2005

Keeping Up with Gannongate

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Journalists seem to be having a really hard time reporting on the Gannongate Scandal — you know, the one where a GOP operative who used a fake name, while passing himself off as a reporter for what turned out to be a fake news organization, and got day passes and no security background check so he could take the heat off of the White House press secretary and President Bush whenever press corps started to get ornery? Oh yeah, and the reporter, Jeff Gannon, (whose real name is James Guckert) was allegedly working as a prostitute at the same time and advertising his services on web sites in which he was not even wearing his going-to-the-White House suit. Oh, yeah, and then there are the allegations, that he has denied, that Guckert is tied to the outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame, among other nefarious GOP activities. So anyway, what is strange is not that the mainstream news media are debunking or pooh poohing any of this, its that most major news organization are not reporting on it at all.

Eric Boehlert at Salon is wondering why that is: “On Feb. 17, ‘NBC Nightly News’ anchor Brian Williams introduced a report on controversial White House correspondent James Guckert by informing viewers that the saga was ‘the talk of Washington.’ Nine days later the mysterious tale of an amateur, partisan journalist who slipped into the White House under false pretenses remains the buzz of the Beltway. Yet most mainstream reporters have opted not to cover the story.”

The Los Angeles Times finally took on the story for the first time on Friday. But bloggers who have been following the story, and well, actually doing most of the reporting, were unimpressed, and said so on a new web site — Propagannon: Exposing Government Propaganda, One Gannon at a Time — which was established in order to correct misreporting on the scandal and to promote news that advances the story.

Meanwhile, Guckert’s old outfit, Talon News, has shut down in the face of the scrutiny — but Guckert himself has launched his own blog.

The story that hasn’t really gotten started, seems unlikely to go away.

Written by fred

February 26th, 2005 at 4:31 am

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Blogging the Christian Left II

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Back in December I wrote about the nascent movement of progressive Christian bloggers. I thought it was time to check and see if I had identified a sustaining trend, or if it was a flash in the pan. I’m pleased to report that progressive Christian bloggers are finding their niche and their voice not only in the bloggosphere, but in religious and public life. This is indeed a trend.

At the time, I highlighted two new blogs:

Mainstream Baptist by Bruce Prescott is a must-read for crisp and timely analysis of matters of church state separation, among other things. Bruce is a leader in the progressive religious community in taking available technology and applying it to the movement. Bruce has had a regular radio show for some time — and he is now making past interviews available via iPod. Check it out.

Faithforward operated by pastordan of the United Church of Christ (UCC), has a weekly round-up of religion news, as well as essays and links on an eclectic variety of matters of progressive political and religious interest. Faithforward has also become the headquarters for news about the ever-controversial SpongeBob Squarepants.

I also find myself now regularly reading two others:

Jesus Politics by Carlos Stouffer delves deep into Christian notions of social justice from a wide variety of sources.

Chuck Currie is a UCC seminarian who posts up-to-date news about the views and activities of progressive Christians and their institutions.

All four of the above bloggers are members of the recently formed Progressive Christian Bloggers Network, which has a long and growing blogroll.

A multiposter blog for religious progressives of all sorts is The Village Gate (formerly known as The Right Christians).

There are certainly many, many progressive Christian blog sites, as a visit to any of these sites will show. These blogs are windows into the wider progressive religious community and the role they are playing in the national progressive political resurgence. You probably won’t get to see it by reading or watching the national media. But by beginning with these blog sites, you can watch it unfold for yourself, and even find out how to participate.

Written by fred

February 25th, 2005 at 6:50 am

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UCC Renews Censored Ad Campaign

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The United Church of Christ is at it again.

The UCC made national news — and national censorship by two TV networks — last year when it launched a national advertising campaign called “God Is Still Speaking.” The campaign featured a made-for-TV ad, which aired on cable outlets and local network affiliates in the run up to Christmas. The 30-second ad, “Bouncer,” depicted night club style bouncers picking and choosing who would be allowed to enter a church. The ad stated, “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.” But the CBS and NBC television networks declared the message of welcome to be “too controversial” — leading to a wave of opprobrium and charges of “censorship” from religious leaders, editorial writers, and of course, bloggers.

The CBS rejection was particularly cowardly. “Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations,” read an explanation from CBS, “and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks.”

Undeterred by the prior censorship, the UCC reports it has raised over a half million dollars so far towards a major broadcast and cable TV ad buy for “Bouncer” in the run up to Easter.

