Religious Right Group Files Lawsuit Against Radical Queer Group over Church Disruption

Bash Back Protest

The rightwing Alliance Defense Fund has announced yesterday that has filed a lawsuit in federal court (Western District of Michigan) against activists who disrupted a church service in Lansing last Fall. The activists–part of a national queer/transgender network called Bash Back!–disrupted a church service at the “anti-queer mega church” Mount Hope outside of Lansing, Michigan. Bash Back! targeted the church over its anti-gay politics.

While the protest resulted in no arrests or local charges, the Alliance Defense Fund is now pursuing an effort in federal court to hold the activists responsible for civil rights violations (physical obstruction to a place of worship and intimidation at a place of worship) and trespassing.

According to independent media sources and Bash Back! the lawsuit has resulted in subpoenas being served on three activists in the Midwest. The federal complaint lists 14 activists by name who are believed to be associated with Bash Back! and the protest. In some cases, the complaint says specifically what activists are accused of doing–i.e. providing transportation–or that they were documented as being there by local law enforcement.

Much of the complaint focuses on Bash Back!’s use of so-called violent imagery of guns and activists glad in bandanas. It also argues that Bash Back! deliberately sought to intimidate the congregation and instill fear.

ADF says that the actions of Bash Back! indicate “how dangerous the homosexual agenda is to our First Liberty, religious freedom.”

In response to the lawsuit, Bash Back! said:

The work of devoted Bash Back!ers and allies determined that this morning’s hysteria is the result of the Alliance Defense Fund, a notorious anti-womyn, anti-queer, racist organization. The ADF decided to sue Bash Back!, Bash Back! Lansing and individuals because the authorities would not file a single criminal complaint regarding an action at the Mount Hope Church in Lansing last fall. But that’s not all! Those pesky evange-fascists are trying to identify and out up to 20 other people involved with Bash Back! in the hopes that criminal charges will be placed against them.

Interestingly, the lawsuit is alleging that Bash Back! Violated the church’s and its congregation’s first amendment rights under the FACE Act, a federal act that was first passed to limit the activities of anti-abortion protestors.

In the past, the Alliance Defense Fund has campaigned against measures aimed at giving civil rights to transgendered and gay citizens.

Anti-Gay Candidate Elected to GRCC Board of Trustees

Richard Ryskamp

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Richard Ryskamp, an anti-gay “morality” candidate for Grand Rapids Community College’s (GRCC) Board of Trustees. Unfortunately, Ryskamp won the seat. He received the second highest number of votes in the election.

In an article from the Grand Rapids Press, Interim President Ann Mulder seemed concerned over Ryskamp’s election. She was quoted saying, “I have faith the top three will understand the significance of this college and will put aside any individual agenda to address the real issues of education and the viability of this college.” Over the past several years, Ryskamp has appeared at board meetings and consistently criticized the school for its policies.

We wrote a detailed piece about his politics, but it’s worth noting a further substantiation of his anti-gay views. Earlier this year, Ryskamp submitted a letter to the editor in the Grand Rapids Press weighing in on the controversy over WOOD TV 8’s decision not to air an anti-gay television special. Not surprisingly for Ryskamp–who has criticized gay speakers at GRCC–ranted against the “radical homosexual agenda” and “radical gay activists.”

We’ll keep an eye on Ryskamp and what he advocates. It’s unfortunate that a school that is known for taking serious steps to promote diversity and LGBT inclusion, now has such a man serving on the board.

Headlines: AIPAC Launches Campaign to Prevent Peace Talks; Maine Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Democracy Now Headlines: AIPAC Launches Campaign to Prevent Peace Talks; Maine Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Estimates of Afghan Toll Rise in U.S. Bombing

Estimates of the dead from Monday’s U.S. bombing of the Afghan province of Farah are now reaching as high as two hundred. Images released from the area show villagers sorting through the rubble of the devastating attack. An unidentified village elder said he had lost dozens of relatives.

Villager: “We have discovered dead bodies of fifty two people. There might be still more bodies undiscovered. These martyred people were civilian residents of this area. All these fifty two martyred are either my nephews, nieces or my grandchildren.”

