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Thursday, December 04, 2008

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Military atheists want new rules on prayer

Coalition complains of religious discrimination in the services

By Leo Shane III
Stars and Stripes

WASHINGTON — A coalition of atheists and agnostics wants the new White House to protect young military members from what they see as rampant religious discrimination in the services.

The Secular Coalition for America held a news conference Monday urging new rules against proselytizing and more training for chaplains on how to handle nonreligious troops.

"When they say ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’ it’s slanderous," said Wayne Adkins, a former Army first lieutenant who served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. "To deny their existence is to deny that they serve."

The coalition also wants President-elect Obama to develop a new directive for all chaplains and commanders that eliminates public prayers from any mandatory-attendance events for troops and ensures the Defense Department will not endorse any single religion, or even the idea of religion over nonreligion.

Jason Torpy, a retired soldier and president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, said his group isn’t opposed to Christianity or any other organized religion....(Click for remainder).

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Sowing the Seeds of Fascism in America

By Stan Goff
TruthDig

Author Stan Goff, a retired 26-year veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces, sounds a warning call that many of the historical precursors of fascism—white supremacy, militarization of culture, vigilantism, masculine fear of female power, xenophobia and economic destabilization—are ascendant in America today.

When I was 18, before student tracking in the public schools had been formalized, an informal tracking system was nevertheless in place: the university track, the craft track, the poultry worker track, and the prison track.  I was somewhere between the last two.  Both my parents were working in a defense contractor factory, and I was left adrift in the factory-worker ’burbs to be trained by television and alcohol.  Raised on a curriculum of McCarthyism, I did the most logical thing I could think of to avoid both the factory and eventual incarceration with the ne’er-do-wells with whom I was keeping company.  I joined the Army, and volunteered to fight communists in Vietnam.

I tried to get out of the Army once, and it lasted for four years, whereupon I ended up doing piecework in a sweatshop outside Wilmar, Ark.  Back on that public school track, I suppose, but given that the U.S. was no longer invading anyone’s country, and that I was responsible for an infant now, I went back into the Army.  One thing led to another, and as it turned out I was good at something called special operations, and I ended up making a career of it.  By the time I signed out on terminal leave in December 1995, I had worked in eight places designated “armed conflict areas,” where people who were brown and poor seemed to be the principle targets of these “special” operations.  At some point toward the end, I had decided that plenty of people could look back and say they wished they’d lived differently; and I was just one of them; and that I might salvage something worthwhile from the whole experience by telling the people who had paid me—people who pay taxes—what their money was really being spent to do.

Among other activities, I started writing books....(Click for remainder).

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Grijalva for Interior Secretary

By John Nichols
The Nation

Now that President-elect Barack Obama has put together his administration's economic, foreign-policy and national-security teams, the transition process comes to the interesting part.

Obama was, necessarily, constrained by practical and political circumstances when it came to many of his highest-profile picks. Even those of us who have objected to some of the president-elect's selections recognize that Obama has faced powerful pressures from economic and political players who are disinclined to give him the space or the flexibility that might allow a new president to satisfy his most progressive supporters.

But as he selects the members of his Cabinet who will be charged with revitalizing essential agencies that suffered from bad leadership and top-level indifference during the Bush-Cheney interregnum -- and, in some cases, during Bill Clinton's presidency -- Obama can and should nominate bolder, more progressive leaders.

Where to begin?

How about Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva as Secretary of the Interior?

Grijalva is reportedly under serious consideration for the post that far more important than the attention usually accorded it by a neglectful media would suggest. The Department of the Interior does not merely have responsibility for the management and conservation of federally owned lands, it also administers programs of concern to indigenous populations of the United States and its territories. As such, the secretary plays a definitional -- and at times delicate -- role in shaping environmental, energy, economic and social policy....(Click for remainder).

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NATO Reaffirms Support for US Missile Shield

Does anyone else think that this is nothing more than poking a bear with a stick?  Probably not a good idea.

NATO ministers have reiterated their backing for the planned US missile shield in Eastern Europe. Russia bitterly opposes the deployment, but has responded with satisfaction to the alliance's decision on Tuesday to refrain from backing speedy NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine.

By Spiegel Online

NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels affirmed their support on Wednesday for US plans to install an anti-missile defense shield in Europe despite Russia's strong opposition.
The ministers said the planned deployment of interceptor missiles in Poland and an advanced radar station in the Czech Republic will make a "substantial contribution" to protecting allies from the threat of long-range ballistic missiles.

Russia has bitterly opposed the deployment and threatened to respond by placing short-range missiles in its westernmost region, Kaliningrad, which borders Poland. The US insists the defenses are aimed at potential attack from Iran and pose no threat to Russia's ballistic arsenal.

