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13 августа 2012, 03:26

WATCH: Boris And Dave Boogie To The Spice Girls

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So what was your favourite moment of the closing ceremony? Note to reader: All answers that are not the above video are incorrect. While Boris steals the show - as usual - with his thumbs-up routine, special mention must go to Nick Clegg's mini-thrusts. David Cameron and Ed Miliband showed they are good at clapping, but Olympics minister Hugh Robertson seems to be going through the motions. To be fair to the minister, the camera did cut to them during 'Spice Up Your Life'. He could have been going wild during One Direction. Maybe. Still, it's not the first time he's been caught looking silly, of course...

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13 августа 2012, 02:43

WATCH: London's Mayor Dances To Spice Girls

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London's mayor Boris Johnson had a good time at Sunday's Closing Ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics. A YouTube user with a quick eye spotted Johnson dancing along to the Spice Girls in a dark crowd shot. The group's performance was one of the most highly anticipated events of the entire games. Posh, Scary, Sporty, Ginger and Baby Spice were in fine form as they danced their way through "Wannabe" and "Spice Up Your Life." Boy band One Direction, Queen (with special guest Jessie J) and a host of other acts also performed. An eerie video of John Lennon singing "Imagine" was featured during the event, which The Who closed out with a strong set. Watch the video above to see Johnson do his thing. He's the shadowy figure directly to the left of the light (those six dots) at the right of the video. Check out a screengrab of Johnson -- and David Cameron, who appears in the left side of the frame -- dancing below (via The Daily Mail). More photos from the spectacle are available below.

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13 августа 2012, 02:32

'I'm So Happy To Have My Teammate Now'

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HIGH POINT, N.C. — The usually buttoned-up Mitt Romney repeatedly gave a thumbs-up. He passed around dozens of high fives. And at every stop, he clapped the back of his new sidekick, Paul Ryan. This was Romney unplugged, clearly energized by his youthful running mate and thrilled with the enthusiasm Ryan's selection created among Republicans in the opening act of the new team. "I am so happy! I am so happy to have my teammate now," Romney told cheering supporters in Mooresville, N.C., on Sunday at the first of two North Carolina rallies where thousands spilled into the streets outside, eager to see the GOP ticket. He was so happy, in fact, that when the crowd inside the venue broke into Romney's speech to chant, "USA, USA," Romney joined in – and pumped his fist in the air. He was right in step with Ryan, who was standing on stage with him doing the same thing. The presidential candidate voters here saw was far different than the restrained and ever-cautious White House hopeful of the muted days of the early primary campaign. Back then, Romney drew smaller crowds and his interactions with voters were rote. If crowds chanted, he would wave and smile. Sunday was also a marked shift from last month, when Romney embarked on a weeklong foreign trip marred with mistakes that, by the end, had him appearing strained and distant. The change happened Saturday when he announced Ryan as his No. 2 in Norfolk, Va., the USS Wisconsin as a backdrop before a jubilant crowd. The party's conservative base, long suspicious of Romney, reacted as if it finally had a reason to believe. Thousands came to see the GOP ticket at a furniture company in High Point, N.C., on Sunday near Greensboro. About 1,500 waited – some more than five hours – in a cavernous warehouse with struggling air conditioning, while 2,000 packed into a cleared-out furniture showroom where the air was sticky and heavy. Thousands more stood behind barriers erected on the street outside; Romney and Ryan stopped on their way in to give high fives to a few in the cheering crowd. "We love you!" Romney cried. He grinned, sweat beading on his brow, and clapped Ryan on the shoulder. Aides have dubbed Ryan "the partner." As Romney's campaign plane prepared to take off for Ryan's home state of Wisconsin for an evening rally, Romney sat on the armrest of his aisle seat and chatted with Ryan, both men talking animatedly. One of Ryan's sons tried to interrupt, but Ryan waved him gently away. When they landed, a crowd of thousands greeted Ryan at a homecoming rally. Ryan wiped away tears before introducing Romney, and after the event, the two embraced. The Romney-Ryan chemistry has been clear since well before Ryan joined the ticket. They campaigned together in Wisconsin before the primary there, joking and laughing in sandwich shops and at rallies. They appeared as much like father and son as two politicians. Ryan, 42, even played into Romney's own offbeat sense of humor, participating in an April Fool's joke at the presidential candidate's expense. Romney showed up at a supposed campaign event where he heard Ryan calling him "the next president of the United States" – only to find the room nearly empty. Their families clearly get along. Ryan's daughter Liza, 10, and Romney's granddaughter Chloe hugged each other on stage in Manassas, Va., at one point standing with arms around each other holding matching "Romney-Ryan" placards. Romney's personal aide, Garrett Jackson, posted pictures on Twitter of all the Ryan kids – Paul and Janna also have sons Charles, 8, and Sam, 7 – and two middle-school-aged Romney granddaughters, 11-year-old Chloe and 8-year-old Mia, playing together. Romney, it seems, couldn't be happier. "It's now two on two instead of two on one," he said late Saturday as his campaign plane carried the newly minted ticket from Virginia to North Carolina. "This is good. They've got someone else to pick on, too!"