“The UCC will again attempt to place its controversial ‘Bouncer’ ad on national broadcast and cable networks,” according to the United Church News, “because church leaders maintain the 30-second commercial has a proven track record of reaching and engaging unchurched viewers, those who are the primary targets of the church’s evangelism efforts.”

On the strength of the fundraising so far, the church has decided to go forward with an ad buy of over $1 million. The ad campaign is part of a multi-year effort to reach the “unchurched,” and to increase “enthusiasm and committment” among the membership of the historic 1.3 million member Protestant denomination.

Fortunately, you do not have to watch hours of mind and spirit numbing commercial television in hopes of catching the famous “Bouncer” ad. You can view it online, along with the other TV and radio spots in the God is Still Speaking campaign.

No word if the UCC will face further censorship. But its early yet

Written by fred

February 24th, 2005 at 8:59 pm

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The Growing Gannongate Scandal

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I happened to be listening to the radio on January 26th, when the president called on “Jeff” at a news conference. Jeff wondered how Mr. Bush was going to be able to work with Democratic leaders “who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” That was the most absurdly partisan question I had ever heard from a reporter, and I wondered who the hell he was. Turned out, I was not the only one wondering about that.

Soon afterward, liberal bloggers, led by a team of volunteers affiliated with The Daily Kos, decided to find out. It turned out that “Jeff Gannon” was a fake name; that he was a fake reporter; and he worked for a fake news organization. Jeff, aka James D. Guckert, was a Republican Party operative who worked for a propagada organization called GOPUSA. He had been rejected for membership in the House Press Gallery because he could not demonstrate that Talon News was an independent news organization. But he was given day passes for two years by the White House Press Office — thus avoiding the customary security investigation. He was allowed to sit four rows from the White House press secretary — and sometimes the president — apparently in order to lob them softball questions when they got in a jam.

But Guckert was more than a partisan operative infiltrating and undercutting the press corps in order to assist the White House spin machine. An FBI background check would likely have uncovered what the bloggers found out — that Guckert was the owner of several web sites that apparently advertised his services as a prostitute. Bloggers at The Daily Kos first uncovered these web sites, but John Aravosis at AmericaBlog, obtained invoices that showed Guckert had apparently owned and created the web sites and provided the content — including provocative photos advertising his services for $200 an hour or $1200 a weekend. Guckert told Anderson Cooper on CNN that “…I have made mistakes in my past. These are of a personal and private nature…”. Beyond that, he neither admitted nor denied anything, but when asked, he insisted that neither his employer nor the White House knew anything about his, ahem, private activities.

This was very clever spin. This aspect of the story is not about Guckert’s private life; it is about his paid, publicly advertised professional life. I have yet to see any published information on Guckert’s actual private life. In media interviews, Guckert has not denied, but he has refused to discuss his true profession. Over the past two weeks, the mainstream media has picked up on the story in fits and starts, but it has mostly been the bloggers who have unearthed new details on an almost daily basis. Guckert resigned from Talon News on February 9th, and all of his stories were purged from its web site — but Guckert’s male escort web sites are now apparently hot properties — and are up for sale.

Among the many scandalous aspects of L’Affaire Gannon, Guckert and Talon News also figure into the investigation of the Bush administration’s leak of the name of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame, wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson had angered the administration when he revealed in an op-ed in The New York Times, that when the Bush administration sent him to Niger to investigate whether Iraq had sought to purchase uranium, he found no evidence that it had. This finding undercut the Administration’s claim that that Iraq had done so, as president Bush had claimed in a speech to Congress justifying the war. As it turned out, the only evidence the president had was a fake memo of uncertain provenance.

Gannon interviewed Ambassador Wilson, and published this question: “An internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports. Do you dispute that?” Well, CIA officials say that Plame had not been at the meeting, but the question now being publicly aired, is how did non-reporter Guckert get access to a classified memo? Speculation is rife that Guckert and Talon News were and are part of a wide-ranging White House propaganda effort that has included the smearing of Wilson and the outing of Plame.

As White House Correspondent and Washington Bureau Chief for Talon News, Gannon was best known for taking White House press releases and putting them out under his byline as if they were his own words. Another Talon News writer, Steve Roeder has been accused of routinely plagiarizing material from Fox News, Reuters, and The New York Times, according to Raw Story, (citing progressive blogger, Ron Brynaert) which has closely followed the unfolding of the Gannongate scandal.

