Thursday, February 28, 2013

Goodbye Holy Daddy; Hello New Roommate

Do I have to give up my Prada shoes?
As Benny's last day draws nigh, we have additional details on his retirement.  First, the pooped pontiff will keep the name Benedict XVI and still be addressed as "his holiness".  At about 5 pm local time, the 85-year-old will then be flown by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer residence near Rome, in the afternoon. The church bell will toll and he will make his very last public appearance, greeting crowds from a balcony there.

At the moment Benedict's papacy ends (8 pm) the Swiss Guards -- the soldiers who for more than five centuries have protected the pope and his residence -- will leave the gates of Castel Gandolfo. He will from that point have Vatican police protection instead.  Benedict will stay there until renovations to a monastery within the Vatican grounds is completed later in the spring.

Benny will no longer use the Fisherman's Ring, the symbol of the pope.  The ring will be destroyed, along with Benedict's papal seal, after his departure from office.  He will wear a simple white cassock (instead of his usual finery), without the customary red mantle of the pontiff. He will also no longer wear  his Prada-made red shoes, adopting a pair of brown loafers instead.

Why we should care about all this, I don't know.  But while we're speculating, there are now reports from  Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica that the Pope's decision to resign was partly prompted by a report that accused Vatican officials of being under the influence of several internal lobbies.  The Irish Times reports that Benedict commissioned the report after the "Vatileaks" scandal broke last year.  The report, written by a trio of cardinals, concluded that "various lobbies within the Holy See were consistently breaking" the sixth and seventh commandments, "thou shalt not commit adultery" (a charge which is commonly used by the church to disparage homosexuality) and "thou shalt not steal."  The paper also claims the report details information about sexual meetings organized by members of a gay underground network, who got together in venues across Rome and Vatican City.

Holy Daddy's New Roommate
And now that we're talking about designer red shoes and gay lobbies . . . Andrew Sullivan has blogged new details of the (seemingly) gay relationship between the Pope and his personal secretary, Angelo Gänswein.  It now seems that the Pope is going to get to keep his personal secretary Angelo-- a good-looking young(er) monsignor who will be double-dipping by serving the new Pope by day and Ratzinger by night (as Rachel Maddow put it in her recent coverage's of this story).  Nice arrangement for Angelo-- he gets to keep his paying job while he gets to keep servicing (ahem) his old boss during his off-hours (and will be living with him as well).

Irish writer Colm Toibin penned a profile of Angelo, which described the relationship in part:

The pope’s day begins with the seven o’clock Mass, then [the Pope] says prayers with his breviary.  [Benedict and Angelo] then have breakfast together, and [afterward] begin the day’s work by going through correspondence. Then Angelo exchanges ideas with the Holy Father, accompanying him to the ‘Second Loggia’ for private midday audiences. Then [Benedict and Angelo] have lunch together.  After the meal [they] go for a little walk before taking a nap.  In the afternoon [Angelo] again takes care of correspondence, taking the most important of them which needs his signature to the Holy Father.

When asked if he felt nervous in the presence of the Holy Father, Angelo Gänswein replied that he sometimes did and added: ‘But it is also true that the fact of meeting each other and being together on a daily basis creates a sense of “familiarity”, which makes you feel less nervous. But obviously I know who the Holy Father is and so I know how to behave appropriately. There are always some situations, however, when the heart beats a little stronger than usual.’

Hmm, red Prada shoes, bejeweled robes, gay-bashing, sleep-over buddy . . . if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . . .

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Squealing Like An Italian Pig

I'm not a racist; I only act like one!
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is well known for his outrageous comments both on and off the high bench, where he has distinguished himself for 27 years as one of its most extremist justices in a century. But in oral arguments of  Shelby County v. Holder (after which it seems that the conservative majority will eviscerate the Voting Rights Act of 1965), Scalia raised the eyebrows of many with a shocking remark rising above his usual hatefulness.

Continuing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (which requires federal approval of voting laws in nine southern states and parts of seven others) would be, according to Scalia, the "perpetuation of racial entitlement."  He weakly tried to justify this extremist view by claiming the Act had only been renewed by a unanimous Senate in 2006 because there was no political advantage to be had from voting against it.

This comes from the guy who famously admitted that he would have dissented had he been on the Supreme Court when it ruled unanimously for desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education.   He also dissented with the majority in 2012's Arizona v. United States, in which he made the outrageous argument against federal supremacy in immigration law, saying:

    "The States enacted numerous laws restricting the immigration of certain classes of aliens, including convicted criminals, indigents, persons with contagious diseases, and (in Southern States) freed blacks."

Update:  courtesy of the Alliance of Justice, here's a link to hear the actual comments by Scalia during oral arguments:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Maldives Metes Out Punishment For Rape Victim

A 15-year-old rape victim in Maldives has been sentenced to 100 lashes for engaging in premarital sex, according to reports. The charges against the girl were brought last year after police learned that her stepfather had raped her and killed their baby.   He has yet to face trial.

