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Largo, Florida Moves To Dismiss Transsexual City Manager

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 10:13 PM EST

On Tuesday, the city commissioners in Largo, Florida voted to dismiss City Manager Steve Stanton because he is in the process of changing from a man to a woman. The mayor of Largo and one commissioner voted to retain Stanton, but the other five commissioners voted to fire him. According to the Human Rights Campaign, this move is in direct violation of the city's own non-discrimination policy, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

Stanton has served as City Manager for fourteen years, and was apparently a respected employee. Pam's House Blend points out that the leader of the campaign to get Stanton dismissed was Pastor Charlie Martin of the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks. First Baptist brags about being racially diverse, but obviously draws the line at other types of diversity. It's mission statement includes "We are all made in the spiritual image of God," but maybe that needs to be modified just a tad.

Martin believes that if his congregants have to call Steve "Susan" (were they really calling him "Steve"?), the religious freedoms of Christians will be compromised. Another minister said, "If Jesus was here tonight, I can guarantee you he'd want him terminated. Make no mistake about it." These members of the clergy have company among Largo's citizens. Or, as one person said, "As a resident of Largo for over 40 years, I'm very disturbed that our city manager is planning a sex change. In my view this would be disruptive to Steve Stanton's ability to conduct city business."

You figure it out. He was fine when he was Steve, but as Susan, he will not be competent. Of course, all women are accustomed to hearing they are not as competent as men, but this particular case is as extreme as it can get.

No news yet as to whether Stanton will take action against the Largo city commission.

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Byline: Angelina Jolie?

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 6:03 PM EST

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Angelina Jolie, the famous film star, adoptive mom, and UN Goodwill Ambassador, has a new title to add to her resume: journalist. Or at least, that's what the Washington Post seems to think. Ms. Jolie recently penned an op-ed for the Post about her work in Darfur.

The first thing that struck me was, why is a celebrity writing on Darfur? Doesn't WaPo have actual, trained reporters to do those kinds of things? I trust the Washington Post because I assume its writers are well-versed in their fields and have years of experience writing for the media. Having celebs—and I'm sorry, but that's what Angelina Jolie is—write may boost your circulation, but it just furthers the trend, seen on News Wars, of media outlets pushing themselves as entertainment, rather than reliable sources of information.

Speaking of reporting, even though Angelina is a UN Goodwill Ambassador, she can't get into Sudan. A camp in eastern Chad is as close as she can get, the UNHCR told her, because aid workers are increasingly at risk of attack. However, Ms. Jolie did talk to some refugees who asked for better accommodations and war crimes trials for the men who raped, tortured, and killed their families.

"Accountability is a powerful force," Ms. Jolie wrote. "It has the potential to change behavior -- to check aggression by those who are used to acting with impunity. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), has said that genocide is not a crime of passion; it is a calculated offense. He's right. When crimes against humanity are punished consistently and severely, the killers' calculus will change."

The writing sounds more fit for a rubber-chicken fund-raiser dinner than for the Washington Post, but all snarkiness aside, it is brave of Ms. Jolie to leave the sheltered, pampered world of Hollywood and schlep all the way to Africa to witness the aftermath of a violent genocide. And it is admirable that she is working hard to bring awareness to the issue. More than that, it's sad that it takes a movie star to shine a light on the situation. Peace treaties, as Angelina points out, have repeatedly failed. If Angelina, the Tomb Raider, can't make our government sit up and take action, who can?

--Jen Phillips

John Amaechi on Being Gay in Pro Sports

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 5:43 PM EST

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John Amaechi, the former NBA player who came out earlier this month, only to be publicly bashed by fellow NBA alum Tim Hardaway (whom the NBA then reprimanded), conducted an online chat with the Washington Post earlier today. He has a lot to say about gay issues and life in pro sports. Here are the most alarm-sounding comments.

Amaechi was asked whether he thought black or white communities, the US or the UK were more homophobic. His reply:

I don't think that Europe and the UK is a utopia, but governmental backing of homophobia doesn't exist in the same way it does in America. As for the white and black communities, I think they have a disconnect that is being manipulated by people for political gain. I think both regional and national elections are being won on the back of trumped up bigotry.