While it has taken some time, the scandal is now spreading rapidly: For example over the past few days Raw Story, obtained a letter being circulated by U.S. Senate Democrats, formally requesting President Bush to launch a full investigation. How, they wonder, did a fake reporter, working for a “sham” news organization gain access to the White House? Salon reports that Guckert was attending White House news conferences before Talon News even existed. And not only did Guckert enjoy unusual access to the White House via the press office, but Salon further reports that he was invited to White House Christmas parties in 2003 and 2004.

The Daily Kos is maintaining an investigative file on the unfolding scandal, adhering to the philosophy of “open source.” Media Matters for America, founded by former conservative activist David Brock, has also been dogging the Gannongate story and pressing for a formal investigation.

The remarkable, and unprecedented collaborative investigation by the blogging community has caused some in the mainstream media fits and embarrassment. “Jeff” had sat amidst the elite of the American and international press corps for two years: he was called on by the president; he asked loaded partisan questions — and not one of them had bothered to look into Gannon or his obviously fake news organization.

OK, time to get over it.

Gannongate is not really about bloggers or the injured pride of the White House press corps and the journalism profession. It’s increasingly apparent that this is a story about a covert propaganda operation that infiltrated the White House press corps, very likely with the collaboration and direction of the White House staff. That the operative may also have been a prostitute is interesting, but not as interesting as the planting of Guckert inside the White House press corps and the activities he carried out at the behest of his sponsors.

Written by fred

February 23rd, 2005 at 2:14 am

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Pro and Anti-Marriage Equality Picks in MA Special Elections

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One of the main questions for candidates running for the legislature in Massachusetts these days, is where do they stand on marriage equality? The answers have more than a passing urgency. Next Fall, the legislature sitting as a constitutional convention, will vote on whether to send a proposed constitutional amendment to the voters for ratification. The amendment would ban same sex marriage but endorse civil unions — and overturn the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that legalized same-sex civil marriages for the first time in the United States. It is not an exaggeration to say that next Fall, the eyes of the nation — and the world — will once again be on the Massachusetts state legislature.

Meanwhile, the races to fill the three current vacancies for state representative could affect the outcome of what is expected to be a close vote on the amendment.

Two organizations on opposite sides of the issue have now made their choices known in two of the three special elections.

MassEquality, a coalition of local and national organizations dedicated to defending marriage equality endorsed Linda Dorcena Forry in the 12th Suffolk District race to replace former House Speaker Tom Finneran (D-Mattapan); and Tim Schofield in the 18th Suffolk District contest to replace Rep. Brian Golden (D-Brighton). In each case this means MassEquality promises to mobilize its members and contribute to the campaigns.

“Each of these races offers a real opportunity to pick up a pro-equality voice in the Legislature and to replace a strongly anti-gay legislator,” said Mass Equality’s PAC Treasurer Sue Hyde of Cambridge. “We are extremely fortunate to have a number of candidates who stand for equality, but we chose to weigh in in the Suffolk County races because those races also feature candidates who would support discrimination. We could not sit by and watch one of them get elected.”

MassEquality PAC chose not to endorse in the 3rd Berkshire race to replace Rep. Peter Larkin because all three Democratic candidates, as well as the leading Republican, have promised to vote against the amendment.

Candidates for office generally welcome any support they can get. But there are some organizations whose endorsements most candidates would rather do without. One organization that might make the beneficiaries of thier support uneasy, is the virulently antigay, Waltham-based Article 8 Alliance — which has just announced it’s favored candidates in two of the three races:

In 18th Suffolk District, the Alliance reported that “while Rep. Golden will be missed, Gregory Glennon, a former aide to Golden, is top-notch. He gets our full support.” In the 12th Suffolk District, “our favorite is Kerby Roberson.”

Like MassEquality, the Article 8 Alliance did not announce support for anyone in the 3rd Berkshire race. “This is a tough one,” the Alliance complained. “Three candidates are running in the Democratic primary, and two in the Republican. We’ve heard they all range from squishy to bad. We’re still doing research on it. We may have to play defense in this race, if you know what we mean.”

It is not clear what, if anything, the Alliance is prepared to do in these races. However if past is prologue, the Alliance could bring an ugliness to what have so far, been civil contests.

The Alliance, (a project of the rightist Parents’ Rights Coalition) first came to public attention via a nasty statewide campaign to oust the majority of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that legalized same sex marriage in the Goodridge decision. The Alliance derives its name from article eight of the Massachusetts state constitution, which it cites in its effort to remove the Goodridge judges.