Amnesty International condemned the punishment as "cruel, degrading and inhumane". The government said it did not agree with the punishment and that it would look into changing the law.

Zaima Nasheed, a spokesperson for the court, said the girl was also sentenced to house arrest at a children's home for eight months. She defended the punishment, saying the girl had willingly committed an act outside of the law. The girls is to receive the 100 lashes when she turns 18, unless she requested it earlier.

The legal system of the Maldives has elements of Islamic Sharia law as well as English common law. Ahmed Faiz, a researcher with Amnesty International, said flogging was "cruel, degrading and inhumane" and urged the authorities to abolish it. "We are very surprised that the government is not doing anything to stop this punishment - to remove it altogether from the statute books. This is not the only case. It is happening frequently - only last month there was another girl who was sexually abused and sentenced to lashes."

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Gay Penalty Tax

Beyond the discrimination inherit in the ban on same-sex marriage, the refusal of the U.S. government to legally recognize same-sex marriages imposes steep financial penalties on same-sex couples.  And well-known financial advisor Suze Orman has now labeled it the "gay penalty tax".

If the federal government were to recognize same-sex marriage, then the death of one of the partners would result in the seamless tax-free transfer of assets to the survivor. That's a basic right that every heterosexual married couple has.

But because there is no federal recognition of same-sex marriage, there would be a federal estate tax bill that a surviving partner would have to pay upon death of the other. For a heterosexual married couple, there would be no estate tax regardless of the size of the estate or who died first.

Every gay couple is also discriminated against when it comes to Social Security benefits.  For married heterosexual couples, the lower earner can opt to collect a monthly benefit check that is equal to 50% of his or her spouse's benefit. More importantly, when the high earner dies, the surviving spouse is allowed to collect 100% of the deceased's higher benefit.

Because same-sex marriages aren't recognized on the federal level, gay and lesbian couples are not eligible for these same Social Security spousal benefits.

Health insurance is another area of  financial discrimination against gay couples. Even as more and more  employers are extending health insurance benefits to same-sex partners, the IRS requires that the value of this coverage be treated as taxable income  because same-sex couples are not considered legally married under the eyes of the federal government.

A 2007 study estimated that this gay health insurance penalty costs same-sex couples an aggregate of $178 million ($1,069 per household), while employers paid an additional $57 million in payroll tax on that taxable income. No heterosexual married couple or their employers pay that penalty.

Whether or not same-sex marriage is against your religious values, how can it be fair to financially penalize same-sex couples in this way?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Saying Goodbye To Quality Teachers in Wisconsin

Wisconsin high school teacher Christine Kiefer was working on a master's degree and had been teaching math for 10 years when Gov. Scott Walker eliminated collective bargaining for public workers as part of his budget-balancing efforts. She was forced to abandon her master's degree because of state funding cuts. But getting a masters degree is the only way for a teacher to get promoted . . . and faced with increasing class sizes (due to other budget cuts), Kiefer told the school board she was resigning:

 "Here's my problem: When I started, I had all these incentives to improve and now I am completely stuck.  I have no master's degree, I have no way to increase my salary and there are no incentives in place for improving my practice. Others in my department and in this school make a lot more money than I do and I produce the same, quality results."

I love teaching kids and I love the kids' families and I love my colleagues and I love Whitefish Bay, but I cannot wait any longer.  I can't stay at a job that sacrifices all my time for my own family—at least two hours every school night and between six to 12 hours every weekend—time after the bell rings, time that produces such good results when there is no good faith effort on the part of the district to pay what I am worth, to pay me what you would probably have to pay an equivalent replacement for me." 

Christine Kiefer isn't the only Wisconsin teacher to leave in the wake of the damage Scott Walker has done to the state education system—retirements skyrocketed after the Governor's changes were implemented. But, as Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos has documented, Scott Walker's budget repair bill isn't the only bad policy pushing dedicated teachers out of the classroom.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oscar-Nominated Palestinian Director Victimized By Customs Officials

Oscar nominated director Emad Burnat was detained by U.S. Customs officials this week and was told he and his family would be refused entry, despite having valid passports and proper visas for entering the country.   Fellow documentarian Michael Moore took to Twitter in protest after the director texted him when officials took the filmmaker, his wife and 8-year-old son into a holding area to find out why they were entering the country. 