The Red Cross has confirmed “dozens” of civilians were killed, including many women and children. The attack could prove to be the deadliest U.S. bombing of Afghan civilians since the U.S. invasion of 2001. Meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed U.S. regret.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “I wish to express, you know, my personal regrets and certainly the sympathy of our administration on the loss of civilian life in Afghanistan. We deeply regret it. We don’t know all of the circumstances or causes. And there will be a joint investigation by your government and ours. But any loss of life, any loss of innocent life is particularly painful.”

The U.S. military is suggesting it has evidence showing the victims were actually killed by Taliban grenades, but hasn’t offered any proof.

Obama Hosts Karzai, Zardari at White House

Karzai was in Washington along with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. The two leaders later met President Obama, who said they all face the same enemy in the Taliban.

President Obama: “The security of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States are linked. In the weeks that have followed, that truth has only been reinforced. Al Qaeda and its allies have taken more lives in Pakistan and Afghanistan and have continued to challenge the democratically elected governments of the two presidents standing here today. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda plots against the American people and people around the world from their safe haven along the border.”

Zardari and Karzai’s visit to Washington comes as lawmakers take up an Obama administration request for $2.3 billion dollars in aid to Pakistan and more than $800 million dollars in military assistance for Afghanistan. In a split with Democratic leaders, House Appropriations Chair David Obey is proposing the U.S. condition the funding on the Afghan and Pakistani governments’ ability to meet several benchmarks.

At Least 12 Killed in Iraq Bombings

In Iraq, at least twelve people were killed Wednesday in two separate bombings in Baghdad. Most of the victims died in an attack on a crowded vegetable market, killing eleven people and wounding at least thirty-seven. A local grocer witnessed the bombing.

Witness: “The truck entered the market and people were slaughtered. What did porters, grocers and farmers do to deserve to be killed?”

Violence has recently increased around Baghdad, with last month being the deadliest in more than a year.

U.S. Military Drops Case Against Officer Who Refused Iraq Deployment

The U.S. military has dropped its attempt to retry to Ehren Watada, the first Army officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court granted a military request to withdraw an appeal of a lower-court ruling that said a second court-martial would have violated Watada’s right against double jeopardy. Watada’s first court-martial ended in a mistrial. Watada’s attorney says he intends to leave the military and attend law school.

AIPAC Launches Campaign to Prevent Peace Talks

The pro-Israeli government lobby group AIPAC has launched a new campaign to prevent the Obama administration from pressuring Israel to engage in peace talks. AIPAC is urging lawmakers to sign on to a Congressional measure that urges Obama not to dictate how Israel negotiates with Palestinian leaders. The administration says it supports a two-state solution, though it hasn’t called for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories where a Palestinian state would be created. Israel opposes the two-state solution and wants to retain Jewish-only settlements in the Occupied West Bank.

Israel Rejects UN Report

Meanwhile the Israeli government has rejected the findings of a UN report that found it deliberately and recklessly attacked UN facilities and personnel during its three-week assault on the Gaza Strip. Speaking at UN headquarters Wednesday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Israel rejects the report’s every word.

Israeli President Shimon Peres: “We have the regard for the Secretary-General. We don’t accept one word of what the board writes. They didn’t have to write it. They were unfair. They were one-sided.”

Group: Israel Interrogating Gaza Patients

Meanwhile in Israel and the Occupied Territories, an Israeli medical human rights group says a growing number of Palestinian patients have been interrogated by Israeli agents before leaving the Gaza Strip for medical care. The Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights says at least 438 patients were interrogated while trying to leave Gaza between January 2008 and March of this year.

Senate to Hold Torture Memo Hearing

Back in the United States, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has announced plans to convene the first Congressional hearing on the torture of foreign prisoners since last month’s release of Bush administration memos authorizing the torture. As chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, Whitehouse says he plans to call on witnesses including former FBI agent Ali Soufan and former State Department lawyer Philip Zelikow.

Post-9/11 Rules Impeded Swine Flu Response

U.S. health officials have confirmed they were delayed in responding to the swine flu outbreak because of Bush administration rules imposed after the 9/11 attacks. The Financial Times reports Mexican officials sent samples from infected patients in mid-April. But U.S. restrictions on imported biological materials meant the samples first had to be sent for analysis in Canada. American scientists had already analyzed several swine flu cases without realizing it was the same virus. There have now been two confirmed swine flu deaths in the U.S., both in Texas.