09 августа 2012, 22:37

Daniel N. Nelson: Who Are We

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I understand violence. I've seen it, been there, done that. The military has a violent purpose, and warfare kills directly and collaterally. Southeast Asia, Central America, Bosnia, Caucasus. I have seen too much of it. But what we do in the so-called "developed" world is kill children in schools or at campsites, students and professors in classrooms, worshippers in temples and churches. Americans are not alone in the carnage, with horrendous human slaughter having occurred within the last two decades in Scotland, Germany, Brazil, Finland, and the heinous acts in Norway last July. The frequency with which Americans must experience "breaking news" about new mass murders committed with rapid fire and large magazine firearms is, however, never-ending. I live in Virginia, one of the states in which concealed handguns can be carried. So at Trader Joes or Whole Foods in the produce aisle, one never knows who is packing heat. Well, the asparagus could attack, I suppose. Who are we as a nation that allows, endorses, and even champions the ready availability of not just handguns for self protection, a rifle for deer season, or a shotgun for hunting birds? An AR-15 with a 100-round magazine? A Glock with a 30-round magazine? Conservatives who value Constitutional guarantees from the late 18th century should check their reset button. At a time of muskets and duels, the most damage might be an Aaron Burr lucky shot from 30 paces into Alexander Hamilton. Now, one man can mow down 12 innocent moviegoers (and injure many others) in moments. They died because he had the "legal" right to buy weapons and enough ammo on line to defend Aleppo. The terrible evil that is running amok in the United States (and other countries as we have seen) is a macabre fascination with carnage. Video games, hate music, and grisly films and television propagate this lust for gore. Peaceful, contemplative America is quite literally "out-gunned" by the onslaught of an invitation to violence. At Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, a son of one of my friends died when Cho Seung-Hui went on his rampage. Although I did not know anyone linked to Columbine, I had to break the news of Aurora to my friend from Boulder in the early morning of that awful day. I sobbed a full half hour before telling her of what had transpired a short drive from her home. I had served as a Congressional staffer 20 years ago, and imagined myself at the "meet and greet" event where Gabby Giffords was grievously wounded and six others, including a 6-year-old girl, were killed. And, for the first time in years, I received an email from my Norwegian cousin after the July 2011 heinous killings saying his heart was broken and his belief in any god abandoned. Near Milwaukee lives one of my college friends whose career took him to the area; his email's subject was painfully "did you hear?" Yes, I heard, and we should all listen. This is what we are doing to ourselves. Oak Creek, Wis., is only the latest. Perhaps this shooter was someone injured by a lifetime of failures. Perhaps he was someone blinded by ideological bigotry and cultural ignorance. But, the cops did us proud, brought him down, and saved us from yet more Brevnik-like speeches in countries that eschew the death penalty. To preclude more horror will require what we do not now foresee -- political courage. President Obama at least spoke words acknowledging the tragedy and, after Aurora, the role of guns in creating such carnage. This should become a centerpiece of his reelection. The NRA will spend and spend to fight for the rights of anyone to be locked, loaded, and on the lookout; Willard Romney is unlikely to speak more than to say how sorry he and Ann are. Dick Cheney should be kept off the firing range.

