Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Poor People's Campaign Public Hearing Press Conference

Poor People's Campaign Public Hearing held at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee

New Yorkers get a peek at the High Line Park, which hovers above the West side of Manhattan.

Lethal blast hits Pakistani hotel

An explosion has killed five people and injured at least 25 at a luxury hotel in the north-west Pakistani city of Peshawar, officials say.

Injured people could be seen on TV footage from the scene

Police named the hotel as the five-star Pearl Continental, and an unconfirmed report suggests that foreign guests are among those hurt.

Peshawar is capital of Pakistan's troubled North West Frontier Province.

A series of bombs have hit cities including Peshawar since a government crackdown on Taliban militants.

TV reports said the hotel had been subjected to a gun and bomb attack.

A government investigator, Sahibzada Anees, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying officials were trying to establish whether a device had been planted or it was a suicide attack.

Pearl Continental's website describes its hotel in Peshawar as "overlooking the famous Peshawar golf course and the historic Bala Hisar Fort".

Government forces launched an offensive earlier this year to crush a Taliban-led uprising in the Swat valley aimed at enforcing Sharia law.

Taliban leaders have promised to launch revenge attacks on major Pakistani cities and claimed a bombing in Lahore last month which left at least 28 people dead.

Market reacts coolly to bank bailout repayment

NEW YORK (AP) — Investors reacted coolly to word that 10 of the nation's largest banks can repay $68 billion in bailout money.

Stocks zigzagged in a narrow range Tuesday after the Treasury Department's widely expected announcement that the banks will be allowed to repay the money they received from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program created by Congress last October at the height of the financial crisis.

The banks have been eager to get out of the program to escape government restrictions such as caps on executive compensation. Among the banks that confirmed that they received permission to repay the bailout funds were: JPMorgan Chase & Co., American Express Co., U.S. Bancorp, Capital One Financial Corp., Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and BB&T Corp.

Rob Lutts, president and chief investment officer of Cabot Money Management, said banks getting approval to repay the government loans is a positive sign for the battered sector and provides a psychological boost for investors.

"It's part of the healing process for the banking industry," Lutts said.

Experts say the repayments indicate some stability has returned to the banking sector, which was thrown into chaos in September with the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Others warn that by allowing only some banks to return funds, the government risks creating a tiered banking system with some large firms still tied to the bailout having to figure out how to compete with those who left. It could also widen the split between what traders regard as healthy and troubled banks.

In midday trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 26.15, or 0.3 percent, to 8,738.34. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 1.09, or 0.1 percent, to 938.05, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 9.09, or 0.5 percent, to 1,851.49.

On Monday, the market reversed steep losses in the last hour of trading as commodity prices came off their lows late in the day. The Dow ended less than 2 points higher after being down 130 points earlier in the session.

Volume though, was light, which can skew gains and losses.

Among banks, JPMorgan rose 1 cent to $35.40, while American Express rose 64 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $26.29. U.S. Bancorp slipped 18 cents to $18.18, Capital One rose $1.08, or 4.6 percent, to $24.52. Bank of New York fell 20 cents to $28.34, and BB&T rose 51 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $22.44.

The market had little reaction to word that wholesalers slashed inventories more than expected in April as businesses struggled to get stockpiles in line with falling sales. The Commerce Department said that wholesale inventories fell 1.4 percent in April, more than the 1.1 percent decline that economists expected. It marked the eighth straight month that inventories dropped.

Meanwhile, investors appeared reassured by comments from a Fiat spokesman that the Italian carmaker is committed to buying a controlling stake in the distressed U.S. automaker Chrysler despite a U.S. Supreme Court stay on the deal.

On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put at least a temporary hold on Chrysler's swift move through bankruptcy. Ginsburg could decide on her own to end the temporary order or she could refer the matter to the full Supreme Court to decide on whether to allow the sale to be completed.

Under terms of the agreement, Fiat has the option to abandon the deal if it is not completed by June 15, leaving Chrysler with few options other than to liquidate under bankruptcy court supervision.

On Tuesday in Italy, Fiat spokesman Gualberto Ranieri said "Fiat won't walk away from Chrysler."

Investors will also continue to keep a close eye on Treasury prices as yields on two-year and 10-year notes rose to new yearly highs Monday ahead of a fresh round of auctions this week. There is concern the Federal Reserve will need to hike interest rates before the end of the year to stave off inflation.

Lutts said rising interest rates can provide some headwinds for the market, but that any move by the Fed to raise rates will not come until very late in the year, and only after there is significant improvement in the jobs market.

Bond prices were mixed. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite to its price, fell to 3.84 percent from 3.89 percent late Monday. The yield is a widely used benchmark for home mortgages and other loans.

While the yield on the 10-year note is significantly higher than it was just a few months ago, Lutts said it is still below a normal long-term range of closer to 4.5 percent, meaning there is still room for further increases in the coming months.

The yield on the three-month T-bill was flat at 0.18 percent from late Monday.

The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 1.84, or 0.4 percent, to 526.63.

About seven stocks rose for every six that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 340.7 million shares compared with 357.6 million shares traded at the same time Monday.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.8 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 slipped less than 0.1 percent, Germany's DAX index fell 0.4 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 0.2 percent.

Wrongly Convicted ‘Central Park 5' Seek Compensation

It has been 20 years since the brutal rape of a White female jogger in New York City's Central Park. But supporters of five young Black and Latino men wrongly convicted and jailed for the crime, say it is time to close a chapter that still stains the racial fabric of the city.

Community activist Alton H. Maddox Jr. called an April 20 press conference to demand that the city stop procrastinating and pay Raymond Santana, Khary Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson and Yusuf Salaam compensation for false arrest and imprisonment.

The men are asking for $50 million each for serving six to 14 years. Mr. Wise served the 14-year term.

On April 22, Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron introduced a resolution calling for the city to compensate the men immediately and forego a lengthy civil proceeding.

Mr. Barron told reporters the families of the men have suffered extreme trauma, stress and economic hardship. He stressed to the media how the Central Park 5 were subjected to a 28-hour interrogation, deprived of sleep, denied food and kept from family members.

The NYPD “used terrorist tactics” to gain false admissions of guilt, which later were proved to be untrue, Mr. Barron said.

Atty. Roger Wareham, who is presently arguing with the city over the pending litigation, said a civil lawsuit will show the “diabolical” behavior of NYPD detectives.

“We have been nearly six years in court with the city, and they continue to drag their feet,” said Mr. Wareham, who is part of the legal team representing Mr. Richardson, Mr. Santana and Mr. McCray. “The city is just stretching the process out, so, now we need a big push from the community,” Mr. Wareham told The Final Call.

Sharron Salaam, Yusef Salaam's mother, participated in the demonstration led by Mr. Maddox. She told The Final Call the fateful night of April 19, 1989 was a “life-altering experience,” a “shocking experience.”

Ms. Salaam said she was never notified by police that her 15-year-old son was in custody and under interrogation. “A neighbor told me,” she said.

Ms. Salaam remembers the mass media hysteria that referred to her son as a member of a “wolf pack.” It was also in the early days of reporting on the case that the New York media coined the phrase “wilding” to describe negative, violent behavior was assigned to Black and Latino youth.

In 2002, the five were exonerated after Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and rapist, admitted that he and he alone, had raped and brutalized Wall St. investment banker Trisha Meili. DNA evidence proved his claim.

“I kept telling those people they had the wrong ones, back then they had a hanging mentality in this city,” Ms. Salaam recalled. Though her son was paroled in 1997, he is registered on a sexual predators list and was under constant scrutiny until the Reyes admission.

“There is no amount of money that can make up for ripping apart Yusuf's life,” Ms. Salaam said. “But, my son, who is now 35, needs to be made whole again, and part of that process is for him to be able to take care of his four daughters properly.”

Jonathan Lippman, the newly- appointed chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, the state's top jurist, told reporters in April he would create a permanent task force to examine wrongful convictions and recommend ways to minimize them.

Judge Lippman said the task force would include defense lawyers, prosecutors, scientists and lawmakers. Advocates for the task force said broad membership suggested by the chief judge would give it needed legitimacy.

The New York State Bar Association released a report in March that found 53 falsely accused people had been exonerated in the state since 1964, with half let go because of DNA evidence.

“If the city refuses to settle, we are going to see a return to the divisive racial climate of 1989,” warned Mr. Wareham.

Disabled Vet Standing on His Own New Feet

Chang Wong is currently a student at the California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) majoring in business. He is a disabled veteran who served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. While fighting on the Iraqi battlefield in 2005, a tank mine exploded; as a result, both his feet were amputated.

In its commitment to ethnic and communities of color and to developing new coverage models, New America Media, supported by the McCormick Foundation, is using Los Angeles to tell the emotional and often wrenching stories of what happened when veterans came home and found no jobs, red tape and their own demons and inner turmoil.

As a pioneer in forging ethnic-mainstream media partnerships, NAM brought together reporters for three ethnic media -- Singtao Daily, La Opinion and Our Weekly -- and the Los Angeles Daily News.

Chapter I

On May 23, at 6:00 a.m., Wong and his tank crew were out on patrol when they were struck by a roadside bomb.

“I remember looking through my tank sight and a second later, my head was pushed way back, away from the sight,” Wong recalls. “I looked around and noticed that my both feet were severely damaged.”

Wong tried to stand and run, but couldn’t lift himself up. So he started yelling for help. “When they finally pulled me out, I was in so much pain and adrenaline I started cursing and yelling,” Wong says. “Throughout the entire ordeal, I was conscious until the field nurses and doctors put me to sleep.”

Doctors at the field hospital at the giant U.S. military base in Balad amputated both of Wong’s feet. They had initially hoped to save his right foot, but because of the severity of the fractures and poor blood circulation, they had no choice but to remove it as well.

Little did Wong know, his life was hanging by a thread. The blast from the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) did more than damage his feet; it sent shock waves that rippled throughout his entire body causing further complications.

Both lungs collapsed, which nearly ended his life; Wong was also given 55 units of blood. Because of the severity of the situation, the Army doctors had an extremely difficult decision to make: whether to use a medical device not approved by the military and face possible reprimands, or continue with conventional methods that were not helping Wong recover.

After eight very precious days, Chang Wong was airlifted to Regensburg University Hospital in Germany, where he would be treated with the unapproved medical device, the “nova-lung.” This machine is intricate and unique for its size (it looks like a compact disc player with four tubes) because it mimics and performs like a set of real lungs. The “nova lung” is connected to the veins and arteries, found near the groin. And as the blood circulates throughout the body, it passes from the patient’s veins through the machine, where it releases carbon dioxide and picks up oxygen. For the next two crucial weeks, Wong was fighting for his life once again. He had fevers over 100 degrees, non-clotting nosebleeds, and tubes going into and coming out of his chest.

Once Wong was stabilized, they transferred him to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the U.S. military’s largest hospital in Europe. Finally, on June 22, 2005 – nearly a month after the IED blast – he was moved to his final destination, Fort Sam Houston, near San Antonio, Texas, where he would receive the remainder of his medical care and begin the long road to recovery.

Chapter II

Chang Wong’s mother, Lien Chu remembers receiving a telephone call. For one whole week, she said she cried her heart out. The military sent her and his father, David Wong, to Germany, where they spent three weeks, in and out of the hospital, caring for their son. After leaving Germany, both parents accompanied him to Texas.

For the first few weeks, his mother would accompany Wong, day and night, and speak to him until he slowly fell asleep. She would stay with him for the next five months.

As Wong was weeded off heavy sedatives, he began to realize that both his legs were amputated below the knee. And at the young age of 23, he found it extremely difficult to accept this reality. He immediately went into denial.

Wong speaks about his battle through depression with such strength and resilience. “I was scared; I was terrified; I was afraid that if I fell back asleep I wouldn’t wake back up again… I didn’t eat, didn’t drink, and didn’t feel like talking but also didn’t want to be alone. And it wasn’t until the 4th of July weekend that I fully accepted all the events leading up to present day and moved forward. I had friends and relatives, who flew in to see me but at that time, I didn’t care for visitors. I begged my mother to leave me behind, to go back home and carry on with her life. She defiantly refused and kept telling me that she would do no such thing. I then turned to my friend, Sara Zigman, and asked if she would convince my mom to leave me be; she also refused.”

“At this point, I gave up and decided to lay there, restless. My mom, thinking that I was finally calm decided to pour some water into my mouth and with no such luck, grew increasingly angry, upset, and tired. She wound her hand back and slapped me across the face; the pain registered, it felt real, I came to the realization that I was not dreaming, that this wasn’t some horrendous dream or trick my mind was playing on me.”

Following that incident, Wong gradually accepted his outcome and decided never to look back and pity himself.

Lieu Chu poured out her heart to take care of her son, consistent with Asian family values -- filial piety, parental care and interdependency. These notions define specific rules of conduct in social relationships and place great importance on the family. The family provides support and assistance to each individual member; in turn, individual members provide support and assistance to the entire family. These relationships, interactions, and obligations are lifelong; and the goal of individual members is not necessarily autonomy or independence.

Charter III

After graduating from Alhambra High School in 2000, Wong had plans to attend a local community college but because he had just received his permanent resident status, he was charged as an out-of-state student. Not wanting to pay such a high fee for a community college, he decided to take that year off and enroll for the following fall semester.

Before the new school year began, a few of his friends approached him about serving in the United States military. They told him his college tuition would be paid for, that he would acquire leadership skills, and see different parts of the world. After giving the idea of serving in the military some thought, Wong took on the commitment. Without notifying his parents, he enlisted in the United States Army. His parents were shocked and extremely upset when they found out. It is atypical for someone with a Chinese heritage to enlist into the military voluntarily because in Asia, military service is a requirement.

August 2001, Wong was sent to Fort Knox, Ky., for basic training and one-station-unit training (OSUT). After completing the grueling, four-month training, he was deployed to South Korea for a one-year tour and from there, he deployed back stateside to Fort Irwin, Calif., where he remained before deploying to Iraq. On January 2005, his unit was activated and deployed to Iraq. Wong was a tank gunner in the 1st squadron, 11th Armor Calvary Regiment.

Born in 1982, in Malacca, Malaysia, Chang Wong is of Chinese decent. His family immigrated to America when he was two. Before enlisting into the U.S. military, he had just received his green card and was not yet naturalized. Prior to his deployment to Iraq, Wong sent in his application to be naturalized and was waiting for an interview and a swear-in date. He received notice in May and was relieved that he would soon become a United States citizen. But because Wong had joined the military, he never had a chance to make that interview; therefore, immigration authorities requested an immigration officer from Italy to set up a naturalization ceremony for him at the hospital in Germany. Wong was finally naturalized on June 13, 2005, three weeks after losing his legs in Iraq.

His naturalization ceremony was atypical. He doesn’t remember it because he was sworn in a medically induced coma.

Charter IV

In April 2006, Wong returned back home to the city of Alhambra. That following summer, he enrolled at Pasadena City College, the school he had planned to attend before joining the military. After completing his general education requirements, he applied and was accepted to California State University, Fullerton, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business. He is expecting to graduate no later than 2011. While attending Cal State Fullerton, he is staying with his aunt in Rowland Heights.

Chang Wong received his first prosthesis in August of 2005; the first pair of legs was temporary. After several major and minor adjustments and improvements, he received a pair of permanent prosthesis in early 2006. When he bathes, he sits on a chair and removes his prosthesis; afterwards, he puts his prosthesis back on.

After using the prosthesis for a period of time, they need to be adjusted, refitted and modified, but the prosthetics manufacturing company requires the approval of the Department of Veteran Affairs before they can begin any type of adjustment and modification requests. In order for this to occur, Wong needs to be seen by the VA prosthetists and this takes between several weeks and several months. He hopes that this process will become more efficient and less time consuming.

Oftentimes, Chang Wong will wear pants over his prosthesis, which makes him look like any able-bodied person. However, this “healthy” appearance also brings him problems.

For example, one time, when Wong drove himself to the campus, he parked his car in a disabled parking spot. Since he appears young and “healthy” looking, other people who are around, frown, look down upon him, and even harass him for parking in the disabled spot. Security guards and campus police have also questioned him—“How did you get this handicapped parking permit?” He had to produce his veteran certificate of disability, and sometimes he even lifted his pant leg to reveal his metal prosthesis before they believe him. As a veteran who sacrificed life and limb for this country, he feels he has been wronged but also understands why.

In the summer, Wong wears shorts and runs at a park near his home, using specialized running prostheses that resemble skis. Children are often curious and even follow him around to watch him run. Wong isn’t embarrassed by his appearance but finds it uncomfortable when adults stare at him like he has been cursed.

While at school, he does not participate in sports; but he plays wheelchair basketball with friends and occasionally swims and skis.

Chapter V

Today, Chang Wong is being compensated for his disability from the Veterans Administration and Social Security. In addition, he receives free medical services in military hospitals. Fortunately, even in this economic downturn, Wong is able to meet his financial obligations and live somewhat comfortably.

Wong, like many other wounded soldiers and marines, were in a fight for survival. Fortunately, due to advancements in body armor, medical procedures, and such, his chances of survival increased dramatically—compared to soldiers and marines who served in Vietnam or World War II.

With that in mind, soldiers would come back from the battlefield alive but with very serious, visible amputations and disfigurement. In addition, they came back with less visible injuries—post traumatic stress syndrome. Similar to the experiences of veterans before him, they all face the long and sometimes, very lonely road to recovery. Like all major obstacles in life, overcoming this or any hurdle requires perseverance, support, and a strong will to keep pressing forward.

Wong is a strong-willed individual who wanted nothing more than to recover—physically, mentally, and spiritually—and return back to his normal life. He began setting recovery goals that were very unrealistic and when he did not meet his goals, he pushed himself even further and harder. His ambition, focus, and dedication were unreal and he fully recovered in less than eight months.

But Wong’s journey is not over. As the years go by, it will become even more complicated. Not only will he have to overcome any difficulties that may take shape but also now he must deal with the degrading stares, misunderstandings, and discrimination.

Wong’s home is located in U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff’s district. The reporter called Yvonne Hsu, the congressman’s district representative, and asked how Schiff’s office can help veterans, such as Chang Wong. Hsu asked Wong to call the office—she would like to speak to him in order to determine what types of benefits he is eligible for. She also hopes Wong and other veterans know that if they require any assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), they are welcome to contact their elected officials.

Chang said he would give her a call after midterms.

Wendy Williams: Sizing Up the Anti-Oprah

Last summer, the self-proclaimed "Queen of All Media," Wendy Williams, made daytime television take notice with her breakout hit, 'The Wendy Williams Show.' Her talk show tested well in four markets, including New York and Los Angeles.

During a six-week trial last summer, viewers were treated to an all-out catfight between Wiliams and reality show villainess Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, plenty of juicy gossip, and a parade of B-list (okay, maybe some C-list) interviews.

As previously reported in BV Newswire, the show will return on July 13 in national syndication. But is the catty Jersey native ready to take on Empress Oprah?

Before you laugh, take note of this fact: Ratings for Oprah Winfrey's talk show, while still huge, fell at least 14 percent in 2008. There's room for Williams to maneuver, but even this anti-Oprah admits that taking the daytime throne means she'll have to expand her brand to a more mainstream audience.

Time will tell if she has what it takes. Meanwhile, for our latest round of Tale of the Tape, we took a look at the two media queens to determine how they matched up. Who do you think will come out on top? Scroll down for the comparisons.
oprah winfrey
Full Name: Wendy Joan Williams
Full Name: Oprah Gail Winfrey

Alias: "The Queen of All Media"
Alias: "O," "Deepak Oprah," "Lady O"

(W) Birth date: July 18, 1964
(O) Birth date: January 29, 1954

(W) Birthplace: Ocean Township, New Jersey
(O) Birthplace: Kosciusko, Mississippi

(W) Education: Northeastern University, majoring in Communications
(O) Education: Tennessee State University, majoring in Speech and Performing Arts

(W) Trademark Phrase: "How you doin'," "Awwwlllriiight?"
(O) Trademark Phrase: "Aha moment"

(W) Family Ties: 1 son, Kevin, Jr. (8 years old)
(O) Family Ties: 2 adopted cocker spaniel puppies

(W) Famous Feuds: Hip-Hop mogul Diddy (he reportedly got her fired from a radio gig), rapper/deejay Angie Martinez (they reportedly had a catfight in a radio studio), former singer/former deejay Miss Jones (it was alleged that hubby Kevin Hunter arranged for a hit to be made on her life) and former chart-topping diva Whitney Houston (who came undone on a notorious telephone interview with Williams).
(O) Famous Feuds: Hip-Hop mogul 50 Cent (the rapper lashed out at Winfrey after appearing on her show stating, "I think she caters to older white women...Oprah's audience is my audience's parents. So, I could care less about Oprah or her show.")

(W) Addictions: Marijuana and cocaine. A recovered addict, she told Essence in 2003: "Growing up, I was a loner and a misfit. I took drugs to fit in."
(O) Addictions: Food. In the January 2009 edition of "O" she says, " "My drug of choice is food. I use food for the same reasons an addict uses drugs: to comfort, to soothe, to ease stress."

(W) Claim to Fame: Gossip, Outing rappers and their sexual exploits.
(O) Claim to Fame: First woman in history to own and produce her very own talk show.

(W) Partner In Crime: Radio co-host Charlemagne (who was released from Wendy's radio show in November 2008)
(O) Partner In Crime: Gayle King (Driving Ms. Winfrey across America)

(W) Recent Scandal: Last June Kevin Hunter was embroiled in a federal sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Wendy's former intern/publicist and confidante Nicole Spence.
(O) Recent Scandal: Earlier this year seven students from Oprah's South Africa Leadership Academy for Girls were suspended (for the second time in two years) for "inappropriate behaviors" toward classmates which included sexual misconduct.

(W) Personal Quotes: "I was doing the gossip thing long before it was hip to talk about celebs and their lives being as much a mess as anyone else." (Newsweek)
(O) Personal Quotes: "My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with." (TV)

Report: Lambert talks about sex, drugs, `Idol'

"American Idol" runner-up Adam Lambert has landed the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, where he talks about sex, drugs and his "Idol" experiences.

The 27-year-old singer from San Diego acknowledges in an interview that he's gay, and says it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

"I'm proud of my sexuality," he says. "I embrace it. It's just another part of me."

Lambert says he was inspired to audition for the Fox network singing competition after having a "psychedelic experience" at the Burning Man festival in Nevada. There, he says, he experimented with "certain funguses."

"I knew that it was my only shot to be taken seriously in the recording industry, because it's fast and broad," he says of "Idol."

Lambert emerged as an early front-runner and judge favorite, thanks in part to his soaring vocal range.

When he moved into the show's Bel-Air mansion with the other finalists, he roomed with Kris Allen, who won the "Idol" title over Lambert last month.

"I was like, `Oh, (bleep), they put me with the cute guy,'" Lambert says. "Distracting! He's the one guy that I found attractive in the whole group on the show: nice, nonchalant, pretty and totally my type — except that he has a wife. I mean, he's open-minded and liberal, but he's definitely 100 percent straight."

According to Rolling Stone, Lambert was open about his sexuality backstage at "Idol." In March, photos surfaced online of Lambert kissing his ex-boyfriend.

"Going into `Idol,' I assumed, `OK, people are going to talk,'" he says. "I mean, I've been living in Los Angeles for eight years as a gay man, I've been at clubs making out with somebody in the corner. But photographic evidence? Didn't count on that. Wasn't ready for that."

He says he worried that a public announcement would overshadow his singing, so he decided not to respond and largely kept his personal life under wraps on the show.

"I'm an entertainer, and who I am and what I do in my personal life is a separate thing," he says. "It shouldn't matter. Except it does. It's really confusing."

Lambert says he isn't interested in being the poster child for gay rights. "I'm trying to be a singer, not a civil-rights leader."

He also reveals that he began smoking pot and tried Ecstasy for the first time while performing in a European production of "Hair" in his early twenties.

"I've finally checked in to my self-worth for the first time in my life, and the fact that it has coincided with `Idol' is so sweet," he says. "I mean, I still have moments where I think, `Oh, my skin is terrible, and I'm a little fat, I should really go to the gym more.' But for the most part, when I look in the mirror now, I finally see someone who can do something cool."