Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dating Site eHarmony sued in California for excluding gays

Lawsuit alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation was filed in Los Angeles

Reuters reported today that:

The popular online dating service eHarmony was sued on Thursday for refusing to offer its services to gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

A lawsuit alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Linda Carlson, who was denied access to eHarmony because she is gay.

Lawyers bringing the action said they believed it was the first lawsuit of its kind against eHarmony, which has long rankled the gay community with its failure to offer a "men seeking men" or "women seeking women" option.

They were seeking to make it a class action lawsuit on behalf of gays and lesbians excluded from the dating service.

eHarmony was founded in 2000 by evangelical Christian Dr. Neil Clark Warren and had strong early ties with the influential religious conservative group Focus on the Family.

It has more than 12 million registered users, and heavy television advertising has made it one of the nation's biggest Internet dating sites.

The company said the allegations of discrimination against gays were false and reckless.

"The research that eHarmony has developed, through years of research, to match couples has been based on traits and personality patterns of successful heterosexual marriages," it said in a statement.

"Nothing precludes us from providing same-sex matching in the future. It's just not a service we offer now based upon the research we have conducted," eHarmony added.

According to the lawsuit, Carlson, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, tried to use the site's dating services in February 2007. When she was denied access, she wrote to eHarmony saying that its anti-gay policy was discriminatory under California law but the company refused to change it.

"Such outright discrimination is hurtful and disappointing for a business open to the public in this day and age," she said.

The complete story may be found here:

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Guantanamo Detainee apparently kills himself

Critics say suicide committed out of desperation

The AP reported minutes ago that:

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A Saudi Arabian detainee died Wednesday at Guantanamo Bay prison and the U.S. military said he apparently committed suicide. Critics of the detention center said the death showed the level of desperation among prisoners.

Also Wednesday, a Canadian detainee fired his American attorneys, leaving him without defense counsel ahead of his trial, his former U.S. military attorney told The Associated Press. The detainee, Omar Khadr, is still to be arraigned and is one of only three of the roughly 380 Guantanamo prisoners to be charged with a crime.

The military did not identify the detainee who died or describe the manner of death. There are about 80 detainees from Saudi Arabia held at Guantanamo.

Guards at the U.S. Naval Base in southeast Cuba found the detainee unresponsive and not breathing in his cell Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. military's Southern Command said in a statement.

"They tried to save his life but he was pronounced dead," said Mario Alvarez, a Miami-based spokesman for the command.

Lawyer Julia Tarver Mason, whose firm represents eight Saudi detainees at Guantanamo, said she has tried so far without success to learn from the government if the apparent suicide was by one of her clients.

"They are in the care of the United States government and that should mean that deaths should not occur," Mason said.

It would be the fourth suicide at Guantanamo since the prison camp opened in January 2002. On June 10, 2006, two Saudi detainees and one Yemeni hanged themselves with sheets.

A spokesman for detention operations, Navy Cmdr. Rick Haupt, declined to comment, referring questions to the Miami-based Southern Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Defense attorneys said the death was likely an act of desperation at a prison camp where detainees are denied access to U.S. civilian courts and isolated in their cells for up to 22 hours a day.

"You have five and a half years of desperation there with no legal way out," said Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. "Sadly, it leads to people being so desperate they take their own lives."

Marc Falkoff, who is part of a team of attorneys representing 17 men from Yemen, said the suicide should be expected given the conditions at Guantanamo.

"We've said all along that the guys are going to try to take their lives and that appears to be what happened here," Falkoff said. "It's just incredibly sad and it wouldn't happen if these guys were just given their day in court."

A cultural adviser was helping the military handle the remains. "The remains of the deceased detainee are being treated with the utmost respect," the military said.

The death came as the U.S. military prepared to try Khadr and Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni, in military tribunals set up by Congress after the
U.S. Supreme Court rejected a previous military trial system, calling it unconstitutional.

The complete story may be found here:

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Religious Leaders Call for Balanced Debate

Progressive Religious Leaders Call for a Balanced Representation of Religion in the Media

WASHINGTON - MAY 29 - Media Matters for America, along with Faith in Public Life and progressive religious leaders from throughout the country, held a press conference today to discuss "Left Behind: The Skewed Representation of Religion in the Major News Media," a new report documenting the overrepresentation of conservative religious figures in the major news media. Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog organization; Faith in Public Life, an organization dedicated to increasing the strength and visibility of faith leaders working for justice and the common good; and the diverse group of progressive religious leaders called on major media outlets to provide a more balanced expression of religious values and views.

"The overwhelming presence in the news media of conservative religious voices leads to the false implication that to be religious is to be conservative, and worse, that to be progressive is to lack faith or even to be against faith. Nothing could be further from the truth," said Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "People of faith have long been, and will continue to be, active leaders on progressive causes for justice. Our faith compels it."

"I have long felt the media have given Americans a distorted view of what people of faith believe. This research from Media Matters proves that. I hope both the print and electronic media in this country will now seek the balance so many of them profess to have as they continue to report issues of religion and its impact on our society, government, and the American culture," said Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA.

"The media have a vital responsibility to represent the fullness of Catholic social teaching in what needs to be a broad and rich debate about the role of religion in public life," said Alexia Kelley, Executive Director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. "Catholic leaders who speak to the moral dimensions of an unjust war, the dignity of the human person, the growing gap between rich and poor, and global warming, speak from the heart of our Catholic faith. They must not be routinely passed over for strident commentary from culture warriors."

"This report clearly indicates what we've always suspected -- that the media prefer to see the world through a simple lens, a casualty of which is that the right and the conservative voice can often take control of the conversation," said Rev. Dr. Jim Forbes, host of the Air America program The Time Is Now. "So what do we do now? Those of us on who call ourselves progressives need to speak out and be heard."

"Unfortunately, much of the secular and religious media are stuck in the habit of secular-left/religious-right bipolar reporting, and they're failing to see that the religious and political landscape isn't that simple anymore, if it ever was," said Brian McLaren, Board Chairman for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

Media Matters undertook this study in large part because of the media's response to the 2004 elections, in which key media figures overemphasized the impact of "values voters" -- a misleading term used by the media to describe conservative religious voters motivated by opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, which suggested that progressive voters did not care similarly about values.

