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Tapping deep into America's past

Friday, January 16, 2009

There really is nothing like it. A few other countries, such as Ireland, inaugurate their presidents in pomp and circumstance but the United States tops the lot. And the Obama inauguration is going to go down as one of the glitziest.

By Professor David Reynolds
BBC News

You might think it strange that a country that seems so anti-traditional should be enthralled by this four-year ritual but the inauguration is America's version of a coronation - a democratic crowning, of a leader chosen by the votes of the people.

You can see this in the very first inauguration, of George Washington, in April 1789.

The infant United States didn't yet have its own capital, so the event took place in New York City on the balcony of Federal Hall in the heart of Wall Street.

Washington, America's victorious general in the War of Independence, was rowed across the Hudson River in a 50-foot barge, manned by 13 oarsmen in white smocks - symbolising the 13 states of the new nation.

Cannon fired a 13-gun salute and the band played God Save the King.

Yet the words were very different from Britain's national anthem: "Thrice welcome to this shore, Our Leader now no more, But Ruler thou..."

And Washington was dressed not in sumptuous robes but in "superfine American broad cloths" that had been made up into a suit for the occasion.

Clothed in New World simplicity he took the oath of office to support and defend the US Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, whereupon New York dissolved in a week of parties, festivities and crass commercialism - with every huckster cashing on the market for GW souvenirs....(Click for remainder).


Unhappily Ever After

By Ed Stein
The Rocky Mountain News


Senate panel approves Clinton as top diplomat

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sen. Hillary Clinton was approved by a Senate panel on Thursday to become the next U.S. secretary of state, despite misgivings about the charitable fundraising of her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 16-1 in favor of the appointment, clearing a key hurdle to her appointment as the top U.S. diplomat.

Clinton still must be officially nominated and then confirmed by the full Senate but this is expected to be a formality, which congressional staff said will take place soon after Barack Obama's inauguration as president on Tuesday.

Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who this week questioned Clinton about her husband's raising of foreign funds for his charitable foundation, was the sole negative vote.

Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry said Clinton did an "outstanding job" in her testimony before the committee this week but noted some senators had expressed concerns about her husband's charitable foundation and the adequacy of an agreement devised to avoid conflicts of interest....(Click for remainder).


Democrats sneak Net neutrality rules into 'stimulus' bill

By Declan McCullagh
cnet News

The House Democrats' $825 billion legislation released on Thursday was supposedly intended to "stimulate" the economy. Backers claimed that speedy approval was vital because the nation is in "a crisis not seen since the Great Depression" and "the economy is shutting down."

That's the rhetoric. But in reality, Democrats are using the 258-page legislation to sneak Net neutrality rules in through the back door.

The so-called stimulus package hands out billions of dollars in grants for broadband and wireless development, primarily in what are called "unserved" and "underserved" areas. The U.S. Department of Commerce is charged with writing checks-with-many-zeros-on-them to eligible recipients, including telecommunications companies, local and state governments, and even construction companies and other businesses that might be interested.

The catch is that the federal largesse comes with Net neutrality strings attached. The Commerce Department must ensure that the recipients "adhere to" the Federal Communications Commission's 2005 broadband policy statement (PDF)--which the FCC said at the time was advisory and "not enforceable," and has become the subject of a lawsuit before a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.

One interpretation of the "adhere to" requirement is that a company like AT&T, Verizon, or Comcast that takes "stimulus" dollars to deploy broadband in, say, Nebraska must abide by these rules nationwide. (It's rather like the state of Nebraska demanding that a broadband provider filter out porn nationwide in exchange for a lucrative government contract.)

In addition, recipients must operate broadband and high-speed wireless networks on an "open access basis." The FCC, soon to be under Democratic control, is charged with deciding what that means. Congress didn't see fit to include a definition....(Click for remainder).


Rick Warren Hates Gays, but Loves Nazis

By Lisa Derrick
La Figa at Firedoglake

I know I have been on and on about Rick Warren and his loathing of homosexuals, his utter conviction that man and dinosaurs once frolicked together, that he doesnt think abused spouses should divorce because it's not in the Bible, and his support of crazed African pastors.

Oh and he lies, prevaricates and removes things from his website that might be embarrassing (like the dinosaurs and forbidding active homosexuals from joining Saddleback Church--something he yanked after he met with Melissa Etheridge, because like she has a wife and so probably has sex, and it's like better to have Teh Celebrity Gay than to tell the truth, Rick?)

But WTF?!! This is so beyond reasonable, acceptable, inclusionary, kumbaya or whatever the reason Obama said, "Hey Pastor Rick, come on down and give the invocation."