09 августа 2012, 22:36

Religious Group Slams Romney For Comments Toward The Poor

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WASHINGTON-- The Franciscan Action Network (FAN), a Catholic faith-based advocacy and civic engagement organization, is strongly criticizing Mitt Romney's recent ads and rhetoric regarding welfare programs and welfare recipients, urging him to spend some time in low-income communities. "Our Christian tradition teaches that we are to treat the poor with dignity and to prioritize the poor in our policies as a society," the organization said in a press release on Thursday. "At a time when millions are struggling financially, it is degrading to talk about the "dependency" of people hurting in this economy, as Gov. Romney did recently." Rhett Engelking, a secular Franciscan in Milwaukee and member of FAN, has even personally invited Romney to visit with the low-income people he assists. “Political leaders would not talk about the poor in demeaning ways or cut job training programs if they spent more time with the people they are affecting with their policies," he said. While faith-based anti-poverty and charity organizations have often criticized candidates and lawmakers for a perceived unwillingness to highlight and tackle issues affecting the very poor, FAN claims Romney's rhetoric goes a step further, unfairly using welfare recipients as political props. FAN spokesman Lonnie Ellis told The Huffington Post that what Romney is doing is "worse than ignoring" poor people. He said Romney is essentially criticizing President Barack Obama for helping out low-income individuals. "It's saying look, 'President Obama is actually supporting poor people too much, or he's just giving a free ride to poor people,'" Ellis said. "So it's actually using poor people in a really bad way." FAN's criticism, however, goes beyond the Romney campaign's rhetoric on welfare by condemning cuts to Pell Grants, Medicaid and Head Start programs put forth in the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and supported by Romney. “With the political conversation now on ensuring that low-income people are working, the most blatant affront is that the Romney-Ryan Budget actually cuts job training programs for low-income people,” FAN Executive Director Patrick Carolan said in a statement. The Romney campaign could not immediately be reached for comment. While many Catholic groups have generally been supportive of Romney and Republicans on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, FAN joins several other prominent Catholic organizations in their harsh criticism of the Romney campaign's stance on welfare and the Ryan budget. As ThinkProgress reported, NETWORK, a Catholic social justice advocacy group, has supported the national "Nuns On A Bus" tour, which is aimed at highlighting the negative effects of Ryan's proposed cuts, and invited Romney to spend a day with Catholic nuns helping the poor in their communities. In April, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a series of letters to congressional lawmakers criticizing the Ryan budget, saying that fair budget solutions "must require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs." "The House-passed budget resolution," the Bishops said in the letter, "fails to meet these moral criteria."

09 августа 2012, 22:34

Republican Criticized For 'Ridiculous' Report

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Ohio Democrats are criticizing the Republican nominee for the state's U.S. Senate seat over what they call a misleading annual report sent out by his state office. The state Democratic Party said that state Treasurer Josh Mandel is trying to boost his performance by including a full list of his state duties, including his role as chairman of the state Board of Deposit, in the Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report issued by the treasurer's office. Mandel came under fire from Democrats earlier this year for missing 14 months of Board of Deposit meetings and delegating the chairman's role to a top aide. Mandel is locked in a competitive Senate race with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D). "In this desperate attempt to rebrand their absentee boss, it appears the treasurer's office forgot to scrub chairing the billion-dollar Board of Deposit, which Josh blew off for fourteen months straight, from a ridiculous list of official duties Mandel's supposed to fulfill that they embarrassingly attempted to brag about. Oops," Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Andrew Zucker told HuffPost in an email. "Ohioans need look no further than Josh Mandel's latest misleading report, which embarrassingly boasts that under Ohio law he's supposed to chair the billion-dollar investment meetings he blew off for more than a year for proof that he's just another politician who can't be trusted." Mandel also outlines his roles as the state's chief banker and a series of other boards he sits on including the Agricultural Financing Commission, and the Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Release Compensation Board. The report issued by the treasurer's office touts Mandel's achievements including saving state funds through new investment and banking practices and cuts to the budget. He highlights an almost $1 million savings to his office budget, including the cancellation of temporary contracts, cuts to cell phone purchases and a moratorium on buying new office furniture. He also touts a growth in the state's rainy day fund and liquidity portfolio since taking office in January 2011. "In the midst of the “Great Recession,” Ohioans expect their elected officials to practice fiscal responsibility and to safeguard and stretch their hard-earned tax dollars," Mandel writes in the report. "Our global, national and state economies are being adversely impacted by financial uncertainty and volatile markets. That is why in the State Treasurer’s office I remain committed to tightening the belt on government spending, conservatively managing state investments, and streamlining and consolidating bureaucracies to achieve efficiencies." Seth Unger, the treasurer's office spokesman, could not be reached for immediate comment.

09 августа 2012, 22:28

Max Perry Mueller: The Lost Art Of Political Compromise: An Interview With Al Simpson