Probe: FBI Terror List Harms National Security

A Justice Department probe has found the FBI’s “terrorist watch list” has endangered national security by retaining some 24,000 names without justification while excluding many who have been investigated. In addition to risking national security, the probe fond the watch list has also caused lengthy delays at airports, along highways and other travel areas in the United States.

Maine Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage; New Hampshire to Follow

Maine has become the fifth state to legalize gay marriage. On Wednesday, Democratic governor John Baldacci signed a measure backing sex-same marriage following its approval in the Maine legislature. New Hampshire is expected to follow suit as early as today. New Hampshire lawmakers have sent Democratic Governor John Lynch a similar measure to sign into law.

Senate Passes Stripped-Down Mortgage Bill

The Senate has approved a foreclosure assistance bill providing limited help for struggling homeowners. The measure would protect mortgage service companies from lawsuits in return for taking part in federal loan modification programs. It would also give renters of foreclosed properties at least ninety-days eviction notice and spend some $2.6 billion dollars on curbing homelessness. Last week, the Senate dropped a key amendment that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage payments for debt-strapped homeowners.

Study: Subprime Firms Spent $370M on Lobbying

Meanwhile a new study shows the top twenty-five companies responsible for subprime mortgages spent nearly $370 million dollars in lobbying over the past decade. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the companies originated an estimated $1 trillion dollars in subprime loans between 2005 and 2007. Most of them are now out of business.

Thousands Evacuated in California Wildfires

In California, wildfires have erupted around Santa Barbara County. More than 8,000 residents have been evacuated as firefighters try to contain the blaze.

Wal-Mart Reaches Settlement in Worker Trampling Death

The retail giant Wal-Mart has reached a settlement to avoid charges for the death of a worker crushed by a stampede of shoppers last December. Thirty-four-year-old Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of 2,000 broke down store doors and ran him over shortly before the store’s opening. Wal Mart will pay nearly $2 million dollars and pledge to improve safety at its New York stores.

Poll: Majority Support Legalizing Marijuana

A new poll has found a majority of Americans support marijuana legalization. According to Zogby, fifty-two percent of Americans say it “makes sense to tax and regulate” marijuana.

Chair of N.Y. Fed Scrutinized for Shares in Goldman Sachs

And in financial news, each of the twelve regional Federal Reserve banks have been found to have directors who are either board members of banks or who own shares in bank holding companies. Consumer advocates say directors of Fed banks shouldn’t have any financial ties to the institutions they’re supposed to regulate. Scrutiny is focusing on Stephen Friedman, the chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal revealed Friedman was given a waiver to hold shares in his former company Goldman Sachs even after it became a regulated bank-holding firm. Friedman was also found to have bought the shares in Goldman Sachs before he was granted the legal waiver. The shares are now estimated to be worth more than $2 million dollars.

Kent County GOP Cancels Utah Governor’s Appearance over his Support for Civil Unions

The Kent County GOP–led by Party Chairman Joanne Voorhees–canceled a planned appearance by Utah Governor Jon Huntsman after learning that he supports civil unions for gay couples.

According to media reports, Voorhees canceled the talk because Huntsman’s views are inconsistent with those of Republicans in Kent County:

“After conducting further research on the Governor and his change in position on issues, we feel it is best to cancel our event,” wrote Vorhees in an email obtained by the Fix. She added that “voters want and expect us to stand on principle and return to our roots . . . unfortunately, by holding an event with Governor Huntsman, we would be doing the exact opposite.”

The Grand Rapids Press said that Voorhees cited the recent anti-tax “Tea Parties” as examples of what the party’s grassroots supports.

Anti-gay activist Gary Glenn praised the decision, saying that “grass-roots conservatives will not embrace liberals who want to abandon the GOP platform’s commitment to traditional family values in favor of promoting homosexual activists’ incremental assault on religious freedom, marriage and the family.”

