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Week in Review: Uganda Gay Activist Gets RFK Award, US Denies Gay Diplomat Asylum, Penn State Sex Abuse

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International

Gay Saudi Diplomat Denied Political Asylum By U.S.

Former Saudi Arabian diplomat Ali Ahmad Asseri, apparently a gay man, whose diplomatic status was revoked by the Saudi Arabian government because he is gay, has been denied political asylum by the U.S. government, according to a report published by the Jerusalem Post, who quotes a Saudi blogger. Asylum decisions are made by the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services division of Homeland Security. But no doubt the White House and the State Department would weigh in on a decision involving a Saudi diplomat. By denying Asseri asylum, the U.S. would be sending Asseri to an inevitable death, as Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty to known gays.

“My life is in a great danger here and if I go back to Saudi Arabia, they will kill me openly in broad daylight,” Asseri told NBC.

Arab League Suspends Syria 

After months and weeks of a popular uprising against the autocratic government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which, according to the UN has killed more than 3,500 people and thousands of others have been arrested, detained, disappeared and tortured, Syria’s membership in the Arab League was suspended Saturday. The League threatened political and economic sanctions against Syria, when issuing the suspension for refusing to suspend violence as a method to end the Arab Spring protests.

The Arab League’s action will take effect in three days, giving the government some time to reconsider its action in relationship to the protestors. This action was called for by Human Rights Watch, among numerous other human rights groups. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quickly affirmed the League’s action, stating that the “U.S. commends the principled stand taken by the Arab League and supports full implementation of its efforts to bring a peaceful end to the crisis”.

Berlusconi Out, Greeks Form New Government, Europe Shaken

After 17 years in power, Silvio Berlusconi resigned as Prime Minister of Italy yesterday, but it wasn’t the sex scandals that gave him the hook– it was all about money and Italy’s sovereign debt.  He was pushed from power by Germany, France and the G-20 due to the Euro Zone debt crisis, who turned their full attention toward Rome after the fall of George Papandreou’s Greek government last week end.

Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, who was not elected to parliament, and his government were sworn in on Friday. But by early Thursday, world markets continued to roil with uncertainty, escalating pressure on Italy to yield to the EU’s demands that Italy get its house in order, fearing collapse of its third largest economy. During the day on Thursday, Belusconi knew he could not remain in office, although he wanted to remain in power until a completed package of reforms were adopted by parliament. A first. Italian “Senator for life” Mario Monti is now expected to oversee an interim government, led primarily by technocrats that can revamp Italy’s debt-to-loan ratio. Europe is not out the woods yet and it remains to be seen when the next shoe in the Eurozone crisis will drop.

RFK Human Rights Awarded to First LGBT Activist

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award this week by Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert Kennedy and Senator John Kerry, in a ceremony held in Washington, D.C. The RFK Foundation will now support Mugisha and SMUG for the next six years in an effort to advance LGBT rights in Uganda, a first foray into LGBT human rights for the prestigious foundation.

Two weeks ago Mugisha also accepted the Rafto Prize on behalf of SMUG in a ceremony held in Bergen, Norway. The Rafto Prize noted that it was awarded to “SMUG for its work to make fundamental human rights apply to everyone, and to eliminate discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity.Uganda has become ground zero in Africa and notorious around the world for the efforts of David Bahati, a member of parliament, to legalize capital punishment for homosexuals. In January, David Kato, a gay activist and colleague of Mugisha’s was found in his apartment beaten to death.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XMSClLIMqE&version=3&hl=en_US]

Penn State Child Sex Abuse Scandal Shocks America

The November 6th arrest of Jerry Sandusky, a former football coach at Penn State University, who was charged by a Pennsylvania State grand jury with 40 counts of sex abuse, unleashed a series of shocking announcements by the University Board of Trustees that included the immediate dismissal of Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach for the past 46 years and Graham Spanier, president of the University, following an emergency meeting on Wednesday evening.

Immediately following the announcement, Penn State student supporters of Paterno took to the streets of State College, in opposition to the Board’s decision, and became violent by flipping over a television satellite truck and engaged in destruction of public and private property–adding insult to nearly lethal injuries already unraveling one of America’s top public universities.

Throughout the week, the Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General and the media reported with dizzying speed the events and details relating to the Penn State cover-up of Sandusky’s alleged rape and sexual assault of young boys, who were recruited through The Second Mile, his foundation for at-risk youth.  His crimes includes an alleged criminal complicity and cover-up by Penn State officials Tim Curley, the former Athletic Director and Gary Schultz, the former Senior Vice President for Finance and Business who were also charged by the grand jury with perjury and related charges. Schultz requested immediate retirement and Curley requested administrative leave from the University.

By Friday morning it became publicly known that Paterno had hired a criminal defense lawyer and may have perjured himself before the grand jury in connection to then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary’s testimony who had witnessed the rape of a 10-year-old boy in the showers by a nude Sandusky. McQueary testified that he told Paterno in detail what he had witnessed, although he did nothing to stop the rape and did not call the police.