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Alan K. Simpson is one of America's favorite political pugilists. A lawyer, legislator, and devout Episcopalian, during his four decades in national politics, Simpson has learned to take a political punch as much as he's learned to throw one. "Politics ... it's a total contact sport," he explains. This is especially true for a Republican whose support for access to abortion and advocacy for gay rights has placed him in opposition to the views held by most members of his own party. Simpson has a counter to his Republican critics, including his former Senate colleague, and onetime GOP presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum (Santorum reportedly once called Simpson a "baby killer," after Simpson refused to support a bill to outlaw late-term abortions). "It's total hypocrisy," Simpson says, "to be in favor of the core values of the Republican Party -- the precious right of privacy -- and mess around all day long in women's lives ... abortion, and gay marriage." Since leaving the Senate (he served Wyoming from 1979 to 1997), Simpson has become famous not only for his views on social issues, but for his leadership on federal deficit reduction. In 2010, with former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, Simpson was appointed co-chair of President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. He also serves on the National Advisory Board of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. As the 80-year-old statesman got ready to do some fishing at his ranch in northwestern Wyoming, Simpson spoke with Religion & Politics about his long career as an advocate for the virtue of compromise in politics, and about his views on the role of religion in American political life. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. R&P: You served in the Senate from 1979 to 1997. This was an interesting time in the history of American religion and politics, as it coincided with the rise and the fall of the Moral Majority. What are your recollections of this period? AS: The Moral Majority was received first as a negative. But then I met people of the Moral Majority and they didn't frighten me. I'm an Episcopalian and have my own faith. I said [to members of the Moral Majority], "What are your tenets of the Moral Majority?" And they said, "Well, we think that the public education system is failing. We would like to have our children homeschooled if we could, if we found that appropriate. We think that God has been omitted from the curriculum. And we think that's wrong. And we are also disappointed when we see that if a football coach loses 10 [games] in a row he becomes the American History teacher. We don't think that that's very helpful for our children." And, you know, how can you argue with that? But when people begin to ask you on the floor if you've "been saved," I mean, that's strictly personal business in my mind. R&P: And this began to happen? AS: Yes, they'd say, "Are you saved," and I said, "Yes, I am." "Well, how can you show us Jesus is in your life?" I said, "Well, I couldn't exist without a higher being in my life but I'll tell you one thing, pal, they strung this guy up on a cross 2,000 years ago and He died for me. He saved me." It's fun to irritate them like that. R&P: Do you think the Tea Party is something new, or is it a new branding of something that we've known since days of the Moral Majority? AS: Well, for one thing, it's not a party. That's what people have to get over. They're named after an historical event and they're not all crazies. They believe in limited government and government out of your lives and doing something with the debt and the deficit and the interest to be paid, so they're not goofy. But the avid Tea Party people, they're not just for limited government, they're for no government. And that is, to me, a very troubling thing: to see members of that Tea Party Movement or Democrat or Republican or whoever, saying, "We're not for limited government. We're going to do what Grover Norquist says; we're going to drown government in the bathtub." R&P: Speaking of Grover Norquist, he seems to think that decreasing the size of the federal government is a moral issue. Some people think that making cuts to military spending is a moral issue, or requiring the richest Americans to pay higher taxes is a moral issue. Are these moral issues? Read Simpson's response at Religion & Politics. Max Perry Mueller is associate editor of the online journal, Religion & Politics, a project of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. Follow Religion & Politics at [email protected] and follow Max @maxperrymueller.

09 августа 2012, 22:25

Ken Allen: One Congressional Race and the Future of Civilization

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The other day I went to some trouble to have dinner with a nice fellow named Ryan Zerban and four other nice people. Ron Zerban, as you probably don't know unless you are a political junkie or live in Wisconsin's First Congressional district, is running for Congress. In many ways, Zerban is just what you would look for in a congressional candidate. He rose from a hardscrabble childhood to create two businesses he made successful, as far as I can tell, by dealing with people honestly and considerately rather than through ruthless and sharp practices. They were the fabled small businesses politicians so love to exalt. They really did create jobs, and Zerban limited his own income to ensure that his employees had decent benefits. He realizes that his success would have been impossible without the help of a lot of other people and the support that decent government and a well-functioning society provide. He is also, I learned, a very good listener. He retired early to dedicate himself to public service, striving to pay back a return on what he had received. Why would Ron Zerban have taken time in the midst of a brutal campaign schedule to have dinner with me, a Maryland citizen? I have no idea. I had scraped up a couple hundred dollars to donate to his campaign a few months back, a measure of how important I think it is, but I'm a retired guy with no fortune and a modest pension who lives in a row house, and whose primary personal problems, if I let the world slide by undisturbed, currently involve ensuring the presence of enough tennis and chocolate in my life. I certainly don't have the resources to provide any significant support to combat the blizzard of outside money any Democrat in a competitive congressional race will have to withstand in this post-Citizens United era. I don't think Zerban even knew I occasionally write blogs for The Huffington Post. I never thought to tell him, and for that reason it wouldn't be ethical to report specifics of the conversation, although Zerban is not the type to tell sympathetic audiences in private what he wouldn't say in public. It is a measure of how little of a reporter's mentality I have that I never thought of the dinner as a possible subject for an article until the next day. So why did I take the trouble to purchase a ticket for a commuter train from Baltimore to Washington DC, spend a couple hours on a dinner, then take a late train back, forcing my wife to pick me up at an inconvenient hour? That is a lot easier to answer. Ron Zerban is in a unique position, and I was focused on delivering one message, to the exclusion of all other considerations. The incumbent Congressman Ron Zerban is running against is Paul Ryan, a darling of the reactionary right and author of perhaps the most irresponsible and destructive budget proposal ever to receive prominent favorable attention in U.S. national politics. Unless Ryan is chosen as the Republicans' Vice Presidential candidate (still a possibility as of this writing) Zerban faces an uphill battle to beat him. But Zerban possesses formidable dedication and energy. If he succeeds, he will have provided an important if small part of what our country and civilization itself need in order to prevail. I went to deliver, in person, one message I wish all our representatives understood, however awkward it was to fit into the conversation, however embarrassingly pedantic it might sound, and despite the fact Ron Zerban must already have known it: The greatest existential threat to our civilization, the most important issue Congress and our government must address, whatever the immediate requirements of political campaigns, is global warming. We have no chance of addressing global warming in time to avoid utter catastrophe, however, as long as corporate money, especially money from fossil fuel industries and unproductive financial manipulation and exploitation, dominate our politics. Paul Ryan, of course, is a key and willing envoy of the very corporate interests and economic errors that will doom us if we let them. It would be immensely useful to defeat him -- to help discredit the politics and disastrous delusions he represents. That is an important part, the part Ron Zerban is in a unique position to help accomplish, of the first necessary step. But that is also only the beginning of a long slog. After taking that step, it will be essential to understand and keep in mind the primary reason, among many, why it was important. Through all the inevitable distractions he will encounter, that is what I wanted to make sure Ron Zerban would remember. If we -- our country, our civilization -- are to survive what Bill McKibben, in the last year's most important article, calls "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math," it will take the work of millions of people, very few of whom can alone have any significant effect. It will also take contributions from the ranks of the legislators and policy-makers Ron Zerban might join. However precarious the future, it is very edifying for a grandfather to have the unexpected opportunity to add one little bit, however tiny, to the effort to provide a survivable future where human beings can thrive and grandchildren can grow and prosper.