In Bruce Wilson's video, on April 17, 2005 Rick Warren tells 30,000 of his followers at a rally in Angel Stadium, right next to Disneyland, that he had been given a vision, a three point plan for the next 25 years:
It is the global expansion of the Kingdom of God.
It is the total mobilzation of this church.
And the third part of this dream is a radical devotion of every believer.
Warren goes on to deliver this horrifying homily:
In April 1939, In a stadium much like this, in Munich Germany, they packed it out with young men and women in brown shirts for a fanatical man standing behind a podium named Adolf Hitler, the personification of evil. And in that stadium those with the brown shirts formed a sign that said in in the whole stadium "Hitler we are yours." And they nearly took the world...
Warren then decribes the dedication of Lenin and Mao's followers and then in a jaw dropping moment says:
When I hear those kinds of stories, I think, what would happen if American Christians, if world Christians, if just the Christians in this stadium said, "Jesus, we are yours"? What kind of spiritual awakening would be have?
Warren then exhorts the crowd to hold up the sign by their seats that say "Whatever it takes" and concludes his speech with:
Whatever it takes
(Click for original).


Holder pledges to review case against Schlozman

By Associated Press via Google News

WASHINGTON (AP) — If confirmed as attorney general, Eric Holder says he'll review the decision not to prosecute a former Justice Department official for making false statements to Congress.

An inspector general report this week found that Bradley Schlozman, the former head of the civil rights division, misled lawmakers about whether he politicized hiring decisions.

But career prosecutors in Washington reviewed the evidence and decided not to prosecute Schlozman.

Holder said Thursday he'd review that decision it if he becomes attorney general.

Schlozman is among Justice Department officials criticized for politicizing employment decisions. The report found that he urged the hiring of people he called "real Americans."

(Click for original).


Shinseki Says He Would Modernize VA

By Ann Scott Tyson
The Washington Post

Retired Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki pledged yesterday to transform the Department of Veterans Affairs into a proactive, "21st-century organization" to meet the needs of a growing population of wounded veterans.

Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff who put his career on the line in 2003 by challenging then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's estimate of troop numbers required in Iraq, received bipartisan praise as a man of candor and integrity in a Senate confirmation hearing on Shinseki's nomination as VA secretary in the incoming Obama administration.

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) recalled Shinseki's controversial prewar testimony that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to occupy and stabilize Iraq. "He told the truth, and in doing so took a position contrary to the administration," Inouye said. "His honest assessment that more troops would be needed cost him his job, but it is the surest measure of his fitness to serve as a Cabinet member."...(Click for remainder).


Holder Rejects Torture and Waterboarding

By Al Jazeera English

Eric Holder, the US attorney-general choice nominated by Barack Obama, the US president-elect, has said he believes the controversial interrogation method of "waterboarding" to be torture.

Speaking at his confirmation hearing at the US senate on Thursday, Holder also said he did not think a US president had the power to "immunise" an intelligence offcer to carry out torture and not face charges.

"No-one is above the law, the president has a constitutional obligation to faithfully execute the law of the United States," he said in Washington DC.

Previous attorney general nominees under the administration of George Bush, the US president, have declined to publicly describe waterboarding as torture.

Michael Mukasey, Bush's attorney general, angered Democrats and some Republicans when he repeatedly refused to answer the question of whether waterboarding was torture during his 2007 confirmation hearing.

Holder also pledged that the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be closed but said it would take longer than expected by some rights groups, who condmned the treatment of detainees at the facility.

His comments came a day after a top US official reportedly said Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi Arabian national held at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had been tortured and she had recommended he not be prosecuted as a result.

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton, Obama's former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination and pick for secretary of state in his cabinet, was approved by the senate foreign relations committee on Thursday....(Click for remainder).


David Miliband: Bush's War on Terror was misleading and mistaken

By Rhys Blakely
The Times UK

The Foreign Secretary attacked the legacy of George Bush yesterday, branding the outgoing President’s War on Terror a “misleading and mistaken” doctrine that had united extremists against the West.

Speaking in Mumbai, David Miliband said that the idea of a war on terror gave a false notion “of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and the organisation of al-Qaeda”.

He suggested that the phrase had “inadvertently sustained al-Qaeda’s propaganda” and risked magnifying the threats faced. “The more we lump terrorist groups together, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common,” he added.

The speech, which was given at the Taj Mahal Palace, one of two hotels struck in November’s terrorist attack, ranked among the British Government’s harshest critiques of Mr Bush’s foreign policy, but came just five days before the 43rd President makes way for Barack Obama....(Click for remainder).


What's Hayden Hidin'?

By Ray McGovern
After Downing Street

Outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden is going around town telling folks he has warned President-elect Barack Obama "personally and forcefully" that if Obama authorizes an investigation into controversial activities like water boarding, "no one in Langley will ever take a risk again."