In their coverage, news organizations overwhelmingly presented a picture in which religious Americans were defined as conservative Americans. This representation in the media proved to be a misleading characterization of how these so-called "values voters" influenced the 2006 elections, in which the "value" cited most by voters was the Iraq war, not issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

* A 2006 Zogby International exit poll showed that the "moral issue" cited most by voters was the Iraq war, and that more than twice as many voters cited greed and materialism or poverty and economic justice as "the most urgent moral crisis in American culture" as those who cited abortion or same-sex marriage.
* Despite their depiction in the mainstream media, only 10 percent of evangelical Christians said abortion and same-sex marriage would be the most important factor in determining their vote, according to a 2006 study by the Center for American Values in Public Life.
* Even though close to 90 percent of Americans identified themselves as religious in the Center for American Values in Public Life study, according to a post-election survey in 2004, only 32 percent of Americans identified themselves as conservative.


* Combining newspapers and television, conservative religious leaders we studied were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders between November 3, 2004 -- the day after the 2004 presidential election -- and December 31, 2006.
* On television news -- the three major television networks, the three major cable channels, and PBS -- conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders.
* In major newspapers, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed 2.7 times as often as progressive leaders.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Intelligence Agencies Warned of Iraq Post-War Risks

Inter Press Service reports that:

WASHINGTON - Two major studies prepared by the U.S. intelligence community and distributed to senior officials in every relevant agency two months before Washington’s invasion of Iraq warned of many of the problems that have turned the U.S. occupation there into the worst foreign policy crisis since at least the Vietnam War.

The studies by the National Intelligence Council (NIC), redacted versions of which were released here Friday by the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned that the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation would likely benefit al Qaeda and boost political Islam throughout the region. It also predicted that “domestic groups (in Iraq) would engage in violent conflict with each other unless an occupying force prevented them from doing so.”

In addition, the NIC anticipated the emergence of an insurgency consisting of ex-Baathists “(who) could forge an alliance with existing terrorist organisations or act independently to wage guerrilla warfare against the new government or Coalition forces.”

“Sadly, the administration’s refusal to heed these dire warnings — and worse, to plan for them — has led to tragic consequences for which our nation is paying a terrible price,” said the Committee’s chairman, Jay Rockefeller, as he released the two studies which were incorporated into a 226-page report.

The report, which will likely bolster charges by Democrats and other critics that top officials in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush were so determined to go to war with Iraq that they deliberately ignored or distorted the best assessments of the government’s intelligence professionals, was adopted by the committee on a 10-5 vote earlier this month. The majority included two of the body’s seven Republican members.

The two studies — one on post-war challenges in Iraq, the other on regional consequences of regime change there — were undertaken at the initiative of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning, then headed by one of former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s top aides, Richard Haass, who resigned several months after March 2003 the invasion to become president of the influential Council on Foreign Relations.

The State Department, like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was seen at the time by neo-conservatives and other hawks who dominated the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney’s office as a stronghold of so-called “realists” who were most sceptical about the wisdom of going to war in Iraq.

Former senior officials at both State and CIA subsequently complained that their assessments and advice were largely ignored in the run-up to the war due to the dominant influence on the White House of both Cheney and then-Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld whose optimistic predictions about post-war Iraq and its impact on the region contrasted sharply, as the two new documents make clear, with the intelligence community’s classified analyses.

In fact, the two studies, which were sent to top officials in both Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s offices, according to a distribution list that was also included in the report, were themselves predicated on relatively optimistic assumptions — namely, that a post-invasion Iraq would retain its territorial integrity and that a U.S.-backed government is established with a gradual devolution to full Iraqi self-governance within five years accompanied by a U.S. withdrawal over the same period.

The study on post-war challenges inside Iraq cast serious doubt on the hawks’ insistence that democratic government could quickly take root in Iraq, particularly under the leadership of the exiled opposition.

“The building of an Iraqi democracy,” it said, “would be a long, difficult, and probably turbulent process, with potential backsliding into Iraq’s tradition of authoritarianism.” It warned that external opposition lacked “the popular, political or military capabilities to play a leading role after Saddam’s departure without significant and prolonged external economic, political and military support.”

Moreover, if a “strong and central authority” were not established after Saddam’s ouster, “many Iraqis would begin looking toward more traditional regional, tribal, or religious authorities for support and guidance,” according to the study. It suggested that Iraq’s regular army, “once purged of the security and intelligence officers embedded within it could be used for security and law enforcement until police or a local gendarme force is established.”

In one of the most controversial acts of the U.S. occupation, the army was officially dissolved as part shortly after the invasion on orders of the Pentagon.

The same study also stressed that that post-war Iraq would lead not only to sectarian violence and score-settling. Regime change could also permit “political Islam” (to) “take root in postwar Iraq, particularly if economic recovery were slow and foreign troops remained in the country for a long period,” the report warned.

Even more threatening, Al Qaeda “probably would try to exploit any postwar transition in Iraq by replicating the tactics it has used in Afghanistan during the past year to mount hit-and-run operations against U.S. personnel.”

“If Baghdad were unable to exert control over the Iraqi countryside, al Qaeda or other terrorist groups could operate from remote areas,” it predicted, noting as well that sectarian conflict within Iraq would also encourate “terrorist groups to take advantage of a volatile security environment to launch terrorist attacks…”

At the regional level, al Qaeda and similar groups could also benefit. Al Qaeda, for example, “would try to take advantage of U.S. attention on postwar Iraq to reestablish its presence in Afghanistan,” while “a U.S.-led war against and occupation of Iraq would boost political Islam and increase popular sympathy for some terrorist objectives, at least in the short term,” resulting in an increase in funding for terrorist groups “as a result of Muslim outrage over U.S. action.”

“Increased popular Islamist sentiment would bolster both extremist groups and, in some countries, Islamic political parties that seek to gain power peacefully,” the study noted, anticipating subsequent major electoral advances by Islamist parties in Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Territories.

The study also cast doubt on hawks’ claims that a convincing U.S. victory in Iraq would persuade other regional states to abandon their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programmes. On the contrary, a U.S. invasion would prompt some states “to accelerate programs already in train with the hope of developing deterrent capabilities before the programmes could be destroyed preemptively.”

The complete story may be found here:

Friday, May 25, 2007

HUD Report Shows 16% Increase in Unmet Housing Needs of Nation's Poorest Families:

Major Federal Recommitment to Low Income Housing Needed

WASHINGTON - MAY 25 - A significant increase in the unmet housing needs among very low income renters in the U.S. underscores the urgency for Congress to rebuild important federal housing resources which have been under funded for many years, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).

Affordable Housing Needs 2005: Report to Congress, a biannual report released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) shows a substantial increase in unmet housing needs among the nation’s very low income renters. The number of households with “worst case housing needs” jumped from 5.18 million in 2003, the year covered in the last report, to nearly 6 million in 2005, a 16% increase.

HUD defines households with “worst case needs” as unassisted renters with incomes below 50% of area median income who live in substandard housing and/or pay more than half of their income for housing. Unassisted renters are renters who do not receive any federal housing aid.