09 августа 2012, 22:22

Gay Vietnamese Americans Ask What Surprise News Means For Them

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The older she gets, the harder it is for Diana Bui to hide her sexual orientation from her big Vietnamese family. At 29, she's well past the traditional age for marriage, and she's running out of excuses to explain her single status, not to mention her short, asymmetrical haircut. So far, she said, only her mother, her brother, and a cousin in Vietnam know she identifies as queer. But this weekend, that might change. The Washington, D.C., resident is heading home to California for a family reunion, and she's ready to talk with her extended family about a side of her life she hasn't discussed since her early 20s, when she first realized she was attracted to women. After the recent news, the subject feels almost unavoidable. In late July, to Bui's shock, the Vietnamese government announced that it may change its position and recognize same-sex marriages as legal unions. On Sunday, more than a hundred activists biked through Vietnam's capital, trailing rainbow-colored streamers and shouting, "Equal rights for gays and lesbians," the Associated Press reported. "Just hearing about what's happening in Vietnam is giving me more motivation and a little bit more courage and, oddly enough, support," Bui said. "I don't have to feel like I'm this disease or this is just a phase." If Vietnam does legalize same-sex marriage, it will be the first country in Asia to do so. Like most Vietnamese Americans of her generation, Bui was raised by war refugees who risked their lives to come to the U.S. and still tell stories of suffering under the oppressive government back home. To this day, the government is frequently criticized by the international community for human rights abuses and, until recently, it listed homosexuality among the country's "social evils," along with prostitution and drug use. When Bui first saw the news about the same-sex marriage shift online, she read the story three times in a row, just to make sure it was real. When she was growing up in the Vietnamese-American community around Los Angeles -- the largest Vietnamese population outside Vietnam -- being gay was not acceptable. She knew some people who came out to their families and were kicked out of their homes. "As immigrants, we weren't that economically successful, but the one thing we do have is reputation and respect for the community," Bui said. "So that's how success is measured: whether or not you have family, kids, a husband or wife." The first time she heard her parents talk about gay people, she was 15 and the family was gathered in the living room watching comedian Ellen DeGeneres come out of the closet. "They kept asking, 'How did this happen to her? Did it start when she was young?' There was this assumption that it all came from Western culture," Bui recalled. This experience is common among lesbian and gay children of Vietnamese immigrants. A few years ago when Tran My Le told her parents she was gay, her mother, a Buddhist, tried to take her to an herbalist to cure her. "She thought it was because I grew up in America, and that it was a Western construct or a disease and if I had been born in Vietnam, then I wouldn't have to deal with it," said Le, who is now 21 and lives in Los Angeles, where she does organizing with API-Equality, a gay rights group for the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Le refused to see an herbalist, and she never talked about the subject again, although she does bring her girlfriend over to the house for dinner. Her parents keep trying to set her up with promising young men in the community. "We're considered invisible right now," Le said. Gina Masequesmay, a professor of Asian-American studies at California State University-Northridge, said that it's common to hear Vietnamese immigrants talk about homosexuality as a "Western" condition. But historically, gay people have existed peacefully in Vietnam. "What is Western is to come out, not that you're gay," Masequesmay said, adding that in the past, a married man in Vietnam could take a male lover, and it would not be controversial as long as he fulfilled his "duty as a father and a husband." The pressure to live up to these traditional standards still weighs on many gay American children of Vietnamese immigrants, and for some, legalizing same-sex marriage in the old country won't change that. Tracey Nguyen, a 23-year-old living in Berkeley, Calif., and working for API-Equality, has yet to tell her parents that she identifies as queer. Though they know she's working for a political advocacy group, she leaves out the part about gay rights. She hasn't discussed the recent news from Vietnam and is not sure she ever will. "My parents came here in the '80s, and they always hopped from job to job, and with all their hardship and their escape from Vietnam, I want to make it worth it for them," Nguyen said. "I feel that coming out would hurt them." In Vietnam, Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong has framed the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage as a purely practical matter. "I think, as far as human rights are concerned, it's time for us to look at the reality," he said in a recent interview broadcast on national TV and radio, according to AP. "The number of homosexuals has mounted to hundreds of thousands. It's not a small figure. They live together without registering marriage. They may own property. We, of course, have to handle these issues legally." But both Nguyen and Masequesmay are skeptical about the government's motivations. (The Justice Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.) Masequesmay sees it as part of a strategy to convince the international community that the Vietnamese government is forward-thinking. Three weeks before the justice minister gave his interview, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she has raised U.S. concerns about human rights in Vietnam, including the detention of activists, lawyers and bloggers for "the peaceful expression of opinions and ideas." "Marriage can be a football for countries to kick around. But so what if you recognize same-sex marriage if you don't have other rights or protections?" Masequesmay said. "All it says is, as long as you're gay, we might give you marriage, but you better not protest on any other issues, or jail." Tri Do, a gay Vietnamese-American physician and researcher based in the San Francisco Bay area, reacted to the news differently. In his work on HIV prevention in Vietnam over the last decade, he has seen some signs of progress and acceptance in the government and in the society generally. "I see what's happening now as a natural progression in the country and in the government," he said. "Although what the government does and what people feel and think on the ground can be a very different thing." Bui, too, was skeptical of the government's motivations at first, but now she is focused on the people close to her. She hasn't decided what exactly she'll say to her family, but she thinks she'll say something. "There's no way that people can't talk about it," she said. "Not anymore."