The Alliance was widely condemned last year when it waged a vicious smear campaign against Carl Sciortino, who was running against then-State Representative Vincent Ciampa (D-Somerville) in the Democratic primary. One of the group’s main tactics was the publication of a bizarre tract which was dropped off at every home in the district. The screed was titled: “A Special Report on the Homosexual Lobby’s Secret Campaign to Install a Homosexual Anti-Catholic Extremist in the State Legislature.”

Sciortino a young, unassuming, openly gay, health care worker staged a dramatic upset in the Democratic primary against Ciampa, a State House veteran, who was an ally of then-House Speaker Tom Finneran, as well as the Article 8 Alliance. Boston Globe columnist Eileen McNamara, noted at the time: “In a joint statement… state Democratic Party chairman Philip W. Johnston, Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, and state Senator Jarrett T. Barrios described themselves as ‘sickened by the outrageous and vulgar claims made by the Article 8 Alliance.’ Would that Ciampa had done the same.”

Ciampa ran a sore loser write-in campaign in the general election and lost by almost two-to-one. The repudiation of anti-gay bigotry by the electorate was, in my view, a turning point in state politics.

Come what may, the voters in these special elections will have the opportunity and the honor to stride across the world stage and into the voting booth — to elect candidates who will make them proud when the whole world is watching next Fall.

Written by fred

February 17th, 2005 at 12:17 am

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MA Special Elections Heating Up

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[This is the third in a series about the three upcoming special elections in Massachusetts. The first two were: Enter the Era of Progressive Reform in Massachusetts and A Golden Opportunity for Progressives in Massachusetts]

Few incumbents are ever defeated in party primaries and regular election campaigns for legislative seats in Massachusetts. Thus special elections for open seats are rare opportunities for genuine contests. This spring, we have three special elections for state representative in Massachusetts. These seats, once held by conservative Democrats may be taken over by Democrats who support abortion rights, marriage equality and a progressive economic agenda — accelerating a progressive trend in Massachusetts politics. Each race features multi-candidate Democratic primaries that promise to be close, exciting and significant.

Its early yet, but it appears that Tim Schofield, running in the Democratic primary for an open seat for state representative in the 18th Suffolk District — comprising parts of Allston, Brighton, and Brookline in greater Boston — is leading the pack in what will be a tight race. Schofield, an openly gay attorney running an energetic grassroots campaign, has positioned himself as the clear progressive in the field. His talents and progressive credentials have been recognized in a series of key endorsements recently — from the Freedom to Marry Coalition, United Auto Workers (UAW), the Boston Teachers Union, the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, and perhaps most significantly, the Commonwealth Coalition — which comprises 22 progressive environmental, labor, and women’s organizations, among others.

“Tim stands for all things that are important to working families and organized labor,” said Willie DesNoyers, President of the UAW Mass State CAP Council in an enthusiastic endorsement statement. “Today, more than ever, our families need a voice they can always count on at the State House. I know that Tim will always fight for the things we believe in — like health care for all, an increased minimum wage and stronger public schools.”

Schofield’s campaign is being aided by activists from Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts, (PDM), a statewide organization formed in the wake of Reich’s campaign for governor as, among other things, an ongoing mobilization seeking to build the capacity of progressive Democrats to win elections. Cathleen Cavell, who leads the Brookline PDM Chapter, is the point person in an effort on the part of PDM members in the Boston area to help Schofield who is a PDM member from Brighton. Cavell reports that PDM members plan to phone bank, canvass, host fundraisers and coffees, and help with GOTV on primary day, March 15th.

However candidate, Michael Moran has been campaigning hard and has been endorsed by the Greater Boston Central Labor Council, the state AFL-CIO, and a number of union locals. Whether that will be enough for Moran, a political consultant with Newgrange Consultants Group (who lost democratic primaries for the seat 1994 and 1998), to catch Schofield, of course remains to be seen

The rest of the field comprises Joe Walsh Jr. a 26 year old community relations officer for Caritas St. Elizabeth’s Hospital; and Greg Glennon, an aide to former Rep. Brian Golden — who resigned the seat to take a job with the administration of Republican Governor Mitt Romney. Golden is backing his former aide. Walsh and Moran, like Schofield are pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, and anti-death penalty, which has split progressives among the three. However, even as Schofield seems to be pulling away from the pack, concern is growing that if Schofield, Moran and Walsh divide the progressive and moderate vote, the result could be the election of the anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality and until-recently-Republican candidate, Glennon.

Looking ahead, two candidates have filed to run as independents in the general election. One is Thomas O’Brien, a community activist and an Assistant Attorney General for the past ten years. The other independent is Green-Rainbow Party member Daniel Kontoff. His party lost official party status after the last election, and so does not enjoy ballot status. The general election is April 12th.