NLIHC President Sheila Crowley said a substantial increase in funding for federal housing programs is necessary to make up several years of neglect of serious housing problems by the Administration and Congress.

“An increase of 800,000 households with ‘worst case needs’ in just two years provides quantitative evidence for what millions of low income families already know - the vaulted American housing market does not work for them,” Crowley said. “And the federal government has failed to intervene to assure the most basic of human needs - safe, decent and affordable housing - for all its citizens. This severe housing shortage means that the benefits from good, affordable housing, including educational achievement, better health, successful employment, optimal child well-being and high functioning neighborhoods remain out of reach for a large and growing number of households.”

NLIHC calls for the establishment of a National Housing Trust Fund to build or preserve 1.5 million rental units affordable for the lowest income families over 10 years, the addition of at least 100,000 new housing vouchers a year for at least 10 years, restoration of funding needed to preserve and improve the nation’s public housing stock, and expansion of federal programs to end and prevent homelessness, among other measures.

“In the absence of a renewed commitment to federal housing programs, the 10-year plans to end homelessness that the Administration is pushing state and local governments to write are not worth the paper they are written on,” said Crowley. “I hope this report convinces policymakers that housing for low income families must be a priority again.”

According to the report, worst case needs are most prevalent among extremely low income households, defined as households earning less than 30% of area median income. In 2005, 72% of these households had a worst case need, up from 66% in 2003. Moreover, in 2005, there were only 35 affordable, available and physically adequate homes for every 100 extremely low income renters, compared to 40 in 2003.

Other key findings in the report include:

· The composition of households with worst case needs is diverse, including 1.29 million elderly households, 542,000 households headed by a non-elderly person with a disability and 2.32 million families with children, the group with the largest increase from 2003 to 2005.

· All regions of the country were affected. Cities, suburbs and non-metropolitan areas all experienced increases in the number of households with worst case needs, with 14.9%, 5.3% and 51% increases, respectively.

· 91% of households with worst case needs experience severe rent burdens (pays more than 50% of income for rent), while another 4% experience severe rent burdens along with substandard housing.

Affordable Housing Needs 2005: Report to Congress uses the latest available data from the 2005 American Housing Survey. The report does not include data from the latter part of 2005, so increases in unmet housing needs are not attributable to the devastation caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The full report can be found here:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

U.S. Foreign Lobbying, Terrorism Influencing Post-9/11 U.S. Military Aid and Human Rights

WASHINGTON -Lobbying by foreign governments and concerns over terrorism have dramatically shifted U.S. military assistance programs in the post-9/11 era, according to a year-long investigation by the Center for Public Integrity's International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The change in priorities often came at the cost of human rights and fiscal accountability, according to "Collateral Damage," which makes public for the first time a comprehensive accounting of the 50 percent increase in U.S. military aid since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The Center investigation found that controversial U.S. allies recruited into the global war on terror, such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Djibouti, received billions in additional, new military aid, often times with little oversight by Congress. In some countries, human rights have suffered as authoritarian regimes are rewarded for their strategic and political importance.

Meanwhile, foreign governments such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Ethiopia spent millions lobbying Congress, the White House and the Pentagon to secure record amounts of U.S. military aid in an often chaotic policymaking environment. Washington lobbying and aid dollars have reshaped policies towards countries ranging from Djibouti in Africa, Pakistan and Thailand in Asia, Poland and Romania in Europe, to Colombia in South America.

The investigation combines original in-country reporting and an analysis of thousands of foreign lobbying records and data from dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests from the State and Defense Departments. The "Collateral Damage" Web site features browsable information on U.S. military assistance, foreign influence expenditures and human rights abuses.

"Collateral Damage" represents a full year's worth of extensive international investigative work by 10 reporters working on four continents, digging through 40,000 records," said Executive Director Bill Buzenberg. "We've found massive transfers of funds from our country that have taken place with very little Congressional oversight or public discussion."

As part of this series, the Center over the next three weeks will be releasing regional groupings of stories examining foreign lobbying, new details on cases of "extraordinary rendition" and the human rights impact of U.S. post-9/11 military aid in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Settlement Announced in Lawsuit Challenging Parade and Public Assembly Laws in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

FLORIDA - MAY 18 -In a victory for free speech, the U.S. District Court has approved a settlement agreement which prohibits the City of Ft. Lauderdale from enforcing several ordinances which allowed government officials to restrict political demonstrations on public sidewalks and streets in violation of the First Amendment. These laws included an exemption which allowed “bona-fide religious sects or organizations,” but not political groups, to freely assemble, contained no time limit on processing permits for parades and assemblies, granted unlawful discretion to government officials to deny permits based on disagreement with the views expressed, and unreasonably regulated the items that could be used to convey a political message.

Under the settlement, the City must review and decide on all demonstration permits within two business days and can no longer make subjective decisions about which groups to grant, or deny, permits to. The City also cannot require permits for parades or assemblies on public sidewalks or roadways where participants obey all traffic regulations or unreasonably obstruct sidewalk passage or unlawfully restrict the manner in which demonstrators want to voice their views.

The suit was brought in June 2006 by the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, the Broward Anti-War Coalition, the Broward County Green Party, the Green Party of Florida, Haiti Solidarity and Lake Worth for Global Justice to protect demonstrators’ constitutional rights in anticipation of human rights protests at the first U.S. meeting of the Organization of American States. After similar laws were used by the City of Miami in 2003 to curtail protests at the Free Trade Areas of the Americas (“FTAA”) meetings, the groups sought to proactively have the court uphold their constitutional rights in order to deter police misconduct, preempt unlawful arrests and prevent infringement on their constitutional right to make their views known.

“This settlement should send a message to other cities—think twice before enacting or enforcing similar laws which interfere with the right to dissent and political protest,” said Carol Sobel, who litigated the case on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild. “After we won a preliminary injunction preventing the City from enforcing these laws, it was clear that the court agreed with our view that government cannot just disregard the First Amendment.”

In addition, the City will pay attorneys’ fees and $10,000 in damages to the plaintiffs. Counsel on the case include: Carol Sobel, Robert Ross, Mara Shlackman and Andrea Costello for the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee; and Alice Nelson of Southern Legal Counsel; and Zeina Salam and Randall Marshall of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

The Complaint and Order Approving the Settlement Agreement are available at

Thursday, May 17, 2007

US Only Advanced Economy That Does Not Guarantee Workers Paid Vacation or Holidays

Report Shows that 1 in 4 U.S. Workers Have No Paid Vacation

WASHINGTON - MAY 17 - The United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation time, according to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. As a result, 1 in 4 private-sector workers in the U.S. do not receive any paid vacation or paid holidays.