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09 августа 2012, 22:10

Javier Sicilia: Caravan to Highlight Failed Drug War and Victims on Both Sides of the Border

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I've been down on the bottom of a world full of lies/ I ain't looking for nothing in anyone's eyes/ Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear/ It's not dark yet, but it's getting there. ~ Bob Dylan In recognition of that darkness that seeps through both Mexico and the United States and carries with it the faces of hundreds of thousands of dead, disappeared, persecuted, tortured, dismembered, displaced and jailed, I ask for a moment of silence. We have arrived, as Dylan sings, at the "bottom of a world of lies" commonly referred to as the war on drugs. But the true name of that bottom is death, humiliation, fear, horror, jails, the empowerment of crime and the empowerment of state violence. We can also call it a crisis of democracy, the destruction of civil liberties and disdain for migrants. And that bottom of pain is, as Dylan warns, a burden too heavy to bear. That burden is the weight of our disappeared, of our dismembered, of our criminalized and humiliated migrants and, in my case, the weight of the death of my good son, an athlete and a professional who never tried drugs and who was an innocent victim like thousands of others in this imbecilic war. In spite of all, we are bearing those burdens we believed too great, looking for in the eyes of everyone consolation, justice, and the path toward peace. We have done it in Mexico, crossing the country in two caravans and holding dialogues all along the way, pushing people to consider how we can rethink and re-imagine the way our country approaches drug policy. Now we come from Mexico to you in the United States to invite you to be part of this critical dialogue about the war on drugs. Because if in this war that brings such darkness Mexico has a grave responsibility, so too does the United States. This war began forty years ago when President Richard Nixon decided, contrary to any sense of democracy and forgetting what happened with Prohibition in the early twentieth century, that drugs were not a matter of choice or freedom, of the market or regulation by the state, but a matter of national security that is must be fought with violence. Since then, to "protect" the twenty-three million drug users in the United States, we've waged a war that has destroyed Colombia and that now destroys Mexico, Central America and will eventually destroy the United States itself. And to what end? Drugs are cheaper and more widely available than before Nixon's declaration. Through this war safety and health is not offered to our peoples, but rather barbarism is imposed, violence and resurgent authoritarianism over democracy. This war is an unspeakable failure. The twenty-three million drug users in America, far from diminishing in number, only increase. Mexico in the last five years has accumulated more than 70,000 deaths, more than 20,000 disappeared, more than a quarter million displaced, tens of thousands of widows and orphans. American gun manufacturers funnel weapons for this conflict via illegal networks as well as legal structures like Plan Mérida, which arms the Mexican military. American prisons hold millions for merely consuming drugs. Migrants are criminalized on this side of the border or extorted or disappeared on the other, and the temptation to militarize, to resort to the tactics of a police state, arises on both sides, placing democracy and the grand ideal of an open society in a profound crisis. "It's not dark yet," Dylan says in his song, but this reality signals that night will be coming soon -- dark, atrocious, and deeper than the shadows that herald it. But not yet, not quite yet, in spite -- as we said a year ago in the zócalo in the heart of Mexico City -- of the incommensurable need, in spite of all the suffering, in spite of this nameless pain, in spite of the lack of progress towards peace, in spite of the growing confusion -- not yet. Because we are here, still able to speak, still able to question. We are seeing changes to policy that encourage reason, are rooted in science, and allow for compassion all across Latin America and in some American cities. On August 12, I will join dozens of others who have lost loved ones to the senseless drug war in Mexico to embark on the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity. Starting in San Diego, we will head east along the US-Mexico border, traveling over 5,000 miles through 25 cities - including Los Angeles, Santa Fe, El Paso, Houston, Montgomery, New Orleans, Chicago, and New York -- before arriving in Washington DC on September 10. The goal of our month-long Caravan is to become citizen-diplomats -- to reach out to you in the United States and seek your help in building a true, bi-national movement for peace and justice. Let us work together as neighbors to bring an end to the drug war. Don't wait until that pain reaches your intimate lives to hear the cry of those of us who cannot keep from uttering it: do not wait until the senseless death that this war has unleashed reaches your lives like it has reached ours, to know that such death exists and that it must be stopped. This is the moment for us to come together and change this policy of war and rescue peace, life and democracy. Javier Sicilia is one of Mexico's most highly regarded poets and the leader of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. His son, Juan Francisco, was murdered last year in Cuernavaca, in a cartel-related crime. The MPJD caravan crosses the border at San Diego on August 12 and will arrive in Washington D.C. a month later. Translated by Rubén Martínez.