Asked whether any of his former teammates had contacted him since he came out, he said, "I have heard from some former teammates from college but not from the pros."


Bush Obstructs EPA, OSHA, CDC Regulations

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 5:27 PM EST

President Bush has gotten the message that the Democratic Congress isn't going to stand for further environmental deregulation or politically motivated weird science. Is he negotiating, as he promised to do in his feel-good press conference the day after the election? No, he's issued an executive order shifting control of such social welfare mainstays as the EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the White House-controlled Office of Management and Budget.

The executive order requires that "each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee." As the New York Times puts it, "The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president's priorities."

The president's priorities apparently include avoiding regulations that might slow global warming or improve public health. The order requires agencies to prove that the market will not and cannot handle any problems they might try to resolve with legislation. If the order's deregulatory bias isn't already evident enough, its implementation will likely fall to Susan Dudley, Administrator of the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Dudley is a notorious deregulation zealot. Prior to joining the administration, she led the oil industry-funded Mercatus Center, where she opposed regulations to address such no-brainer problems as smog and arsenic in the water supply.

Just how much damage can Bush do in his remaining 690 days?

U.S. Attorney Says Firing Was Politically Motivated

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 3:57 PM EST

iglesias.jpgThe Bush Dept. of Justice finds itself in even deeper doo-doo today, as Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias has charged that weeks before the November election, members of the New Mexico congressional delegation asked him to turn up the heat on the investigation of a Democrat for corruption. Iglesias declined and was fired, effective yesterday. (The reasons given include frequent absence, to which Iglesias responded that he serves in the Navy Reserve.)

Iglesias won't name the members of Congress unless subpoenaed, but the only New Mexico delegates who haven't categorically denied involvement are Rep. Heather Wilson and Sen. Pete Domenici, both Republicans. Domenici is, moreover, the White House's state contact for the U.S. attorney in the state.

Congressional Democrats have indicated that they will issue subpoenas.

Enticing New Health Care Plan from Little Known Corner of Congress

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 3:21 PM EST

A new Slate article by Jacob Weisberg examines that state of American health care, from the status quo to Bush's plan to John Edwards' plan to... Ron Wyden's plan?

Yup. The Democratic senator from Oregon has a plan, and it sounds mighty attractive. Imagine if the giant, Byzantine mess that is the current health care system in this country was reduced to this:

Under Wyden's plan, employers would no longer provide health coverage, as they have since World War II. Instead, they'd convert the current cost of coverage into additional salary for employees. Individuals would use this money to buy insurance, which they would be required to have. Private insurance plans would compete on features and price but would have to offer benefits at least equivalent to the Blue Cross "standard" option.

And Wyden is serious about the "universal" aspect of universal health insurance. From a summary of his plan: "Every time an individual interacts with state, local and federal government — registering their car, enrolling their children in school, applying for a driver's license or paying their taxes — they can be required to verify their enrollment in a private health insurance plan." Also, I'm sure this is music to some people's ears: "Previous and existing health problems, occupation, genetic information, gender and age will no longer be allowed to impact eligibility or the price paid for insurance."

Now you might say, "That's very well and good, but what about the unemployed, low-wage workers, and freelance bloggers? If they can't afford private health insurance now, why would they be able to afford it under the Wyden plan?" Wyden's website is stocked with information on the subject, and in all the "Before Wyden Plan"/"Under Wyden Plan" scenarios you can find there, previously uninsured individuals pay for private insurance at affordable rates. But how? From the same summary:

Employers who do not currently provide health benefits will be required to begin making phased in "Employer Shared Responsibility Payments." These payments will be used to ensure that everyone can afford their health plans by funding premium reductions.

After two years, all employers will pay these "Employer Shared Responsibility Payments," driving down the cost of premiums for employees across the country, the semi-employed, and the unemployed.

Now it's just a matter of getting this thing off the ground. As Weisberg writes in Slate, it might actually have a chance to succeed because Wyden is building support methodically and effectively.