The report, No-Vacation Nation, by Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt, finds that European workers are legally guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year, with 25 and even 30 or more days common in some countries. The gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger when legal holidays are included. The United States does not guarantee any paid holidays, but most rich countries provide between 5 and 13 per year, in addition to paid vacation days.

“The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation days and paid holidays,” said John Schmitt, senior economist and co-author of the report. “Relying on businesses to voluntarily provide paid leave just hasn’t worked. It’s a national embarrassment that 28 million Americans don’t get any paid vacation or paid holidays.”

The sum of the average paid vacation and paid holidays provided to U.S. workers in the private sector -- 15 in total -- would not meet even the minimum required by law in 19 other rich countries.

A review of international standards shows that the United States lags far behind the rest of the world's rich countries. The lack of paid vacation and paid holidays in the U.S. is particularly acute for lower-wage and part-time workers, and for employees of small businesses. The report finds:

-- Employees of small businesses in the U.S. are less likely to have any paid vacation (70 percent) than those in medium and large establishments (86 percent).

-- Lower-wage workers in the U.S. (those making less than $15 per hour) are even worse off. Only 69 percent have paid vacation, compared to 88 percent of higher-wage workers.

-- Part-time workers in the U.S., who are much more likely to be women, are far less likely to have paid vacations (36 percent) than are full-time workers (90 percent).

The authors also found that several foreign countries offer additional time off for younger and older workers, shift workers, and those engaged in community service such as jury duty or voting.

The report reviewed the most recently available data from a range of national and international sources on statutory requirements for paid vacations and paid holidays in 21 rich countries (16 European countries, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wolfowitz Working on Resignation Deal

Wolfowitz, World Bank Working on Agreement for Him to Resign -- Official

The AP reported today that:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Embattled World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz is negotiating an agreement to resign, according to an official familiar with the talks.

His departure would include an acknowledgment from the bank that he doesn't bear sole responsibility for the controversy surrounding a generous pay package for his girlfriend, the official said.

The negotiations were taking place as the bank's board resumed deliberations over

Wolfowitz's fate Wednesday afternoon.

The official said Wolfowitz wanted the bank to accept some responsibility for conflicts of interest cited against him by a special bank panel. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate state of the negotiations.

It was not clear whether the bank's 24-member board would accept Wolfowitz's terms.

Pressure on Wolfowitz to resign has grown since a bank panel report, released Monday, found that he broke conflict-of-interest rules in his handling of the 2005 pay package of bank employee Shaha Riza.

Wolfowitz has maintained that he acted in good faith.

The bank panel said the board must consider whether Wolfowitz "will be able to provide the leadership" to ensure that the bank achieves its mission of fighting poverty around the world.

The White House, which picked Wolfowitz for the post, indicated for the first time on Tuesday that it was willing to consider new leadership for the bank.

By tradition, the World Bank has been run by an American, with the approval of the bank's board. The bank's sister agency, the International Monetary Fund, is headed by a European.

Wolfowitz canceled a planned trip to a bank-sponsored development conference in Bled, Slovenia, on Thursday and Friday to work with the board.

In a last ditch plea to save his job, Wolfowitz appeared before the board on Tuesday. "You still have the opportunity to avoid long-term damage by resolving this matter in a fair and equitable way that recognizes that we all tried to do the right thing, however imperfectly we went about it," he told the board.

Riza worked for the bank before Wolfowitz took over as president in June 2005. She was moved to the State Department to avoid a conflict of interest, but stayed on the bank's payroll. Her salary went from close to $133,000 to $180,000. With subsequent raises, it eventually rose to $193,590. The panel concluded that the salary increase Riza received "at Mr. Wolfowitz's direction was in excess of the range" allowed under bank rules.

Before taking over the bank nearly two years ago, Wolfowitz was the No. 2 official at the Pentagon and played a lead role in mapping out the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

European members are pushing for Wolfowitz to resign. The United States is the bank's largest shareholder, so his nomination by Bush was approved by the bank's board even though Europeans didn't like him because of his role in the Iraq war.

The recent controversy, which has gripped the bank for a month, has threatened to tarnish the poverty-fighting institution's reputation and hobble its ability to persuade countries around the world to contribute billions of dollars to provide financial assistance to poor nations.

The complete story may be found here:

Major Security Breach at U.S. Nuclear Plant Discovered

TAKOMA PARK, MD - May 15 - A story appearing in the June edition of Esquire magazine that reveals a major security breach at the Palisades nuclear power plant in Covert, Michigan, confirms that reactor security around the country is grossly inadequate according to specialists in the field.

Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and its allies today called on the U.S. Congress to investigate the security breach at Palisades. The Esquire story, entitled “Mercenary,” details how the head of Palisades security – William E. Clark – had largely fabricated his background, experience and security credentials presenting himself as an expert on armed deterrence. Clark has since resigned his position.

“Mercenary” reveals that officials at the Palisades nuclear power plant failed to detect false assertions in Clark’s resume that claimed he had high level security clearance from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Clark also passed a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)-regulated background check. He was hired by the plant’s previous owner, Consumers Energy Company, and operator, Nuclear Management Company, a year and a half ago, but was kept on by the new owner and operator, Entergy, since it acquired Palisades one month ago. The article can be found at

“What’s disturbing is not only that Palisades hired an individual who claimed to be an experienced assassin but that apparently no one verified his false claim to have DOD clearance,” said Kevin Kamps, nuclear waste specialist at NIRS. “This has serious implications for security at all 103 reactors across the country. It begs the question as to what would have happened if Mohamed Atta had decided to fake a resume rather than fly a plane, and earned a top-level security job at a nuclear power plant.”

The article describes how Clark convinced NRC officials, as well as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents, to support and even join his “Viper team,” a supposedly “elite strike force” he set up at Palisades. According to Esquire, FBI agents and NRC officials attended a “Viper team” presentation by Clark hosted at DHS headquarters in Washington, D.C. The federal officials reportedly considered establishing Clark’s “Viper teams” at nuclear power plants across the U.S., the article said.

“If what Esquire says about Clark is true, I surely hope Entergy and Consumers have formally notified the NRC, FBI, and DHS of the revelations by now,” said Terry Lodge, an attorney based in Toledo, OH who represents citizens in interventions against Palisades. “Apparently a journalist can do a much better background check than Entergy and Consumers security officials. Entergy has also had security problems at the Indian Point reactors near New York City. The NRC must reconsider whether Entergy can guarantee the safe operation of Palisades, and one hundred per cent protection of the high-level radioactive waste still stored at Big Rock Point in northern Michigan,” Lodge said.