In an apparent attempt at saving face, The Grand Rapids Press is reporting that Michigan Republican Chairman Ron Weiser has arranged for Governor Huntsman to meet “party faithful” Saturday morning in Grand Rapids despite the cancelation of his planned talk. According to The Press, some in the Republican Party are upset by Joanne Voorhees decision to cancel the talk.

Richard Ryskamp: The Anti-Gay “Morality” Candidate for GRCC’s Board

Richard Ryskamp

On Monday, we posted video from a candidate forum for candidates in Grand Rapids Community College’s (GRCC) Board of Trustees election.

We also mentioned one candidate, Richard Ryskamp, is a far right “social conservative” that is running a campaign that wants to restore “values” to the college. Even though Ryskamp likely has no chance of winning–the oh-so-liberal Grand Rapids Press even came out against him–its worth noting his views on some of the issues, lest some voters accidentally vote for him (Trigger warning: some of this may be offensive):

COURSE MATERIAL: In his “My Story” page explaining why he is running, Ryskamp describes his major motivation as being the fact that a Freshman English course at GRCC assigned the film American Beauty in class. Ryskamp describes the film as “filthy” argues that it is indicative of the kind of “indoctrination” that public universities engage in. As further examples, he says that University of Michigan engages in “the training of abortionists to the promotion of sodomy through courses like ‘How to be Gay.'”

LGBT ISSUES: Ryskamp is highly critical of programs at GRCC that promote awareness about LGBT issues. For example, he is critical of GRCC’s decision to have gay men as speakers at GRCC during its Diversity Lecture Series. Ryskamp says that the two “promote perversity” asserting: “Among other things, both of these lecturers promoted the opinion that sodomy is wholesome and that certain special privileges should be granted to those who practice it. But no speaker has been hosted to present the opposing view, a view that has been held throughout the history of all enduring civilizations including our own, i.e. that sodomy is unwholesome for individuals and for our society as a whole.” Ryskamp’s homophobia is his main issue.

DRAMA: Ryskamp argues that GRCC’s theater group, GRCC Players, actively produces “propaganda media.” To that end, he argues that the school’s production of “Summer and Smoke” uses “our taxes… to repeatedly to glorify promiscuity.” Similarly, he criticizes the production of “Corpus Christi” in 2003. That play explores gay themes in Christianity. Not surprisingly, Ryskamp’s version of Christianity has room for no such discussion.

It’s also worth noting that in November of 2008, Ryskamp appeared on the ballot for the University of Michigan Regents. In an Mlive.com Voter Guide, Ryskamp said that the most important priority for the University of Michigan is “to end the assault on the religious and moral foundations of our society.”

In that election, Ryskamp ran as a candidate for the U.S. Constitution Party. The U.S. Constitution Party is a far-right political party that is anti-gay, wants to stop immigration and supports “English-only” laws, favors repealing voting rights legislation, and seeks to eliminate social programs such as social security and welfare. Back in 2006, its candidate for Michigan Attorney General spoke at a white supremacist gathering.

During his campaign for the University of Michigan Board of Regents, Ryskamp advocated cutting or eliminating taxpayer funding to educational institutions that pursue agendas contrary to “our nation’s foundation of (biblical) religion and morality.” In this election, Ryskamp has said that he has voted against recent funding requests for GRCC.

GRCC Board of Trustees Election May 5

Along with the transit millage and school board election, another important election coming up on May 5 is for the Grand Rapids Community College’s (GRCC) Board of Trustees

A video of a recent candidate forum is below:

It’s also worth noting that one candidate for the Board of Trustees is Roger Ryskamp, an anti-gay candidate who has been highly critical of GRCC’s efforts aimed at promoting LGBT equality and diversity. Ryskamp has also advocated for greater “moral standards” at GRCC and criticized the school’s so-called promotion of “promiscuity” through its theatre programs.