Burnat, who is up for an Academy Award this weekend for his co-directing efforts on 5 Broken Cameras, was eventually allowed into the U.S. after being questioned for an hour and a half. His full statement:

“Last night, on my way from Turkey to Los Angeles, CA, my family and I were held at US immigration for about an hour and questioned about the purpose of my visit to the United States. Immigration officials asked for proof that I was nominated for an Academy Award® for the documentary 5 BROKEN CAMERAS and they told me that if I couldn’t prove the reason for my visit, my wife Soraya, my son Gibreel and I would be sent back to Turkey on the same day. After 40 minutes of questions and answers, Gibreel asked me why we were still waiting in that small room. I simply told him the truth: ‘Maybe we’ll have to go back.’ I could see his heart sink. Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians, every single day, throughout he West Bank. There are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks, and other barriers to movement across our land, and not a single one of us has been spared the experience that my family and I experienced yesterday. Ours was a very minor example of what my people face every day.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rapes In India Garnering More Attention

Police in India have detained three men in the western state of Maharashtra in connection with the rape and murder of three sisters.  The girls, aged six to 11, had been missing since February 14th.  Their bodies were found two days later in a well in their village in Bhandara district, 124 miles from Mumbai.

The incident comes barely two months after the fatal gang rape of a student in Delhi caused outrage across India.

Police said the post-mortem reports of the three girls had confirmed that they were raped and murdered.  Bhandara police chief Aarti Singh told reporters that the motive behind the crime was not yet known.  "The girls' mother believes the involvement of an acquaintance in the crime, but we are not sure," she said.

Son Of Sanford

On the Today show this week, former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford (who is looking to re-boot his political career by running for congress) had this to say:
"The reality of our lives is if we live long enough, we’re going to fail at something. I absolutely failed in my personal life and my marriage. The one place I didn’t ever fail was with the taxpayers. If you look at my 20 years in politics, what you would see is a fairly remarkable consistency in trying to watch out for the taxpayer."
Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos helpfully refreshed our memory about this hypocrite-- Sanford was the "Appalachian Trail" guy who disappeared from public view for a week back in 2009 in order to hook up with his Latina girlfriend (not even his wife or security detail knew that he had "taken a hike" out of the country). After the ensuing media frenzy, he was hit with 37 ethics charges related to his personal travel and use of campaign funds. He ultimately paid $74,000 to settle those charges and avoid a hearing. As governor, Sanford spent more than $468,000 on state-funded travel, including $44,000 on business- and first-class tickets. He had a state plane take him from Myrtle Beach to Columbia so he could get a haircut. In total, Sanford used state planes more than twice as much as the two previous governors combined. Sanford was finally shamed into repaying South Carolina for what had been a state-funded trip to Argentina, when it became public knowledge that the true purpose of the trip was to spend time with his Argentine girlfriend Maria Belen Shapur.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Time To Update Alabama's Biology Curriculum

Republican Alabama State representative Mary Sue McClurkin showing what she learned in her grade school biology class:

“When a physician removes a child from a woman, that is the largest organ in a body.  That’s a big thing. That’s a big surgery. You don’t have any other organs in your body that are bigger than that.”

Especialy the brain, in McClurkin's case.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hugo's Hidden Homecoming Harbinger of Hardship Ahead

Hugo Chavez’s return to Venezuela after a 10-week absence while undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba may may only service to contribute to pressure that an election be called to choose his successor.  As a result of the devaluation ordered by Chavez's stand-in, Venezuelans' real income may decline by 20% and inflation could rise 30% this year -- economic fallout that will especially hurt the poor, since they spend a higher portion of their income on imported food.

And Chavez's health may not necessarily be on a positive trend-- Hugo arrived in the middle of the night and was immediately admitted to a military hospital in the poor San Martin barrio in west Caracas. There were no photos of his arrival-- insiders say that the manner of his arrival (as opposed to a celebratory welcome at the airport) was especially revealing.

Chavez's return, despite the appearance that he has not fully recovered from surgery, may have been a response to increasing pressure from opposition groups. On Monday, students spent a fifth day at the Cuban Embassy in Caracas in protests originally called over Chavez’s absence.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Riveting Russian Wreckage Replays

After checking out all the amazing footage of the meteorite in Russia, what I find interesting is that nobody is talking about why all these Russian motorists have dashboard cams in their vehicles.  People speculate that there are many factors contributing to this-- corrupt policemen, poor traffic enforcement, universally poor driving skills, lack of road warnings/signs and/or sporadic insurance coverage for drivers.  It seems that reality shows are a staple on Russian TV-- with shows highlighting crash coverage especially popular.  I stumbled on a a 13-minute clip of highlights, with one jaw-dropping incident after another.  I was riveted, quite frankly.

Friday, February 15, 2013

In Fear Of Deadly Christians

Neil Clark Warren, Christian co-founder of eHarmony and homophobic bigot, on being required to set up an LGBT dating site as a result of a discrimination lawsuit:
"When the attorney general of the state of New Jersey decided that we had to put up a same-sex site and we did it out of counsel that if we didn’t do it we were not going to have any business in New Jersey — we literally had to hire guards to protect our lives because the people were so hurt and angry with us, were Christian people, who feel that it’s a violation to scripture."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2013 Rio Carnival

And the winning school of Vila Isabela (who last won in 2006), breaking the two-year winning streak of Unidos da Tijuca:


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