“Despite the NRC claim that the 9/11 attacks prompted a “top to bottom” security review, it did not detect Clark’s deceptions or act upon his apparent erratic behavior as described in the article,” Kamps added.

“Palisades’ reactor and waste storage facilities hold potentially catastrophic amounts of radioactivity, at continual risk of release into the environment due to accident or attack,” said Kamps. “This incident clearly shows that private companies and government agencies who are supposed to protect public health, safety, security, and the environment are incompetent at doing so.”

NIRS has called on Congress to investigate the failures at NRC, FBI, DHS and the nuclear utilities involved at Palisades and to explore whether similar problems exist with security at other nuclear power plants across the country. It will also re-apply to NRC for hearings on its security-related contentions at Palisades and Big Rock, which had previously been rejected, based on the new information revealed by Esquire.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

U.S. Navy Announces It Will Now Fire Openly Gay Sailor Re-Called to Active Duty

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Navy has informed Petty Officer Second Class Jason Knight that it intends to fire him under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law just weeks prior to completing his one-year commitment. Knight, an openly gay sailor, was recalled to active duty in June 2006 and recently completed a tour of duty in Kuwait, where he was open about his sexual orientation with his command and fellow sailors. Knight told his story last weekend in the newspaper Stars & Stripes.

"Our nation should be embarrassed that our armed forces are forced to respond to Knight’s selfless service with a government-sanctioned pink slip."

“Jason Knight was an exemplary sailor who gladly returned to active duty when our country needed him,” said Sharra E. Greer, director of law and policy for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). “Now, despite his dedication and service, and the praise of those he served alongside, the Navy has decided to fire him because he dared to tell his story and put a public face to the courage of lesbian and gay service personnel. Our nation should be embarrassed that our armed forces are forced to respond to Knight’s selfless service with a government-sanctioned pink slip. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ silences lesbians and gays and attempts to make them invisible. Because Knight refused invisibility, he will now be fired.”

Knight, a trained Hebrew linguist, was re-called to active duty and served with Naval Customs Battalion Romeo in Kuwait. He told Stars & Stripes that, having ‘come out’ to his command during his previous enlistment, he saw no reason to hide his sexual orientation. Many of his colleagues spoke to the newspaper in support of him. “The Navy tends to keep people who don’t want to be here, but Jason does,” Petty Officer 1st Class Tisha Hanson told the paper. “(I)t doesn’t bother me.”

“I have now spent five years in the Navy, and I have loved every minute of it,” Knight said today. “It is unfortunate that in our country, which prides itself on being a beacon of liberty to the world, discrimination is still alive and well, even in our own government. I am proud to be among the one million gay veterans who have answered the call to duty, and I look forward to working alongside them to topple this un-American and counter-productive law.”

For more information on Knight’s case, visit

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Romney Defends Opposition to Gay Marriage by Citing Scripture

BOSTON (AP) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (pictured left) is defending his opposition to gay marriage by citing the Scriptures.

The former Massachusetts governor, who in his 1994 Senate bid pledged to be a more effective champion for gay causes than his Democratic rival, discussed gay marriage in an interview set to air Sunday on CBS' ``60 Minutes.''

``This isn't just some temporary convenience here on Earth, but we're people that are designed to live together as male and female and we're gonna have families,'' he tells interviewer Mike Wallace, according to an excerpt CBS released Friday. ``And that, there's a great line in the Bible that children are an inheritance of the Lord and happy is he who has or hath his quiver full of them.''

Romney, seeking to become the first Mormon president, also tries to allay any concerns about his religion.

``What's at the heart of my faith is a belief that there's a creator, that we're all children of the same God, and that fundamentally the relationship you have with your spouse is important and eternal,'' Romney said over the course of two interviews, one of which was taped at his vacation home in Wolfeboro, N.H.

Meanwhile, Romney also is on the cover of the latest edition of Time magazine.

In its main story, Time writes, ``The closest he has ever come to a personal religious crisis, he recalls, was when he was in college and considering whether to go off on a mission, as his grandfather, father and brother had done. ... He says he also felt guilty about the draft deferment he would get for it, when other young men his age were heading for Vietnam.''

The complete story may be found here:,,-6626885,00.html

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

California's Secret death chamber is subject of hearing

The San Mateo County Times reported today that:

SACRAMENTO — A contrite James Tilton, head of the California prison system, apologized to lawmakers Tuesday for them being kept in the dark about the construction of a new death chamber at San Quentin Prison.

Tilton, who said his own staff also failed to inform him, pledged to improve the management structure within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and implement better checks and balances on construction projects.

"I apologize for this project," Tilton told the Senate Public Safety Committee. "This was one of those issues that should have been communicated to the Legislature."

The informational hearing was ordered by committee chairwoman Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, nearly a month after she and other legislators learned that prison officials had "secretly" ordered construction at a cost just below the threshold that would require notifying lawmakers.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the project halted April 20, shortly after he learned of the construction.

But one of Tilton's deputies, Bud Prunty, said that Schwarzenegger aides were briefed on the project early on, leading Romero to conclude "that this goes much higher up." She said the committee will later "discuss at what point it's appropriate to go that far."

The Schwarzenegger administration and prison officials have said the new chamber was being built in response to a December ruling by San Jose-based U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, who deemed the existing chamber unconstitutional because it was small, poorly lighted and inadequate for use in lethal injections.

Fogel ordered executions be halted. But as several officials and a law professor acknowledged at the hearing, the court ruling never ordered that a new chamber be built.

"There was a misrepresentation," Romero said, "and that's a polite word I'm using, of the judge's order."

Tilton was aware that a new chamber was in San Quentin's future plans, but said he didn't know construction had begun until after it had become public. "There were miscommunications about this project within the department," he said.

Sen. Mike Machado, D-Stockton, expressed doubts about how the prison system's administration, with its damaged credibility, will manage the $7.4 billion prison reform package Schwarzenegger signed into law last week.

"I think it's somewhat inexcusable," Machado said, "for individuals to be taking discretionary action that tends to flaunt the oversight of the Legislature, the transparency to the Legislature."

The complete story may be found here:

Bill Introduced in U. S. Congress to Give Same-Sex Binational Couples Same Rights as Heterosexuals

SAN FRANCISCO, CA —May 9, 2007— In a major step to end immigration discrimination against gay and lesbian couples and their families, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) on Tuesday. This legislation would allow Americans in same-sex binational relationships to sponsor their “permanent partners” for legal residency in the United States, a right currently afforded only to opposite-sex couples under immigration law.