Headlines: Israel Rejects Vague U.S. Calls for Peace Talks; Gay Marriage Bill Introduced in New York

Democracy Now Headlines: Israel Rejects Vague U.S. Calls for Peace Talks; Gay Marriage Bill Introduced in New York

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Obama Releases Bush Torture Memos, Assures No Prosecutions for CIA Interrogators

The Obama administration has released four Bush administration memos that gave CIA interrogators the legal basis for torture at Guantanamo Bay and other foreign jails. The techniques described include waterboarding, holding prisoners in small dark boxes, bashing their heads against walls, subjecting them to insects, forced nudity, shackling and sleep deprivation. The memos also include extensive legal arguments as to why these tactics do not amount to torture under US and international law. In an accompanying statement, President Obama said CIA interrogators would not be prosecuted for following the memos’ guidelines. More on this story after headlines.

Gitmo Prisoner: “Life is Going to Hell”

Another Guantanamo Bay prisoner has come forward to back accounts of worsening torture since President Obama took office. In a letter to his attorney, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif said: “I have seen death so many times. Everything is over, life is going to hell in my situation. America, what has happened to you?” A Yemeni national, Abdul Latif has been imprisoned since 2001.

Study: Iraqi Women and Children Account for Most Victims of U.S. Air Strikes

A new study says the vast majority of identifiable Iraqi victims of U.S.-led air strikes have been women and children. According to the group Iraq Body Count, Iraqi women and children amounted to eighty-five percent of victims of known gender or age. The study covered a sample of more than 60,000 deaths over a five-year period since the 2003 invasion.

16 Killed in Suicide Attack on Iraqi Base

In other Iraq news, at least 16 people were killed in a suicide bombing on an Iraqi military base in Anbar province. Another fifty were wounded.

In Mexico, Obama Resists Call to Re-impose Assault Weapons Ban

President Obama visited Mexico on Thursday for the first time since taking office. Appearing with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama vowed U.S. cooperation in cracking down on drug cartels along the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Obama: “At a time when the Mexican government has so courageously taken on the drug cartels that have plagued both sides of the borders. It is absolutely critical that the United States joins as a full partner in dealing with this issue, both through initiatives like… but also on our side of the border in dealing with the flow of guns and cash south.”

Despite the talk of cooperation, Obama rejected Calderon’s key demand to push for re-imposing the Congressional assault weapons ban. Calderon says violence has significantly increased since the ban expired in 2004.

Mexicans Protest U.S. Immigration Raids, Deportations

As Obama arrived in Mexico City, hundreds of people rallied outside the U.S. Embassy to call for humane immigration reform in the United States. Leading the protest was Elvira Arellano, who was deported to Mexico in August 2007 following a year of refuge inside a Chicago church. Arellano called on Obama to impose a moratorium on immigration raids.

Elvira Arellano: “We are in solidarity with all those children who are living in fear of being deported together with their parents after raids. Raids continue to occur day after day at two, three or five in the morning. There are raids, deportations and we are asking President Obama to sign an executive order to stop raids and deportations.”

Cuba Renews Call for U.S. Talks

President Obama heads to the island of Trinidad today for the Summit of Americas. He’s expected to face calls to lift the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Appearing alongside visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Haitian President Rene Preval summed up the stance of most summit participants in calling for a lifting of the blockade.

Haitian President Rene Preval: “We have a wish, which is that of the United Nations. And that is that the embargo against Cuba be lifted so they can take part in this important dialogue. Cuba is a friend of Haiti’s.”

Cuba is not invited to the Americas summit. Speaking in Venezuela Thursday, Cuban President Raoul Castro repeated his call for direct talks with the United States.

3 Killed in Alleged Morales Assassination Plot

In Bolivia, three foreign nationals were killed and two arrested in what the Bolivian government called a thwarted assassination plot on President Evo Morales. Bolivian officials said a shootout broke out after police tried to arrest the suspects at a hotel in the Santa Cruz.

Russia Announces Formal End to Chechnya Operations

Russia has announced a formal end to military operations in Chechnya. On Thursday, the Russian government said it would remove the last of security restrictions that have been in place since its military invaded Chechnya ten years ago. Russia will still maintain a force of some 20,000 troops and police officers.

Israel Rejects Vague U.S. Calls for Peace Talks

The Israeli government is rebuffing mild U.S. calls for peace talks with Palestinians towards reaching a two-state settlement. On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” as a pre-condition for future talks. Palestinians have called the demand a non-starter because it would mean not just acknowledging but legitimizing Israel’s takeover of their land and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who used to live there. Netanyahu announced the demand after meeting U.S. envoy George Mitchell. Mitchell said the U.S. will insist on pursuing a two-state solution.