All 26 NATO allies signed the statement backing the deployment.

Meanwhile, Moscow said NATO's decision on Tuesday to refrain from backing near-term membership for Ukraine and George was a sign that the alliance was stepping back from interfering in Russia's back yard.

"There is an open split within NATO and it will widen if NATO tries to expand further," Dmitry Rogozin, Russian ambassador to NATO, said today on the Web Site of state broadcaster Vesti-24. "The schemes of those who adopted a frozen approach to Russia have been destroyed."...(Click for remainder).

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Same-Sex Setback

Don't blame Mormons or black voters - the California activists who tried to stop Prop 8 ran a lousy campaign

By Tim Dickinson
Rolling Stone

On election night in California, all signs pointed to a progressive tidal wave. Voters in the state swept Barack Obama to a 24-point victory over John McCain — the biggest margin for any candidate since 1936. Bucking the recession, eco-conscious Californians voted to spend $10 billion to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles with a European-style bullet train. It was even a banner night for chickens, with 63 percent of the electorate approving a PETA-endorsed proposition to expand the size of poultry cages on factory farms.

Then the returns for Proposition 8 came in. The amendment to ban gay marriage — a right affirmed by the state Supreme Court in May and put into practice by more than 18,000 couples — passed by a four-point margin, as Californians voted to eviscerate the equal-protection clause of the state constitution. Along with similar bans in Arizona and Florida — as well as a measure in Arkansas that bars same-sex couples from adopting children or even serving as foster parents — Prop 8 offered hope to the Christian right that their decades-long culture wars may continue to rage, despite Obama's historic victory. All told, more than 2 million Californians who voted for Obama also pulled the lever for Prop 8.

Election postmortems have been quick to scapegoat minorities for the loss. The right pointed out that African-Americans voted overwhelmingly against gay marriage; the left blasted Mormons who obeyed an unprecedented dictate from the church's leadership in Salt Lake City and donated 45 percent of the funds for a campaign to pass Prop 8.

But evidence of entrenched homophobia and religious intolerance obscure a more difficult truth. Prop 8 should have been defeated — two months before the election, it was down 17 points in the polls — but the gay-rights groups that tried to stop it ran a lousy campaign. According to veteran political observers, the No on Prop 8 effort was slow to raise money, ran weak and confusing ads, and failed to put together a grass-roots operation to get out the vote....(Click for remainder).

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How Will Obama Enrage The Left?

By Chris Weigant
Huffington Post

I'm going to make a prediction here (one I have mentioned in passing before): Barack Obama is going to do something to absolutely enrage leftists, progressives, and the few remaining Americans who actually call themselves liberals; and, furthermore, he's going to do it within his first 100 days in office. The only thing I won't predict is what that "something" is going to be.

I say this for numerous reasons. Even before Obama started announcing his cabinet picks, he showed over and over again that he was more of a centrist kind of guy than anyone would give him credit for. The right wing, of course, was going apoplectic over Obama (Socialist! Radical! Ultra-liberal!) while at the same time conveniently ignoring George Bush handing out free money to Wall Street, or (for that matter) Sarah Palin running her state's government on a strict "redistribution of wealth" philosophy. But it should also be noted that the left wing was building their own caricature of Obama, one that looked strikingly like the one the right wing was building -- "Obama, the Mighty Progressive." The left refused to take Obama at his word when he spoke of compromise, post-partisan politics, or reaching across the aisle. Leftists everywhere consoled themselves by thinking, "He's just saying that to get elected, once he gets in there, he'll pass everything on our agenda and we'll be so strong in Congress that it'll actually happen."

I hate to rain on anyone's parade, but Obama is guaranteed to disappoint. The right wing won't be terribly disappointed, of course, since they'll have plenty to complain about for the next four-to-eight years. The only disappointing thing to them will be that Obama will not turn out to be the boogeyman they created in an effort to scare the heck out of voters. This means Obama won't be as effective a Republican fundraising tool, since he won't be doing all those things that terrify Republican donors....(Click here for remainder).

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Obama Legal Team Meets With Anti-Torture Generals

By Pamela Hess
AP via Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — A dozen retired generals met with President-elect Barack Obama's top legal advisers Wednesday, pressing their case to overturn some of the Bush administration's terrorism-fighting policies.

Obama has criticized practices that he says amount to torturing detainees during interrogations and has promised to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Among those who met with Eric Holder, Obama's pick to be attorney general, and Greg Craig, the incoming White House counsel, were Gen. Charles Krulak, a former Marine Corps commandant, and retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, former chief of the Central Command.

"It's important that the dialogue is going," Hoar said. "Part of the challenge here is big and philosophical. Part is nuts and bolts. How do you translate the rhetoric of the campaign and the transition period into action?"