Upon learning this from what we former intelligence officers used to call an "A-1 source" (completely reliable with excellent access to the information), the thought that came to me in the face of such chutzpah was from Cicero's livid oration against the Roman usurper Cataline: "Quousque, tandem, abutere, Catalina, patientia nostra!" — or "How long, at last, O Cataline, will you abuse our patience!"

Cicero had had enough. And so, apparently, has Obama, who has been confirmed once again of the wisdom of his vote against Hayden's becoming CIA director. It was striking that Obama did not even mention Hayden on Jan. 9, when the president-elect formally named Leon Panetta as his choice to run the CIA and Dennis Blair to be director of national intelligence.

Obama did announce that Mike McConnell, whom Blair will replace after he is confirmed, has been given a sinecure/consolation prize—a seat on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Hayden, a former Air Force general, should be given a seat in the military prison in Leavenworth (see below).

It is not only a bit cheeky, but more than a little disingenuous that Hayden should think to advise Obama "personally and forcefully" against investigating illegal activities authorized by president George W. Bush, since Hayden himself can already be described as an unindicted co-conspirator based on publicly available information. He has bragged loudly about the crimes in which he was directly involved, and has defended others, like what he has called "high-end" interrogation techniques—water boarding, for example.

Could it be clearer? "Water boarding is torture," said President-elect Obama last Sunday to George Stephanopoulos. Torture is a crime. Obama added, twice, that no one is "above the law," although also citing his "belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward."

Despite the President-elect's equivocations, it seems that President Bush and the current CIA director have a problem. And apparently Hayden's palms are sweaty enough to warrant, in his view, a thinly veiled threat.

In the outrage category, that threat/warning goes well beyond chutzpah. What an insult to my former colleagues at the CIA to suggest that they lack the integrity to fulfill their important duties in consonance with the law; to suggest that they would treat the incoming president like a substitute teacher!

"Should Have Been Court-martialed"

So spoke the late Gen. Bill Odom on Jan. 4, 2006 referring to Hayden. Odom's comment came before being interviewed by George Kenney, a former Foreign Service officer and now producer of "Electronic Politics." And President Bush "should be impeached," added Odom with equal fury....(Click for remainder).


Sculpture shows priests raising rainbow flag

By Associated Press

(Brussels) Is it a joke? A very expensive hoax? A sly, shockingly satirical look at the 27 nations that make up the European Union?

Whatever one’s reaction, the new installation celebrating the Czech Republic’s six-month presidency of the European Union has achieved the ultimate accomplishment of any piece of art: Create a sensation.

On Thursday, the Czech deputy premier, Alexandr Vondra, came to Brussels to see for himself what the brouhaha at the EU’s headquarters was all about.

“Entropa” - by David Cerny, a Czech artist who is no stranger to controversy - dominates the lobby of the EU’s Justus Lipsius Building. Measuring 25 x 25 meters (yards) it shows the outlines of EU nations on a tubular grid showing each nation, warts and all.

The artist says it is just tongue-in-cheek stuff.

His installation shows France as being on strike, Italy a land where soccer is an “auto-erotic system of sensational spectacle” and Germany laced by autobahns roughly in the shape of a Swastika cross.

The Netherlands is covered by floodwaters pierced only by minarets of mosques. Polish clergy raise - Iwo Jima-style - the rainbow flag of the gay community in their arch-Catholic country. And Sweden is - what else? - a box of prefab furniture.

Britain is completely absent, reflecting its traditional aloofness from European integration.

There has been one formal protest: from Bulgaria, which objects to being depicted as a squat toilet.

The Czech government says Cerny lied to them because he was paid euro50,000 ($65,870) to round up the works of European artists representing all 27 EU nations and create a joint project, according to Vondra....(Click for remainder).


EU calls for gay couple rights, end to homophobia

By 365 Gay

(Strasbourg, France) Members of the European Parliament have approved a motion calling for the recognition of the rights of same-sex couples and an end to homophobia in all 27 EU countries.

“It is high time the EU practices what it preaches,” said Spanish deputy Ignasi Guardans. “The European Commission wants to be a champion of human rights, but sadly every day we hear about anti-discrimination laws being flouted by member states.”

The document also calls for equal access to reproductive methods and guarantees for the rights of Roma - also known as Gypsies.

The measure still needs the approval of the EU’s Council of Ministers before becoming law.

Same-sex marriage is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and, as of Jan. 1, Norway. The UK allows civil partnerships with all of the rights of marriage except the name. Other countries such as France and Germany offer limited rights to same-sex couples.

