Memories Of Stonewall Make For Best Paragraphs In Sunday Newspaper

With Stonewall in the news, and to be observed historically this week at the White House, these are the best paragraphs in the Sunday newspaper.

In conversations with gay activists on both coasts last week, I heard several theories as to why Obama has seemed alternately clumsy and foot-dragging in honoring his campaign commitments to dismantle DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The most charitable take had it that he was following a deliberate strategy, given his habit of pursuing his goals through long-term game plans. After all, he’s only five months into his term and must first juggle two wars, the cratered economy, health care and Iran. Some speculated that the president is fearful of crossing preachers, especially black preachers, who are adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage. Still others said that the president was tone-deaf on the issue because his inner White House circle lacks any known gay people.

But the most prevalent theory is that Obama, surrounded by Clinton White House alumni with painful memories, doesn’t want to risk gay issues upending his presidency, as they did his predecessor’s in 1993. After having promised to lift the ban on gays in the military, Clinton beat a hasty retreat into Don’t Ask once Congress and the Pentagon rebelled. This early pratfall became a lasting symbol of his chaotic management style — and a precursor to another fiasco, Hillarycare, that Obama is also working hard not to emulate.

But 2009 is not then, and if the current administration really is worried that it could repeat Clinton’s history on Don’t Ask, that’s ludicrous. Clinton failed less because of the policy’s substance than his fumbling of the politics. Even in 1992 a majority of the country (57 percent) supported an end to the military ban on gays. But Clinton blundered into the issue with no strategy at all and little or no advance consultation with the Joint Chiefs and Congress. That’s never been Obama’s way.

The cultural climate is far different today, besides. Now, roughly 75 percent of Americans support an end to Don’t Ask, and gay issues are no longer a third rail in American politics. Gay civil rights history is moving faster in the country, including on the once-theoretical front of same-sex marriage, than it is in Washington. If the country needs any Defense of Marriage Act at this point, it would be to defend heterosexual marriage from the right-wing “family values” trinity of Sanford, Ensign and Vitter.

Wisconsin Governor Barbara Lawton?

I must say I find the possibility, even though a mere rumor, of having Barbara Lawton become Wisconsin’s next Governor a very exciting prospect.  To get to that point of course, Governor Jim Doyle needs to be appointed to a position by the Obama administration.  This past week there were rumors and denials about an appointment for Jim Doyle as head of the Peace Corps.    While I overall have positive remarks about Doyle’s style and track record, I would very much like to turn the page, and have Lt. Governor Lawton take the reins of power in Madison.   

There are lots of politicians in this state, but few who seem as warm and genuine as Barbara Lawton.  Her smile and laugh are refreshing, allowing citizens to know she is approachable, and one of us.  That is not something that every politician has, and best yet when it comes to Lawton, it is not contrived.  What you see is what you get.  She always seems ready to greet someone, and offer a point of view without hesitation.  She seems to have a broad array of knowledge of the issues, and able to converse about them with ease. 

I know rumors abound all the time in this city about politics, and those who enter the arena to serve, and make a difference.  But I am really hoping that this one pans out.  I think Doyle would be well suited for the Peace Corps given his background, and I know that Lawton would be the perfect face and mind for Wisconsin’s future.

P.S.  Why do I feel I am now about to be placed on a new mailing list?

Robert Mugabe Violently Taking Over Diamond Fields

There seems  to be no end to the destruction from Robert Mugabe on the country he leads.  For many long years we have watched and read the way Zimbabwe has suffered as a result of his ruthlessness, and desire to rape the resources of his country.  The latest read from the Sunday paper is not so shocking given what we already know about this tyrant, but instead a further confirmation that Mugabe is running his country, through violence, ever further into the ground.

Zimbabwe’s military, controlled by President Robert Mugabe’s political party, violently took over diamond fields in Zimbabwe last year and has used the illicit revenues to buy the loyalty of restive soldiers and enrich party leaders, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released Friday.

The party, ZANU-PF, has used the money from diamonds — smuggled out of the country or illegally sold through the Reserve Bank — to reinforce its hold over the security forces, which seemed to be slipping last year as the value of soldiers’ pay collapsed with soaring inflation, Human Rights Watch researchers said.

On Friday, Zimbabwe’s government roundly denied the charges in the report, which cited visits by its researcher to the diamond fields in February and interviews with soldiers, miners and other witnesses.

The information minister, Webster Shamu, of ZANU-PF, said in a telephone interview that the report’s aim was to tarnish the country’s image, block the sale of its diamonds internationally and, “in so doing, deny Zimbabwe much needed foreign currency.”

“The whole report is just not true,” he said.

Last year Zimbabwe’s state media depicted the military blitz, code-named Operation No Return, in the Marange district as a push to restore order in the midst of a lawless diamond rush in the area.

But the Human Rights Watch report charged that the military killed more than 200 miners and used the push to seize the Marange fields.

Some miners died when soldiers opened fire from helicopters with automatic rifles mounted on them, the group said. Many of the dead were taken to the morgue at Mutare General Hospital, or buried in mass graves, the report says.

Army brigades are being rotated into the diamond fields, discovered in 2006, so more soldiers can profit from the illegal trade, the report says.

Villagers from the area, some of them children, are being forced to work in mines controlled by military syndicates and have complained of being harassed, beaten and arrested, the report says.

“It’s a big cash cow for the military and the police, especially since Zimbabwe is virtually bankrupt,” Dewa Mavhinga, the Zimbabwean lawyer who was the main researcher for the report, said in an interview.

Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled for 29 years, is now governing with his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, who spent the past three weeks in Western capitals seeking assistance for Zimbabwe’s devastated economy.

President Obama and European heads of state have generally declined to aid Zimbabwe’s government directly, in part because of concerns that it continues to flout the rule of law.

The Human Rights Watch report is the latest sign of growing international concern about charges of killings and human rights abuses in the diamond fields southwest of the city of Mutare.