Meanwhile, the candidate fields in the other two special elections for state representative are also shaping up.

In the 3rd Berkshire race in Pittsfield, three candidates are running in what is expected to be a closely contested Democratic primary: Rhonda Serre is an economic development aide to U.S. Rep. John Olver (D-MA), and is supported by former Pittsfield Mayor Sara Hathaway; City Solicitor Christopher Speranzo, who is running with the backing of Mayor James M. Ruberto; and Pam Malumphy a first-term city councilor.

The Pittsfield race to replace longtime Rep. Peter Larkin, started later than the others, so the situation remains highly fluid. The Commonwealth Coalition has opted not to make an endorsement, but may revisit that decision before the primary. The political blog nohomissives has been following developments in the race.

The highest profile race is for the seat of former House Speaker Tom Finneran in the 12th Suffolk District comprising parts of Hyde Park, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Milton. Interestingly, there is a strong possibility that the new state representative will be a Haitian-American.

According to The Boston Globe, the apparent front runner in the Democratic field is Linda Dorcena Forry, of Dorchester, a 31-year-old, Creole-speaking Haitian-American, who is an executive staff member in Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development. She is running with the support of the Commonwealth Coalition as well as Andrea Cabral, an African-American woman who was recently elected Suffolk County sheriff. It is Forry’s first campaign for office.

Also running are two other Haitian-Americans, Emmanuel Bellegarde, of Mattapan, an aide to State Senator Jack Hart (D – South Boston) and attorney Kerby Roberson, who has run unsuccessfully for Milton Board of Selectmen. According to a detailed and thoughtful analysis in the Boston Phoenix, its possible that a split among the three Haitian-American candidates (in what is now a majority minority district), could result in the election of white conservative attorney, Eric Donovan, or possibly a white liberal, Stacey Monahan, who is a former aide to U.S. Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, and enjoys his support, as well as that of the state AFL-CIO.

Of the five candidates running in the 12th Suffolk Democratic primary, Roberson and Donovan are opposed to marriage equality.

The vote on the constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage but institutionalize civil unions, has been postponed until next fall will. The vote will probably be close, and the outcome of these three races could make a big difference, not only in terms of the votes, but as a further reading of how the electorate feels about it.

There is now just a month to go until the Democratic primary. I expect to post several updates between now and then. Stay tuned.

Written by fred

February 14th, 2005 at 11:04 am

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MA Marriage Equality News

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The longer we have marriage equality in Massachusetts, the more people get used to it. About 5000 same sex couples have gotten hitched so far, and all is calm — the dire predictions of the Catholic Bishops and the Christian right not withstanding. Even people who didn’t like the idea, are realizing that same sex marriage does not affect anyone but the same sex couples who marry, and harms no one. So people are turning their attention to the things that do matter — things like health care, jobs, education, and the environment. Social change does not come easily, but it comes. It just takes some getting used to.

The quarterly Bay State Poll published last week found that more that 50% said that they do not want the legislature to put the proposed Constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage on the ballot in 2006.

The times they are a changin’ in the Bay State.

Last year, the legislature sitting in joint session as a constitutional convention, passed an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same sex marriage, but legalize civil unions by a vote of 105-92.

The amendment needs to get at least 101 votes (a majority of the 200 member legislature) this year in order to be sent to the voters for ratification in 2006. The nose counters say that if the vote on the amendment were taken today, it would pass. But the political circumstances continue to change.

State Senate President Robert Travaglini, with the concurrence of Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees, has postponed a vote on the amendment until at least the Fall. It was originally to have been held this Spring. This is significant because Travaglini and Lees are the cosponsors of the amendment.

It is worth recalling that no state legislator lost their seat last year due to the much-feared voter backlash against gay marriage — which didn’t materialize. What’s more, there were three pro-marriage equality pick-ups. And the three upcoming special elections to fill the open seats of conservative democrats who resigned, may very well result in supporters of marriage equality winning seats vacated by opponents.

Meanwhile, The Springfield Republican — the daily paper serving the third largest city in the state, reports that opponents of marriage equality from both parties are having second thoughts. While I am not making any predictions about the vote — much could change between now and then — listen to Republican Minority Leader Lees and Stephen J. Buoniconti, a junior Democratic state senator, as they publicly reconsider:

“Lees said yesterday the Legislature is focusing on other issues such as approval of stem cell research, the state budget and creating jobs.”