George Mitchell: “It is in the United State’s national interest that there will be a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East, that should include settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution involving a Palestinian state living side by side alongside the Jewish state of Israel in peace, and hopefully stability and prosperity. We are going to do all we can for the rest of this visit and over the coming weeks and months to move towards that objective.”

Report: U.S. Will Impose Two-State Settlement

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Achronoth is reporting meanwhile the Obama administration is prepared to force the Israeli government to accept a two-state peace deal. An unidentified Jewish leader quoted White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as saying: “In the next four years there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn’t matter to us at all who is prime minister.” The Obama administration has yet to outline whether the two-state solution it favors would meet minimal Palestinian rights. Previous U.S.-backed proposals would have still left Israel in control of the large West Bank settlement blocs on Palestinian land.

Israel Rejects UN War Crimes Probe

The Israeli government has informed the UN it will refuse to cooperate with an investigation into whether it committed war crimes during its three-week assault on the Gaza Strip. Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Council named former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone to head the probe.

Israeli Air Strike Destroys Gaza Home

Meanwhile an Israeli air strike destroyed a home in the Gaza Strip on Thursday. It was the first Israeli air strike on Gaza in over a month.

Gazans, Journalists Mark 1-Year Anniversary of Israeli Killing of Cameraman, Youths

In other news from Gaza, journalists from around the world gathered in Gaza City to mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of Reuters camera operator Fadel Shana. The twenty-four-year-old Shana died on April 16, 2008 after an Israeli tank shelled his vehicle that was clearly marked “press.” Shana’s final piece of footage shows the tank firing a shell before his camera goes black. The attack also killed eight Palestinian youths aged between twelve and twenty years old. Reuters bureau chief Alastair Macdonald was among those to speak at Shana’s memorial.

Alastair Macdonald: “The grief and anguish that greeted the killing of Fadel last April the 16th at the age of just 24, was a mark not only of the affection in which he was held by his family and friends but of the reputation he enjoyed as an independent journalist determined through his work with Reuters to inform the wider world about life in a conflict here in the Gaza Strip.”

No member of the Israeli military has been prosecuted for the attack that killed Shana and the eight Palestinian youths.

Report: Somali Pirate to Be Tried in U.S.

CBS News is reporting the lone surviving Somali pirate involved in the kidnapping of an American cargo captain last week will be brought to New York to face charges in a U.S. court. The pirate, 19-year-old Abdulwali Muse, surrendered before U.S. Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat.

Obama Announces New Transit Funding

Back in the United States, President Obama has announced a thirteen billion dollar plan to invest in a national mass-transit rail system. Obama unveiled the proposal shortly before leaving for Mexico.

President Obama: “There’s no reason why we can’t do this. This is America. There is no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders. Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper, and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system. And everybody stands to benefit.”

Eight billion dollars will come out of the federal stimulus package, while Obama says he will request another $5 billion over five years.

Court Rejects Troy Davis Appeal, Extends Stay of Execution

In Georgia, a federal appeals court has rejected an appeal seeking a new trial for the death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Since the trial, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony. There is no direct physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. And three witnesses claim another man later admitted to the killing. Despite rejecting Davis’ appeal Thursday, the court said it would extend Davis’ stay of execution pending a final appeal before the Supreme Court.

Paterson Introduces Gay Marriage Bill

In New York, Governor David Paterson has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. State Republicans defeated an identical bill in 2007, but today Democrats now also control New York’s state Senate.

Trial Begins for Anti-Transgendered Hate-Crime Murder

And in Colorado, a murder trial has opened that’s believed to be the first ever hate-crime case for the killing of a transgendered person. Allen Andrade is accused of murdering eighteen-year old Justin “Angie” Zapata after arranging a meeting online. The case has boosted calls for the inclusion of transgendered people in hate-crimes statutes on the state and federal level. Eleven states and the District of Columbia currently recognize transgendered people in hate crime laws.