“It is about time the US joined nearly 20 other countries in providing protection for the most basic human rights for its citizens—the ability to live in your own country, with the person you love,” said Michael Lim, Vice President of Out4Immigration (, a grassroots organization that advocates for an end to discrimination in US immigration policy. “Gays and lesbians should have the same immigration rights afforded heterosexuals.” Lim, an American citizen and veteran, has first-hand experience with immigration discrimination. For 12 years, he has been in a same-sex binational relationship with his partner, who is from an Asian country. The couple was forced to live separately for part of their relationship, each in their respective country, because the US does not recognize them as “spouses”. This made them ineligible to apply for a green card under family unification provisions.

“Congressman Nadler and Senator Leahy recognize that the promotion of family unity has long been part of federal immigration policy,” said Lim, who emphasizes that regardless of state laws providing gays and lesbians with civil union and domestic partnership protections, or marriage, as is the case in Massachusetts, immigration is a federal issue. “A lesbian or gay American in love with a person from another country has no rights to protect that relationship federally. At the federal level, you are what are known as ‘legal strangers’. The US government simply does not recognize you as a couple.” In a statement issued on Tuesday, Senator Leahy echoed this sentiment when he said, “Our immigration laws treat gays and lesbians in committed relationships as second-class citizens.”

Congressman Nadler added that the UAFA “is a matter of basic fairness and compassion. We simply ask that gay and lesbian Americans in loving, committed relationships receive the same treatment as everyone else.” The UAFA calls for adding the words “or permanent partner” to current US immigration law wherever the word “spouse” appears. This small but significant change could help an estimated 36,000 same-sex binational couples end an often tenuous existence in the US and begin to live their lives here freely, equally and legally. “I know many couples who have been forced to leave the US—or live apart like my partner and I once did,” said Lim. “The UAFA would not only help American citizens and their partners who are already living in the US, it would also help bring many of them home.”

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

More CEOs Call for Cap on Carbon Emissions-General Motors Among Companies Urging Aggressive Emissions Cuts

WASHINGTON - May 8 - Environmental Defense today welcomed more than a dozen major companies from across the economy to the U.S. Climate Action Partnership and its call for Congress to put a firm cap on carbon emissions.

In a historic move that transforms the political landscape, General Motors has become the first automobile manufacturer to join the coalition, potentially breaking the long stalemate over rising emissions from the transportation sector.

Along with GM, market leaders including AIG, Alcan, Dow, Deere & Company, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo and Shell have joined with environmental groups to double the size of USCAP, creating an unprecedented alliance for the creation of a firm cap to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"With this lineup of companies and environmental groups endorsing it, a carbon cap is clearly the consensus solution to climate change,” said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense. “With cap and trade, we’ve found the center. Environmental groups and businesses can embrace it because it guarantees results for the climate while freeing companies to hunt for innovative, least-cost ways to lower emissions,” Krupp said.

Launched in January, USCAP is asking this Congress to adopt a mandatory, comprehensive greenhouse gas cap and trade system that reduces emissions by 60 to 80 percent from current levels by 2050. “The addition of these new companies adds horsepower to the push for Congress to act quickly on a real solution to climate change. There will likely be energy policy votes in the coming months, but until Congress adopts a comprehensive cap on carbon pollution – as USCAP recommends – it hasn’t led on global warming,” added Krupp.

Pioneered by Environmental Defense as a way to efficiently reduce emissions from power plants, cap and trade puts an enforceable limit on emissions and allows companies to buy and sell emissions credits to meet their obligations. The approach will provide an economic incentive for companies to reduce global warming pollution and unleash a wave of private-sector investment in low-carbon technologies.

Cars and light trucks are a significant contributor to U.S. carbon emissions, and GM’s support of the USCAP reduction targets and timelines is a strong signal to Congress to act quickly on a comprehensive climate bill. With an office in the Detroit area, Environmental Defense has worked with the automobile industry to find innovative approaches to solving the climate problem.

"We look forward to continuing to work with General Motors and other USCAP members to advance a national policy that engages all sectors, including transportation, in cost-effective solutions that harness technology and stimulate innovation," said John DeCicco, Environmental Defense's Michigan-based automotive policy specialist.

New member companies announced by USCAP today include Alcan, American International Group, Boston Scientific, ConocoPhillips, Deere & Company, Dow Chemical Co., General Motors Corp., Johnson & Johnson, Marsh Inc., PepsiCo, Shell, and Siemens. Also joining the group are the National Wildlife Federation and The Nature Conservancy.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Lack of Diversity on Cable News Continues

Media Matters Report Shows Lack of Gender and Ethnic Diversity Persists on Cable News Despite Imus Controversy

WASHINGTON - May 7 - Media Matters for America today released "Locked Out: The Lack of Gender & Ethnic Diversity on Cable News Continues," a special report documenting the continued lack of gender and racial/ethnic diversity on the major prime-time cable news programs. The weeks surrounding the controversy over Don Imus' bigoted comments regarding the Rutgers University women's basketball team sparked a national debate about the racial divide that persists in this country. Media Matters' new report finds that the prime-time cable news broadcasts have returned to the status quo that prevailed prior to the Imus controversy.

"This report documents the harsh reality that women and people of color know all too well. Their voices are seldom heard on the major cable news programs unless an issue of gender or race arises," said David Brock, President and CEO of Media Matters. "The public's airwaves should reflect a diversity of views and personalities that mirrors the great diversity of the American people. These voices add perspective, depth, and value to the quality of our public discourse, whatever the issue at hand. If we've learned anything from what has transpired in the past month, it is that the networks have the power to make this change. But despite promises made, and the dramatic public outcry in the wake of the Imus controversy, the door to our newsrooms still remains locked for too many Americans."

Media Matters examined the three major cable news networks -- CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC -- during viewing hours from 7 to 10.p.m., documenting the gender and racial/ethnic makeup of guests during the weeknights before the Imus controversy (Monday, April 2, through Friday, April 6), the weeknights of the Imus controversy (Monday, April 9, through Friday, April 13), and the weeknights following the Imus controversy (Monday, April 23, through Friday, April 27; omitting the week directly following the Imus controversy because it was consumed almost entirely by a single issue, the Virginia Tech shootings, and thus was atypical). The results show that women and people of color were severely underrepresented as guests on these cable networks in the weeks before and after the Imus controversy, although the study found a small increase in racial/ethnic diversity during the controversy.


Despite the attention paid to racial and gender issues by the media and the public in the wake of the Imus controversy, it appears little has been done to address the gross underrepresentation of women and people of color on the cable networks.

* During the week of the Imus controversy, the cable networks brought on a significant number of African-American guests. But both before and after the controversy, members of all minority groups, including African-Americans, were scarcely seen.

