Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Line in the Sand for Same-Sex Marriage Foes

While the battle over same-sex marriage has been all but invisible in the presidential race this year, it is raging like a wind-whipped wildfire in California.

Conservative religious leaders from across the country are pouring time, talent and millions of dollars into the state in support of Proposition 8, which would ban same-sex marriage. They are hoping to reverse a California Supreme Court ruling in May that gave same-sex couples permission to marry, resulting in thousands of exultant same-sex weddings.

Similar marriage amendments are on the ballot next month in Arizona and Florida. But religious conservatives have cast the campaign in California as the decisive last stand, warning in stunningly apocalyptic terms of dire consequences to the entire nation if Proposition 8 does not pass.

California, they say, sets cultural trends for the rest of the country and even the world. If same-sex marriage is allowed to become entrenched there, they warn, there will be no going back.

“This vote on whether we stop the gay-marriage juggernaut in California is Armageddon,” said Charles W. Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries and an eminent evangelical voice, speaking to pastors in a video promoting Proposition 8. “We lose this, we are going to lose in a lot of other ways, including freedom of religion.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobby based in Washington, said in an interview, “It’s more important than the presidential election.”

“We’ve picked bad presidents before, and we’ve survived as a nation,” said Mr. Perkins, who has made two trips to California in the last six weeks. “But we will not survive if we lose the institution of marriage.”

In television advertisements, rallies, highway billboards, sermons and phone banks, supporters of Proposition 8 are warning that if it does not pass, churches that refuse to marry same-sex couples will be sued and lose their tax-exempt status. Ministers will be jailed if they preach against homosexuality. Parents will have no right to prevent their children from being taught in school about same-sex marriage.

The “No on 8” forces, which include many liberal religious leaders, dismiss these claims as scare tactics and without basis in legal precedent.

“The idea that we would be forced as clergy to perform a marriage that was against our conscience, or that a church would lose its tax-exempt status, is ridiculous,” said the Rev. Karen Sapio, the minister of Claremont Presbyterian Church in Southern California. “If you look dispassionately at the record, there are a lot of churches with policies that are at odds with civil law.”

She continued, “I have not heard of a single Catholic church forced to marry someone who has been divorced, or a rabbi forced to perform an interfaith marriage or an evangelical church forced to marry a couple who has been living together.”

Nevertheless, the “Yes on 8” campaign has brought over from Sweden a pastor named Ake Green, who a few years ago was sentenced to a month in prison under Sweden’s law banning hate speech, because he gave a sermon denouncing homosexuality. His conviction and sentence were later overturned. Mr. Green’s testimony was featured in a 90-minute “Yes on 8” satellite simulcast that was recently downlinked to 170 churches throughout the state.

“He is a symbol of what is ahead,” said the Rev. Jim Garlow, the senior pastor of Skyline Church in the San Diego area, a leading organizer of the “Yes” ranks.

“When you have laws that make homosexual marriage a protected class, then the government has a compelling interest to normalize that and must declare anything in opposition to that hate speech,” said Mr. Garlow, who hosted both the recent simulcast and regular conference calls with as many as 2,000 pastors, to motivate the ranks.

Leaders on both sides say they sense that the election will be close and that Proposition 8 could well pass. On one thing they agree: Polls in every other state that has had a marriage amendment on the ballot have consistently undercounted voters who oppose same-sex marriage by significant percentages.

The most recent poll on Proposition 8 showed 52 percent against it, 44 percent for it and 4 percent unsure. The poll, of more than 1,000 likely voters, was conducted Oct. 12 to 19 by the Public Policy Institute of California and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

In Florida, a Mason-Dixon poll taken in early October showed 55 percent supporting the marriage amendment and 34 percent against. However, this measure requires 60 percent to pass.

The text of Proposition 8 in California says, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California.”

The campaign to pass it is being organized primarily through churches and other houses of worship. It is a contrast to the opposition, built on a wider array of power blocs, including gay and civil rights groups, unions, businesses and corporations, ethnic lobbies and Hollywood — as well as religious groups.

When it comes to fund-raising, however, the ranks of those who oppose same-sex marriage were surpassing the supporters’ side — at least until gay-rights groups sounded the alarm this month. Each side had raised more than $25 million by mid-October, but new figures due out on Monday are likely to show big jumps in the final stretch.

National religious organizations including the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal group; Focus on the Family, a ministry based in Colorado Springs that is led by James C. Dobson; and the American Family Association, based in Mississippi and led by the Rev. Donald E. Wildmon, have been major contributors to the “Yes on 8” campaign.

And in June, the top three leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent a letter strongly urging members to donate time and money, and Mormons have responded with many millions.

Preachers from other parts of the country have dropped everything and moved to California in recent months. Lou Engle, who leads TheCall, a charismatic prayer ministry in Washington and Kansas City, Mo., with a large following among youth, moved with his seven children to California in September. He is holding large prayer rallies up and down the state, urging people to pray and fast for the 40 days leading up to the election. Some people are giving up solid foods; others are giving up clothes shopping or their favorite television shows.

“We believe there is a spiritual battle in an unseen realm, and that’s why I’ve called for united prayer for divine intervention,” Mr. Engle said. “It’s a defining moment for the definition of marriage in American history.”

Mr. Perkins of the Family Research Council said the Proposition 8 forces had not benefited from the Republican presidential campaign of Senator John McCain of Arizona or even by his selection of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, an outspoken Christian conservative, as his vice-presidential running mate.

“He’s not helping, and he’s not being helped by the support for the marriage amendment,” Mr. Perkins said, in contrast to the campaigns of President Bush.

The fight for Proposition 8 was initiated in San Diego by evangelical Christian megachurch ministers like Mr. Garlow. But they have brought together an impressive statewide coalition that will not disappear with this election: Hispanic, Asian and black evangelicals; Roman Catholics; Mormons; conservatives within mainline Protestant churches; and a smattering of Orthodox Jews.

The Rev. David Chi, a pastor in San Gabriel, helped to mobilize about 2,000 Chinese Christians on Oct. 19 to turn out for rallies in the Los Angeles area, wearing red T-shirts that said in Chinese, “Marriage = One man + One woman.”

“If same-sex marriage stays, it will affect our children, our descendants,” Mr. Chi said. “Chinese normally we don’t speak too much. But it’s such a moment that it’s so important to give our voice out.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Onetime McCain Insider Is Now Offering Advice (Unwanted) From the Outside

When former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell endorsed Senator Barack Obama on Sunday, most Republicans stepped in line behind Senator John McCain, declaring that the endorsement would have little bearing on the course of the presidential contest.

With one notable exception.

“A real sledgehammer blow to an already staggering campaign,” declared Mike Murphy in a verdict that ricocheted across liberal blogs and helped torpedo any effort Mr. McCain made to minimize the event.

Mr. Murphy is not just another Republican consultant. He was the chief strategist for Mr. McCain when he ran for president in 2000, a longtime friend and an adviser who offered consultations as recently as last summer. He also has a tempestuous relationship with the current leaders of Mr. McCain’s campaign, who have revolted at even the hint that he might join them.

Now, with the contest in its final two weeks, Mr. Murphy has emerged as among the chief critics of the McCain campaign, offering advice and brickbats, one more obstacle for an already troubled campaign and a public manifestation of turmoil that has long marked the McCain world. At a moment when other former McCain advisers have been relatively silent, including John Weaver, Mr. Murphy has been extravagant in his criticisms and what Mr. McCain’s advisers describe as his second-guessing.

Indeed, Mr. Murphy on Wednesday seized on the disclosure that the Republican National Committee had paid about $150,000 for clothes and accessories for Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, and her family.