McQueary, presently an assistant coach, reportedly had received numerous death threats and the University issued a statement early in the day on Friday that he would not be on sidelines of the Penn State game with Nebraska on Saturday afternoon for his personal safety. By Friday evening, the University announced McQueary was on paid administrative leave and remains a key witness to the Sandusky Penn State case that will no doubt be followed with riveting scrutiny by a shocked nation.

Many Americans, pundits, sports writers and social critics feel that the NCAA should administer what is known as the “death penalty,” by shutting down the football program at Penn State for at least one year, if not longer. These charges reflect an institutional cancer that has exposed a rotted leadership that truly lost sight of core values because of a grossly exalted multi-million dollar sport that trumped the dignity and well-being of children. Apologies are simply inadequate.

Read the following sources for more information:  The Sandusky grand jury report and a New York Times timeline of the Penn State Child Sex Abuse Scandal.

(Images: Syria, Frank Mugisha, Silvio Berlusconi, Joe Paterno)

 

Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.

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News

Dem Wants Probe Into Allegations of Congress Members Drinking During Contempt Hearing

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House Oversight Republicans held a contempt of Congress hearing for Attorney General Merrick Garland while lawmakers allegedly were drinking alcohol and acting “pretty ugly” during Thursday night’s proceedings. Now, they are the ones accused of behavior “embarrassing to our institution” by Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who wants an investigation.

“Members of the panel ultimately advanced a contempt of Congress resolution against Attorney General Merrick Garland on a party-line vote, but the far more striking takeaway was the personal attacks and theatrics lobbed between lawmakers in both parties — as Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) struggled unsuccessfully to gain control for more than an hour,” Politico reported Friday, adding: “both Republicans and Democrats acknowledged some members had been drinking that evening.”

Who was drinking remains a secret.

“A House Republican described the hearing as ’embarrassing’ and ‘a four -alarm dumpster fire,'” Axios reported. “The session quickly devolved into chaos, with Democrats blasting the GOP for postponing the hearing so several members could visit former President Trump’s trial and Republicans heckling them in response.”

One Democrat during the hearing spoke up.

READ MORE: Why Alito’s ‘Stop the Steal’ Flag Story Just Fell Apart

Ranking Member Raskin “said it was ’embarrassing to our institution’ and that he ‘constantly’ instructs his members to maintain a ‘high level of dignity and respect and decorum.'”

“We have some members in the room who are drinking inside the hearing room … who are not on this committee,” alleged Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM).

The Hill adds that Congressman Raskin said, “I didn’t see the drinking,” and that “the gentlelady from New Mexico, Melanie Stansbury raised it, she said there are members drinking in the room, and that’s something that is worth investigating if there was in fact drinking taking place.”

One unnamed House Republican told Axios, “This place is so stupid.”

The evening’s events quickly took a bad turn when U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), violating decorum, interrupted Ranking Member Raskin barely 30 seconds into his remarks.

Watch below or at this link.

READ MORE: ‘Partisan Insurrectionist’: Calls Mount for Alito’s Ouster After ‘Stop the Steal’ Scandal

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OPINION

Why Alito’s ‘Stop the Steal’ Flag Story Just Fell Apart

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Justice Samuel Alito’s defense for why there was a “Stop the Steal” flag flying at his Alexandria, Virginia home three days before Joe Biden’s inauguration, ten days after the January 6, 2021 insurrection, just fell apart.

The entire justification for a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice with lifetime tenure who refuses to recuse himself from cases including ones related to the 2020 election, which ethics experts and U.S. Senators say he is obligated to do so, is a dispute with a neighbor, according to The New York Times‘ original reporting, and a Fox News reporter.

Critics say his defense doesn’t justify flying a U.S. flag upside down, a symbol of the Stop the Steal movement used by insurrectionists.

In brief, Fox News’ Shannon Bream reports Justice Alito “told me a neighbor on their street had a ‘F— Trump’ sign that was within 50 feet of where children await the school bus in Jan 21. Mrs. Alito brought this up with the neighbor.”

“According to Justice Alito, things escalated and the neighbor put up a sign personally addressing Mrs. Alito and blaming her for the Jan 6th attacks,” Bream wrote. She added Alito “says he and his wife were walking in the neighborhood and there were words between Mrs. Alito and a male at the home with the sign. Alito says the man engaged in vulgar language, ‘including the c-word’,” which prompted Mrs. Alito to hang the American flag upside down as the insurrections did on January 6.

RELATED: ‘Partisan Insurrectionist’: Calls Mount for Alito’s Ouster After ‘Stop the Steal’ Scandal

Court watchers and critics have called into question Alito’s judgment. Senate Democratic Judiciary Chairman Dick Durban has called for the Justice to recuse himself from all cases related to the 2020 presidential election, NBC News is reporting.