“Lees said he will more than likely continue to support the amendment, but he is keeping an open mind.”

“‘Everyone should review it,'” Lees said. ‘I’m certainly looking at it.’ Lees said he is leery of taking away marriage rights from same-sex couples.”

“Gay marriage was deemed legal under a ruling by the state Supreme Judicial Court Nov. 18, 2003. About 5,000 gay marriages have occurred in Massachusetts since May 17.”

“Sen. Stephen J. Buoniconti, D-West Springfield, who voted in favor of the amendment last year, said yesterday he expects to vote in support again, but he is reconsidering his position.”

“Buoniconti said he also is disturbed that if the amendment becomes law, it could nullify gay marriages that occurred in the meantime.”

“‘I don’t think we should be stripping them of their marriage license,’ Buoniconti said. ‘That doesn’t make sense to me.'”

Interestingly, State Attorney General Tom Reilly, who wants to be the Democratic nominee for governor, is also reconsidering his support fot the amendment — and sounds alot like Lees and Buoniconti.

“‘Once rights are given, they should not be taken away,” Reilly told The Boston Globe.

“Reilly would not take a position on whether a proposed constitutional amendment should go before the ballot, saying he defers to the Legislature to make that decision. He also said he still holds a personal belief that marriage is between a man and a woman… ‘We all have evolved as a state,’ he said… This is not a change in my beliefs. I have been consistent. What has changed is that May 17 came and went, and people entered into marriage. . . . No one has been hurt.'”

“Reilly added: ‘You couldn’t help but be moved by the commitments and marriages that people have entered into.'”

Written by fred

February 12th, 2005 at 3:39 am

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Virginia GOP Legislators Mount Major Assault on Religious Freedom

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One of the landmarks of religious freedom in the history of the world is under assault by Republican state legislators in Virginia. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson and eventually pushed through the Virginia legislature by James Madison in 1786, extended religious equality to all citizens.

According to an Associated Press story “With only four dissenting votes, the House Privileges and Elections Committee advanced a proposed change to religious-freedom guarantees rooted in the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.” The amendment would allow religious proselytizing on all public property including schools. The same bill, which would also insert a ban on same sex marriage into the state constitution, is expected to pass easily the Republican dominated House. But the battle is far from over.

“Constitutional amendments in Virginia,” the AP reports, “must win House and Senate passage in two sessions with a legislative election in between, then be submitted to voters in a statewide referendum. The earliest vote on the constitutional changes would be November 2006.

“The religious-freedom resolution found wide support for remedying what its sponsor, Del. Charles W. Carrico Sr., contends is a growing bias against Christians.”

“He said other nations upheld their founding religious tenets and compelled respect for them, specifically noting the Muslim culture of Arab countries as an example. Then, he quoted Patrick Henry in appealing for greater leeway for Christianity.”

“I want to quote this phrase… [Henry] was a five-term governor of Virginia (who) once said, ‘It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was not founded by religionists but by Christians,’ Carrico said.”

“He also recalled that before he retired as a Virginia state trooper, he was rebuked for recounting the Old Testament story of David vs. Goliath in an address to high school students.”

“Opponents warned that the measure not only would violate the U.S. Constitution, but also open any public forum to radical, even violent exhortations in the name of religion.”

Del. David Albo, R-Fairfax County, said Carrico’s resolution could give someone who advocates ‘a legitimate jihad to wipe out all Christians on the face of the Earth’ the same right to speak to schoolchildren as someone leading a Christian devotional.”

“What, Carrico asked Albo, prevents violent speech from religious extremists now?”

“‘I guess my quick response would be one of the reasons why you’re not allowed to give your David-and-Goliath speech to kids is because we don’t want the jihad speech to be given to kids,’ Albo replied.”

Anna Avital, a Jewish mother of four Richmond public school students, said she shared frustration with Christians that public schools and popular culture were distancing themselves from the mention of Christmas or Hanukkah during the holiday season. But Carrico’s resolution, she said, goes too far.

“‘I’m made to feel unwelcome. I don’t feel Christianity is being shoved down my throat. I’m made to feel that other religions are unwelcome, and that’s not what this country is about,’ said Avital, an executive with the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond.”

Aimee Perron Seibert, legislative director for the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said backers of Carrico’s measure scared up support for such legislation by wrongly implying that voluntary religious expression was banned.”

“‘Certainly children can wear ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bracelets or ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ T-shirts, and we at the ACLU would protect their right to do that,’ Seibert said.”