Headlines: Obama Visits Iraq; Vermont Legislature Overrides Gay Marriage Veto

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Visits Iraq; Vermont Legislature Overrides Gay Marriage Veto

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Vermont Legislature Overrides Gay Marriage Veto

Gay rights advocates have won two major new victories. On Tuesday, the Vermont state legislature voted to override a veto from Governor Jim Douglas and legalize gay marriage. Vermont becomes the first state to recognize same-sex marriage through legislative action. At least nine other state legislatures are considering similar measures.

D.C. Votes to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the city council voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The vote sets up a showdown with Congress, which approves D.C.’s laws under Home Rule.

Obama Tells Iraqis to “Take Responsibility”

President Obama is back in the United States after stopping in Turkey and Iraq following his European trip. On Tuesday, Obama addressed troops at Camp Victory, a US base near the Baghdad airport.

President Obama: “This is going to be a critical period, these next eighteen months. I was just discussing this with your commander, but I think it’s something that all of you know. It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty.”

Obama did not travel beyond the US military base. His visit came as nearly forty people were killed in a series of bombings around Baghdad. Earlier in the day, Obama wrapped up his visit to Turkey. Speaking before a town hall-style gathering of Turkish students in Istanbul, Obama was asked to explain his differences with the foreign policy of former President George W. Bush.

President Obama: “I opposed the war in Iraq. I thought it was a bad idea. Now that we’re there, I have a responsibility to make sure that as we bring troops out that we do so in a careful enough way that you don’t see a complete collapse into violence.”

Report: White House Warns Lawmakers on Israel Disputes

Obama was also asked about his stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, where he has yet to make any change from the US support of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

President Obama: “I will say this, that I believe that peace in the Middle East is possible. I think it will be based on two states, side by side, a Palestinian state and a Jewish state.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, meanwhile, reports the Obama administration has begun warning Democratic lawmakers of a looming confrontation with the new Israeli government on fulfilling its obligations. The White House has told Democrats to expect resistance from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on upholding the Israeli government’s pledge to freeze settlement activity and accepting the principle of a Palestinian state. Although Obama’s efforts would go further than the Bush administration’s, critics say they still fail to meet minimal Palestinian rights.

Sentence Reduced for Shoe-Throwing Iraqi Journalist

Back in Iraq, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former President Bush has had his prison sentence reduced from three years to one. Muntadhar al-Zaidi drew worldwide attention when he hurled his shoes at Bush during a news conference in December. Zaidi was convicted of assaulting a foreign leader. An Iraqi court said Zaidi’s jail term was shortened because he had no prior criminal record.

Fujimori Sentenced to 25 Years

In Peru, former president Alberto Fujimori has been sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for overseeing a series of human rights abuses during the 1990s. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel found Fujimori guilty of “crimes against humanity,” including ordering massacres that killed twenty-five people and the kidnappings of two political opponents. The verdict marks the first time an elected head of state has been extradited back to their home country and convicted of human rights abuses.

Lawmakers Call for Cuba Talks

A group of Democratic lawmakers has wrapped up a visit to Cuba. The five-day trip included meetings with Cuban President Raul Castro and former president Fidel Castro. Congress member Barbara Lee of California said the Castros renewed calls for direct talks with the United States.

Rep. Barbara Lee: “All of us are convinced that President Castro would like normal relations with Cuba and would see normalization, ending the embargo, as beneficial to both countries. And we were very proud and humbled by the fact that we were one of the first United States delegations to meet with President Castro.”

The Obama administration is expected to announce plans to abolish limits on family travel and cash remittances to Cuba at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad later this month. The move would allow Cubans living in the United States to travel freely to the island, instead of once a year as at present. But Obama has still rejected calls to lift the embargo.

G20 Protester Died After Assault by Police

In Britain, newly released video shows a protester who died during last week’s G20 protests in London was shoved by police officers shortly before his death. Forty-seven-year-old Ian Tomlinson was on his way home and wasn’t apparently taking part in the protests. Video shows him standing alone away from a group of demonstrators when he is approached by police. An officer shoves Tomlinson from behind, sending him to the ground. Tomlinson suffered a fatal heart attack moments later. The video was released by The Guardian newspaper, which says it will hand the tape to British police.