09 августа 2012, 21:59

Alex Torpey: Open Government Isn't Just a Talking Point

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Everyone supports "open government." And it seems, these days, that most elected officials enjoy talking about how they support open government and transparency. But how many of us are really doing everything we can to do so? Here are a couple of easy ways we are helping to bridge the gap between citizen and government in South Orange that I hope can serve as perhaps a starting point for others looking to do the same -- as well as for citizens who want to push their local officials to embrace the benefits of new technology. But before I get started, it's important to note that these ideas (and plenty more) for the most part save taxpayer money and make government more transparent at the same time. Using the right technological platforms, you don't need to sacrifice lots of money to be more transparent, and no longer do governments have to sacrifice transparency to save money. Open Budget data: In South Orange this year, for the first time (and one of the only municipalities to even do so), we released our $32 million municipal budget in a downloadable, editable Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, which allows the data to not only be understood and manipulated by anyone, but, being in a standard format, can be tied into other software or applications. We kept the formulas embedded in the spreadsheet so people could manipulate the numbers and see the impact on the total budget as well as each household. I joked at our 2012 State Of The Village that it allows someone to play Village administrator for a day, and it's really true. We need to set a new standard for municipal government transparency in New Jersey -- helping citizens have access to easy budget info, and governments easy access to people's ideas and priorities about how their taxes are to be spent. Making a budget available online in one of a wide variety of interactive formats could allow residents to submit their own idea budgets, which helps us as elected officials know what a broader range people want (helping mitigate Squeaky Wheel Syndrome), and also helps educate people about our budget process and the tough decisions we are faced with. Public Document Accessibility: Many municipalities are facing historic numbers of Open Public Records Act requests that can cost a lot of staff time and divert resources away from municipal or statutory responsibilities of Clerk's Offices (especially in the not infrequent cases of corporations/people taking advantage of the system). Instead of trying to implement some regulations that could inhibit the flow of public information to citrizens, there is another way to help mitigate the costs of this. In South Orange, we have done this by having more than five years of meeting videos online, along with a searchable database of all of our minutes, agendas, resolutions, ordinances, proclamations (and more) that allows citizens very easy access to a wealth of public documents, which cuts down on the taxpayer expense of having staff find documents, and also provides information instantly to anyone interested. Anytime a special committee is created to research an issue, all of the minutes, reports and peripheral information is placed online. When we reviewed our Village Charter, hundreds of pages of documentation (that otherwise would surely have been OPRA'd numerous times) was put online to help anyone instantly understand the process. This is the bedrock to greater participation, and helps pave the way for rolling out even more participatory processes, like online voting platforms that allow the public to weigh in on any number of issues. To further help with the OPRA requests, we are looking into implementing an online form that would help residents file records requests, help us manage it (and give us some analytics) and also make every prior request searchable and instantly available. So if someone files a duplicate request, it is filled instantly online (giving easier access and reducing taxpayer expenses). One such example of a form is written with open source software at Open Up NYC. Partnerships. Helping bring some of the bigger open data initiatives from cities, around public transit schedules, water/utility usage, etc., to the smaller level that towns can adapt and adopt is key. There are a lot of open data initiatives happening around the country (StreetsBlog, San Francisco Data, Open 311, Code for America) and ensuring small towns are working with larger cities to share resources is key. I'm working with the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and others to try and facilitate as many of those connections as possible -- there are so many great ideas out there, the best thing we can do is learn from each other. Communication: Being an elected official, especially at the municipal level, and truly actively communicating is actually not as easy as it originally seems, and a number of legal grey areas make it difficult for elected officials who don't have a large staff to really use media the right way. There is a legal wall you need to put up between public and political, and that means a lot of duplication. I have separate email lists, for example, from people who have emailed my municipal email account, versus emails collected politically or personally. I've found it incredibly helpful to use a piece of cloud-based software called NationBuilder, that inexpensively consolidates my website management, events, fundraising, blog, email blasts, voter file, social media and more into one online campaign dashboard. Using my campaign email list of a few thousand people, I'm able to stay in touch with residents and the larger community easily, help people understand the issues that are going on in town and spread the good news when we do have it. However, supporting these types of initiatives requires either self-funding (which as an unpaid, student loan debt ridden elected official, I simply cannot do) or constantly raising money. Fortunately, some of these tools are much more inexpensive now, and this reduced cost means that its easier than ever to build a semi-professional communication platform, even if its just you and a few volunteers. And staying active on social media is one of the easiest (and cheapest) things you can do as an elected official, though yet again, is disincentiviezd because of the unclear legal issues. Pretty much anything regulating social media for public officials is based off evolving case law, not clear and defined statutory guidelines. But for example, during the storms last year, I had hundreds of interactions with residents looking for information, giving me information and discussing, over both Facebook and Twitter. Although this wasn't through an official village social media platform, I can use my personal Facebook and Twitter to connect with people quickly, but have to take precautions as well -- for example, redirecting all people who ask questions about municipal business through private message to my municipal email account. Sending out short video updates over social media and email (for example: State of Village Video and my latest video update) and writing up thorough but approachable summaries of larger issues has garnered a lot of positive feedback from people who feel as though they have more information about what's happening than they ever have. And to a quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson: "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people." I think part of the takeaway here is that not everything constructive to more transparent government has to literally happen through the government bureaucracy, but rather it's up to us, as public officials to work within the confines of the system we are part of, and figure out the best way to do it for the people we serve. Municipalities range in size and the amount of resources they can allocate to working on an issue like this, and even range on their interest to do so. However, if we can bring smaller towns together, sometimes with the support of larger cities, make available the failure and success stories of initiatives we've tried, and show those officials less enthusiastic about these innovations that the people support it, we can lower the barrier of entry into it and do our part in helping to truly turn Government into Government 2.0.