This latest outrage is part of a widening assault on foundational ideas of religous equality and religious freedom, coming primarily from Republicans who are part of, or pandering to the Christian Right. Thier attack is premised in part on a crafty mix of selected quotations from leaders of the founding generation, and outright crackpot history. But their efforts are not going unchallanged. For example, Dr. Bruce Prescott, wrote a devatasting expose of U.S. Senator James Inhofe’s (R-OK) recent claim that global warming is “the second largest hoax ever played on the American people, after the separation of church and state.”

“Despite what theocrats like Inhofe and David Barton say,” Prescott explained, “the idea to separate church and state came neither from the constitution of the Soviet Union nor from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Danbury Baptists, it came from Baptists like Roger Williamsand John Leland. James Madison, the chief author of the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment, knew that well. Before the constitution was ratified, he wrote a letter to James Monroe discussing opinions about Patrick Henry’s bill to provide government funding for religion in Virginia. Here’s what he said:

‘The Episcopal clergy are generally for it. . . . The Presbyterians seem as ready to set up an establishment which would take them in as they were to pull one down which shut them out. The Baptists, however, standing firm by their avowed principle of the complete separation of church and state, declared it to be ‘repugnant to the spirit of the Gospel for the Legislature thus to proceed in matters of religion, that no human laws ought to be established for the purpose.'”

Henry’s bill failed in the face of ideas that were incorporated into Article Six of the Constitution, as well as the First Amendment. But it now appears that Virginia Republicans want to refight that battle in a not-so-covert attack on the, historical, legal and constitutional foundations of separation of church and state.

It is also worth noting that constitutional amendments to ban marriage equality also include an implicit attack on religious equality. Unitarian Universalism, Reform Judaism, and growing numbers of protestant churches, among others, recognize and perform same sex marriage ceremonies. Are the religious beliefs and practices of these historic and mainstream religious traditions invalid in the eyes of the law and the Constitution? And if so, what other religious views and traditions will be targeted by the Christian theocratic movement in the United States?

Written by fred

February 8th, 2005 at 2:25 pm

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Reproductive Freedom and Social Justice

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The Civil Liberties and Public Policy, and the Population and Development Programs at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA are hosting their 19th annual conference on reproductive rights and social justice, April 1-3, 2005. Hundreds of students and activists from all over the country, as well as many from other parts of the world will be attending this unique, and uniquely important event.

I wrote an article about these conferences two years ago that remains relevant today.

Conference organizer Marlene Gerber Fried, a professor of philosophy at Hampshire, acknowledged at the time that it is very unusual for academic programs to sponsor an event that mixes choice-related organizing and scholarship. She explained that the college programs that jointly sponsor the conference are, like Hampshire itself, “committed to knowledge being grounded in the world and in academic work and where the two meet each other.”

“We don’t bring in the stars,” Fried continued. “We place a very high priority on diversity of voices–age and race and country.”

“For older activists, it is tremendous,” she added. “And for young people, it’s not a place where the older people are going to tell you what it’s like. It’s a place where people’s experience is of value, whether it’s a year or 50 years.”

It goes without saying that we live in a time of extraordinary threat to reproductive rights in the U.S. and internationally. The work and experience of the past 18 years in refining how to put on this always interesting, engaging and well organized event will be evident, and undoubtedly pay off in many ways for all who attend. The conference, coming as it does at this pivotal moment in history, will provide people with the information, the analyses, the contacts and the movement to take the struggle into the future. Here is the conference description:

“If you are committed to reproductive rights and social justice, this is THE place to be the first weekend in April. For 18 years, people have been gathering over this weekend at Hampshire College to unite and rally for reproductive justice. Each year the conference expands in scope and size. We now expect 500-600 participants and offer over 30 workshops. Conference speakers address reproductive freedom as it relates to a broad range of social justice initiatives including economic justice, healthcare reform, racial equality, peace, freedom from violence, youth liberation, civil liberties, and LGBTQ rights.

Over the weekend, you will have an opportunity to learn and share organizing experiences and strategies, broaden your understanding of reproductive rights, and make connections with other related movements and issues.

The conference is free and open to everyone. Whether you are a long time activist or are new to the movement, there is a place for you here. The conference is intended as a forum for learning and networking for people of all ages and from a variety of different backgrounds.

The time is now. With President’s Bush’s re-election, the Right is stepping up its assault on reproductive and sexual rights and basic civil liberties, while the war in Iraq and increasing militarism are exacting a heavy toll on human lives. In the U.S., low income people, especially those of color, women, LGBTQ, youth and immigrants will be the first to suffer from new restrictive legislation and repressive social policies, just as they have in the past. At the same time, the conservative agenda harms all of our communities.