“This caper is gonna make for a long day at the office for the good folks at the RNC/McCain press operation,” he wrote on Swampland, the Time magazine blog, where he is a regular contributor, before offering some humorous advice on how they could fight back. (“William Ayers is a terrorist!” was pushback No. 4).

Mr. McCain has told associates that he has viewed Mr. Murphy’s criticisms of his campaign — its advertisements, his selection of Ms. Palin and Mr. McCain’s aggressive manner — as an act of betrayal, the actions of a former friend seeking attention and a network platform. Mr. McCain was described as particularly incensed that one of Mr. Murphy’s platforms was MSNBC, which Mr. McCain’s campaign has repeatedly treated as an enemy.

Mr. McCain has cut off all communications with Mr. Murphy, associates said. And McCain aides, including Steve Schmidt, a chief strategist who worked with Mr. Murphy on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign for governor of California, have stopped talking to him as well, ignoring telephone calls or e-mail messages, according to Republicans close to the campaign.

Mr. Murphy, in a brief e-mail comment, said that he was saying only what he believed, and that he still admired Mr. McCain.

“John McCain is a hero to me, but my job as a media analyst is to call it as I see it where campaign strategy is concerned,” Mr. Murphy wrote. “There’s no disloyalty in honesty.”

Still, at a time when Mr. McCain’s campaign advisers are already under an intense round of second-guessing, there is no shortage of Murphy associates who suggest that his criticisms, and those of other critics, have been vindicated.

“I’ve been one myself,” said Mr. Weaver, who speaks to Mr. Murphy from time to time. “In some cases, speaking for myself, it’s a way of trying to communicate over there what you believe they should be doing.”

Mr. Murphy has a long history of having battled with some of the top people in Mr. McCain’s world, notably Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager. Mr. McCain’s advisers said they pay little attention to Mr. Murphy. “Only Mike knows why he does what he does,” said Mark Salter, a senior adviser to Mr. McCain. Asked if he thought Mr. Murphy’s comments had an impact, Mr. Salter responded, “Not really.”

Whether he is right or not, Mr. Murphy has offered an informed criticism of how Mr. McCain has run his campaign, with an intriguing alternate-universe view of how things might have gone had they followed his advice. But Mr. McCain’s associates said Mr. Murphy’s running commentary was demoralizing and a distraction for Mr. McCain.

Mr. Murphy has a reputation in Republican circles for self-promotion; in 2000, he provided to The Washington Post unusual behind-the-scenes access that detailed — and some rivals suggested enhanced — his role as a chief strategist in the campaign.

Still, Mr. Murphy’s associates said he was saying on television what he would say were he in Mr. McCain’s campaign.

“When he does disagree with the campaign, it’s rooted in him wanting the best for the senator,” said Todd Harris, who worked with Mr. Murphy for Mr. McCain in 2000. “Obviously the guys on the campaign want the best for the senator as well, and there’s just a difference of opinion.”

And Mr. Murphy has told friends that he does not believe what he is doing has hurt Mr. McCain. “No one loves John McCain more than Mike Murphy,” said Alex Castellanos, a media consultant who is close to Mr. Murphy and advises Mr. McCain. “I don’t think he has any selfish interest at all.”

Still, other former members of the McCain world have taken a different approach. Mark McKinnon, who stepped as aside as senior adviser because, he told associates, he did not want to be part of a campaign tearing down Mr. Obama, has kept whatever criticism he has to himself. Mr. McKinnon declined a request for comment.

Mr. Murphy, on the other hand, shows no sign of slowing down. On Wednesday night, he posted an item on his blog that began: “In the category of more unsolicited advice they didn’t ask for, are tired of getting, and will certainly ignore. ...”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Austria Confronts a Leader’s Gay Sexuality

Published: October 23, 2008

PRAGUE — There were rumors for years, but they were widely ignored in Austria, a conservative nation not much interested in prying into the private lives of its leaders. Now, grieving over the death of Jörg Haider, the charismatic far-right politician, the country has been forced to confront directly the question of his sexuality after his political successor asserted that Mr. Haider had been “the man of my life.”

“We had a special relationship that went far beyond friendship,” the successor, Stefan Petzner, a former fashion and cosmetics reporter, said Sunday in a highly emotional interview on Austrian Radio 3. “Jörg and I were connected by something truly special. He was the man of my life.”

Mr. Petzner, 27, took over the Alliance for the Future of Austria after Mr. Haider, 58, died in a car crash on Oct. 11. He had been drinking at what has been reported as a gay club before flipping his car at nearly twice the legal speed limit.

Officials at Mr. Haider’s party, which gained more than 10 percent of the votes in September elections, tried to limit the political fallout from the statement by dismissing Mr. Petzner as head of their parliamentary group and denying that the men were lovers. However, their requests that the radio interview not be rebroadcast were rebuffed by Austrian journalists.

Mr. Haider, the governor of the province of Carinthia, was the son of a shoemaker whose parents were both active Nazis. He rose to national prominence in Austria over the last two decades, championing traditional family values, railing against the European Union and calling for an end to immigration. Married with two children, he had cultivated a macho, man-of-the-people persona.

While the country has been convulsed by a somewhat un-Austrian outpouring of emotions, Austrian commentators said the effective outing of Mr. Haider had been underplayed or largely ignored in the Austrian news media, which tend to shy away from the private lives of politicians and other national figures.

Vienna has an active gay community, but homosexuality remains a taboo in some more conservative parts of society, and Mr. Haider’s supporters are intent on preserving his legacy as a traditional family man.

Just Thursday, the Web site of one prominent Austrian daily, Kurier, gave big play to a story about the doubts of Mr. Haider’s widow, Claudia, on the circumstances of his sudden death. She was pictured behind his coffin with their two grieving daughters.

Reinhold Gaertner, a political science professor at Innsbruck University, said the reaction had been muted because a cult of Mr. Haider had grown since his death and his legions of supporters were intent on mythologizing him.

“It has been an open secret for years that Haider was gay, and most Austrians would have preferred for it to remain a secret,” he said. “People are trying to turn Haider into a saint, and are quickly forgetting that he was a right-wing xenophobe.”

While other European Union countries like Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium have legalized gay marriage, and politicians in neighboring Germany have willingly outed themselves, Mr. Gaertner said same-sex partnerships remained underground in Austrian political life. There was little debate in Austria on same-sex partnerships, he added, because advocating equal rights for gays was not a vote winner.

Christian Hogl, a spokesman for Hosi, Austria’s oldest gay rights group, said the allegations about Mr. Haider would have little effect on public attitudes toward homosexuality because most Austrians would choose to ignore them.

“I am surprised that it has not been greeted as a bigger deal, but that is because people are still in denial,” he said.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Party of Yesterday

Published: October 26, 2008

Two years ago, a list of the nation’s brainiest cities was put together from Census Bureau reports — that is, cities with the highest percentage of college graduates, which is not the same as smart, of course.

These are vibrant, prosperous places where a knowledge economy and cool things to do after hours attract people from all over the country. Among the top 10, only two of those metro areas — Raleigh, N.C., and Lexington, Ky. — voted Republican in the 2004 presidential election.

This year, all 10 are likely to go Democratic. What’s more, with Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia now trending blue, Republicans stand to lose the nation’s 10 best-educated states as well.

It would be easy to say these places are not the real America, in the peculiar us-and-them parlance of Sarah Palin. It’s easy to say because Republicans have been insinuating for years now that some of the brightest, most productive communities in the United States are fake American — a tactic that dates to Newt Gingrich’s reign in the capitol.

Brainy cities have low divorce rates, low crime, high job creation, ethnic diversity and creative capitalism. They’re places like Pittsburgh, with its top-notch universities; Albuquerque, with its surging Latino middle class; and Denver, with its outdoor-loving young people. They grow good people in the smart cities.

But in the politically suicidal greenhouse that Republicans have constructed for themselves, these cities are not welcome. They are disparaged as nests of latte-sipping weenies, alt-lifestyle types and “other” Americans, somehow inauthentic.

If that’s what Republicans want, they are doomed to be the party of yesterday.

Not only are we becoming more urban as a nation, but we’re headed for an ethnic muddle that could further shrink the party of small-mindedness. By 2023, more than half of all American children will be minority, the Census Bureau projects.

Ronald Reagan was lashed by liberals for running a “Morning in America” campaign, but he knew this country, at heart, was always tomorrow-looking — and he fared very well in educated cities as well as small towns. “Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone,” said Reagan, “I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears.” Barack Obama, who brings that music to the stage, leads by 30 points on the “hope and optimism” question in polls.

Spurning the Reagan lesson, John McCain made a fatal error in turning his campaign over to the audience of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. In so doing, he chose the unbearable lightness of being Sarah Palin, trotted out Paris Hilton and labeled Obama a socialist who associates with terrorists.

At a recent Palin rally, the crowd started chanting, “We want Fox!” McCain has given them just that. But how isolated and out-of-touch is this audience? At the end of each debate, a sure-fire way to decide who won was to look at the Fox viewers poll — typically showing a landslide for McCain. Within a day, scientific surveys found big wins for Obama.

Whether Americans are real or fake, they can see through Palin, a woman who couldn’t correctly answer a third grader a few days ago when asked to explain the duties of vice president. Somewhere, between the shuffling to costume and accessorize Palin with a $150,000 wardrobe, her handlers never handed her a copy of the Constitution.

Republicans blow off the smart cities with the counterargument that they win the exurbs — the frontier of new homes, young families and the fresh middle class. And it’s true, in 2004, George Bush won 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties in America.

That will not happen this year. Polls show McCain is losing 20 percent of self-described moderate Republicans. And new registration figures and other polls indicate that Obama will likely win such iconic exurban centers as Washoe County, Nev., Loudoun County, Va., and Wake County, N.C.

But in the kind of pattern that has held true since McCain went over to the stupid side, his brother recently referred to suburban northern Virginia as “communist country” and a top adviser, Nancy Pfotenhauer, said it was not “real Virginia.”

Here in Seattle, it’s become a one-party city, with a congressman for life and nodding-head liberals who seldom challenge a tax-loving city government. It would be nice, just to keep the philosophical debate sharp, if there were a few thoughtful Republicans around.

That won’t happen so long as Republicans continue to be the party of yesterday. They’ve written the cities off. Fake Americans don’t count, but this Election Day, for once, they will not feel left out.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Will The Green Movement be Killed By The Economy?

The 2 is back. Last week, U.S. retail gasoline prices fell below $3 a gallon — to an average of $2.91 — the lowest level in almost a year. Why does this news leave me with mixed feelings?

Because in the middle of this wrenching economic crisis, with unemployment rising and 401(k)’s shrinking, it would be a real source of relief for many Americans to get a break at the pump. Today’s declining gasoline prices act like a tax cut for consumers and can save $15 to $20 a tank-full for an S.U.V.-driving family, compared with when gasoline was $4.11 a gallon in July.

Yet, it is impossible for me to ignore the fact that when gasoline hit $4.11 a gallon we changed — a lot. Americans drove less, polluted less, exercised more, rode more public transportation and, most importantly, overwhelmed Detroit with demands for smaller, more fuel-efficient, hybrid and electric cars. The clean energy and efficiency industries saw record growth — one of our few remaining engines of real quality job creation.

But with little credit available today for new energy start-ups, and lower oil prices making it harder for existing renewables like wind and solar to scale, and a weak economy making it nearly impossible for Congress to pass a carbon tax or gasoline tax that would make clean energy more competitive, what will become of our budding clean-tech revolution?

This moment feels to me like a bad B-movie rerun of the 1980s. And I know how this movie ends — with our re-addiction to oil and OPEC, as well as corrosive uncertainty for our economy, trade balance, security and environment.

“Is the economic crisis going to be the end of green?” asks David Rothkopf, energy consultant and author of “Superclass.” “Or, could green be the way to end the economic crisis?”

It has to be the latter. We can’t afford a financial bailout that also isn’t a green buildup — a buildup of a new clean energy industry that strengthens America and helps the planet.

But how do we do that without any policy to affect the price signal for gasoline and carbon?

Here are some ideas: First, Washington could impose a national renewable energy standard that would require every utility in the country to produce 20 percent of its power from clean, non-CO2-emitting, energy sources — wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, biomass — by 2025. About half the states already have these in place, but they are all different. It would create a huge domestic pull for renewable energy if we had a uniform national mandate.

Second, Washington could impose a national requirement that every state move its utilities to a system of “decoupling-plus.” This is the technical term for changing the way utilities make money — shifting them from getting paid for how much electricity or gas they get you to consume to getting paid for how much electricity or gas they get you to save. Several states have already moved down this path.

Third, an idea offered by Andy Karsner, former assistant secretary of energy, would be to modify the tax code so that any company that invests in new domestic manufacturing capacity for clean energy technology — or procures any clean energy system or energy savings device that is made by an American manufacturer — can write down the entire cost of the investment via a tax credit and/or accelerated depreciation in the first year.

“I’m talking about anything from energy efficient windows to water heaters to industrial boilers to solar panels, and the job creating, manufacturing facilities that produce them — anything that makes us more efficient, lean and economically competitive and comes from a domestic, American source,” said Karsner.

He also suggests using some of the money from any stimulus package to directly incentivize and support states’ efforts to implement and intelligently modernize their building codes to get already well-established national “best practices” quickly into their marketplaces.

Lastly, we need the next president to be an energy efficiency trendsetter, starting by reinventing the inaugural parade. Get rid of the black stretch limos and double-plated armored Chevy Tahoes inching down Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead, let the next president announce that he will use no vehicles on inauguration day that get less than 30 miles per gallon. He could invite all car companies to participate in the historic drive with their best available American-made, fuel-efficient, innovative vehicle.

Finally, if Congress passes another stimulus package, it can’t just be another round of $600 checks to go buy flat-screen TVs made in China. It has to also include bridges to somewhere — targeted investments in scientific research, mass transit, domestic clean-tech manufacturing and energy efficiency that will make us a more productive and innovative society, one with more skills, more competitiveness, more productivity and better infrastructure to lead the next great industrial revolution: E.T. — energy technology.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obama Takes Time for a Woman Dear to Him

In his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, Senator Barack Obama spoke of how his grandmother started as a secretary without a college degree and worked her way up to be a vice president of a bank.

“She’s the one who taught me about hard work,” Mr. Obama said in that speech in Denver. “She’s the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she’s watching tonight and that tonight is her night as well.”

Mr. Obama’s maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, has been a powerful figure throughout his life, one he has frequently invoked in his speeches, in his television advertisements and in his memoir. But now 85, she has a broken hip and other ailments, and her medical condition has been described by his campaign as “very serious.” He is therefore canceling his campaign appearances for two days to fly to her bedside on Thursday, with less than two weeks to go in his quest for the presidency.

The timing is something Mr. Obama could not have foreseen when writing in his memoir about the grandmother he calls Toot, a tough-as-nails woman who loved playing bridge, reading Agatha Christie mysteries and coming home from work to slip into a muumuu and have a smoke.

Ms. Dunham has rarely been interviewed, but Mr. Obama has woven her into the narrative of his campaign as the influential presence who was there even when his father, a black Kenyan, abandoned him, and his mother, a free-spirited anthropologist, lived thousands of miles away. She is the last survivor of the people who raised him.

In a television advertisement, Ms. Dunham was deployed as a reminder of Mr. Obama’s family roots in Kansas. In a voice-over, he said she “taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland.”

Mr. Obama talked about his grandmother in March when he defended the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. in one of the most wrenching speeches of his career. “I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother,” Mr. Obama said. “A woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”

And in his memoir “Dreams from My Father,” Mr. Obama recalled an incident from his childhood, when his grandmother refused to take the bus to work after being harassed by a panhandler at a bus stop.

“She’s been bothered by men before,” Mr. Obama’s grandfather told him at the time. “You know why she’s so scared this time? I’ll tell you why. Before you came in, she told me the fella was black. That’s the real reason why she’s bothered.”

Mr. Obama recalled that his grandfather’s words were “like a fist in my stomach.”

The trip on Thursday will be the second time since August that Mr. Obama has flown to Hawaii, where he grew up. While on a weeklong vacation there, Mr. Obama visited Ms. Dunham at her modest apartment building in Honolulu nearly every day, often with his wife, Michelle, and their two young daughters in tow.

During the trip, Mr. Obama told reporters that Ms. Dunham was “sharp as a tack,” but that her osteoporosis prevented her from traveling.

While in Hawaii, Mr. Obama also visited Punchbowl National Cemetery, where his grandfather Stanley Dunham, a World War II veteran, is buried. During the war, Ms. Dunham worked on a bomber assembly line in Kansas while her husband was overseas.

Ms. Dunham’s illness may remind some voters of Mr. Obama’s white, Midwestern family at a time when Republicans are trying to create doubts about his identity. Some supporters worry, however, that the visit to Hawaii will cost him precious time on the campaign trail.

But Mr. Obama may be troubled by the painful memory of his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who died of ovarian cancer in 1995.

“The biggest mistake I made was not being at my mother’s bedside when she died,” he told The Chicago Sun-Times in 2004. “She was in Hawaii in a hospital, and we didn’t know how fast it was going to take, and I didn’t get there in time.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

RNC Spends Thousands on Clothes for Palin & Family

Is she a maverick, or a clotheshorse?

The Republican National Committee paid more than $150,000 for clothing, makeup and accessories in September that apparently went to Gov. Sarah Palin and her family, according to an article on

That included $9,447.71 to Macy’s, $789.72 to Barneys New York, $5,102.71 to Bloomingdales; $49,425.74 to Saks Fifth Avenue and $4,902.45 to Atelier.

In one heavyweight shopping trip in early September, $75,062.63 was spent at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, a host city of the Republican National Convention.

The expenditures were listed on the R.N.C.’s monthly financial disclosure forms.

Those forms also documented $4,716.49 on hair and makeup in September, expenses that were not incurred in August.

On the campaign trail, Ms. Palin is always impeccably turned out, sometime changing jackets, high heels and hairstyles twice or three times a day.

When asked for comment, Alex Conant, a spokesman for the R.N.C., said only: “The R.N.C. does not discuss expenses as it relates to strategy.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Chronicle endorses Barack Obama for president and Joe Biden for vice president of the United States

Rarely in our country's history has the electorate gone to the polls to choose a new president in such challenging times with more at stake for the nation.

The economy is tottering under the strains of a global financial crisis unleashed by the unregulated excesses of U.S. lending institutions. American soldiers continue to fight and die in two separate conflicts that remain open-ended.

At home affordable health care is unavailable to millions of citizens while measures to achieve energy independence and combat global warming sit on the legislative back burner. Fear pervades so many households under the threat of unemployment and mortgage foreclosures.

One must go back to the Great Depression, and the reshaping of American domestic policy to vanquish it, to find a comparable era when the demands for change were so urgent.

The incoming administration must immediately focus and engage on so many fronts. The tasks at hand will require stamina, creativity and leadership abilities to replace partisan gridlock with a national consensus on what is best for the American people. The new leadership team must have the intellect and temperament to tackle complex issues with equally sophisticated solutions. The current go-it-alone mentality in the White House on foreign policy must give way to an effort to work in concert with our allies while engaging our enemies at the negotiating table as well as on the battlefield.

After carefully observing the Democratic and Republican nominees in drawn-out primary struggles as well as in the general campaign, including three debates, the Chronicle strongly believes that the ticket of Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden offers the best choice to lead the United States on a new course into the second decade of the 21st century.

Obama appears to possess the tools to confront our myriad and daunting problems. He's thoughtful and analytical. He has met his opponents' attacks with calm and reasoned responses. Viewers of the debates saw a poised, well-prepared plausible president with well-articulated positions on the bread-and-butter issues that poll after poll indicate are the true concerns of voters. While Arizona Sen. John McCain and his running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have struck an increasingly personal and negative tone in their speeches, Obama has continued to talk about issues of substance.

It is true that Obama has served less than a term in the U.S. Senate and that his previous elective experience is confined to the Illinois Legislature. However, during that public service and his previous role as a community organizer on the streets of Chicago, he has developed an appreciation and understanding of the real-life concerns of middle- and low-income Americans.

On the Iraq war, Obama was an early voice of opposition to the initial invasion and his plan for a phased withdrawal of combat forces has been embraced by American and Iraqi policymakers. His partner on the ticket, Biden, is one of the leading foreign policy experts in Congress. They pledge to rebuild America's diminished standing in the world and restore our reputation as the leading defender of democracy and human rights.

Obama's health care plan mandates health insurance for all American children, an issue of vital importance to Harris County and Houston, which has the highest rate of uninsured youngsters in the nation. By contrast, the proposal by McCain to offer a tax credit to Americans to purchase insurance while taxing health benefits for the first time will further discourage small business owners from providing employee health insurance.

One weakness Obama has shown is a tendency to demonize the energy industry, which will be an indispensable ally in developing alternative fuel sources in the future. He would do well to rethink some of his positions and apply his consensus-building skills to an essential bulwark of the Texas economy. On another issue of vital importance to the Houston area, Obama supports the U.S. space program and has wisely backed off an earlier proposal to delay NASA's moon and Mars missions to save money.

McCain has an illustrious record of service to America, first as a pilot taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese, and then with a distinguished Senate career. To his credit, he has broken with his own party in the past to fight for campaign reform, oppose the sanctioning of torture and acknowledge the threat of human-induced global warming. However, in his bid for the presidency, he has aligned himself with a more conservative political base and disappointed moderates.

Perhaps the worst mistake McCain made in his campaign for the White House was the choice of the inexperienced and inflammatory Palin as his vice-presidential running mate. Had he selected a moderate, experienced Republican lawmaker such as Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison with a strong appeal to independents, the Chronicle's choice for an endorsement would have been far more difficult.

In comments to the Chronicle editorial board during his Texas primary fight against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama explained why he believed he would be the best choice for president.

"More than any other candidate, I could bridge some of the partisan, racial and religious divides in this country that prevent us from getting things done," said Obama. "I believe that I could attract independents and some disillusioned Republicans into a working majority to bring about change on critical issues."

Back in the spring, Obama's sentiments seemed more a hope than reality. Since then, we have watched him grow in the roles of candidate and leader, maintaining grace under fire without resorting to political expediency. He is by far the best choice to deliver the changes that Americans demand.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Homosexual Culture: Corpus Christi & The Laramie Project

FOR American gay culture this month marks a doubly somber anniversary.

Ten years ago, on Oct. 12, Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, died in a Colorado hospital almost a week after two men viciously beat him and left him tied to a fence near Laramie, Wyo. That same night Terrence McNally’s play “Corpus Christi,” about 13 gay men who perform the story of Jesus, had its final preview performance at Manhattan Theater Club; due to weeks of protests and bomb threats, ticket holders had to pass through metal detectors before taking their seats.

In retrospect the events seem linked. Beyond the coincidence of timing, both were seen as stark reminders of lingering homophobia, and like Mr. McNally’s play the events in Laramie eventually found life in the theater. Shortly after Mr. Shepard’s murder the Tectonic Theater Project created “The Laramie Project,” a documentary drama about the crime and its aftermath that has been produced almost 2,000 times.

Now a new epilogue for “The Laramie Project” and a new production of “Corpus Christi,” which opened last week at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, are extending the stories that began a decade ago, making Mr. Shepard’s murder and Mr. McNally’s script once again part of the nation’s conversation about gay America.

Moisés Kaufman, artistic director of Tectonic, said the issues in his play are just as relevant now as they were in 1998. “These last 10 years have not been the best 10 years for social change — not only for the gay and lesbian community, but also for any issue of social justice,” he said. “As an artist I feel like the question is: ‘What can theater do now in America? How can we play a role in the national dialogue?’ ”

In “The Laramie Project” most of the script is taken directly from Tectonic’s interviews with Laramie citizens, so an actor playing, say, an older gay man from Wyoming is speaking a real man’s actual words.

“Learning lines uttered by other people, and realizing those lines articulate something about yourself and your community, is a profound exercise,” Mr. Kaufman said. “It points out the similarity between Laramie and the rest of the country.”

Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s mother, said that “The Laramie Project” forces performers and audience members to discuss cultural conflict. She said the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which she co-founded, gets e-mail messages all the time, even from gay people, “saying the play opened their eyes to things — especially that people have a right to their opinions, even if you don’t agree with them.”

Recently the piece has also become a living history lesson. “High school students and young college students are especially affected by it,” Ms. Shepard said. “They didn’t realize what was happening in 1998, so for them it isn’t a rerun.”

But eventually the play’s events could seem so distant that they become irrelevant. That’s why Tectonic re-interviewed many of its original subjects last month. The transcripts will be shaped into an epilogue for all future productions.

“My hope is that the epilogue will continue to shed light on where we are,” Mr. Kaufman said. “What has changed? What has not changed? In that way it continues the dialogue.”

With “Corpus Christi,” which hasn’t played Manhattan since its controversial premiere, the challenge may be fostering the conversations that Mr. McNally originally intended. “I’m glad it’s coming back, because it was not seen fairly,” he said. “If you’re going to have a controversy about your work, it should at least accurately reflect what the work is about.”

The original outcry began in 1998 when The New York Post reported that the play would depict a gay Jesus having onstage sex with his apostles. That was not true — the show features gay, modern-day Texans gathering to celebrate and portray the story of Jesus (renamed Joshua), but there are no overtly sexual scenes.

At the time, however, the rumors turned the play into a tabloid sensation. Religious leaders led a news media campaign against the show, while Mr. McNally and several employees of Manhattan Theater Club received anonymous threats.

The theater initially canceled the production, though it was reinstated after much protest. “By that point the play was perceived as a freedom-of-speech play, which was not the issue I was addressing when I sat down to write it,” Mr. McNally said. “I was trying to invite gay men and women back to the table of spirituality. We’ve been made to feel we are sinners and that we have no business in the story.”

But if the play’s spiritual aspect was overshadowed during its premiere, it has been integral to the revival by the Los Angeles theater company, 108 Productions. For one thing, the company first performed “Corpus Christi” in a church.

This production (which features women in some roles) opened in 2006 at the Metropolitan Community Church in the Valley in West Hollywood. It then toured several California cities and as far away as Edinburgh and Dublin.

So far the trip to New York has stirred no controversy. “To know that it opened to such intense backlash — that it was automatically deemed blasphemous — is incredible to me,” said James Brandon, who has played Joshua since 2006. “In our experience we’ve been completely embraced.”

Mr. Brandon said that without the fog of outrage the play’s religious themes become clearer. “If you put a label on it, it is a ‘gay Jesus play,’ but in my eyes it’s much bigger than that,” he said. “It’s about recognizing that all people are the same. Gay men and women are just as divine as everyone else.”

Love your way... you are Brilliant!

Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your

Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a

Sensational Life"

available at

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:

Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Harvey Milk: 30 Years Later a Film is Made

LOS ANGELES — One morning in 1978 a disgruntled San Francisco politician, Dan White, climbed through a City Hall window, assassinated Mayor George Moscone, then shot and killed an openly gay adversary on the city’s Board of Supervisors named Harvey Milk.

It was a fractured moment in a troubled time and place. Memories of it soon will be roiling the Oscar race.

On Oct. 28 Focus Features expects to introduce its film “Milk,” directed by Gus Van Sant with Sean Penn in the title role, at a gala in San Francisco hosted by local luminaries, at least one of whom — Senator Dianne Feinstein, then the president of the board of supervisors — was just steps away when Mr. Milk and Mayor Moscone were shot. The movie will begin playing in some theaters on Nov. 26, just ahead of the 30th anniversary of the killings on Nov. 27, then gain wider release as the awards season gets under way.

Already the film is drawing attention as an early contender in the coming Oscar race. Following early screenings, for instance, Hollywood insiders and others have been startled by Mr. Penn’s picture-perfect rendering of Mr. Milk, a politician who was at once gawky, ambitious and unforgettable to those whose lives he touched. “Sean’s portrayal of Harvey is so beautifully right,” Cleve Jones, a Milk friend who is played in the film by Emile Hirsch, said in a phone interview.

Yet the movie presents no small challenge for Focus, the specialty division owned by NBC Universal that two years ago pushed its gay-theme “Brokeback Mountain” to the cusp of Oscar glory with eight nominations, only to see “Crash” win best picture.

This time around, studio marketers are wrestling with an inherently political film at a time when audiences have been wary of them. Only last weekend the combined star power of Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe was not enough to save an issues-oriented thriller, “Body of Lies,” which opened poorly for Warner Brothers.

Focus and Mr. Van Sant will have to connect millions of filmgoers with a world that could seem weirdly disconnected, even back then. Only nine days before the murders, for example, the Rev. Jim Jones, whose People’s Temple had become influential in San Francisco politics, had orchestrated the death of more than 900 followers and others at Jonestown in Guyana.

The publishing heiress Patricia Hearst, meanwhile, was tucked in a Bay Area prison, the consequence of her engaging in a bank robbery for the Symbionese Liberation Army, which had kidnapped her.

“You’re giving me an acid flashback to all the chatter before ‘Brokeback,’ ” said James Schamus, chief executive of Focus, responding to a question about the universal message in Mr. Milk’s struggles. Those could turn on matters as weighty as gay rights, or as slight as an ordinance requiring dog owners to clean up after their pets.

“Harvey said, ‘This is a quest for everybody’s rights,’ ” Mr. Schamus said. “That was his genius.”

If the ranch hands of “Brokeback” were subdued, nothing about Mr. Milk was. He loudly insisted that gay people should be out of the closet, at a time when public homosexuality was largely confined to San Francisco and a few like-minded enclaves.

Mr. Milk’s grandest political battle was his successful fight against a California initiative that would have banned gay teachers from the state’s public schools. His roughest was the backroom scrap in which he helped to block Mr. White’s reappointment to a supervisor’s post from which he had resigned two weeks earlier. Mayor Moscone was planning to discuss that decision publicly on the day of the murders.

(Upon Mr. Moscone’s death Ms. Feinstein, as president of the board of supervisors, became mayor, propelling her political rise. Mr. White would later use a “Twinkie defense,” in which his junk-food diet was cited as representative of his diminished capacity, to avoid conviction for first-degree murder; his conviction on the lesser counts of manslaughter sparked the so-called White Night riots in the city.)

According to the film’s producers and others, some of the political intricacies were whittled from Dustin Lance Black’s script. Though the People’s Temple had supported Mr. Milk, for instance, Mr. Jones was largely cut. “It would take so much time to explain to people who Jim Jones was,” said Dan Jinks, who with his business partner Bruce Cohen are among the movie’s producers.

What remained, according to Mr. Jinks, was the story of a “regular guy” — before politics, Mr. Milk was best known as co-owner of a camera store in the Castro district of San Francisco — who decided to make a difference.

The documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk,” directed by Rob Epstein, won the Oscar for best feature documentary in 1985. “Execution of Justice,” shown on the Showtime cable network in 1999, was a drama based on the murders.

Mr. Van Sant’s film came together suddenly last year after he and other filmmakers, Bryan Singer and Oliver Stone among them, had struggled for two decades with various attempts to find a feature film in Mr. Milk’s life.

Mr. Black, himself a director, bypassed those earlier efforts, many of them based on Randy Shilts’s book “The Mayor of Castro Street,” and began researching an original script with the help of those who knew Mr. Milk. In early 2007 one of those friends, Mr. Jones, showed the script to Mr. Van Sant, whom he had known for years.

Mr. Van Sant, speaking by telephone, said he signed on partly because Mr. Black had managed to confine the story to the brief and heady period that preceded Mr. Milk’s death. “He made choices,” Mr. Van Sant said.

Mr. Penn joined up, as did Mr. Jinks and Mr. Cohen. They next connected with Groundswell Productions and its chief executive, Michael London, who in turn joined Focus in financing a film that cost a relatively modest $20 million or so to make.

Yet “Milk” acquired a kind of epic quality as much of San Francisco became involved. “It took on almost Tolstoyan proportions,” Mr. Schamus said of the movie’s familial sprawl.

A number of Mr. Milk’s aging associates are not only portrayed in the film, they also have bit parts. Danny Nicoletta, who worked in Mr. Milk’s camera shop, for instance, is played by Lucas Grabeel of “High School Musical” and, in turn, plays Carl Carlson, an aide to Mr. Milk who was one of the last to see him alive. In addition Mr. Nicoletta advised Mr. Black on the script and worked as the film’s still photographer.

In one more twist this month’s premiere, a benefit for various gay and lesbian youth groups, will open with a screening at the Castro Theater, near the site of Mr. Milk’s old camera shop, and will end with dinner and dancing at City Hall, where he died.

The moral in all of it, Mr. Van Sant said, is ultimately political. “It’s an illustration of pretty extreme grass-roots politics,” he said of his film’s message, “that you can do it.”

But others are hoping that he has found the beating heart in Mr. Milk.

“He wasn’t Mother Teresa,” Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco supervisor who appears in the movie, said of Mr. Milk. “He just connected with people, one by one.”

Love your way... you are Brilliant!

Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your

Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a

Sensational Life"

available at

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:

Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)

Watch the Body Brilliance Movie

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Not Sure When Baseball became Important in the Presidential Elections....but Apparently it is Now

Palin Splits Her Baseball Loyalties

Gov. Sarah Palin has added a twist on the old baseball maxim of “root root root for the home team” – as in, “root, root, root for the home team, depending on where you are.”

As The Caucus noted, Ms. Palin visited Salem, N.H. Wednesday night and said she looked forward to watching Senator John McCain debate Senator Barack Obama “right here, in the heart of Red Sox Nation.” Ms. Palin said that “Red Sox fans know how to turn an underdog into a victor,” a timely applause line given that the Sox trail the Tampa Bay Rays three-games-to-one in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.

It seems, however, that Ms. Palin voiced a similar sentiment – actually, identical sentiment – last week at a rally in Florida.

“How about those Tampa Bay Rays?” Ms. Palin said after the Rays defeated the Chicago White Sox.

“You know what that tells me? It tells me that the people in this area know a little something about turning an underdog into a victor.”

The Democratic National Committee was quick to point out — and mock – Ms. Palin’s apparent sporting duplicity.

“Apparently this team of mavericks thinks straight talk means saying one thing to Rays fans and another to Red Sox fans,” said Damien LaVera, D.N.C. spokesman

The Red Sox or Rays will meet the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

Ms. Palin is scheduled to visit eastern Pennsylvania later this week.

Love your way... you are Brilliant!

Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your

Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a

Sensational Life"

available at

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:

Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)

Watch the Body Brilliance Movie

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Progress: Gay Marriage Is Ruled Legal in Connecticut

A sharply divided Connecticut Supreme Court struck down the state’s civil union law on Friday and ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Connecticut thus joins Massachusetts and California as the only states to have legalized gay marriages.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed and is to take effect on Oct. 28, held that a state law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, and a civil union law intended to provide all the rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples, violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law.

Striking at the heart of discriminatory traditions in America, the court — in language that often rose above the legal landscape into realms of social justice for a new century — recalled that laws in the not-so-distant past barred interracial marriages, excluded women from occupations and official duties, and relegated blacks to separate but supposedly equal public facilities.

“Like these once prevalent views, our conventional understanding of marriage must yield to a more contemporary appreciation of the rights entitled to constitutional protection,” Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote for the majority in a 4-to-3 decision that explored the nature of homosexual identity, the history of societal views toward homosexuality and the limits of gay political power compared with that of blacks and women.

“Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same-sex partner of their choice,” Justice Palmer declared. “To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others.”

The ruling was groundbreaking in various respects. In addition to establishing Connecticut as the third state to sanction same-sex marriage, it was the first state high court ruling to hold that civil union statutes specifically violated the equal protection clause of a state constitution. The Massachusetts high court held in 2004 that same-sex marriages were legal, while California’s court decision in May related to domestic partnerships and not the more broadly defined civil unions.

The Connecticut decision, which elicited strong dissenting opinions from three justices, also opened the door to marriage a bit wider for gay couples in New York, where state laws do not provide for same-sex marriages or civil unions, although Gov. David A. Paterson recently issued an executive order requiring government agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The opinion in Connecticut was hailed by jubilant gay couples and their advocates as a fulfillment of years of hopes and dreams. Hugs, kisses and cheers greeted eight same-sex couples as they entered the ballroom at the Hartford Hilton, where four years ago they had announced they would file a lawsuit seeking marriage licenses.

One of those couples, Joanne Mock, 53, and her partner, Elizabeth Kerrigan, 52, stood with their twin 6-year-old sons, choking back tears of joy and gratitude. Another plaintiff, Garret Stack, 59, introduced his partner, John Anderson, 63, and said: “For 28 years we have been engaged. We can now register at Home Depot and prepare for marriage.”

Religious and conservative groups called the ruling an outrage but not unexpected, and spoke of steps to enact a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, blamed “robed masters” and “philosopher kings” on the court. “This is about our right to govern ourselves,” he said. “It is bigger than gay marriage.”

But the state, a principal defendant in the lawsuit, appeared to be resigned to the outcome.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said that she disagreed with the decision, but would uphold it. “The Supreme Court has spoken,” she said. “I do not believe their voice reflects the majority of the people of Connecticut. However, I am also firmly convinced that attempts to reverse this decision, either legislatively or by amending the state Constitution, will not meet with success.”

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said his office was reviewing the decision to determine whether laws and procedures will have to be revised — local officials will issue marriage licenses to gay couples without question, for example — but he offered no challenge and said it would soon be implemented.

The case was watched far beyond Hartford. Vermont, New Hampshire and New Jersey all have civil union statutes, while Maine, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii have domestic partnership laws that allow same-sex couples many of the same rights granted to those in civil unions. Advocates for same-sex couples have long argued that civil unions and domestic partnerships denied them the financial, social and emotional benefits accorded in a marriage.

The legal underpinnings for gay marriages, civil unions and statutory partnerships have all come in legislative actions and decisions in lawsuits. Next month, however, voters in California will decide whether the state Constitution should permit same-sex marriage.

The Connecticut case began in 2004 after the eight same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses by the town of Madison. Reflecting the contentiousness and wide interest in the case, a long list of state, national and international organizations on both sides filed friend-of-the-court briefs. The plaintiffs contended that the denial of marriage licenses deprived them of due process and equal protection under the law.

While the case was pending, the legislature in 2005 adopted a law establishing the right of same-sex partners to enter into civil unions that conferred all the rights and privileges of marriage. But, at the insistence of the governor, the law also defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Arguments in the case centered on whether civil unions and marriages conferred equal rights, and on whether same-sex couples should be treated as what the court called a “suspect class” or “quasi-suspect class” — a group, like blacks or women, that has experienced a history of discrimination and was thus entitled to increased scrutiny and protection by the state in the promulgation of its laws.

Among the criteria for inclusion as a suspect class, the court said, were whether gay people could “control” their sexual orientation, whether they were “politically powerless” and whether being gay had a bearing on one’s ability to contribute to society.

A lower-court judge, Patty Jenkins Pittman of Superior Court in New Haven, sided with the state, denying that gay men and lesbians were entitled to special consideration as a suspect class and concluding that the differences between civil unions and marriages amounted to no more than nomenclature. The Supreme Court reversed the lower-court ruling.

“Although marriage and civil unions do embody the same legal rights under our law, they are by no means equal,” Justice Palmer wrote in the majority opinion, joined by Justices Flemming L. Norcott Jr., Joette Katz and Lubbie Harper. “The former is an institution of transcendent historical, cultural and social significance, whereas the latter is not.”

The court said it was aware that many people held deep-seated religious, moral and ethical convictions about marriage and homosexuality, and that others believed gays should be treated no differently than heterosexuals. But it said such views did not bear on the questions before the court.

“There is no doubt that civil unions enjoy a lesser status in our society than marriage,” the court said. “Ultimately, the message of the civil unions law is that what same-sex couples have is not as important or as significant as real marriage.”

In one dissenting opinion, Justice David M. Bordon contended that there was no conclusive evidence that civil unions are inferior to marriages, and he argued that gay people have “unique and extraordinary” political power that does not warrant heightened constitutional protections.

Justice Peter T. Zarella, in another dissent, argued that the state marriage laws dealt with procreation, which was not a factor in gay relationships. “The ancient definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman has its basis in biology, not bigotry,” he wrote.

About 1,800 couples have obtained civil unions in Connecticut since the law was adopted three years ago, although gay-rights advocates say the demand has slowed. They cite complaints that the unions leave many people feeling not quite married but not quite single, facing forms that mischaracterize their status and questions at airports challenging their ties to their own children.

But marriage will soon be a possibility for gay couples like Janet Peck, 55, and Carol Conklin, 53, of West Hartford, who have been partners for 33 years. “I so look forward to the day when I can take this woman’s hand, look deeply into her eyes and pledge my deep love and support and commitment to her in marriage,” Ms. Peck said.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Obama Details Plan to Aid Victims of Fiscal Crisis

TOLEDO, Ohio — Senator Barack Obama proposed new steps on Monday to address the economic crisis, calling for temporary but costly new programs to help employers, automakers, homeowners, the unemployed, and state and local governments.

In an address here, Mr. Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, proposed giving employers a $3,000 tax credit for each new hire to encourage job creation. He said he would seek to allow Americans of all ages to borrow from retirement savings without a tax penalty; to eliminate income taxes on unemployment benefits; and to double, to $50 billion, the government’s loan guarantees for automakers.

Mr. Obama also called on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to create a mechanism to lend money to cities and states with fiscal problems, and to expand the government guarantees for financial institutions to encourage a return to more normal lending. He also proposed a 90-day moratorium on most home foreclosures; it would require financial institutions that take government help to agree not to act against homeowners who are trying to make payments, even if not the full amounts.

“We need to give people the breathing room they need to get back on their feet,” Mr. Obama told a crowd of more than 3,000 people at the SeaGate Convention Centre in downtown Toledo.

Mr. Obama’s Republican rival, Senator John McCain, will make new proposals for the economy on Tuesday, advisers said. They did not provide any details.

Late Sunday, after Mr. McCain and his team looked at a variety of policy options over the weekend, a campaign spokesman said Mr. McCain, who has been losing ground to Mr. Obama in the polls, would have no new proposals unless events warranted. Mr. McCain has been emphasizing his plan to help people with financial difficulties get more affordable mortgages, with taxpayers picking up the tab.

In his speech on Monday, Mr. Obama said: “I won’t pretend this will be easy. George Bush has dug a deep hole for us. It’s going to take a while for us to dig our way out. We’re going to have to set priorities as never before.”

The package of new proposals was the most detailed and ambitious offered by Mr. Obama since the financial crisis became acute last month, clouding the economic outlook and transforming the presidential campaign.

This struggling manufacturing city is representative of both the economic crisis and the political battle for industrial-belt swing states that could determine the winner of the election. Mr. Obama is spending three days in northwestern Ohio, just south of the auto-making capital, Detroit, mostly sequestered with advisers to prepare for the third and final presidential debate on Wednesday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Mr. Obama’s advisers emphasized that many of the new steps he called for could be taken quickly by the Democratic-controlled Congress in a lame-duck session this year, instead of waiting until after the new president is sworn into office in late January. Several steps could be taken by the Treasury and Federal Reserve using their powers under current law, the advisers said.

At the Capitol on Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not commit to calling Congress back immediately after the elections to consider a stimulus plan, given the potential that Mr. Bush would veto it. House Democratic leaders met with economists and afterward said they would develop a package for increased spending on public works, health care subsidies for states, extended unemployment pay and food stamp assistance.

Obama advisers put the cost of Mr. Obama’s full economic stimulus plan at $175 billion, including $60 billion for the steps announced Monday.

Of the earlier $115 billion, $50 billion would be used to help states and to speed construction of roads and other infrastructure projects that create jobs. About $65 billion of it would be the cost of a second round of rebates to taxpayers this year.

Mr. Obama had initially proposed to offset the rebates’ expense with a new windfall-profits tax on oil companies, but the campaign indicated Monday that he would scrap that plan assuming that oil prices do not rise above about $80 a barrel. The shift was just one sign of how the economic crisis has shoved concerns about budget deficits to the sidelines.

Despite criticism from the McCain camp that increasing taxes would further endanger the economy, Mr. Obama has “no plans to change” his longstanding proposal to repeal the Bush tax cuts next year for households with an annual income of more than $250,000, said Jason Furman, Mr. Obama’s economic adviser. Under Mr. Obama’s plan, most individuals and families would get a tax cut, and in terms of total dollars, he would cut taxes on lower- and middle-income people more than he would raise them on upper-income people.

McCain advisers on Monday reiterated their argument that the higher taxes, together with Mr. Obama’s plan for expanded health care, would hit small businesses with costs they could ill afford. Many small businesses pay taxes as individuals. But the Obama campaign and independent fact-checking groups argue that relatively few would be affected by the tax increase on upper-income levels.

The recent surge of government spending to bail out financial institutions and other corporations are likely to drive projections for the federal deficit this year and beyond far above the $438 billion shortfall recorded for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Yet the McCain campaign insisted Monday that Mr. McCain would balance the budget by 2013, which would be the end of his first term. Nonpartisan analysts consider that unlikely if not impossible. Mr. Obama is promising to reduce annual deficits from the current level.

The most costly of Mr. Obama’s new proposals is the one giving businesses a $3,000 income tax credit for each new full-time employee they hire above their current work force. The proposal, which would be effective for the next two years and is based on a concept that has been used in past downturns, would account for about $40 billion of the new package’s $60 billion price tag.