Report: Treasury to Bail Out Life Insurance Companies

Back in the United States, the Wall Street Journal is reporting the taxpayer-funded bailout will soon extend to the life insurance industry. Treasury officials are set to announce plans to use money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Only life insurance companies that own federally chartered banks will be eligible.

Quigley Wins Vacant Illinois Congressional Seat

In Illinois, Democratic Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley has won the race to fill White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s vacant congressional seat. Quigley won with 70 percent of the vote.

Franken Increases Lead in Minnesota Recount

In Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken has increased his lead over Republican Norm Coleman in the ongoing recount of their disputed Senate race. On Tuesday, Franken’s lead grew to 312 votes after the tallying of previously excluded absentee ballots. Franken’s lead is virtually insurmountable, but Coleman has promised continued legal challenges.

Judge Orders Probe of Stevens Prosecutors

And a federal judge has ordered a probe of six Justice Department lawyers involved in the prosecution of former Senator Ted Stevens. Stevens lost his seat in November just days after being convicted on federal ethics charges. But last week the Justice Department dropped the case after saying it had uncovered widespread prosecutorial misconduct. On Tuesday, US District Judge Emmet Sullivan said he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the attorneys.

Michigan Prisons Adopt Policy Aimed at Preventing Discrimination aginst LGBT Prisoners

Michigan Prisons Adopt Policy Aimed at Preventing Discrimination aginst LGBT Prisoners

The Michigan Department of Corrections has implemented a new policy aimed at preventing discrimination against prisoners who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

The change is included in an updated version of Michigan’s “Humane Treatment and Living Conditions for Prisoners” policy directive. It reads:

“All prisoners committed to the jurisdiction of the Department shall be treated humanely and with dignity in matters of health care, personal safety and general living conditions. They also shall not be discriminated against based on race, religion, ethnic background, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, or disability.”

Michigan Equality praised the decision, stating:

“Our hope is that those involved with legislative and policy decisions in our Michigan schools, businesses, townships and cities will also decide to add these enumerated protections to their policies, ordinances, and laws. We are especially pleased to see the much-needed addition of – sexual orientation and gender identity – as a group of people in need of – and now provided – protection. It is ironic that prisoners in Michigan are now to be treated more humanely than the citizens of our state. Our mission – and hope – is to bring that same protection to the rest of Michigan.”

West Michigan Legislator Announces New Effort to Increase Penalties for Church Disruption

Dave Agema Has Launched a New Effort to Increase Penalties for Disrupting Church Services; Perhaps Motivated by Anti-Gay Politics

Grand Rapids area Representative Dave Agema has launched a new effort to increase penalties for disrupting a church service in response to a protest last year by a gay activist group that targeted an church in Lansing known for its involvement in anti-gay politics.

According to The Grand Rapids Press online:

In response to a pro-gay group charging into an evangelical church near Lansing and shouting “Jesus was a homo,” and “It’s OK to be gay,” a Grandville lawmaker proposed a bill to hike penalties for disruptions of religious services.

Republican state Rep. Dave Agema’s legislation increases the penalty for disruption of a religious service to a $5,000 fine.

“This disruptive behavior is not appropriate or acceptable anywhere, and not in places of worship,” said Agema in a news release. “Religious freedom is a basic American right and it must be protected by increasing the penalty to deter those who would obstruct and endanger other people’s rights in a church with their excessive demonstration.”

Anti-Gay Motivation?

Reading this, you’ve really got to ask yourself whether it has to do with the act of disrupting the church service itself, or Agema’s own anti-gay politics. In the past, he’s proposed measures that would cut funding for university’s–including West Michigan’s Grand Valley State University (GVSU)–that offer domestic partner benefits.

Why didn’t he pursue this last term, following well-publicized efforts by anti-gay protestors to disrupt funeral services? Granted, that happened before he was elected, but if this was really such a serious issue for him you’d think he would have pursued it.

Furthermore, is this not proposing an unnecessary law–such behavior is already illegal and constitutes a variety of charges? In the past, Agema has been a staunch opponent of “hate crimes” legislation in part because he argues that those crimes are already illegal under existing law.