But in a number of states - mainly former Communist countries - gay and lesbian couples are without rights and homophobia continues to be a major problem.

Earlier this year, Polish President Lech Kaczynski threatened to veto the European Union’s proposed charter of rights if it were endorsed by Parliament if it contained guarantees of equal rights for gays and lesbians.

Under an agreement worked out with Kaczynski, the charter was approved with the LGBT protections dropped.

In June, the Greek government moved to annul the marriages of two same-sex couples and indict the mayor who performed them in a small town....(Click for remainder).


Venezuela breaks off Israel ties

By Al Jazeera English

Venezuela has joined Bolivia in severing ties with Israel in protest against its war in the Gaza Strip, which has left more than 1,000 Palestinians dead.

"Venezuela ... has decided to break off diplomatic relations with the state of Israel given the inhumane persecution of the Palestinian people," the foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, decided to expel Israel's ambassador and embassy staff last week because of the offensive, calling the Israeli onslaught a "holocaust".

Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia and a close ally of Chavez, said that he would seek to get senior Israeli officials, including Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, charged with "genocide" in the International Criminal Court....(Click for remainder).


Bush backs record in final speech

By Associated Press via MSNBC

WASHINGTON - Unpopular but unbowed, President George W. Bush defended his tumultuous two terms in a farewell address to the nation Thursday night, claiming a series of successes at home and abroad. Reaching back to the Sept. 11 attacks, when the public rallied behind him, Bush declared the United States will "never tire, never falter and never fail."

Leaving office with the highest disapproval rating since Richard Nixon, Bush said, "You may not agree with some tough decisions I have made, but I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions."

A bookend to eight years indelibly marked by terrorism, two wars and recessions, the brief speech offered Bush one last chance before he leaves office Tuesday to defend his presidency and craft a first draft of his legacy for historians. He spoke from the East Room of the White House with just 112 hours left in office.

It was his final public appearance until he greets President-elect Barack Obama on Inauguration Day at the White House's North Portico.

Bush called the inauguration of Obama, the first black president, a "moment of hope and pride" for America.

"Standing on the steps of the Capitol will be a man whose story reflects the enduring promise of our land," he said....(Click for remainder).


Americans United, Allied Groups Ask Calif. Supreme Court To Nullify Proposition 8

Ban On Same-Sex Marriage Violates Core Freedoms, Coalition Asserts

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has joined a legal brief asking the California Supreme Court to nullify Proposition 8, a November ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state.

The friend-of-the-court brief, filed today by Americans United, the Anti-Defamation League and 30 other civil rights and civil liberties groups, argues that a bare majority of voters should not be permitted to remove fundamental rights from a minority group.

“Prop. 8 was conceived, funded and promoted by the Religious Right with the aim of eviscerating the rights of others, and it should not be allowed to stand,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Allowing powerful religious groups to take away minority rights by referenda is fundamentally at odds with what America is about.”

The brief asserts that minority rights cannot be subjected to a vote via the referendum process. Under the terms of the California Constitution, fundamental changes to the state’s governing document may be made only through a deliberative process that begins in the legislature. Because Prop. 8 undercuts the Constitution's mandate of equal rights for all, it effects a radical revision that cannot be made through a simple referendum.

The brief observes, “If Proposition 8 can strip fundamental rights from gay and lesbian people by a 52 percent majority, future amendments can strip away fundamental rights from other disfavored groups based on race, national origin, gender or religion.”

Continues the brief, “If Proposition 8 were a proper subject for an initiative vote, then so would be a measure seeking to amend the California Constitution to bar interracial or interfaith marriages, to exclude women from certain occupations, to limit freedom of speech only for certain racial or national groups, or to suspend protections against unwarranted searches and seizures for members of certain national groups. As this Court and its federal counterpart have recognized, no person should have such fundamental rights even one of them subject to the vicissitudes of a bare majority of voters.”...(Click for remainder).


S.E.C. Nominee Offers Plan for Tighter Regulation

By Stephen Labaton
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Mary L. Schapiro, who has been selected by President-elect Barack Obama to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, outlined an ambitious agenda on Thursday that included tighter regulation of hedge funds and credit rating agencies.

She proposed greater federal oversight of insurance companies, which are now largely under the purview of the states, and of credit default swaps, the unregulated financial instruments that many say contributed to the market crisis.

Ms. Schapiro signaled that she was considering the reversal of major decisions under the Bush administration that have made it harder for the staff to bring enforcement cases.

She expressed reservations about the timetable recently approved by the commission to move American corporations toward adopting international accounting standards. And she promised to quickly re-examine whether the commission should restore a market regulation known as the uptick rule, which makes it harder for investors to make bets on declining stock prices....(Click for remainder).



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