About $10 billion of the $60 billion would go to eliminating income taxes on unemployment benefits and extending aid to the long-term unemployed by 13 weeks, on top of the existing 26 weeks.

Mr. Obama’s proposal from last week to allow struggling small businesses to apply for loans from the Small Business Administration’s disaster funds would cost more than $5 billion. The expense of covering additional loan guarantees for the auto industry would mean more than $4 billion more.

While not costly to the Treasury, perhaps more controversial is Mr. Obama’s proposal to allow Americans to withdraw without tax penalty 15 percent of their retirement savings, up to $10,000, from their tax-favored Individual Retirement Accounts and 401(k)s. They would still have to pay income taxes on the withdrawal. Current law requires savers younger than 59 ½ to pay taxes and a 10 percent penalty.

Economists and nonpartisan analysts generally oppose making it easier for Americans to tap into retirement savings, considering that the United States has a net negative savings rate that is the lowest among the world’s industrialized nations. But Obama advisers counter that many Americans need that money to get by and should not be penalized when major financial institutions are getting bailouts.

For savers, the downside to withdrawing money now is that they would get less value given the slide in the stock markets. With that in mind, Mr. McCain last week proposed waiving federal rules that require older Americans to begin withdrawing funds as soon as they reach age 70 ½. On Monday, Mr. Obama praised Mr. McCain’s proposal, telling the Ohioans, “I want to give credit where credit is due.”

To impose the 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures, Mr. Obama would have the government, using its existing authority, require financial institutions that take advantage of the Treasury’s rescue plan to agree not to foreclose on the mortgages of any homeowners who are making “good faith efforts” to pay, even if their payments fall short.

Love your way... you are Brilliant!

Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your

Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a

Sensational Life"

available at

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:

Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alaska Inquiry Concludes Palin Abused Powers

Gov. Sarah Palin abused the powers of her office by pressuring subordinates to try to get her former brother-in-law, a state trooper, fired, an investigation by the Alaska Legislature has concluded. The inquiry found, however, that she was within her right to dismiss her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, who was the trooper’s boss.

A 263-page report released Friday by lawmakers in Alaska found that Ms. Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, had herself exerted pressure to get Trooper Michael Wooten dismissed, as well as allowed her husband and subordinates to press for his firing, largely as a result of his temperament and past disciplinary problems.

“Such impermissible and repeated contacts,” the report states, “create conflicts of interests for subordinate employees who must choose to either please a superior or run the risk of facing that superior’s displeasure and the possible consequences of that displeasure.” The report concludes that the action was a violation of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.

What now lies ahead is not fully known at this point. Ms. Palin could be censured by the Legislature, but that is unlikely.

Ms. Palin, who had been elected governor in 2006, was tapped as Senator John McCain’s running mate in late August, about a month after an inquiry was opened into her firing of Mr. Monegan. Her political ascendancy took what was essentially a state personnel matter and elevated it into a national issue, one that has been simmering in the background of an increasingly heated presidential race

In the report, the independent investigator, Stephen E. Branchflower, a former prosecutor in Anchorage, said that Ms. Palin wrongfully allowed her husband, Todd, to use state resources as part of the effort to have Trooper Wooten dismissed.

The report says she knowingly “permitted Todd Palin to use the governor’s office and the resources of the governor’s office, including access to state employees, to continue to contact subordinate state employees in an effort to find some way to get Trooper Wooten fired.”

Further, it says, she “knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda.”

Three years ago, Trooper Wooten and the governor’s sister, Molly McCann, were locked in a harsh divorce and child-custody battle that further turned the Palin family against him. The couple divorced in January 2006.

As a result of several complaints against Trooper Wooten, he was suspended from the state police force for five days. However, Mr. Branchflower’s report found numerous instances in which Ms. Palin, her husband and her subordinates tried to press for harsher punishment, even though Mr. Monegan and others told them they had gone as far as the law and civil service rules would allow.

Ms. Palin has denied that anyone told Mr. Monegan to dismiss Trooper Wooten, or that the commissioner’s ouster had anything to do with the trooper, who remains on the force.

Mr. Monegan has said that he believes he lost his job because he would not bend to pressure to dismiss Trooper Wooten. On July 28, the Legislative Council, a bipartisan body of House and Senate members that can convene to make decisions when the Legislature is not in session, approved an independent investigation into whether the governor abused the powers of her office to pursue a personal vendetta.

Mr. Monegan said in an interview Friday night that he felt relieved.

“I feel that my beliefs and opinions that Wooten was a significant factor, if not the factor, in my termination have been validated,” Mr. Monegan said, adding, “I was resisting the governor from the very beginning on the Wooten matter to protect her from exactly what just happened to her here, being found to have acted inappropriately.”

The report was released after Alaska lawmakers emerged from a private session in Anchorage where they spent more than of six hours discussing the ethics report and what portions should be made public. The legislative council ended up voting unanimously to make part of the overall report public.

At a news conference Friday evening, a local McCain-Palin campaign spokeswoman, Meghan Stapleton, said that Mr. Branchflower’s abuse of power finding was the result of an “overreach” by the investigator who went beyond “the intent of the original” inquiry.

Ms. Stapleton added that the governor “feels absolutely vindicated” because the report concluded that Ms. Palin was acting within her legal authority when she “reassigned” Mr. Monegan. On July 11, he was told by the governor’s acting chief of staff that Ms. Palin wanted him to head the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, and that she wanted to take the public safety agency in a new direction.

In an e-mail statement, Ms. Stapleton said the report showed that the investigation was a “partisan led inquiry run by Obama supporters and the Palins were completely justified in their concern regarding Trooper Wooten given his violent and rogue behavior.”

Minutes after the report was released, the Obama campaign sent an Associated Press article in an e-mail message to reporters, with the subject line, “Palin ‘unlawfully abused her authority.’ ” It contained no other comment.

A pre-emptive report on the investigation by the McCain-Palin campaign, released late Thursday, said that beginning in October 2007, the governor and members of her administration repeatedly clashed with Mr. Monegan over budgetary issues and the direction of his agency.

After months of “repeatedly ignoring the governor’s budget priorities, making public statements that directly challenged the governor’s policy agenda and taking numerous unilateral actions in conflict with the governor in support of his own policy agenda, his replacement in July 2008 should have come as no surprise,” that report said.

Mr. Branchflower based his finding of abuse of power on Alaska’s Executive Branch Ethics Act, which was established to “discourage executive branch employees from acting upon personal interest in the performance of their public responsibilities and to avoid conflicts of interest in the performance of duty,” the report says.

It says, however, that “Governor Palin’s firing of Commissioner Walt Monegan was a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads.” It cites the Alaska Constitution, which says “the governor may discharge department heads without cause.”

The report continues, “In light of this constitutional and statutory authority, it is clear that Governor Palin could fire Commissioner Walt Monegan at will, for almost any reason, or no reason at all.”

The report states that, while there is no doubt that Mr. Monegan’s “failure to fire Trooper Wooten was a substantial factor in his own firing,” the evidence suggests it was not the sole reason.

The report chastised Ms. Palin for declining to be interviewed.

Legislative leaders said that in cases like this, a violation of the ethics law would typically be resolved by the state Personnel Board. However, that chain of events is complicated by the fact that the panel is conducting an inquiry of its own. Ms. Palin has pledged to cooperate with that investigation.

Even as Ms. Palin drew large crowds as she campaigned across the United States, the issue was brewing in Alaska. But the campaign repeatedly shrugged off the accusations, stating that they were not serious and that she was not guilty of any wrongdoing.

Still, the accusations undermined the campaign’s portrayal of Ms. Palin as a “maverick” and an ethics reformer who has taken on special interests and fought for average residents.

The McCain campaign flew operatives into Alaska to wage a public relations campaign to discredit the investigation and to help mount legal challenges to it.