The generals would like to see authority rescinded for the CIA to use harsh interrogation methods that go beyond those approved for use by the military; an end to the secret transfer of prisoners to other governments that have a history of torture; and the closing of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base....(Click for remainder).

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New Poll: American Opinion On GLBT Rights

By Teddy Partridge
The Campaign Silo @ Firedoglake

Thanks to the folks at GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) we have a whole new set of survey numbers about American opinion about the various rights that GLBT people might be worthy of. Surprisingly, it's not all bad news!

Here are the key findings (pdf) from the poll of 2,008 adults conducted November 13-17:
-- Three-quarters of U.S. adults (75%) favor either marriage or domestic partnerships/civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Only about two in 10 (22%) say gay and lesbian couples should have no legal recognition. (Gay and lesbian couples are able to marry in two states, and comprehensive civil union or domestic partnership laws exist in only five others and the District of Columbia.)

-- U.S. adults are now about evenly divided on whether they support allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry (47% favor to 49% oppose).

-- Almost two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults favor allowing openly gay military personnel to serve in the armed forces. (The current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law bans military service by openly gay personnel.)

-- About six in 10 (63%) U.S. adults favor expanding hate crime laws to cover gay and transgender people. (Hate crimes laws cover gay and transgender people in 11 states and the District of Columbia, and an additional - 20 states’ laws cover sexual orientation but not gender identity.)

-- A slight majority of U.S. adults (51%) favor protecting gay and transgender people under existing laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. (Existing non-discrimination laws cover gay and transgender people in only 12 states and the District of Columbia, and eight other states’ laws cover sexual orientation but not gender identity.)

-- Nearly seven out of 10 U.S. adults (69%) oppose laws that would ban qualified gay and lesbian couples from adopting children. (In several states, gay and lesbian couples are banned from adopting.)
Of course, adoption and relationship recognition are decided on a state basis, not federal, so overall favorable national opinion matters less than for military service, hate crimes, and non-discrimination. President-Elect Obama promised to move on these three federal issues: getting rid of Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell, enacting hate crime legislation, and passing an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (iENDA).  He also promised to seek repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits federal recognition of state-sanctioned same-sex relationships, so the three-quarters of Americans who want those relationships recognized could also get their wish at the federal level....(Click for remainder).

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The Great Restoration

By dday
Hullabaloo

It's a good thing that the Bush team is working hard with unusual focus and competence on what matters the most right now - making sure that reporters properly spin his legacy.
President Bush’s interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson this week was the “first of several planned ‘exit interviews.’” According to White House press secretary Dana Perino, Bush’s next interview will be with ABC’s Cynthia McFadden on the topic of the faith-based initiative. It will air on Nightline next week. If the first interview with Gibson provides any clue as to what we can expect from these interviews, Bush will paint a rosy picture of his legacy and “refuse to take responsibility for a single thing that went wrong on his watch.” Heather at Crooks and Liars catches the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes revealing that Karl Rove is currently orchestrating the Bush legacy project:

[T]here’s an ongoing Bush legacy project that’s been meeting in the White House, really, with senior advisers, Karl Rove, Karen Hughes has been involved, current senior Bush administration advisers and they are looking at how to sort of roll out the President’s legacy.
Why, there almost seems to be more planning going into restoring the legacy than has gone into prewar planning in Iraq, planning for the TARP program, planning after Katrina, etc., etc. How curious!...(Click for remainder).

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Obama gets soaring marks in the new USA TODAY Poll

By John Amato
Crooks and Liars

In the first poll that I've seen since Obama won the presidency and started putting his cabinet together, USA TODAY's poll says Americans are very, very satisfied with what he's done so far.

President-elect Barack Obama gets soaring marks for his handling of the transition and his choices for the Cabinet, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, even at a time the public is downbeat over the economy.'

More than three of four Americans, including a majority of Republicans, approve of the job Obama has done so far — broad-based support he'll need as he faces tough decisions ahead.By 69%-25%, those surveyed approve of his pick of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, his former Democratic primary rival, as secretary of State.

No matter how one feels about his cabinet choices, I believe Americans are quite relieved to have a man at the helm, responding like a true leader and making decisive decisions in a time of real economic crisis.
And they also feel as I do that a major stimulus package is needed to help kick start the economy.

In the poll, Americans by more than 3-1 say they trust Obama more than Bush to handle the economy. By 58%-33%, they support Obama's plan for a huge spending package to spur economic growth.

Also Obama's team made a statement that is very reassuring about the Employee Free Choice Act. ...(Click for remainder).

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Franken Ahead 22 Votes Now, Campaign Says

By Sam Stein
Huffington Post

Al Franken's campaign announced on Wednesday that, for the first time since the Minnesota recount began, the Democrat has actually pulled ahead of Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Franken's chief counsel Marc Elias said the campaign's own internal count showed them up 22 votes, a jump from the 13 vote deficit that they faced on Tuesday.