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09 августа 2012, 21:54

GOP Hopeful Losing A Lot In Longshot Bid

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Republican candidate Linda McMahon is making history in her almost three-year effort to capture a seat to represent Connecticut in the U.S. Senate. As the Stamford Advocate reported, no other candidate has spent more of his or her own money than McMahon now has on a U.S. Senate race. Despite outspending her Democratic opponent Richard Blumenthal by a more than 6-1 margin in the 2010 U.S. Senate race and still losing that election by 12 percent, McMahon decided to give it another shot this year in solidly blue Connecticut. And while she hasn't matched the $50 million of self-funding in 2010, the former WWE executive is still heavily bankrolling her campaign to capture the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). As the Advocate reported, recent filings with the Federal Elections Commission show that McMahon loaned her campaign a paltry $4.3 million in July -- putting her total spending at $12.4 million this election cycle, or roughly $62.4 million over both campaigns. That sum now surpasses the $62 million New Jersey Democrat John Corzine invested in his 2000 election to the Senate. McMahon is expected to coast to victory in the Republican primary and face Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) in the general election. She trails the Democrat by a 50-43 margin, according to a recent poll. 10 other election stories from beyond the presidential field Tipton, Pace Face Off In First Debate In Close Colorado Race For Congress [Denver Post] Largest Public Sector Union In New Hampshire Makes Endorsement For Governor [Concord Monitor] Wisconsin Republican Primary Senate Race Enters Final Days [Associated Press] Group Backing Prop. 30 In California Pledges $1 Million [Sacramento Bee] Rep. Tim Walberg From Michigan Compares Election To A “War” During Romney Campaign Event [Michigan Live] Evan Bayh To Boost Donnelly In Indiana Senate race [Politico] Florida Judge Rejects Lawsuit Attempting To Remove Justices From Ballot [Miami Herald] McLeod Asks For Recount In 12th District Republican Primary In Georgia [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution] Victory Is Not A Certainty For Sen. Debbie Stabenow [Detroit Free Press]