Thursday, December 11, 2008

News and Pop Culture Round-Up

Michael Ignatieff becomes Canada's new Liberal Party leader

(Ottawa, Canada) Michael Ignatieff's first act as new Liberal leader Wednesday was to warn Prime Minister Stephen Harper of his willingness to defeat his minority Conservative government when Parliament resumes in late January if the federal budget is "not in the national interest of our country." However, Ignatieff declined to spell out any specifics of what the Liberals want in the budget, declared that he is "not entering into negotiations with Mr. Harper," and made clear he is keeping the 11-day-old coalition agreement with the New Democratic Party, supported by the Bloc Quebecois, in his back pocket. "He must not doubt my calm, quiet, determined determination that he has to walk back down the hill," Ignatieff said at a news conference an hour after he was unanimously acclaimed to replace Stephane Dion, to whom he came second in the 2006 leadership race. Ignatieff made clear he sees the coalition not as a day-to-day parliamentary pact in which he would speak for the New Democratic Party or NDP Leader Jack Layton would speak for the Liberals, but as a coalition that could offer an alternative government instead of an election if the Conservatives are defeated. "I told the caucus this morning very clearly I am prepared to vote non confidence in this government and I am prepared to enter into a coalition government with our partners if that is what the Governor General asks me to do," Ignatieff said. "I also made it clear to the caucus this morning that no party can have the confidence of the country if it decides to vote now against a budget that it hasn't even read. So the ball is in Mr. Harper's court." READ MORE

Social conservatives blast Newsweek on gay marriage article
Leading social conservatives blasted Newsweek for its current cover story, "The Religious Case for Gay Marriage," which they said misinterprets both biblical scripture and their own political movement. “It doesn’t surprise me. Newsweek has been so far in the tank on the homosexual issue, for so long, they need scuba gear and breathing apparatus,” said Richard Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “I don’t think it’s going to change the minds of anyone who takes biblical teachings seriously.” Tony Perkins, president of the socially conservative Family Research Council, agreed, calling Newsweek’s cover story “yet another attack on orthodox Christianity. I hardly think that Newsweek is a credible venue for theological discussion,” said Perkins. “I mean, I thought it was just full of holes.” In a note at the front of the magazine this week, editor Jon Meacham predicted a backlash and struck a preemptively defiant note. “Religious conservatives will say that the liberal media are once again seeking to impose their values (or their ‘agenda,’ a favorite term to describe the views of those who disagree with you) on a God-fearing nation,” he wrote. “Let the letters and emails come. History and demographics are on the side of those who favor inclusion over exclusion.” And in an email to Politico, Newsweek managing editor Dan Klaidman invited further responses, writing: “The piece speaks for itself and we welcome the debate.” Lisa Miller’s cover story argues that the Bible’s lessons on marriage are ambiguous and lack the prescriptive clarity some ascribe to them. “Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition,” Miller writes. “The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it’s impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.”

Gay band to march in Presidential inauguration parade
For the first time in American history, a gay group has been asked to march in the Inaugural Parade. President-elect Obama will take the oath of office on January 20th during an elaborate day of celebrations in Washington DC. The parade will include the Lesbian and Gay Band Association as a marching contingent. During his inauguration parades President Clinton allowed the LGBA to perform on the street but not march. The LGBA is comprised of concert and marching bands from cities across America and the world. Formed in 1982 as Lesbian and Gay Bands of America when seven independent lesbian and gay bands met formally in Chicago, LGBA has grown to 26 bands. “We are extremely pleased to announce that the Lesbian and Gay Band Association will be included as a marching contingent in the Inaugural Parade,” the group said on its website. READ MORE

Who Owns the Moon?
Nearly 40 years after the U.S. flag was planted on the moon, a global rush to the final frontier has some pondering property rights out there. India, Japan and China are now circling the moon with their respective spacecraft – to be joined next year by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Then there's the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel some 1,640 feet (500 meters) and transmit video, images and data back to Earth. The legal profession sees a brief in the making. Laws tend to build on precedent. Since there's little precedent for lunar laws, some look to the sea for suggestions. That is, the use of ocean floor minerals beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. Such valuable resources are designated by some as a Common Heritage of mankind, not subject to national appropriation. Could the Common Heritage concept work as the basis for a Moon Treaty? READ MORE

Obama set to name lesbian Nancy Sutley to administration
(Washington) President-elect Barack Obama has selected a deputy mayor of Los Angeles to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, transition officials said Wednesday. Nancy Sutley is the first prominent member of the gay and lesbian community to earn a senior role in the Democrat’s new administration. With many of his top White House and Cabinet posts filled, Obama now is focusing on fleshing out his natural resources and environment team, and could formally introduce his choices for interior secretary, energy secretary and environmental protection agency chief within weeks if not days. Two transition officials disclosed Sutley’s selection on the condition of anonymity because Obama had not yet made the announcement. Sutley supported Senator Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary and was a member of her Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender steering committee. The deputy mayor for energy and environment in Los Angeles and the mayor’s representative on the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Sutley has a long record of working on environmental and natural resources policy. She previously served on the California State Water Resources Control Board, which is responsible for protecting water quality and resources throughout the state, and was the energy adviser to former Gov. Gray Davis. During President Bill Clinton’s administration, Sutley was an EPA official, including being a special assistant to the EPA administrator in Washington.

Idaho senator, Larry Craig appeal denied in sex sting case

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig has lost his latest attempt to withdraw his guilty plea in the Minneapolis airport men's room sex sting that effectively ended his Senate career. A three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected the Republican's bid to toss out his disorderly conduct conviction. Craig still has the option of appealing to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and he said Tuesday he was considering future options. Craig was arrested June 11, 2007, by an undercover police officer who was conducting a sting operation against men cruising for gay sex at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He quietly pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor and paid a fine, but changed his mind after word of his arrest became public that August. Craig insisted he was innocent and said he was not gay. His attorney argued that the police officer misconstrued Craig's foot-tapping, hand movements and other conduct. But the case brought widespread ridicule and effectively ended his political career.

Out actor, T.R. Knight asks to leave Grey’s Anatomy

Grey’s Anatomy star T.R. Knight, who has played lovable intern George O’Malley since the show’s debut, has asked producers to write him off the hit medical drama. While details of his exit have yet to be ironed out, a source close to the situation says that it seems likely Knight’s request will be granted and he will be released from his contract. Recent reports that Knight has not been attending table-reads for upcoming episodes or that he had walked off the set and cleaned out his dressing room are inaccurate, a rep for Knight tells PEOPLE: “He has been there every day. He was at a table read yesterday. He hasn’t said goodbye to anyone.” The rep had no further comment on his possible exit. Of speculation that Knight was still upset about former cast member Isaiah Washington’s alleged use of a homophobic slur about him — which prompted Knight to reveal he was gay, and which some felt series creator Shonda Rhimes took too long to rectify with Washington’s dismissal — a source familiar with Grey’s says it is false. “The Isaiah stuff has no relevance at all,” says the source. “T.R. doesn’t even know why people would mention it. It was so long ago.” So why does Knight, who remains a fan favorite, want to leave? “Have you seen the show lately?” says the source. Knight has received little screen time this season, with the show focusing on controversial storylines like the romance between Katherine Heigl’s Izzie and her long-dead lover, Denny. “It’s time to move on,” says the source. “It just feels like this is the right time to go.” News of Knight’s possible exit, first reported by, comes after Grey’s made headlines last month when actress Brooke Smith, who played Dr. Erica Hahn, was abruptly let go from the show. ABC had no comment.

Obama picks Nobel laureate Steven Chu for energy secretary

CBS News has confirmed that President-elect Barack Obama intends to nominate Nobel laureate Steven Chu for energy secretary. He has also picked Lisa Jackson - former commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection for - Environmental Protection Agency administrator. Former EPA administrator Carol Browner, who has led the energy and environmental policy team for Mr. Obama's transition, will serve as energy "czar," a newly created role. A Chinese-American, Chu is a professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California-Berkeley and has been the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004, where he has pushed aggressively for research into alternative energy as a way to combat global warming.

Jennifer Hudson returning to work after family tragedy

Jennifer Hudson is getting back to work less than two months after three of her family members were fatally shot in Chicago. The Grammy-nominated singer is scheduled to begin filming a video for the single "If It Isn't Love" next week, her label J Records tells the Associated Press. Hudson, 27, was supposed to start filming the clip in Los Angeles when her mother, Darnell Hudson Donerson, 57, brother, Jason Hudson, 27, and nephew Julian, 7, were killed in October. William Balfour, Hudson's estranged brother-in-law who is married to Hudson's sister Julia, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder last week. His lawyer has said Balfour " did not commit these crimes." Hudson hasn't made any public appearances since the tragedy, however she issued a statement last week after being nominated for four Grammys for her debut album. "It's been a childhood dream of mine to release an album, so to receive four Grammy nominations is truly a blessing," she said. "I am extremely honored and humbled by the nominations."

Uproar after Italian TV edits ‘Brokeback Mountain’

(Rome) Gay rights groups charged Wednesday that Italy’s state television censored Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” when it aired the Oscar-winning movie by cutting scenes of gay sex. Activists protested that RAI TV would never have dropped similar scenes had they involved a heterosexual couple, and politicians called for the incident to be discussed in parliament. RAI said it had aired the cut version by mistake. RAI’s second channel aired the film late Monday cutting out a sex scene and a sequence showing a kiss between the lead characters, played by the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. “I don’t believe it was an oversight, I believe it was preventive censorship,” said gay rights advocate and former lawmaker Vladimir Luxuria. In an interview with La Repubblica daily, Luxuria said cutting the key scenes was “like showing the Mona Lisa without its head.” In overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Italy, skimpily dressed women are a fixture on many TV programs, while scenes of sex and violence in movies are generally left untouched. Massimo Gramellini, a top commentator for La Stampa daily, wrote in a front-page editorial: “I would like to understand why a kiss between two gays … should offend our sensibilities more than scenes of heterosexual sex or bloodthirsty violence.”