Critics are asking if Justice and/or Mrs. Alito’s response to an alleged dispute with neighbors was appropriate, but now Justice Alito’s telling of events is being called into question entirely.

Aaron Fritschner, Deputy Chief of Staff for U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), says no school children would have been waiting for school buses at the time the Alito’s flag was photographed upside down, because schools had moved to virtual learning during the COVID pandemic at that time in the area the Alitos reside.

Further calling into question Justice Alito’s claims, CNN’s Holmes Lybrand, a former fact-checker for The Weekly Standard, reports none of the Alitos’ neighbors remember the alleged dispute the justice recounted.

“I spoke with some of Justice Alito’s neighbors who said they remember the American flag being flown upside-down at his home but didn’t recall any neighborhood drama surrounding it,” Lyband reports. “Each neighbor I spoke with reiterated multiple times how kind and well-liked the Alitos are.”

In its report that broke the story, The New York Times noted, “The half-dozen neighbors who saw the flag, or knew of it, requested anonymity because they said they did not want to add to the contentiousness on the block and feared reprisal.”

READ MORE: Trump Appears to Violate Gag Order After Judge Threatened ‘Incarceration’

 

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OPINION

Alito Tells Fox News Story Behind His Home’s ‘Stop the Steal’ Flag but Critics Unconvinced

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Editor’s note: The spelling of Fox News host Shannon Bream’s last name has been corrected.

Justice Samuel Alito on Friday appeared to compound concerns over the bombshell New York Times report revealing a flag associated with the January 6 insurrection and the “Stop the Steal” movement was flying at his house just before Joe Biden was inaugurated and while the Supreme Court was reviewing a 2020 election case.

Alito, whose far-right positions including writing the majority opinion in the Supreme Court case overturning Roe v. Wade, have infuriated and frustrated the left, once again has found himself the subject of apprehension over his impartiality and grasp of ethical norms.

In a rare move, the embattled justice, who now faces strong calls for his ouster, spoke immediately to the news media to address those issues, and revealed the story behind the decision to fly the “Stop the Steal” flag at his home.

Confirming again it was his wife who put the flag up, Alito seemed neither remorseful nor cognizant of the great ethical and credibility violation that act represented.

RELATED: ‘Partisan Insurrectionist’: Calls Mount for Alito’s Ouster After ‘Stop the Steal’ Scandal

“I spoke directly with Justice #Alito about the flag story in the NYT,” Fox News host Shannon Bream reported late Friday morning via social media. “In addition to what’s in the story, he told me a neighbor on their street had a ‘F— Trump’ sign that was within 50 feet of where children await the school bus in Jan 21. Mrs. Alito brought this up with the neighbor.”

“According to Justice Alito, things escalated and the neighbor put up a sign personally addressing Mrs. Alito and blaming her for the Jan 6th attacks,” Bream continued.

“Justice Alito says he and his wife were walking in the neighborhood and there were words between Mrs. Alito and a male at the home with the sign. Alito says the man engaged in vulgar language, ‘including the c-word’,” she wrote. “Following that exchange, Mrs. Alito was distraught and hung the flag upside down ‘for a short time’. Justice Alito says some neighbors on his street are ‘very political’ and acknowledges it was a very heated time in January 2021.”

The Bulwark’s Bill Kristol chastised Bream, noting she got Alito’s side of the story without “trying to see how it compares with the accounts and recollections of others involved. If only the anchor had the resources of a ‘news’ channel to seek out the truth!”

Some critics responding to Bream’s report say Alito’s explanation doesn’t make their perception of his actions — or his wife’s – any more reasonable.

Former George W. Bush administration official Christian Vanderbrouk commented, “Sam Alito is unapologetic for desecrating an American symbol as part of a neighborhood feud.”

READ MORE: Why Are One in Five GOP Voters Still Voting for Nikki Haley Over Donald Trump?

“Interesting claims by Alito,” attorney Robert J. DeNault remarked. “Not sure it’s reasonable to think any person would react to a neighbor disagreeing — even crassly or rudely — over Trump by hanging an American flag upside down. Does not feel credible to contend Alito’s upside flag was divorced from MAGA symbolism.”

“Alito speaks to Fox about New York Times report, continues to attribute it to his wife, but does not explain why his wife’s reaction to a ‘fuck Trump’ sign and being insulted was to hang an American flag upside down in the days after Jan. 6.” observed CNN’s Edward-Isaac Dovere. “Suburban neighborhood disputes happen all the time – over lawn care, noisy children, Christmas lights… all sorts of things. Not many instances of an escalated response being a now very politicized symbol of military distress.”

“Friendly reminder the entire GOP and Fox News is screaming on practically a daily basis that Judge Merchan needs to recuse because of the work his adult daughter separately does,” national security attorney Brad Moss offered. “But yeah, this is no biggie.”

READ MORE: ‘Long History of Playing Games’: Biden Campaign Shuts Down Trump’s Tantrum

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