* On shows airing between 4 p.m. and midnight on cable news networks CNBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, MSNBC, and Fox News, there are 35 hosts and co-hosts: 29 are men and 6 are women -- and all 35 are white.

* In the three weeks covered by the study, less than 2 percent of the guests on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC were Latino, despite the fact that one out of every seven Americans is Latino. Almost half of that small number of guest appearances by Latinos were by Geraldo Rivera.

* Excluding African-Americans, in the three weeks covered by the study, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and members of other ethnic groups never made up more than 5 percent of the guests on any of the three cable networks, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.

* On none of the networks, in none of the weeks studied, did women comprise half of the guests appearing. In some cases, they represented as little as one-fifth of all guests.

Los Angeles Police Chief offers strongest apology yet

Bratton says officers' conduct at May Day rally was indefensible and that they won't return to street duties until they are retrained.

The Los Angeles Times reported today that:

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton on Sunday offered his strongest apology yet for the actions of an elite platoon of Metropolitan Division officers who swarmed a May Day immigration rally in MacArthur Park, and said that those officers are off the streets until he finds out what went wrong.

Saying he watched extensive videos of Tuesday's incident, which left several reporters and rally attendees injured by batons and rounds of foam bullets and sock-like projectiles, Bratton called the officers' conduct indefensible.

"I feel comfortable apologizing…. Things were done that shouldn't have been done," Bratton told a group of journalists who gathered at the KTLA-TV Channel 5 studios in Hollywood. "I'm not seeking to excuse it…. As one human being to another, there were things that shouldn't have been done."

Bratton said the 60 or so members of the Metropolitan Division's Platoon B have been "stood down" and won't return to active street duties until they have undergone retraining that meets his level of comfort.

"Some of them in all likelihood won't be returning to the Metropolitan Division as a result of our findings," he said.

Any disciplinary action won't come until the LAPD issues a May 30 report to the City Council. "Some of this will be career-impacting," Bratton added.

The chief made it clear that incident commanders would be just as accountable.

He said the officers in the Metro unit, an elite corps of men and women trained in various crises including crowd disturbances, had 15 to 25 years on the force and are among the most highly trained of the LAPD's 9,500 officers.

"This was my best, and that was what was extraordinarily disturbing about this," Bratton said.

The police union warned Sunday that remarks being made publicly by the city's leadership could have a paralyzing effect on officers' morale.

"We should be waiting until all the facts are in before anyone judges this issue. As a detective, I can't decide something based on one piece of evidence," said Bob Baker, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. "This is having a profound impact not only on Metro, but every police officer in this city. We are being damned before a trial or investigation."

The chief acknowledged at the meeting, organized by the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, that a 2002 agreement to protect journalists and the public — prompted by similar scenes at the 2000 Democratic National Convention — wasn't followed last week. (The agreement included a so-called safety zone for reporters covering news events.)

"Clearly, a number of my officers were in violation," Bratton said, noting many reporters and members of the public were unaware of an order to disperse as a skirmish line of officers swept from the southeast corner outward across the park.

The dispersal order was given in English from a helicopter that was not over the park where the predominately immigrant crowd was gathered.

The complete story may be found here:,1,5376332.story?coll=la-headlines-california&ctrack=3&cset=true

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Canadian Rendition and Torture Victim Maher Arar Chosen For Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People

Arar Asks US Government To Explain Why It Sent Him To Syria To Be Tortured

Time Magazine announced May 3rd, that Canadian rendition victim and Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) client Maher Arar has made this year's Time 100, a "list of 100 men and women whose power, talent, or moral example is transforming our world." Mr. Arar is the first victim of the Bush administration's practice of extraordinary rendition to come forward and contest his treatment in a U.S. court.

Time calls its list of 100 people "the most influential people on the planet." The tributes included in the magazine, due out next week, are written by other prominent figures; Maher's piece is by Senator Patrick Leahy, who writes, "The Bush administration refuses to acknowledge any responsibility, instead offering the tepid explanation that Syrian officials assured the U.S. that Arar would not be tortured. These are the same Syrian officials with whom our government now says it will not negotiate because they are not trustworthy. Maher Arar's case stands as a sad symbol of how we have been too willing to sacrifice our core principles to overarching government power in the name of security, when doing so only undermines the principles we stand for and makes us less safe."

"I am very honored to have been included on the Time 100 list," said Maher Arar. "I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the people and organizations that have supported me and my family throughout this struggle for justice."

Mr. Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained at J.F.K. Airport in September 2002 while he was changing planes on his way home to Canada. The Bush administration labeled him a member of Al Qaeda and sent him to Syrian intelligence authorities renowned for torture, rather than home to Canada. While imprisoned in Syria, Mr. Arar was interrogated under torture and held in a tiny underground grave-like cell for more than 10 months.

Mr. Arar asks, "Why did the U.S. government decide to send me to Syria knowing that I would be tortured? This crucial question has yet to be answered."

In January 2004, just three months after Mr. Arar returned home to Canada from his year-long nightmare, CCR filed a suit on his behalf against John Ashcroft and other U.S. officials.

"While Maher Arar is recognized as a world hero for courageously fighting for justice against the United States government 'leaders' who had him tortured, the so-called leaders have hidden behind secrecy and smeared Maher's name to protect themselves from accountability," said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney Maria LaHood. "In Canada, Maher's quest for justice brought about an exhaustive inquiry exposing the Canadian government's responsibility, which it has acknowledged and apologized for. Yet U.S. officials still claim that national security and foreign relations are at risk if Maher's lawsuit proceeds here."

A Canadian Commission of Inquiry conducted after Mr. Arar was released found that there was no evidence that Mr. Arar was implicated in terrorist activities. Canadian officials have also reviewed the U.S. government's secret dossier on Mr. Arar and say it contains no new information. In January 2007, the Canadian government issued an apology and a multi-million dollar settlement of his Canadian lawsuit.

Mr. Arar's U.S. case, Arar v. Ashcroft, continues to move forward. After it was dismissed in February 2006 on "national security" and "foreign policy" grounds, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed an appeal in the Second Circuit in December 2006. The parties' briefs have been submitted to the Court of Appeals, which has not yet scheduled oral argument. The firm of DLA Piper US LLP is co-counsel in Arar v. Ashcroft.

LaHood continued, "Justice demands that U.S. courts allow Maher's case to proceed to hold those people in our government who were complicit in his torture accountable, and to ensure that the absolute prohibition on torture is enforced, so that no one else will have to endure what he did."