He has support from CEOs, labor leaders, and even one maverick health-insurance executive. And instead of trying to flatten the opposition, as the Clintons did in 1994, Wyden is courting Republicans. He recently got five of the most conservative men in the Senate to join him and four other Democrats as co-signers of a letter to Bush responding to the White House proposal. The letter endorses the principles of universal coverage and cost containment, and proposes that they all work together on a compromise.

Godspeed.

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Seriously Mixed Signals from the Commanders in Baghdad

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 1:06 PM EST

About a week ago I highlighted an important story in Newsweek that explained how completely different the discussion about Iraq in America is from the reality on the ground. Congress may be debating (kind of) how to end the war, but over in Baghdad, Gen. Petraeus is embedding our troops with the Iraqi citizenry and "putting down roots." We're in it for the long haul, said Newsweek. Petraeus is trying to fight the war over again from scratch.

But today the Guardian reports that Petraeus and the Brainy Bunch are giving themselves six months to turn things around.

An elite team of officers advising the US commander, General David Petraeus, in Baghdad has concluded that they have six months to win the war in Iraq - or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.

This could mean several things. (1) That Petraeus really does have a long-term strategy but he will scrap it if there is no discernable progress in the next six months. (2) This Guardian story is just a bit of masterful PR by the Army to show that the new commander is aware of the war's failing support back home, and the long-term strategy moves forward unimpeded. Or (3) one of the two stories is wrong.

I'm guessing some combination of all three. But Petraeus -- who was basically set up to fail -- appears to have an even more impossible situation.

What Doug Feith Left Off His New Website

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 12:56 PM EST

Doug Feith, the former undersecretary of defense who helped set up the Pentagon operation that stovepiped bad intel about WMD and Saddam-Al Qaeda links to the White House, has been trying to clear his name recently. Now he says he was just asking "tough questions" about the CIA's work, not trying to peddle bogus theories to justify an invasion of Iraq. Just a skeptical public servant holding those in power accountable. And if you believe that, I have a war to sell you. Feith's latest effort in name-clearing is a website that promises to challenge the "media myths" and offers glowing quotes about his character from Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace. Funny, but Feith has conspicuously left off what's probably the most memorable quote about him by a military man he used to work with. Here, let us fix that:

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Global Warming...Are You Ready?

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 12:56 PM EST

Diesel shoppers surely are. I can't believe I missed this. Diesel's new ad campaign for their Spring/Summer '07 collection, is out, and my oh my, just wait until you see what they have in store. The campaign is based on the premise of whether or not you (their client) are ready (Read: Do you have the right clothing and accessories?) for the hot temps of global warming. Yes, this is for real. There is even a video which warns of the dangers associated with a warming climate, but urges fashion lovers not to distress, and instead take action (of course, in the form of bolstering your wardrobe with warm-weather essentials). You really have to see it for yourself.

Keep up on the latest news about global warming at the MoJo science and health blog, The Blue Marble.

Democrats Will End War in Iraq with... Pork?

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 12:52 PM EST

With John Murtha's plan to slowly end the war in Iraq mired in controversy and unable to get broad support, and the Democratic leadership's plan to rewrite the 2002 authorization for war going nowhere, the Democrats have turned to a different tactic.

Loading a war spending bill with pork.

Seriously, that's the best the Dems, who control both houses of Congress, can do. From today's Washington Post:

While Democrats try to restrict how President Bush can spend the $100 billion he wants for Iraq, they also hope to load his measure up with $10 billion in add-ons...
Lawmakers from the Great Plains are pressing for about $4 billion in disaster aid for farmers suffering under drought conditions.
The California delegation is demanding help for citrus, avocado and other Central Valley farmers facing $1.2 billion in losses from a devastating January freeze.

And so on and so on. Mind you, the idea here isn't to pump the bill so full of special interest spending that Bush has to veto it. No, the idea is to take advantage of the fact that Bush and Congressional Republicans would never have the cojones to stop a war spending bill, and thus push through a lot of favorite projects.

What? Seriously, what? Talk about having a tin ear. Didn't the Democrats ride into Congress promising to end the march of bills swollen on earmarks and Republican pork barrel projects? Are they seriously proposing this right now?