"We have approximately 138,000 ballots left to count," said Elias. "94.3 percent of the state has now been counted... Obviously that number is going to change, but we are pleased thus far with how things are going."

If true (the official state and newspaper numbers show a margin more favorable to Coleman, owing to the many challenges each campaign has logged), the tally underscores just how incredibly close the Minnesota race has become. On Wednesday, the state will go over ballots from Wright County -- a largely Republican area that could thrust Norm Coleman back into the lead.

Indeed, observers of the recount process and even members of both campaigns are bracing themselves for the near certainty that the courts will become involved. Among those aspects of the recount that have been or seemed destined to be legally debated: rejected absentee ballots (of which the Franken campaign says there are some 1,000 that should be counted), missing ballots (171 of which emerged in Ramsey County on Tuesday), and the pool of ballots that the campaigns have contested....(Click for remainder).

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Bill Richardson as Commerce Secretary


Remarks of President-Elect Barack Obama--as prepared for delivery
Announcement of Commerce Secretary
Chicago, Illinois
December 3, 2008

Last week, Vice President-Elect Biden and I began the process of announcing our economic team. Today, we are pleased to name another key member of this team: our nominee for Secretary of Commerce, my friend, Governor Bill Richardson.

With each passing day, the work our team has begun, developing plans to revive our economy, becomes more urgent. Earlier this week, we learned that the U.S. economy has been in recession since December of 2007 and that our manufacturing output is at a 26 year low -- two stark reminders of the magnitude of the challenges we face.

But while I know rebuilding our economy won’t be easy -- and it won’t happen overnight -- I also know this: right now, somewhere in America, a small business is at work on the next big idea. A scientist is on the cusp of the next breakthrough discovery. An entrepreneur is sketching plans for the startup that will revolutionize an industry. Right now, across America, the finest products in the world are rolling off our assembly lines. And the proudest, most determined, most productive workers in the world are on the job -- some, already on their second shift of the day; many, putting in longer hours than ever before.

After nearly two years traveling across this country, meeting with workers, visiting businesses large and small, I am more confident than ever before that we have everything we need to renew our economy -- we have the ingenuity and technology, the skill and commitment -- we just need to put it to work. It’s time to not just address our immediate economic threats, but to start laying the groundwork for long-term economic prosperity -- to help American businesses grow and thrive at home, and expand our efforts to promote American enterprise around the world.

This work is the core mission of the Secretary of Commerce. And with his breadth and depth of experience in public life, Governor Richardson is uniquely suited for this role as a leading economic diplomat for America.

During his time in state government and Congress, and in two tours of duty in the cabinet, Bill has seen from just about every angle what makes our economy work and what keeps it from working better.

As Governor of New Mexico, Bill showed how government can act as a partner to support our businesses, helping create 80,000 new jobs. And under his leadership, New Mexico saw the lowest unemployment rate in decades.

As a former Secretary of Energy, Bill understands the steps we must take to build a new, clean-energy industry and create the green jobs of the twenty-first century. Jobs that pay well and won’t be shipped overseas -- jobs that will help us end our dependence on foreign oil.

And as a former Ambassador to the United Nations, Bill brings both international stature and a deep understanding of today’s global economy. He understands that the success of today’s business in Detroit or Columbus often depends on whether it can sell products in places like Santiago or Shanghai. And he knows that America’s reputation in the world is critical not just to our security, but to our prosperity -- that when the citizens of the world respect America’s leadership, they are more likely to buy America’s products.

To this crucial work of restoring America’s international standing, Bill will bring a leadership style all his own. Bill has never been content to learn just from briefing books -- never satisfied with only the official version of the story. During his time in Congress, he held more than 2,500 town-hall meetings, so he could hear directly from constituents. He was a regular in the U.N. cafeteria, mixing it up with U.N. employees over lunch. And during his 2002 campaign for Governor, he actually broke a world record by shaking nearly 14,000 hands in just eight hours.

All of this reflects a determination to reach out and understand where people are coming from, what they hope for, and what he can do to help. This approach, I believe, has been the key to Bill’s success as a negotiator and will be key to his work on the critical functions of the Commerce Department -- from administering our census and monitoring our climate to protecting our intellectual property and restoring our economic diplomacy.

In the end, Bill Richardson is a leader who shares my values -- and he measures progress the same way I do. Are we creating good jobs, instead of losing them? Are incomes growing, instead of shrinking? I know that Bill will be an unyielding advocate for American business and American jobs, at home and around the world. And I look forward to working with him in the years ahead.

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"Prop 8 - The Musical" starring Jack Black, John C. Reilly, and many more...

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

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