The United States government prohibits Mr. Arar from coming to the United States, so he will not be able to attend Time's ceremony.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Conservatives and White House oppose hate crime bill

The AP reported today that:

WASHINGTON - The White House issued a veto threat Thursday against legislation that would expand federal hate crime law to include attacks motivated by the victims' gender or sexual orientation.

The hate crimes bill, with strong Democratic backing, is expected to pass the House Thursday. Similar legislation is moving through the Senate.

But the legislation, which also would increase the penalties for bias-based violence, has met outspoken resistance from conservative groups and their Republican allies in Congress, who warn that it undermines freedom of speech, religious expression and equal protection under the law.

The White House, in a statement, said state and local criminal laws already provide penalties for the crimes defined by the bill and "there has been no persuasive demonstration of any need to federalize such a potentially large range of violent crime enforcement."

It also questioned the constitutionality of federalizing the acts of violence barred by the bill and said that if it reaches the president's desk "his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill."

The White House also noted that the bill would leave out other classes such as the elderly, members of the military or police officers.

Hate crimes under current federal law apply to acts of violence against individuals on the basis of race, religion, color, or national original. Federal prosecutors have jurisdiction only if the victim is engaged in a specific federally protected activity such as enrolling in school, voting or traveling between states.

The House bill would extend the hate crimes category to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.

That would make it easier for federal authorities to become involved in hate crimes, although
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., said in a statement that state and local authorities will continue to prosecute the overwhelming majority of such cases.

"To ensure federal restraint, the bill requires the attorney general or another high-ranking Justice Department official to approve any prosecutions undertaken pursuant to this measure," he said. He also stressed that it does not impinge on public speech, religious expression or writing.

Those using guns to commit crimes defined under the bill would face prison terms of up to 10 years. Crimes involving kidnapping or sexual assault or resulting in death could bring life terms.

The complete story can be found here:

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Former Gov. James E. McGreevey to Enter Episcopal Seminary

The AP reported today that:

NEWARK, N.J. - The nation's first openly gay governor has become an Episcopalian and been accepted into a seminary, according to a published report.

Former Gov. James E. McGreevey, who was raised as a Roman Catholic, was officially received into the Episcopal religion on Sunday at St. Bartholomew's Church in New York, said the Rev. Kevin Bean, vicar at the church.

McGreevey has entered the church's "discernment" phase, which usually precedes seminary work, Bean told The Star-Ledger of Newark in a report posted Wednesday on its Web site.

It's unclear whether McGreevey hopes to become a priest. He did not return several messages left Wednesday by The Associated Press.

McGreevey, 49, shocked the nation in August 2004 by proclaiming himself "a gay American" who had an extramarital affair with a male aide, and said he would resign that November. The aide denies having an affair and claims he was sexually harassed by the former governor.

McGreevey has been accepted to study at the General Theological Seminary in New York, the oldest in the Episcopal Church, school spokesman Bruce Parker said Wednesday. Parker did not know whether the former governor wants to become a priest.

"Mr. McGreevey has been admitted to the master of divinity program and he will be starting in the fall," Parker said. "Where Mr. McGreevey goes with this is up to him. We have a lot of people studying here who are not interested in ordination at all."

Growing up in Middlesex County, McGreevey was an altar boy and attended Catholic schools. While in office, he continued to practice the religion, but differed from church teachings in several areas, including his support of abortion rights.

Religion has become an issue in his contentious divorce proceedings. His estranged wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, has demanded that their 5-year-old daughter not be allowed to receive communion in the Episcopal Church because she is being raised a Roman Catholic.

The complete story may be found here:

Net Radio Marches on Washington-Webcasters and Artists Urge Congress to Save Net Radio

WASHINGTON, May 1 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The SaveNetRadio coalition took its message to Washington today as more than 70 webcasters, artists, and labels met with nearly 100 members of the 110th Congress to ask for their support of the Internet Radio Equality Act. The Hill Walk is part of a two- day schedule in the nation's capital that began yesterday with a Congressional staff briefing and a Pandora live meet-up, followed by a jam session in Washington's popular U Street corridor featuring artists supporting Net Radio.

Today's meetings will focus squarely on urging Congress to support H.R. 2060, introduced on April 26th by Congressmen Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Donald Mazullo (R-IL) to save Internet radio webcasters from the devastating 300-1200 percent increase in royalty fees imposed by the March 2nd Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) decision. The bill has already garnered more than 25 cosponsors in its first business day since introduction.

"Millions of Internet radio listeners, webcasters and artists are fighting for the very future of the vibrant industry they depend on, and today they brought that fight to Congress," Jake Ward from SaveNetRadio said. "The threat looming over Internet radio is very real and will not discriminate. The royalty rate increase imposed by the Copyright Royalty Board will bankrupt small webcasters immediately and put larger webcasters out of business in the coming months. No one benefits from an increase in royalty rates that will bankrupt the industry. As Pandora's Joe Kennedy has said repeatedly, "dead webcasters pay no royalties."

SaveNetRadio also released the attached chart explaining how the royalty increases will affect small and large alike. The chart will be distributed to Congressional staff during today's meetings.

The first payment required by the Copyright Royalty Board decision is due May 15th. That payment alone will bankrupt a large majority of webcasters on May 15th. Since the March 2nd decision, more than 400,000 supporting webcasters, artists, labels and listeners have already weighed in with Congress.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Whistle Blower Advocates Rally In Washington To Oppose Presidential Veto Threat

WASHINTON - April 30 - Over 50 public interest groups, and whistleblowers from across the United States, are planning the first-ever “Whistleblower Week in Washington (WWW),” scheduled for May 13-19, 2007 in Washington DC. Scheduled events will include press conferences on major whistleblower issues, seminars and panels attended by leading whistleblowers and Congressional-related events. Most events will be open to the press.

Among the groups participating in WWW are the National Whistleblower Center, the No FEAR Institute (NFI), the Government Accountability Project (GAP), Doctors for Open Government, Semmelweis Society International, the National Security Whistleblower Coalition, the Veterans Affairs Whistleblower Coalition, the Liberty Coalition, "Project On Government Oversight (POGO)", and the Make it Safe Coalition have committed to the event.

Whistleblower Week was sparked by passage of The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007 in the U.S. House of Representatives and the issuance of a veto threat by President George Bush.

“There is overwhelming grass roots support for strong whistleblower protections. Not even President Bush’s veto threat will slow down the momentum for this law. Once it is passed, we are certain he will sign it into law. The House has already passed the law with a veto-proof majority. Whistleblower Week in Washington is a first step in ensuring that the Senate follows through and enacts the law with overwhelming bi-partisan support.” said Stephen M. Kohn, the President of the National Whistleblower Center.