The scope of the threats presents an opportunity for people to come together and create a new and inclusive vision of reproductive freedom, social justice and peace. While opposition to abortion and gay rights has taken center stage, the Right’s political agenda is all encompassing, and our resistance must be too. We must build bridges between different progressive movements in order to defeat the Right and create a just society. The time is now.”

The conference agenda and partial speakers list is posted on the conference web site.

People often travel great distances for this conference, and with good reason. Come with a group, or come by yourself. But do plan to come.

Written by fred

February 3rd, 2005 at 8:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Pamphleteers Take On The Privateers

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There is a crisis in Social Security. But it is not the crisis that president George Bush would have us believe. The crisis is that Mr. Bush is leading a raid on the Social Security trust fund on behalf of big financial institutions. Bush says he wants to help young people save for retirement. Problem is, that there is no guarantee that Bush’s proposed private accounts will be there when people need them. What is really going on is but the latest gambit by well-heeled lobbyists to get their hands on one of the biggest, if not the biggest pool of public capital in the world — the Social Security trust fund. For a generation right wing front groups for big financial interests have manufactured repeated, and always bogus “crises,” the solution for which is always privatization. The latest privatization scheme serves no more legitimate public interest than its predecessors. Rather, it is yet another example of the Republican spoils system, which seeks to turn public funds over to private business interests.

With Bush in the White House, and Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, the privateers sense that victory is within their grasp. But in fact — the battle is far from over. Most Democrats and many Republicans are opposed to or skeptical of the president’s scheme. And progressive organizations are mounting a remarkable campaign to thwart the powerful privateers. And one of the keys to the campaign is something completely unexpected — modern pamphleteers, writing in the tradition of Tom Paine. They are the progressive bloggers. And all sides agree that they will play a crucial role.

An hour after the president’s speech, I was honored to participate in a national telephone conference call of progressive bloggers, who gathered to listen to post-State of the Union analysis from John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America’s Future, nationally renowned blogger Atrios (economist Duncan Black) and Bob Brigham of BlogPac, the political action committee sponsoring the There Is No Crisis campaign to save Social Security.

Duncan Black warned that if, under the president’s scheme, people invest in private accounts, and their financial manager “pulls an Enron somehow — that’s it.” Roger Hickey explained that Bush’s notion of the “ownership society,” means that “you are on your own,” and that Bush is “betting his presidency and the future of the GOP on the privatization of Social Security.” Bob Brigham estimates that the privateers will spend more than the presidential campaign expenses of Bush and Kerry combined to get inside the vaults of the Social Security trust fund. Clearly, the stakes are high. The pamphleteers and their allies can’t match the privateer’s money. But Brigham notes that we bloggers, we pamphleteers, have a combined readership surpassed by only a few of the largest newspapers in the U.S.

The power of the blogosphere to move information, ideas and analysis quickly is a great strength going into the battle — as talented researchers, writers, and analysts of all kinds bring writing to the fore of American politics in a way that is already making history. The democratic nature of the blogosphere is opening up the public debate — challenging government and corporate propaganda, and the conservative punditocracy in a way that regularly gives rise to howls of indignation.

The growing power of the progressive bloggers is slowly being recognized in all quarters. This week, for example, Rupert Murdock’s Weekly Standard, grudgingly acknowledged that progressive bloggers as epitomized by The Daily Kos, which “averages over 400,000 page views a day” are playing an increasingly powerful role in Amerian politics.

“By comparison,” writes, Dean Barnett, “the second most popular blog, right leaning law professor Glenn Reynolds’s Instapundit, averages barely 200,000 page views a day. The Daily Kos, is the most popular and important force in the blogosphere; it’s a fact with which Democrats are just now coming to grips.”

Although the conveners of the progressive blogger teleconference have high hopes that we will somehow come through — they really have no idea what we will do. But what they do know — what they are counting on, I think — is that this eclectic, feisty and far-flung network of writers are committed to a vision of a constitutional democracy marked by a passion for social and economic justice — that will propel the campaign forward in surprising and compelling ways. They know that the ingenious activists of the internet will give Wall Street and the Texas oil boys a run for their money; that money can’t buy the kind of committed, vivid, and persuasive writing that flows from authentic feelings and free and independent minds; and that that’s a force as powerful as anything in public life.

Written by fred

February 3rd, 2005 at 6:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized