Thursday, October 29, 2009

Survey Shows Discrimination Against Transgender Americans

This week the President signed a new bill into law that penalizes hate crimes involving sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Hopefully this will make some people think twice before they commit acts of violence against someone because of who they are. But that's only a first step. In particular, Congress has the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, or ENDA, bubbling on a back burner. It appears that ENDA can pass both houses of Congress if it addresses employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but there is a question about whether it would pass if it included gender identity -- the so-called "inclusive ENDA."

It may be a little hard to keep all this straight if you happen to be part of the majority of people who are heterosexual and whose gender identity matches their unambiguous physical form. Sexual orientation means "who you are attracted to." It says nothing about whether a man is manly or a woman is womanly in any traditional sense. Gender identity is something else altogether, it's "who you are." In particular it is your sense of what sex you are. Most of us feel subjectively comfortable with the sex that was assigned to us at birth, usually our genitalia are clearly male or female and our sense of ourselves is consistent with our physical bodies. But that comfort is not universal; many people, for a variety of reasons, have the persistent sense that they are the gender opposite the one they are supposed to be. There are all kinds of chromosome and endocrine conditions that can cause this perception, and sometimes it just happens without any known explanation. People who experience themselves as having been assigned the correct sex are call cisgender, and those who feel they have been assigned the incorrect sex are transgender. Many transgender people eventually decide to live as the sex they experience themselves to be, rather than how other people tell them they should be. There are degrees to that decision, from alteration of dress and mannerisms to surgery and administration of hormones.

Someone who changes their sex after puberty typically retains features of their birth sex. A person with male anatomical features who passes puberty, for instance, will have a deep voice and a beard, even one who subjectively feels female, and one with female features will grow up to have breasts and curves and a smooth face, even with a male gender identity. Thus, if they decide to transition to the other sex after adulthood, they are often fairly identifiable to others -- expensive and extensive surgery can modify facial features and so on, but not everybody can afford all that. The result is that other people can often tell when someone has changed their sex, and the consequence is often discrimination, violence, and hateful language.

The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released preliminary findings of a survey last month, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. They administered an extensive questionnaire to 6,450 transgender people in all fifty states plus Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands. Survey researchers compared transgender respondents' data with information from the Census Bureau and Labor Department.

Here are the key findings of the survey:
  • Double the rate of unemployment: Survey respondents experience unemployment at twice the rate of the population as a whole.
  • Near universal harassment on the job: Ninety-seven percent (97%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment on the job.
  • Significant losses of jobs and careers: Forty-seven percent (47%) had experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion.
  • High rates of poverty: Fifteen percent (15%) of transgender people in our sample lived on $10,000 per year or less–double the rate of the general population.
National Transgender
Discrimination Survey Preliminary Findings

Unemployment was especially high for black transgender respondents at 26 percent, with a mean overall of thirteen percent, which the authors say was double the national unemployment rate at the time of the survey. Nearly half -- 47% -- had had an "adverse job action" -- they were fired, not hired, denied a promotion -- because of being transgender and more than a quarter of respondents -- twenty six percent -- had lost a job because of their gender identity or expression.

Quoting directly from the survey report:
Ninety-seven percent (97%) have experienced mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination on the job including: removal from direct contact with clients, disclosure of confidential information to co-workers, and physical or sexual assault.

Listen, in case that math is too hard for you, that is just about everybody. Almost every transgender person reports that they have been mistreated, harassed, or discriminated against at work.

Some individuals of the nutty persuasion may argue that social pressure is an effective tool to get nonconformists back in line. And I'll bet you would find out there are a lot of transgender people out there who keep their feelings to themselves, living a lie, because of the fear of harassment, mistreatment, and discrimination. You wonder how anybody thinks that's better, why the Family Blah Blah groups for instance argue against transgender people living as the person they really feel themselves to be, how it is better in any way to have members of society pretending to be something they are not, ashamed, afraid of their peers.

One last result from the survey:
Study respondents experience poverty at a much higher rate than the general population, with more than 27% reporting incomes of $20,000 or lower and more than 15% reporting incomes of $10,000 or lower. Only 7% percent of the general population reports incomes of $10,000 or lower.

This finding goes hand in hand with the previous one. Transgender people have a harder time getting a job, keeping it, and getting promoted, and so they make less money.

This preliminary report concludes:
Employment protections are paramount. Transgender people face discrimination, harassment and anti-transgender violence in many areas of their lives. These conditions create significant barriers to employment and lead to devastating economic insecurity. Basic employment protections for transgender people provide a crucial foundation for dignified, economically secure lives. Employment should be based on one’s skills and ability to perform a job. No one deserves to be unemployed or fired because of their gender identity or expression.

Those who enjoy making life miserable for transgender citizens will argue that employment nondiscrimination laws deprive them of their rights, they should have the freedom to discriminate. If we lived in a row of caves along a river canyon somewhere, hunting and gathering and beating drums at night, then I'd say sure, go ahead, the big guy can force the little guy to do whatever the big guy wants him to do. Civilization though requires a little more of us as participants. It is a difficult corner to turn, and I see it is almost impossible for some people, but civilization requires that we show at least superficial respect to our fellow citizens. You don't have to like them, you don't have to approve of them, you don't even have to say nice things about them, but in this country we grant people the liberty to pursue happiness, whether you like it or not. This survey demonstrates why it is time to guarantee full civil rights for transgender Americans.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

President to Sign Hate Crimes Law Tomorrow

This is a historic milestone. I'll let ABC News tell it (even though their spelling and punctuation are weird):
Eleven years after Matthew Shepard’s death, President Obama will sign the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill into law during a White House signing ceremony Wednesday afternoon, White House officials confirm.

The long-sought hate crimes provision is part of the fiscal year 2010 defense authorization bill and will extend federal hate crimes law to include crimes motivated by a victim's gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Matthew Shepard a gay twenty-one year old college student was brutally. killed in 1998 Some of the Shepard family will be in attendance at the White House signing on Wednesday. Afterward there will be a reception with gay rights groups as well as civil rights leader to commemorate the occasion.

The main thrust of the bill is defense policy, including authorizing $130 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The DOD Authorization bill also strips money from the Pentagon budget for the controversial F-22 Raptor. The Pentagon and the White House wanted to stop production, but appropriators had balked at costing jobs in their states. Obama to Sign Hate Crimes Bill Wednesday

All right, this is a big one, but it is just the beginning of the larger battle against bigotry. There are several other initiatives at the federal level that need to be taken to completion, to at least assure fair treatment of LGBT citizens, and lots of work to do at the state and local levels. Public opinion will come along, the new generation already gets it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

DC Anti-Marriage Protest is a Dud

The other day we noted that the Citizens for Responsible Whatever were getting involved in preventing marriage equality in the District of Columbia, and that there was a big protest scheduled for yesterday at Freedom Plaza.

Here's what The Post reported:
A small but noisy group of protesters, many bused in from churches, rallied Sunday in downtown Washington to demand that the D.C. Council reject a measure that would allow same-sex marriages in the District.

"No one has the right to pass laws without checking with the taxpaying citizens of the District of Columbia," said Howard Butler of Holy Temple Church of God in Southeast Washington. He was among about 150 opponents of same-sex marriage in Freedom Plaza, across from the John A. Wilson Building, which houses the mayor's and council members' offices.

After months of strategizing, the debate over whether the District should legalize same-sex marriage is entering its final stages as a council committee takes up the issue Monday. Hundreds have signed up to testify, setting the stage for one of the largest council hearings ever, officials said. Another hearing Monday is scheduled before the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, which must decide whether to allow a ballot initiative on whether marriage in the District should be restricted to unions involving one man and one woman.

Sunday's protesters chanted, "Let the people vote!" but many participants live in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. "What happens in D.C. will ultimately affect the states around it," said Dana Sanders, a Columbia resident. Both sides mobilize on same-sex marriage

Okay, a hundred fifty people.

Washington DC itself has a little over half a million people. The DC metropolitan area has more than five million people. We know that outside groups such as our own county's nutty CRW were going into the city for this event ... total one hundred fifty.
To get an initiative on the ballot, its supporters must convince the elections board that their proposal would not discriminate against gay men and lesbians. Most legal observers expect the board will deny the request. This summer, the board rejected a referendum proposal to block the city from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The D.C. Council is widely expected to approve a same-sex marriage bill before Christmas. On Monday evening, the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary will begin hearing testimony from 269 people who have signed up to speak.

"The folks who argue for an initiative say they want to have a public debate, and that is what this hearing is," said council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the committee.

Testimony on the matter of marriage equality in DC begins today. You can expect some grandstanding, probably some vivid sound-bites. Those preachers do know how to speak, how to get your attention, they know how to make their voices thunder.

But at the end of the day, this protest proves nobody really objects if gay and lesbian residents of the city are allowed to marry the person they love.

Two DC Ministers Comment on Marriage Equality

This letter by two Washington DC ministers was posted on the Washington Post blog, "All Opinions Are Local." As we have noted, DC is in an interesting position at the moment, where the city council will likely pass a bill that allows same-sex marriage in the city. Washington has a majority black population, the churches are very powerful there, and a group of black preachers is adamantly opposed to marriage equality. It will shape up into a tough and fascinating fight, and some important issues will come to the surface, having to do with race, religion, and sexual identity.

Anti-gay preachers get a lot of press, but it is important to remember that many religious leaders preach about love, forgiveness, and overcoming prejudice.
As the struggle for marriage equality moves to the nation's capital, the District of Columbia is debunking many of the myths surrounding this important human rights issue.

For instance, few would expect the two of us -- a straight, black Baptist minister from east of the Anacostia River, and a gay, white Unitarian minister from Columbia Heights -- to share the same position on same-sex marriage. Our solidarity exposes two of the myths perpetuated by opponents of marriage equality and by the media. Let's call these myths "God vs. gay" and "black vs. white."

Opponents of marriage equality would like us to believe that one cannot be both pro-God and pro-gay. Yet we lead a coalition of nearly 200 D.C. clergy who support marriage equality precisely because of our commitment to God's inclusive love and justice. Our clergy are black, white, Latino and from every ward in the District. We are Baptists and Jews, Catholics and Methodists, who have worked side by side for years on issues ranging from peace to affordable housing, and who now stand together again to raise a faithful voice for justice. Let us be clear: God vs. gay is a myth we reject. God vs. injustice is a truth we affirm.

Meanwhile, opponents of marriage equality have tried to use this issue to divide our communities along racial lines, and the press often plays into their hands. The gay community is repeatedly characterized as a group of well-to-do white folks, while all people of color are portrayed as heterosexuals who oppose gay marriage. This is the myth of "black vs. white." To suggest that the struggle for marriage equality in Washington affects only a small number of white people from Dupont Circle is an affront to the rich diversity of the District's gay and lesbian community, and it erases the lives of thousands of gay and lesbian people of color, some of whom are members of our churches.

Furthermore, D.C. leaders have built a diverse political coalition in support of gay marriage. The bill that D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-at Large) introduced on Oct. 7 was co-sponsored by 10 of 13 of his colleagues, black and white, who represent a wide swath of the city. It enjoys the support of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. The people of the District are standing together to declare that we will not be divided by this issue.

Last weekend, people from across the nation gathered here in the nation's capital to rally for full legal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. If this struggle is to succeed, we must continue to work in ways that expose the myths of "God vs. gay" and "black vs. white." By celebrating and engaging the rich diversity of our LGBT communities, and by building solidarity across lines of race, class, culture and religion, we can win this important human rights struggle, as the moral arc of the universe continues its long but sure path toward justice.

The Rev. Dennis W. Wiley is pastor of Covenant Baptist Church. The Rev. Robert M. Hardies is senior minister of All Souls Church, Unitarian. Together, they co-chair DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality. Marriage Equality's False Divides

Family Blah Blah Group Versus 7-Eleven Over Marge Simpson Playboy

I can imagine being a big holier-than-thou prude with your nose in the air, judging this and that as "offensive" with a superior flick of the wrist. Well, actually I can't, but I do know there are people who are like that, and I have come to have an idea about what sets them off. But I didn't see this one coming.

Playboy has Marge Simpson on the cover. Yes, the cartoon character. She is not nude, and, uh, she is not real. Seven-Eleven sells Playboy, I guess (I'm not sure, I haven't bought one since I was a kid) (okay, I was just joking about that part, but it has been a long time), and now the American Family Association is raising a fuss about it.

Rawstory has the story.
A conservative pro-family group is slamming 7-Eleven for choosing to stock the November issue of Playboy, which will feature cartoon character Marge Simpson on the cover.

"Most American dads know the dangers that porn represents to young males," American Family Association Special Projects Director Randy Sharp said in a press release. "It’s irresponsible of 7-Eleven to display porn in front of boys who pop into 7-11s for a hot dog or a Slurpee."

The Telegraph recently reported, "Despite being on the front cover, Marge will not be totally bare, with the magazine only featuring 'implied nudity.'"

"The move is a sign of changes to come from new CEO Scott Flanders, a former Freedom Communications Inc. CEO who was hired June 1 to succeed Christie Hefner to lead Chicago-based Playboy Enterprises Inc.," The Chicago Sun-Times reported.

"The Marge Simpson centerfold is "obviously somewhat tongue-in-cheek," Flanders said in an interview Thursday. "It had never been done, and we thought it would be kind of hip, cool and unusual." 7-Eleven targeted for selling ‘Simpsons porn’

I guess the issue is that kids like cartoons, and kids will see this magazine cover and ... and then what? And then want to read Playboy when they grow up? Fantasize inappropriately about Marge Simpson?

Of all the women who have appeared in the pages of Playboy and other magazines, nude or in sexy outfits or whatever, why in the world would these guys choose to get upset over a cartoon character? It's like when they decided Tinky Winky was gay, and that SpongeBob SquarePants was some kind of homo-lovin' liberal. It's like they do these things just so reasonable people who live in the real world will make fun of them.

Wow, I just remembered something. When my son was in middle school he was crazy about professional wrestling. One of the women wrestlers, Chyna, was featured in Playboy. When the issue came out, she came to the Borders in DC to sign copies of the magazine, so I took my lunch break, rode the Metro down there, bought a copy, stood in a long, long line, and got the kid a copy of Playboy autographed by Chyna, featuring her on the cover and, of course, inside.

I called my wife to tell her the exciting news. "You did what?"

Long story short, he saw the autographed magazine, but only the cover, he wasn't allowed to open it up and look inside.

So I have told two stories here. A Family Blah Blah group wants 7/11 to stop selling Playboy magazines with a cartoon on the cover, and my family had a bit of conflict over whether my son should see pictures of a female wrestling star naked, or rather, whether his dumb dad should have bought him a magazine containing such content.

In one story, a group wants to control what everyone who shops at a 7/11 can buy. (As I recall, 7/11 keeps adult magazines behind the counter, don't they? So kids aren't going to see this accidentally.) They want to block 7/11's sales of a magazine to anyone, whether their religion forbids such material or not, whether they themselves want to see sexily-posed cartoon characters or not. In the other story, a family with liberty to acquire any material debates whether to regulate their own child's access to a particular piece of controversial literature.

By the way, I don't recall that there was any big movement to block sales of the Playboy with the lady wrestler in it, and judging from recent news reports about downsizing there, it does not appear that there was a gigantic surge of preteen wrestling fans running out and buying the magazine as soon as they were old enough.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Matthew Shepard Bill Passes

Thursday evening news -- I'll let the New York Times tell you about it:
WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Thursday to extend new federal protections to people who are victims of violent crime because of their sex or sexual orientation, bringing the measure close to reality after years of fierce debate.

The 68-to-29 vote sends the legislation to President Obama, who has said he supports it.

The measure, attached to an essential military-spending bill, broadens the definition of federal hate crimes to include those committed because of a victim’s gender or gender identity, or sexual orientation. It gives victims the same federal safeguards already afforded to people who are victims of violent crimes because of their race, color, religion or national origin.

“Hate crimes instill fear in those who have no connection to the victim other than a shared characteristic such as race or sexual orientation,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said afterward. “For nearly 150 years, we have responded as a nation to deter and to punish violent denials of civil rights by enacting federal laws to protect the civil rights of all of our citizens.”

Mr. Leahy sponsored the hate-crimes amendment to the military bill and called its passage a worthy tribute to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who first introduced hate-crimes legislation in the Senate more than a decade ago. Senate Approves Broadened Hate-Crime Measure

But what about the other side? What did they think about it? (As if we didn't know already...)
Opponents argued to no avail that the new measure was unnecessary in view of existing laws and might interfere with local law enforcement agencies. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said he agreed that hate crimes were terrible. “That’s why they are already illegal,” Mr. DeMint said, asserting that the new law was a dangerous, even “Orwellian” step toward “thought crime.”

Ten Republicans voted for the hate-crimes measure. The only Democrat to oppose it was Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who said he could not vote for the current bill “because it does nothing to bring our open-ended and disproportionate military commitment in Afghanistan to an end and/or to ensure that our troops are safely and expeditiously redeployed from Iraq.” The Senate action came two weeks after the House approved the measure, 281 to 146, and would give the federal government the authority to prosecute violent, antigay crimes when local authorities failed to.

The measure would also allocate $5 million a year to the Justice Department to assist local communities in investigating hate crimes, and it would allow the agency to assist in investigations and prosecutions if local agencies requested help.

Federal protections for people who are victims of violent crime because of their sexual orientation have been sought for more than a decade, at least since the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student.


Federal Govt to Leave Medical Marijuana to Locals

This really is a remarkable development. From CNN:
Patients in the 13 states where medical marijuana is legal can now light up without fear of federal reprisal, but they may still have to answer to local authorities.

The Justice Department this week announced that it will no longer seek to prosecute people using, prescribing, or distributing pot for medical purposes, as long as they're in compliance with local law. However, regulations in some medical marijuana states remain murky.

For example, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley recently announced a plan to crack down on all illegal medical marijuana dispensaries in his jurisdiction, arguing that they are illegal. In California, as well as several other medical marijuana states, laws governing distribution vary from city to city and county to county. Matters are simpler in Rhode Island and New Mexico, which formally license medical marijuana providers.

Nevertheless, advocates hail the news as a step in the right direction. They say the move will likely encourage more doctors to consider prescribing medical marijuana in states where it's legal. And more patients may try using the drug, which can be prescribed for chronic pain, nausea, and other conditions.

The federal move could also embolden other states to make their own laws allowing medical marijuana use, they say.

"This is a very significant development," says Bruce Mirken, the director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates the full-scale legalization of marijuana. "This is the most significant and most positive development on federal medical-marijuana policy since the Carter administration." Medical marijuana policy move sparks cautious optimism

Anybody who thinks about it realizes that marijuana is much safer in every way than alcohol, which is legal. Why are our prisons full of marijuana users and dealers? Maybe it has something to do with race relations in the 1930s, maybe it has to do with the desire of cotton farmers to wipe out the hemp industry, nobody knows why marijuana use is considered such a terrible crime, but for some reason possession, use, or sale of that common weed is enough to send somebody to prison for a long time.

I had a friend in California once who was busted smoking a joint sitting in his car and ended up in the cell next to Charlie Manson.

Turns out pot has a lot of beneficial effects, and some states and municipalities have legalized marijuana for medical use, but the Bush administration cracked down on providers, enforcing antiquated federal law. When Obama came in he said he was not going to enforce those laws, but the DEA still busted people selling medical marijuana, it was one of those campaign promises that were not kept. But now it looks like the policy is changing for real. No law needs to be changed, all they have to do is kill the budget for enforcement.

This is a change at the federal level, and conservatives should be dancing in the streets celebrating this reduction of federal control and empowerment of states. Just a minute, let me look out my window. Hmm, I don't seem them dancing out there.

I wonder, is anybody opposed to this? Is there anybody who really does believe that possession of marijuana needs to be a federal crime?

Wow, this is interesting. The blog of the Office of National Drug Control Policy had said that in San Francisco there were more medical marijuana outlets than Starbucks. That's pretty impressive -- there must be a Starbucks on every streetcorner, especially in a city like San Francisco. But ... turns out the feds were exaggerating. The S F Chronicle's City Insider looked closely at the data and found that the government's map contained a lot of fiction. It appears now that the government's statement has been removed from the Internet.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Man Arrested for Being Naked in His Own House

Hey, see what you think about this one...
SPRINGFIELD, Va., Oct. 20 (UPI) -- A Virginia man said he is fighting the indecent exposure charge brought against him after he was spotted making coffee naked in his kitchen.

Eric Williamson, 29, of Springfield, said he was home alone Monday when he walked into the kitchen naked to make coffee at about 5:30 a.m., WTTG-TV, Washington, D.C., reported Tuesday.

"Yes, I wasn't wearing any clothes but I was alone, in my own home and just got out of bed. It was dark and I had no idea anyone was outside looking in at me," Williamson said.

Police said an unidentified woman who was walking with a 7-year-old boy spotted Williamson through a window and reported the scene to police. A Fairfax County Police spokesman said Williamson was arrested because investigators believe he wanted to be seen by the public.

However, Williamson, father of a 5-year-old girl, said that was not the case.

"I am a loving dad. Any of my friends and anyone knows that and there is not a chance on this planet I would ever, ever, ever do anything like that to a kid," he said. Man arrested for making coffee naked

CRW Joins Anti-Marriage Rally

Five years ago a group of right-wing extremists organized to recall the Montgomery County school board. They were unhappy about a new sex-ed curriculum that was going to introduce the topic of sexual orientation and included a video about the proper way to use a condom. They established a web site,, called themselves Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, and set out to trash the new curriculum. The group's first meetings were held in the weeks following the election of GW Bush to his second term as President, when social conservatives were talking about a "mandate" to make the US their kind of country. But they picked the wrong place to try it, one of the most liberal counties in the nation. formed as a reaction to that group in our county. In the end no school board members were recalled and the county now has a good new curriculum and a condom video.

The same group rebranded themselves Citizens for Responsible Government when the county council unanimously voted to extend the county's nondiscrimination law to include discrmination on the basis of gender identity. They attempted to get a referendum on the ballot, lying to potential petition signers about the new law, telling them the petitions were to "keep men out of women's restrooms." Eventually the court threw out more than half the signatures because of forgeries and irregularities, and the bill became law without a referendum. We still hear about them handing out flyers at parades and other public events, complaining that the law allows pedophiles and predators to lurk in ladies rooms, even though of course that hasn't happened.

That left the Citizens for Responsible Whatever in the position of being rebels without a cause, well not rebels really, what do you call people to try to enforce conformity?

This week they sent out a new flyer, they seem to have found a new cause.

This one is sent by Ruth Jacobs, a Shady Grove physician and CRW president. The Washington, DC, city council has recently voted to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, and is considering a bill to allow such weddings to be performed in the District. The bill will almost surely pass, but black church leaders are organizing to fight it. In particular, Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, is pushing to have a referendum on the topic. There will apparently be an anti-marriage rally in DC this weekend, and the Citizens for Responsible Whatever are encouraging their members to attend it.

Their flyer says:
This Sunday: Rally4Marriage, "THE PEOPLE'S RALLY"
Sunday October 25, 2009 2 to 5pm

Come to the rally to save marriage in DC, "THE PEOPLE'S RALLY" this Sunday, October 25th, Freedom Plaza at 14th and Pennsylvania. Don't let thirteen City Council members ignore the people's voice.

NOW IS THE TIME FOR ACTION! Demand a peoples vote on marriage!

Come at 2:00 pm to hear the music, and sign the petition. Speakers and rally start at 3:00 pm. Click here for more information

Interesting to forget that those let "thirteen City Council members" were elected by the people.

This recurring call for referendums is becoming a trademark of the nutty right, and it is not hard to understand. They stand for issues where their peer group's norms are challenged by some kind of outsiders. You ask them and I bet you'll find that CRW cheerleaders will get just as red in the face ranting about "illegal immigrants" as they do talking about LGBT people. These are people who live a certain way and insist that everybody else should live that way, too. Why else would you want gay guys to marry women? Come on, it doesn't make sense on any level whatsoever. Why would you go out and protest the right of your fellow citizens to marry the person they love?

They invite people to come out to "hear the music," making me wonder what in the world kind of music they'd have. If you're going to align with the black churches, I don't see Toby Keith going over real big, and I don't see the suburban white folks getting worked up with accompaniment by Buju Banton. This is going to be a shaky alliance.

Calling it "the people's rally" is, I think, rather ominous. Do you want "the people" to vote on the details of everything you want to do in your private life? Man, I don't, I don't even want "the people" to know about my private life! That's why it's private, duh. There are some things that we do in the shared social space, individuals' outcomes are linked and we are interconnected sometimes with strangers. That's fine, a society does need guidelines and sometimes enforceable rules prescribing how to behave in public situations. But I'm sorry, who you're going to marry is nobody's business. "The people" don't vote on that. They vote to elect representatives to protect their freedom, their rights, and sometimes those elected representatives are going to protect the other guy's rights, that's just how it works.

But wait. There's more.
Directions: Subway stops -Federal Triangle or Metro Center. Metro Center-12th&F Exit- walk to 14th/Penn-Freedom Plaza is close to the Wilson building and the JW Marriot Hotel

Too busy but want to do something? Click here to contribute directly to Bishop Harry Jackson's HILC Organization. If you would like to send a donation via mail, please address the check to HILC and send to HILC, PO Box 505, College Park, Maryland 20471

Save Marriage in Maryland!
What is happening in the District today could happen in Maryland tomorrow, but your votes and your actions can change that possiblity.

Click here to find out your Maryland State legislator's position on marriage.
Click here to find your Maryland State Senator/Delegates.

Make your vote count. Make your voice heard. Forward this email to friends

Volunteers needed. E- mail us at if you would like to help.
People's Rally

First they were opposed to teaching about sexual orientation in health classes. Then they supported discrimination against transgender people. Now they don't want gay and lesbian couples in Washington DC to be allowed to marry. These guys are a real piece of work.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Little Richard, Live in Alexandria

We did something fun last night, went down to the Birchmere to see Little Richard. The guy is seventy-six years old now, comes out in a wheelchair, but man, he's still got it.

Little Richard really was one of the originators of rock and roll, it's crazy to imagine him playing in England with the Beatles as his opening act, or touring with the unknown Rolling Stones. His guitar player, later known as Jimi Hendrix, once said, "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice." Last night at the Birchmere Richard was all personality, the true diva of rock and roll, dripping with rhinestones, sitting at his piano with a big box of tissues, which he would frequently use to wipe his face. When someone in the audience would shout out something, he'd turn to them and say, "Shut up." Because he can.

Little Richard's roots are in gospel music. His first public performance was singing with Sister Rosetta Tharp in 1945, and even last night he threw a few gospel songs into the act, and preached quite a bit. At one point he talked about his peers who have passed on, noting that you can't ask why God takes someone when He does: "You don't put a question mark where God has put a period." A lady in the audience shouted out, "Ain't nothing you can do about it nohow," to which Little Richard responded, "Shut up."

Where some of the pioneers of rock and roll burned out or were hounded out of the music business, Little Richard dropped out at the peak of his career, in 1957, to become an evangelist. For several years he recorded nothing but gospel music, considering rock and roll to be the devil's music. As he once said, "If God can save an old homosexual like me, he can save anybody."

His onstage persona is a perfect mix of magnified paradoxes. He wore a fake-looking toupee and eye makeup, still has that pencil-thin mustache and primps and fusses like a princess while he's performing. At times he would turn to the band and say, "Watch me!" It wasn't that they weren't paying attention, or that he was going to give a cue, it appeared that he simply wants people to watch him. At the same time, he would say, between songs, something like, "I sure love each one of you, men and women alike, and I hope you love me," humble and heartfelt as can be.

Little Richard played some songs last night with a sense of boredom. He started with "Good Golly Miss Molly" but never did sing any of the verses, just the chorus over and over again, sort of mumbling it. He got the crowd whipped up, ready for "Tutti Frutti," and then had one of the horn players sing it. Oh, he finally finished the piece, but he seemed somewhat bored with the song. On the other hand, some of them, for instance "Lucille," simply kicked butt. He had a big band with four horns, his son on bass and a guy whose job was to stand in the back and dance, and when they got into a groove it was a powerful sound. You could see Little Richard enjoying that big sound, working out on the high notes of the piano over the guitar solos, calling on the sax players to "play one more." Or he would sing a phrase and wave his hand to stop the band, and say, "That sounds pretty good," and sing the phrase again, giving it one of his trademark embellishments, pausing to admire the sound of his own voice, then start it up again on the piano, with the band following.

I think the high point of the night for me was "Directly From My Heart To You." Somewhere in a box I bet I still have the Specialty Records LP with that song on it, and I loved the whole album, especially the soulful ballads. This particular song started with a slow, funky blues groove, he had the band riff through the twelve bar verse twice before he came in singing, and his voice was fluid and clear, you really did know you were in the presence of a special talent. I'd link you to that song but can't find his version on YouTube, it was never a big hit but last night it was just perfect.

Local piano player Daryl Davis opened for him with a half hour of rousing boogie-woogie and blues, and he introduced Little Richard, who he has performed with in the past. He noted that Little Richard, more than anyone, was responsible for knocking down the barrier between the races, attracting a biracial audience from the very beginning (the audience last night was, I'd say, eighty percent white).

Daryl Davis himself is an extraordinarily unique character. Here, watch this Paula Zahn segment on him. Davis is a black man, a Silver Spring resident who has befriended a number of members of the Ku Klux Klan, with the idea that it will be harder to hate him if they know him. It just takes a huge amount of courage, it seems to me, but this affable pianist seems unperturbed, he would be a good guy to hang out with, I'll bet.

One thing that struck me last night was the influence of country music on these two black roots artists. Little Richard did two Hank Williams songs in his set, and Daryl Davis did something pointed, I thought. He was singing a Jimmy Reed blues standard, and in the middle of it he stuck a verse of Merle Haggard's. Also, while his set was basically a tribute to classic blues and boogie artists, he did Mickey Gilley's "The Power of Positive Drinkin'," which is about as country as you can get. You often think of rock and roll as originating when white artists started performing rhythm and blues music, but really, it went both ways, a divided country coming together with one big backbeat.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fascinating Report on Conservative Republicans

This report by the Democratic Corps is really fascinating. They conducted surveys and focus groups with conservative Republicans and Independents to find out what their attitudes are about President Obama, the media, and other things. The authors identified some beliefs held by conservative Republicans and described the pattern that sets them apart from other Americans.
The self-identifying conservative Republicans who make up the base of the Republican Party stand a world apart from the rest of America, according to focus groups conducted by Democracy Corps. These base Republican voters dislike Barack Obama to be sure – which is not very surprising as base Democrats had few positive things to say about George Bush – but these voters identify themselves as part of a ‘mocked’ minority with a set of shared beliefs and knowledge, and commitment to oppose Obama that sets them apart from the majority in the country. They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism. While these voters are disdainful of a Republican Party they view to have failed in its mission, they overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country’s founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail.

Though the group that conducted the research works for the Democratic Party, the analysis seems even-handed. For instance, they report that they did not discover a racist theme among the conservative Republicans, but rather a kind of feeling that they didn't care about Obama's race, they just didn't trust him or like his beliefs.

The findings were broken into sections, for instance one section was titled Anger Toward Obama Driven by Doubt and Fear Over his Agenda and Methods. The self-identified conservative Republicans really believe that Obama has a secret agenda for undermining the founding principles of American tradition. The focus groups revealed that "they explicitly believe he is purposely and ruthlessly executing a hidden agenda to weaken and ultimately destroy the foundations of our country." He is seen as the puppet of an elite group of rich liberals who put him into power, and they believe he lies to exaggerate the threats to the country in order to get support for his policies. He uses the technique of telling people what they want to hear regardless of what is true, so they will accept his bizarre policies. This especially works on younger people who are attracted by ideas like "change" and "hope."

The conservative Republicans were concerned about the speed with which Obama has worked since going into office. "They believe Obama is pushing his agenda at record pace because he does not want the American people to know what he is doing. The decision to tackle so many major issues at once early in his term is born not out of necessity, but out of secrecy and political calculation. And the media is once again a key part of this strategy, refusing to expose information that might slow down his legislative march."

They were convinced that Obama is purposefully driving the country into debt so that people will become dependent on government and it will have total control over them. Constitutional rights will be easily eliminated, and people will be too weak to fight back. "Fear of government control is at the heart of virtually all of the concerns raised by these voters about Obama’s agenda, and it is literally a fear of two things – government and control. They see government as inefficient, ineffective, and corrupt and believe it preys on the middle class and ‘hard-working Americans.’ ... Even more concerning than the waste and corruption of government for these voters is the inexorable movement of government toward controlling an ever increasing share of our economic marketplace, as well as our individual lives."

The conservative Republicans involved in this study saw Obama's ultimate goal as transforming America into a socialist nation. "In their minds, this is the key to truly understanding the Obama presidency and what is happening in our country today. Everything goes back to government control and Obama (aided by Democrats in Congress and the liberal media) seeking to systematically strip away individual rights and insert government into every aspect of our daily lives." Corporate takeovers and bailouts give credence to this theory, and the idea that Obama's "policy czars" have unchecked control is part of this belief. But the real crown jewel is Obama's proposed changes to the health system, which is proof that he is trying to change the USA into a socialist country.

The report stresses what it calls a "shared identity" held by the conservative Republicans. As the authors say, "Democrats may joke that Republicans seem to live on a different planet sometimes, but in some important ways, these Republicans would happily agree." They feel that they are an oppressed minority that is constantly mocked by the media and by other Americans. "This creates an almost siege-like mentality, in which these conservative Republicans are always on the defensive, at all times looking for any slight against them and their beliefs and seeking to link it back to a broader effort rooted in the liberal media."

Of course these conservatives have special knowledge about what's really going on. They get this knowledge from Fox News, which is the only objective source of information. Liberals, it is well known, control all the other major media outlets. Sometimes the Republicans will watch another channel just to see how the liberals are distorting the truth; this shocking bias only reinforces their beliefs and conviction that Fox is "the truth teller."

Interestingly, the conservative Republicans held mixed opinions about Rush Limbaugh. Though his opinions are correct, his flamboyance and arrogance sometimes detract from the message. There is no such ambivalence though about Glenn Beck, who "received nothing short of adulation from these voters, particularly the women. They believe he embodies the best of conservative media – determination to unearth the stories the liberal media tries to bury, love of country, and refusal to be intimidated, even as the liberal media unleashes waves of attacks on his past and his credibility." Isn't this fascinating? These conservatives admired him for risking his life to stand up to the liberal powers -- they literally believe his life is in danger because of his commitment to telling the truth. They also took remarkable measures to make sure they and their families never missed his show.

This group feels that they are part of a movement that is building in the country. "The attacks they suffer for their values and the special knowledge they share as a result of their devotion to conservative media and active rejection of mainstream media are ultimately meaningless if it does not help defeat Obama and his hidden agenda. This is where the sense of collective purpose is greatest. They see a nascent movement building, still not fully realized or activated but with a growing number of people watching and listening, growing increasingly frustrated, and looking for ways to stop the growing threat they perceive." The tea parties were a big part of this identity; the report notes that focus group participants spoke in the first person when describing attendees of the tea parties, even if they themselves did not attend.

Though these respondents identified themselves as Republicans, they "see the Republican Party as ineffective and rudderless, controlled by a class of political professionals who have lost touch with not only the people but the conservative values that should guide them." They do not intend to leave the party but do not see it as having an effective strategy for defeating the Obama agenda. Generally these people agreed with the beliefs of George W. Bush and felt he was a good man, but they were embarrassed by his presidency and disappointed that he let government grow and get out of control. And, of course, the worst of it is that his weakness as President set the stage for the rise of Barack Obama.

So who did these conservatives see as the best spokesperson for their cause -- Gingrich? Huckabee? No, you guessed it already, they love Sarah Palin. "They see in her the uncompromising personal conviction and integrity that they admired in Bush, but with an authentic conservatism that reflects her personal background ... They disagree on her viability as a candidate for national office, but they do not disagree on her ability to lead. Some say she needs to get more experience or take on responsibilities that will burnish her credentials and reassure uncertain swing voters while others maintain she has nothing to prove and is already more experienced and qualified than the current incumbent ... The one point they all agree on is that Palin was a victim of an unprecedented smear campaign. Reflecting in many ways their feelings about themselves as a group, they say Palin was targeted by the liberal media like no other figure in modern history because they both feared her and hated her for her unwavering values and beliefs." Yeah, she's their girl, all right, a true victim.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Disney Hassled By Pro-Ex-Gay Stockholder

That old PFOX is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Ex-Gay Watch has a post up, linking to the latest caper by the so-called Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX). Seems they got somebody to introduce a resolution at a Walt Disney Company stockholders meeting, demanding that "ex-gays" be added to the company's nondiscrimination policy. Here's how PFOX's press release starts:
Burbank, Oct. 13 – Concerned Disney stockholders have submitted a shareholder resolution asking the Walt Disney Company to include the prohibition of discrimination based on ex-gay status in its sexual orientation policy and diversity training programs. “The resolution cites the need for diversity and equality in the workplace,” said Regina Griggs, executive director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX).

The supporting statement for the resolution explains that, “Disney’s exclusion of ex-gays from its sexual orientation policy and programs reinforces the second-class status of ex-gays, and contributes to the negative perceptions and discrimination against former homosexuals.” Shareholders ask Walt Disney to Include Ex-Gays in Company’s Non-Discrimination Policies

That "s" on the end of "shareholder" is a little over the top, don't you think?

Amanda Hess at the Washington City Paper has been searching for an ex-gay in the DC area, and can't find one. There are Christian crusaders who make a living speaking at churches and things, who claim to be "ex-gay," but other than that it is not known that such a group of people exists. There may be bisexual people who have settled down with an opposite-sex mate, I guess a celibate gay person who used to be sexually active could call themselves "ex-gay." But somebody who used to be gay and now is straight? I don't think so.

It is hard to discriminate against a group of people who might not even exist. Oh wait, I just played into PFOX's favorite self-pitying line -- they love to allege that people hate "ex-gays" so much that they even deny their existence. I will allow that there may be people out there who used to have same-sex lovers and now have opposite-sex ones, whatever, nobody cares. A "former homosexual," as PFOX likes to call them, would be a straight person, isn't that right? And who discriminates against straight people?
The resolution also cites a recent judicial decision issued for the Nation’s Capital by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. In that case, brought by PFOX, the Court ruled that former homosexuals are a protected class that must be recognized under sexual orientation non-discrimination laws. The Court held that, under the D.C. Human Rights Act, sexual orientation does not require immutable characteristics.

Hoo boy. We blogged about that court ruling a couple months ago. PFOX lost. But the judge decided that if the law says you can't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, that means you can't discriminate against "ex-gays," as well as gays and straight people. I guess what the ruling does is extends sexual orientation in time, so if someone discriminates against you because you were ever gay it is against the law. PFOX immediately announced a great victory, and now I guess they are going to try to get governments and companies to add "ex-gays" to their policies and laws. Good luck with that. The deal was, if it says "sexual orientation," in the District of Columbia that also means "former sexual orientation."
“We agree with the Disney resolution that former homosexuals remain closeted because of other’s negative reactions or disapproval,” said Griggs. “As the resolution states, ex-gay employees are uncomfortable being open about their sexual orientation with their colleagues because they fear discrimination or unfair treatment in the workplace.”

“Former homosexuals who come out publicly are commonly targeted for ridicule and hate,” explained Griggs. “We need more of these resolutions nationwide to assure tolerance and safety in the workplace for the ex-gay community and their supporters.”

There is a kernel of truth to this. "Former homosexuals" who go around telling gay people they should stop being gay find themselves unwelcome in many situations. People who "used to be gay" are simply straight people, and are not ridiculed or hated for that. So you have a past, everybody does. There is discrimination against obnoxious people, and that's where these loudmouth "ex-gays" get in trouble.
“It is about time Disney treated ex-gays with the respect they deserve,” said Bobbie Strobhar, the stockholder who submitted the shareholder resolution. “Former homosexuals are true models of courage who have been vilified by gay activists."

Disney has not yet acted upon the resolution.

Right. Not yet.

Ex-Gay Watch points out a PFOX document that states that there are twice as many "ex-gays" as gays. They don't explain how they arrived at that conclusion. I can guess, though, that if you took the number of adults who have had a same-sex sexual experience at some time in their life, and compared it to the number of adults who identify as gay, the first number might be twice as big. But if you counted up the number of people who used to identify as gay and now identify themselves as straight, I think you might find the number is very small..

This resolution was introduced by someone named "Bobbie Strobhar." The only Bobbie Strobhar that Google knows about is a female harp player in Ohio.

I'll tell you what the takeaway message is here for me. You can search the Internet far and wide and find hundreds of news articles and blog posts about this Disney resolution, and not one reporter or blogger bothered to call PFOX or the lady who submitted the resolution, not a single article went beyond the junk in the PFOX press release. They pretty up the quotes sometimes, as if this person actually "said" these words, but there is nothing added by anybody. Who is the stockholder who submitted this resolution and why did she do that? Does she know an "ex-gay" that has been discriminated against? How have the other stockholders reacted? You send out a press release and the media just paraphrase it and print it.

There's no way Disney is going to pass this thing. It is too dumb for words. Nobody discriminates against "ex-gays," if there are any, nobody cares if a gay guy takes a girlfriend, that just makes him a straight guy. PFOX is a pure example of the rightwing noise machine, they have no point to make other than to muddy the waters and promote bigotry against gay and lesbian people.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why Obama Deserved the Prize

Michael Moore, yesterday, talking about Barack Obama's Nobel Prize:
The simple fact that he was elected was reason enough for him to be the recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Because on that day the murderous actions of the Bush/Cheney years were totally and thoroughly rebuked. One man -- a man who opposed the War in Iraq from the beginning -- offered to end the insanity. The world has stood by in utter horror for the past eight years as they watched the descendants of Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson light the fuse of our own self-destruction. We flipped off the nations on this planet by abandoning Kyoto and then proceeded to melt eight more years worth of the polar ice caps. We invaded two nations that didn't attack us, failed to find the real terrorists and, in effect, ignited our own wave of terror. People all over the world wondered if we had gone mad.

And if all that wasn't enough, the outgoing Joker presided over the worst global financial collapse since the Great Depression.

So, yeah, at precisely 11:00pm ET on November 4, 2008, Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. And the 66 million people who voted for him won it, too. By the time he took the stage at midnight ET in the Grant Park Historic Hippie Battlefield in downtown Chicago, billions of people around the globe were already breathing a huge sigh of relief. It was as if, in that instant, one man did bring the promise of peace to the world -- and most were ready to go wherever he wanted to go to achieve that end. Never before had the election of one man made every other nation feel like they had won, too. When you've got billions of people ready, willing and able to join a cause like this, well, a prize in Oslo is the least that you deserve. Get Off Obama's Back ...second thoughts from Michael Moore

Yeah, really -- just a second! The antipatriots can't admit that the President of the United States of America deserved to win the honor of the Nobel Peace Prize, they want to act like it's a big joke. I think Michael Moore nails it right here.

Stop for a minute and think about how this country looked one year ago, two years ago ... eight years ago. Picture George W. Bush's smirking face on the front page of your newspaper, telling the people some bull-oney about the terrists and "our way of life," packing the government with born-agains and incompetents, taking the people's rights away. Think about New Orleans, Fallujah, Jose Padilla, Abu Ghraib, the destruction and the greed, the belligerence that represented the USA. Somebody had to take that pernicious political machine out of office, and it was Barack Obama who did it.

The Nobel Peace Prize was the world's way of saying thank you, and our President deserves every ounce of it.

25 Top Censored News Stories

A long-running theme on this blog has been the role of the corporate media in propagandizing and promoting illusions that result in injustice. We as individuals live as points moving in space, observing the world from our singular perspectives, but for us to make responsible decisions requires us to obtain accurate knowledge about phenomena outside the sphere of our own perception. We need to know what is really happening in the world so that we can know how to behave in relation to it.

For that we depend on publication and broadcast media, and unfortunately their incentives are different from ours. Sometimes it is better for the media to cover up a fact than to reveal it, or to describe an event in tones that please their sponsors and the leaders whose images and quotes attract an audience.

Sonoma State University, in California, has two classes, Sociology of Media and Sociology of Censorship, that undertake each year the important project of investigating and publishing the most important stories that were censored by the media in the previous year. They've been doing this for more than three decades, it is a great project to get students involved in research and to enlighten them to the fact that you can't believe everything you read in the papers. Besides students in those two classes, the project oversees more than sixty interns to investigate and organize the project's lecture series.

This week they released their list of the Top 25 Censored Stories for 2009/2010. Look down this list and you will see many things that you were unaware of. If some college kids in California can find out about these things, you can bet America's corporate media know about them, but they fail to report these stories.

The Post, Not Quite Justified

The Washington Post has slipped badly in recent years, they have moved to the right until the paper is almost unreadable. With the big demonstration over the weekend, National Coming Out day, and the President addressing the Human Rights Campaign on LGBT rights, the Post editorialists find themselves with an opportunity to criticize the Democrats as if they were the anti-gay party, as if moving too slowly to help LGBT citizens was as bad as actively campaigning against them.

I should have posted this yesterday, but I got caught up in stuff. Here is the Washington Post editorial in its entirety:
FULL EQUALITY for gays and lesbians is the civil rights issue of our time. Men and women who want to preserve and protect the ideals of this nation are being booted from the military because of who they are. Same-sex couples who seek the recognition of their relationships that their heterosexual counterparts take for granted are denied the rights and responsibilities that come from civil marriage. Ending these and other forms of institutional discrimination based on sexual orientation requires leadership. Pity there's not enough of it coming from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

President Obama ran as a candidate of change. Perhaps no other community took that to heart more than the gay community. Mr. Obama promised to end "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which prohibits members of the military from serving if they are openly gay. He promised to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between a man and a woman and denies married same-sex couples more than 1,100 federal benefits available to opposite-sex couples. There's been no visible movement on either pledge.

As he has in the past, Mr. Obama said the right things on gay rights at last weekend's fundraising dinner for the Human Rights Campaign. "I'm here with you in that fight" for equality, he said. "For even as we face extraordinary challenges as a nation, we cannot -- and we will not -- put aside issues of basic equality." On gays in the military, Mr. Obama mentioned his discussions with the Pentagon, the legislation pending in Congress and stated plainly, "I will end 'don't ask, don't tell. That's my commitment to you." On repealing DOMA, the president said, "I believe strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away and passing laws that extend equal rights to gay couples."

Frustration with Mr. Obama and the lack of progress in fulfilling his pledges on gay rights were evident at Sunday's National Equality March. But why is he the only target? Overturning "don't ask, don't tell" and DOMA require legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) have been content to sit on the sidelines while Mr. Obama takes the hits. This can't continue. Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid must exert the necessary leadership in their respective chambers to pass bills the president has promised to sign. Until then, they deserve as much criticism and blame as Mr. Obama for impeding the long march to equality. Leadership on Gay Rights: President Obama isn't the only one falling short.

Do you see what is wrong with this picture? It's fine to assign culpability to Pelosi and Reid for failure to act, but what about the jerks who were running things for the past eight years before the Democrats came into power? Pelosi, Reid, Obama might be guilty of moving slowly, of giving a lower priority to LGBT issues than some would like, but at least they're saying the right things and endorsing the right positions.

I share everyone's frustration with the time it is taking to make promised changes, and I am as cynical as anybody. But you cannot blame the Democratic leaders for the way things are, they are trying to reestablish a new equilibrium after years of Republican hostility against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans. You pray they're serious about it. If all the Democrats do in reality is talk about gay rights, then The Post is right, they are passively promoting bigotry. Let's see some bills passed, let's see the President sign some papers, put your money where your mouth is.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Perfectly Incorrect Statement

Normally, Rush Limbaugh does not deserve a mention on this blog. He blows a lot of hot air, there may be people who listen to him, I don't care. What he says is uninteresting and does not further problem-solving in either direction, as far as I can tell. He delivers daily monologues to losers.

But I have to comment on this latest one. He may have set a new standard of irony. Here's what he said yesterday:
(CNN) – Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh is dismissing Democratic campaigns to paint him as the man steering the Republican Party, and media frenzies over his most controversial comments.

"The media didn't make me, and they can't break me," he said in a portion of an NBC interview that aired Monday. Limbaugh: 'The media didn't make me, and they can't break me'

That statement is so wrong.

What does Rush Limbaugh do for a living? Does he decide policy? Raise funds or invest in the markets? Does he work on cars, work in a factory, a store? Does he sell things, make things, fix things?

No -- he is a voice on the radio, a face on television, and nothing more. His one talent is appearing on TV and radio. How would you like to "appear" for a living? Without the media to magnify him he is just another opinionated junkie.

The media did make him, there is nothing to him but media promotion.

The media didn't make me, and they can't break me. It's such a perfectly incorrect statement, it's like the sky claiming not to be blue. It is a magnificently incorrect statement, it is transcendentally incorrect, it is as if he is saying to the minds of the world "Testing. Testing. Is this thing on?" and they are shouting back, "We can't hear you!" It has come down to the sound of his voice, the tone of it, the content of his speech has finally become empty in a perfect way. Rush Limbaugh's words are a self-devouring Oroboros, a tautology, they are solipsistic, he speaks to a world that consists of nothing but himself, reflected.

Remember when Karl Rove used to talk about gearing the presidential campaign to audiences watching TV with the sound turned down? Rush Limbaugh is like listening to the radio with the sound turned down. Well, there is sound, but it is white noise modulated to approximate the nattering of a human voice. Pitch, timbre, and amplitude fluctuate in a charming but incoherent babble. Listeners, no matter how closely they pay attention, have lost the ability to detect the fact that there is no content to what he says. Even CNN reports this as if it were not a joke: Limbaugh: 'The media didn't make me, and they can't break me'. Some quotes, a picture, there you have it: news. It's got to be true, the media didn't make him, they said it right there on CNN.

"The media" is a phrase we use to refer to broadcasts and publications that report on the events of the times. Often the media report on real events -- an earthquake or battle, a speech by a famous person or expert, a scientific finding or musical performance -- but often these days the media simply report on the media. When they put somebody like Russ Limbaugh in the "news," it is nothing more than one hand signing what the other hand is doing. This is equally true when they report on liberal media personalities, as well, say Rachel Maddow or Jon Stewart, it has nothing to do with him being a Republican or conservative.

But I don't think you will ever catch Rachel Maddow or Jon Stewart saying, "The media didn't make me." They understand the media made them, that's all there is to it; without the media, these people would not have careers, they would have to sell things or make things or fix things like the rest of us. Rush Limbaugh apparently thinks he is famous for ... doing something?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ambivalence About the President's Motivation on LGBT Issues

I was hoping the press would give an estimate of the size of the crowd, but it looks like that won't happen today. Lots of people, described as "thousands," demonstrated on the mall today to support civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. The march did not have universal support in the gay community, for instance Barney Frank had called it a "waste of time," but there has been a lot of concern that the President is ignoring his campaign promises to the LGBT population.

Last night he addressed the Human Rights Campaign's 13th Annual National Dinner last night (opening for Lady Gaga). In his talk he promised to end discrimination against LBGT individuals, but the promises were mostly seen as "nothing new." AmericaBlog had a summary this morning of reactions from the gay community to the talk, I'll just copy and paste it here:
Andrew is not impressed.
8.56 pm. More campaign boilerplate. This speech could have been made - and was made - a year ago.
8.53 pm. His major achievement - the one thing he has actually done - is invite gay families to the Easter egg-roll.
8.51 pm. Again, more of a campaign speech. I've called on Congress to repeal DOMA. Does he think we're fools? He has done nothing to advance this.
8.50 pm. Now we get the campaign speech on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Does he not realize he is now in office? "I'm working to end this policy. I will end Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Solmonese has given us the timeline: 2017. This is bullshit.

Pam Spaulding:
I'm fresh off of SiriusOutQ's coverage of the HRC Dinner, and I have to tell you, the low expectations I had regarding LGBT policy were unfortunately met on that account. If you're an activist or citizen looking for timelines, actions, use of the bully pulpit, ANYTHING that would indicate to the community that our President was serious about moving on the laundry list of LGBT issues any time soon, you would call it a fail.

Dan Savage:
My reaction: a friend has been sending me ecstatic emails about the speech. I just watched it—the speech is every bit as good as the ones candidate Obama gave, as the performance candidate Obama delivered at the HRC/Logo Democratic Primary Debate, as the open letter to the LGBT community that candidate Obama released before last November's election. Imagine all the wonderful things this guy is going to accomplish if he ever actually gets elected president. In other words: sorry, folks, nothing new to see here. Pledges, promises, excuses. Lip service.

NYT says even some people attending the dinner were criticizing Obama.

Washington Post:
Obama did not offer specifics on how he would advance the cause of allowing gays to serve openly in the military, or of same-sex marriage, two areas where his inaction as president have disappointed many gay supporters....

Just days after winning the presidency, Obama vowed that he would be "a fierce advocate for gay and lesbian Americans."

But nine months later, many in the community say he has done little to make good on that statement. They accuse the president of putting their agenda on the back burner -- behind Wall Street regulation, health care, climate change and a series of foreign-policy issues. And although his sweeping rhetoric is appreciated, many are concerned that he has so far offered little beyond the symbolic and the incremental.

President Barack Obama wowed a crowd of gay rights activists Saturday night with an impassioned defense of equality for gays and lesbians, but he offered no new commitments to assuage concerns that he has given a low priority to issues critical to the gay and lesbian community.

Associated Press:
Obama publicly has previously committed himself to repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they don't disclose their sexual orientation or act on it. But Obama hasn't taken any concrete steps urging Congress to rescind the policy, and his national security adviser last weekend would only say that Obama will focus on overturning it "at the right time."

Obama also pledged during the campaign to work for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. But lawyers in his administration defended the law in a court brief. White House aides said they were only doing their jobs to back a law that was already on the books.

And don't forget. While President Obama told the folks attending the HRC dinner that he was busy working with the leaders in Congress to repeal DADT, Harry Reid just sent Obama a letter imploring him to show leadership on DADT, which directly contradicts what Obama told the gays last night. Reaction to Obama's Speech

Today was National Coming Out Day, by the way.

The march in DC seems to have been successful in terms of numbers and enthusiasm. Here's the AP this afternoon:
Thousands of gay and lesbian activists marched Sunday from the White House to the Capitol, demanding that President Barack Obama keep his promises to allow gays to serve openly in the military and allow same-sex marriages.

Rainbow flags and homemade signs dotted the crowds filling Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House as people chanted "Hey, Obama, let mama marry mama" and "We're out, we're proud, we won't back down." Many children were also among the protesters. A few counter-protesters had also joined the crowd.

Jason Yanowitz, a 37-year-old computer programmer from Chicago, held his daughter, 5-year-old Amira, on his shoulders. His partner, Annie, had their 2-year-old son, Isiah, in a stroller. Yanowitz said more straight people were turning out to show their support for gay rights.

"If somebody doesn't have equal rights, then none of us are free," he said.

"For all I know, she's gay or he's gay," he added, pointing to his children. Gay rights advocates march on DC, divided on Obama

I think we can safely say the "hope" thing is wearing thin for some people. Obama made promises during the campaign, and it may be true that, as HRC's Joe Solmonese said last night, "We’ve never had a stronger ally in the White House -never." But gay and lesbian members of the military still have to keep their sexual orientation secret, marriage between same-sex couples is not recognized by the federal government, there is no national law prohibiting employment discrimination against LGBT citizens ... as you can see in the statements quoted above by AmericaBlog, there is widespread belief that nothing has been done and that the President is not serious about doing anything on that front.

I'm a little more optimistic than that, but it has been too long now to say that he's been busy with other things. He's had plenty of time to get the ball rolling. The LGBT community is turning up the heat a little bit.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Warning Messages

A couple of people have contacted us recently to say they are getting warning messages when they visit this site. There are two possibilities: malicious code has been inserted on our web server, or the users reporting this have a virus on their personal computer. So far the people who reported it have found viruses on their computers, which are not necessarily related to this site.

I have taken the precautions I can to assure that there is nothing dangerous here, changed the ftp password, etc., and don't see any HTML code that looks suspicious, but of course I can't swear that no one has hacked some code here.

Please do us a favor. If you are browsing the blog, or any pages at TTF and you get a warning message, will you please let us know? Easiest is to put a comment on this post. If you can copy the message, that's helpful. If you want to include more information you can email us at and let us know what you see. And if you are one of our "Anonymous" commenters, don't worry, we won't tell anybody who you are. Two of us get that email and we will protect your privacy (of course we already know who some of you are!).

I am pretty sure the problem is on the user's end, but there is some nasty stuff out there and I'd like to be absolutely sure we are not hosting something bad. Please help us out.

BTW, if people post unrelated comments on this thread, I'm going to delete them. This post is here for one reason only.

[Update Friday 9PM. A couple of more people have emailed with similar stories. Norton's SafeWeb and McAffee's Site Advisor site say we're safe. I have hand-picked through all the code; I found a couple of "interesting" spam comments, maybe those were a problem, they're gone now. I will keep looking and updating what I find -- please keep reporting incidents. JimK ]

[ Update Saturday 1:30PM. I have scanned the files numerous times with various checkers, and have scanned my own PC several different ways, and found nothing worse than a few tracking cookies on my computer.

One comment thread here triggered several warnings, and that one had two comments where the users' names were linked to web sites. I think those links might have triggered the warning messages. If you notify us that you're having a problem, please specify what screen you were looking at. At this point it appears that there is a new kind of spam on Blogger sites that may set off some security software. It is not really a threat (unless you click on it, though those two were nonthreatening links), just your computer being extra-careful. I will continue to investigate. JimK ]

President Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

US President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last night. The award came too late for the morning newspapers, but the word is out. Of course there is polarization about this award, some say it is premature, and of course the antipatriots in the US are angry that such a prestigious award was given to a leader selected by the American people.

I have looked at a number of news reports on this, and will use the BBC as a source, representing an international viewpoint and not necessarily a partisan American one. Even so, they had mixed feelings about the award.
In awarding President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian committee is honouring his intentions more than his achievements.

After all he has been in office only just over eight months and he will presumably hope to serve eight years, so it is very early in his term to get this award.

The committee does not make any secret of its approach. It states that he is being given the prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples."

This is of course an implied criticism of former US president George W Bush and the neo-conservatives, who were often accused of trying to change the world in their image.

The committee "attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." But it also mentioned the UN, climate change and the "strengthening" of democracy and human rights.

The reference to democracy will be noted - perhaps wryly, perhaps with some resentment - by the neo-conservatives, as the spread of democracy, especially in the wider Middle East as they called it, (incorporating Afghanistan) was one of their rallying cries. The Norwegian committee was not impressed and it will probably be a case of vice versa. Obama gets reward for world view

The message is clear. Under eight years of Republican rule, the United States had become the world's enemy. Our tradition of freedom and civil rights, once the gold standard for the world, had deteriorated into an embarrassing culture of fear and tyranny. Our relations with the other countries of the world had deteriorated into a web of policies designed to intimidate rather than negotiate. Our bluster, greed, and ignorance had alienated us from our neighbors on the planet.

All this has turned around. You might not like everything the President has done, it may be that he has fallen short of his campaign promises, but the fact is he has made a point of showing respect to American citizens and to citizens of the world we share. He took a once-powerful, fallen country and raised it up again, and the Nobel committee has recognized that and rewarded him for it.

The BBC article goes on to list the challenges facing the President. It is a sober and appreciative perspective on the honor bestowed on our President.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Extry, Extry! Kid Wears Weird Clothes to School!

This happened in Georgia, you wonder how it would have played out if it happened here in Montgomery County.
Jonathan Escobar says he chooses to wear clothes that express himself. Skinny jeans, wigs, "vintage" clothing and makeup are the staples of his wardrobe.

"I don't consider myself a cross-dresser," he said. "This is just who I am."

But the 16-year-old says an assistant principal at North Cobb High School told him last week he needed to dress more "manly" for school, or consider being home-schooled. He had only been a student at the school for three days.

"I told myself I can't accept this," said Escobar, who wore a pink wig to school last Wednesday.

Escobar said the assistant principal told him his style of dress had caused a fight between students at the school. Two days later, he withdrew himself from the Kennesaw school.

"You can't wear clothing that causes a disruption," said Jay Dillon, spokesman for Cobb County schools. Cobb teen told he can't dress like a female at school

There seems like something inherently wrong with a rule or law that judges one person's actions on the basis of someone else's response to them. Like, yesterday I saw a guy in a navy blazer and black slacks that simply did not go together at all. He looked like a big doofus. I could have reacted, I could have called him names and gathered my friends around to taunt him for looking like a loser. If we did that at the school this kid goes to, the blazer-wearing doofus would have to go home and change, or be home-schooled.

There is a picture of this kid with the news article, and actually he looks kind of cool. No, he is not manly-looking, but he's definitely got his own sense about what looks good, I've seen rock stars and television actors who look less weird than that.

This is just plain silly ...
Dillon said he believed Escobar arrived at school in a dress and heels. But Escobar said he never wore a dress. He says he opted for "skinny" jeans all three days with flats.

The district lists the dress code on its homepage. The rule states that students should "refrain from any mode of dress which proves to contribute to any disruption of school functions."

School administrators and teachers are the final judge of the appropriateness of clothing, according to the rule.

Escobar said he moved to Cobb County from Miami to live with his older sister. His Florida school didn't have an issue with the way he dressed, but his parents did. His sister, Veronica Escobar, urged her parents to let Jonathan come to live with her. Now she says she's shocked by what has happened.

"I didn't think they would take it this far," Veronica Escobar said.

Jonathan Escobar says he wasn't a disruption in the classroom, but he attracted attention in the lunchroom. "Everybody was surrounding me," he said.

Yeah, y'know, I never heard of a sixteen-year-old who tried to attract attention before ...

I suppose at this point I should confess that I myself was a repeat dress-code violator in high school. No, I did not wear pink wigs, but I was thrown out of school for long sideburns, no socks, hair past my collar, I don't remember what all, every couple of weeks they'd send me home for something or other. In a way I know how this kid feels, he's just being different, he's not hurting anything, and these grown-ups are making a big deal out of it.
On his second day of school, Escobar says he was pulled out of class to speak with a police officer who told him he was concerned about the student's safety.

"They should've told the students to back off," Escobar said. "They should have never given me the option of homeschooling or changing who I am."

Oh yeah, good idea, call the cops on the kid for provoking bullies. I love that.
In his short time at the Kennesaw school, Escobar apparently made quick friends. By Tuesday evening, nearly 900 supporters had joined a Facebook group called "Support Jonathan." Many were planning to purchase a bright pink T-shirt with the same phrase.

Escobar says he wants to be allowed to attend school and eventually graduate. But he doesn't want to stifle what he calls his art.

"If I can't express myself, I won't go to school," he said. "I want to get the message out there that because this is who I am, I can't get an education."

People have a natural tendency to conform to group norms, but the distribution of that conformity is itself normal -- it's a bell curve, lots of people at the center, a few in the tails of the distribution. This kid is an outlier, well somebody's going to be. Is it necessary to force conformity for those who fail to be intimidated by peer pressure? That is the question that lies at the heart of many of the controversies we discuss on this blog. Can a society allow its citizens the liberty to be different?

Live By the Sword

Sometimes I travel to foreign countries, and there is always one thing that completely puzzles the people -- America's relationship to guns. You can't imagine trying to explain to some European professor the fact that Americans will never give up their right to own guns. I try to explain to them that the idea is that citizens can defend themselves from tyrants, and they look at me like, what do you think is going to happen? Do you think the tyrant is going to come to your door? And what about all the people who get murdered with guns in America -- you're always shooting each other! It's just one of those things, we will always have the right to bear arms, guns will always be dangerous, but there's something inherently American about it.

I remember driving into a city in China at night, the sidewalks were crowded with shady-looking characters and I asked my translator, "Is it safe to come here at night?" "Yes, it's safe," he said, "Guns are illegal in China." And I thought, right, so only outlaws have guns. But in fact, nobody has guns. He did say you have to watch out for pickpockets, but nobody will pull a gun on you because there just aren't any. It was a hard concept to adjust to.

Lately we have seen some nutty people showing up at President Obama's events with holstered guns. When asked , "Why are you carrying a gun?" the stock answer is "Because I can." I'd be pretty sure you couldn't carry a gun to a G.W. Bush event, but nobody ever tried so we don't know. You could not wear anti-war t-shirts, I know that, I doubt that a pistol would have been welcome either.

So up in Pennsylvania there was a mom who wore a holstered pistol to her daughter's soccer game. My kids are older now, but I remember some parents at the games who were ... scary, even without weapons. At one point our team almost forfeited a game because one dad was ranting at the umpires and you didn't know if he was going to blow a gasket or what. I can't imagine what he would have done if he'd had a weapon strapped to his leg.

Last October this mom, Meleanie Hain, a friendly-looking blond in her early thirties, made the news when she brought a gun to her daughter's soccer game. The local sheriff revoked her permit to carry a weapon, she took them to court and won.

She's dead now.
Meleanie Hain, the pistol-carrying Lebanon mom who received national attention for taking a loaded gun to her daughter’s soccer game, was shot to death Wednesday night with her husband in an apparent murder-suicide, police said.

Hain, 31, and her husband, Scott, 33, were pronounced dead by Lebanon County Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Yocum shortly after 8:30 p.m. at their home at Second Avenue and East Grant Street, police said.

The couple’s three children were home at the time and were not injured, and are staying with relatives and friends, police said.

Autopsies were scheduled for Thursday, police said. No other details were available at press time.

Neighbor Mark Long said Meleanie baby-sat his 3-year-old son and that she and Scott had been having marital problems for the last week. Scott left on Tuesday and Meleanie did not know where he went, but he came back Wednesday, Long said. Gun-toting soccer mom is shot dead

This article goes through the whole history of the case, the pistol-packin' soccer mom and all the court rulings.

It's a difficult thing, you can't say you really have a right unless you exercise it. Take freedom of speech, you can say you've got it, but if some Nazis or Klan guys want to have a parade and the government doesn't allow it you really don't have that freedom. Same thing, you have the right to bear arms, and so some crazy person wants to bring guns to a kids' soccer game or to the President's talk, well you have to let them. It's one thing to own a gun, to hunt, to defend yourself, whatever, it's a whole other thing to be an offensive idiot about it, endangering everyone around you, just because you can. And there is no way to write a law that gives you the freedom to make smart decisions and stops you from being dumb. If you want freedom, you have to accept the freedom to do stupid and obnoxious things.

You wish these people had centered their lives around something a little more peaceful, they wouldn't be dead now.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

DC Marriage Equality Bill Introduced

Yesterday the Washington, DC, City Council received a bill legalizing marriage between same-sex individuals. The fight is going to line up, let's say, uniquely.

On one hand, it is almost certain that there will be strong opposition from the so-called "black preachers." Washington, DC, aka "Chocolate City," has a lot of churches with mostly black members, they are a powerful institution in the city and have done a lot of good as far as helping people overcome poverty and discrimination and providing a backbone to the community. On the other hand, most of these churches are strict and fundamentalist, and the preachers see homosexuality as a sin to be rooted out of the society. Last summer they made a scene when the DC City Council voted to recognize gay marriages from other states. The vote in that case was 12-1, with the one vote against coming from Marion Barry, who had met with a group of preachers and acknowledged that their view is prevalent in his district and should be respected. You may remember this: "All hell is going to break lose," Barry said while speaking to reporters. "We may have a civil war. The black community is just adamant against this."

On the other hand, anything that happens in DC has to be approved by Congress. Congress has thirty days to pass a resolution to block a law, and the resolution has to be signed by the President. Will that happen? You can bet there will be Congresspersons pushing for it, and the President has shown only spinelessness in keeping his promises to the gay community so far. So it's a toss-up, there will definitely be a debate, the Republicans will be against marriage equality and the Democrats may or may not have the balls to support it. Sorry, I couldn't think of a different way to say that.

Here's The Post yesterday afternoon:
Dozens of activists on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate crammed into the D.C. Council chambers Tuesday to watch council member David A. Catania introduce his bill to allow same-sex couples to wed in the District.

Starting at 9 a.m., the activists filed into the John A. Wilson Building, eventually filling the chamber and spilling into the hallway.

But after months of anticipation, Catania's official introduction was fairly anticlimatic.

"We are about to embark on an exciting journey here in the city," Catania (I-At Large), who is openly gay, told the audience when he introduced his bill shortly after noon.

Catania's proposal is being co-sponsored by council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and the other at-large members of the council -- Michael A. Brown (I), Kwame R. Brown (D) and Phil Mendelson (D).

Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) are also supporting the measure, virtually assuring it will be approved later this year. Council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) have declined to sign on as co-sponsors.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has vowed to sign the bill. Congress will have 30 legislative days to review the legislation and both Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have said there does not appear to be a strong movement to block it from becoming law. Gay Marriage Bill Unveiled Before Packed D.C. Council Chambers

I think what we will see is posturing by conservatives in Congress, who will have to say something bad about gays and lesbians marrying, maybe introduce some hopeless legislation, give some hometown speeches against marriage, etcetera, but there is no momentum at that level to beat this.

The real battle may be played out locally, which is, I think, how it should be. You have a strong network of churches that preach against gay-anything and will not accept marriage between two people of the same sex. Those churches have the respect of local politicians, and are an important source of support for them. You want those preachers to be backing you up, to put it mildly, they can do a lot of political damage from the pulpit and working within their congregations.

Skipping down into this same Post article...
Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, reiterated his push for a citywide referendum to outlaw gay marriage. The Board of Elections and Ethics plans to hold a hearing on Jackson's request Oct. 26.

If the board rejects his request for a public vote, Jackson has vowed that he will go to court to try to force a referendum.

"This is not a human rights battle," Jackson said. "It's a political battle."

Representatives for the Archdiocese of Washington and the Family Research Council also spoke out against the bill.

"The bill introduced today by some members of the District of Columbia City Council to redefine marriage is at odds with marriage's fundamental purpose," the Archdiocese said in a statement. "You cannot redefine biology."

Sultan Shakir of the Human Rights Campaign countered that Catania's bill sends "an important message that the District does not discriminate." Shakir said his organization will continue to resist Jackson's efforts to hold a referendum on the matter.

"We just don't think putting civil rights to a vote is good policy," Shakir said.

Yes, this is an interesting concept. We think of our form of government as a democracy, but it is not, strictly speaking, the majority doesn't rule on everything. We don't vote on every measure, every law, every budget item, we vote for representatives to study those issues and make good choices. This is a beautiful system, in that it buffers policy decisions from the kinds of forces that work in, say, advertising, where you try to persuade someone without actually informing them. The people of the District of Columbia elected these particular Council members to make policy decisions for them, and it is entirely possible that the vote on marriage equality will go opposite of public opinion. The fact is, minorities deserve rights, too, even if they are unappreciated or even reviled by the majority. The representative form of government slows impulsive reactions to hot-button topics; a small number of well-informed representatives can make better decisions than a vote by the entire population after they have been stirred up by inflammatory campaign slogans and images.

So in a nutshell, the City Council and mayor will almost certainly approve this bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia; Congress will almost certainly not block it; and the churches are threatening to push for a referendum to ban same-sex marriages in DC, which could go either way. It's going to get interesting, as the city contemplates the role of religion and the population's commitment to the civil rights of minorities in a new light.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Alan Grayson, the "Die Quickly" Guy

I don't know about you, but I was somewhat intrigued when I saw that freshman Democratic Congressman, Alan Grayson of Florida, describing the Republican health plan as 1. Don't get sick, and if you do, 2. Die quickly. And then he went on Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room and came on like a runaway freight train, entirely unapologetic, the mainstream talking heads tried to shame him and he just kept coming. He interrupted people, corrected them, laughed at them, talked over them, intimidated them, he was perfect. What he says is, "Democrats have to have guts."

The guy seems to be absolutely unembarrassed to speak clearly and accurately without resorting to or even referencing the standard Washington cliches. It is exhilarating to watch him.

The St. Petersburg Times had a nice bio on him today, it's interesting to get a little background on this guy who seems able to stay cool even with all the criticism and pressure in the world focused on him.

The piece starts with some fluff, picking up speed before it gets to the meat of the topic:
Pugnacious, partisan, smart and rich, the Orlando Democrat has been stirring the pot since taking office in January, most vividly when he took to the House floor this week and said the Republican health care plan amounted to "die quickly."

The rant would have been unusual for a lawmaker from even the most liberal congressional district. But Grayson, 51, represents a part of Florida that is divided politically — probably not the constituency that wants to hear the GOP is "knuckle-dragging Neanderthals" as he fumed on CNN Wednesday.

"The biggest argument against Alan Grayson is Alan Grayson," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia Republican who has been helping vet potential challengers.

Already Grayson is one of the most targeted incumbents in the country, having defeated four-term Republican Ric Keller, and his re-election bid embodies the challenge Democrats face in holding control of Congress as the president's approval rating falls.

But a leading opponent has not yet emerged, and Grayson, the 12th-wealthiest member of Congress, has resources to defend himself. He spent $2 million of his own money on the 2008 campaign. (The "die quickly" speech has triggered $150,000 in contributions, his office says.) And his district has shifted from slightly Republican to slightly Democratic.

"It's no coincidence the National Republican Congressional Committee has named me as the No. 1 target next year," Grayson said. "We're working hard, getting things done."

Swagger courses through Grayson's every word, delivered in the accent of his Bronx upbringing and with the exacting nature of a lawyer who first made his name taking on — and taking down — contractors and war profiteers in Iraq.

"I don't need the job for income or satisfaction," said Grayson, sitting on a bench outside the House chamber in between votes. "The truth is, it's really a hardship. I took an enormous pay cut to take the job. Every week, I leave five young children and my wife to come up here.

"I don't owe anything to anyone here. I don't owe anything to lobbyists. I don't owe anything to leadership. The only thing I owe to anybody is the well-being of 800,000 people who depend on me." 'Die quickly' just a sample of Alan Grayson's sound bite attack

Oh, man, this video is entirely politically incorrect, but it's too hilarious not to show you. At YouTube: Hitler finds out Alan Grayson has exposed them. You will be rolling on the floor laughing, totally ashamed of yourself. (It's especially cool how they translated "Stalin" as "stalling.")

One other thing, Grayson's use of the word "holocaust" to describe the deaths that have occurred because of poor health coverage in the US. Rachel Maddow, who is Jewish (actually, Grayson is, too), seemed very uncomfortable with Grayson's choice of words. As TPM LiveWire reported:
... Maddow asked Grayson several times whether he regretted using the word "holocaust." She called it a "hyperbolic, over-the-top charge" and said it's "always a bad choice of words unless you're talking about the actual Holocaust."

Grayson sidestepped Maddow's question a couple times, but finally said, "Rachel, it may not have been the best choice of words. But I will say this -- my words don't matter. That's not what's important here. What's important is we do what we need to do."

I think the word holocaust, uncapitalized, retains its place in the English language as "Great destruction resulting in the extensive loss of life, especially by fire." This is like our use of lower-case "god" to refer to any deity, it does not detract in any way from reference to the capitalized God. I understand that people are uncomfortable using the word casually, and it may be that concern about trivializing the Nazi Holocaust leads to the uncapitalized word being dropped from our vocabulary, but so far that has not happened.

So we are getting the impression of this bulldog Congressman who refuses to be distracted by attacks on the cosmetics of his statements, instead he constantly comes back to the point. This is a strange and risky way to behave in Congress, and lots of people are really glad to see it.

Back to the Florida newspaper...
So he unabashedly pursues money for his district, which stretches from Marion to Orange counties, bragging that he has increased "earmarks" by 500 percent in the past year. He brushes off heat he took for attempting to get $350,000 for a housing counseling service in Orlando run by a man with a dubious background. He scoffs at his ties to the controversial community organizing group ACORN.

This spring Grayson played tough with President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by holding up his vote for a global-warming bill until he was promised a $50 million hurricane research center that some in Central Florida say is wasteful, a brazen move for any lawmaker, let alone a rookie.

That self-assurance is best captured on the Financial Services Committee, where he has aggressively interrogated Federal Reserve officials and financial executives on federal bailouts and the economic morass.

In a memorable exchange, Grayson laughs at Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke as he tries to explain why the government would loan $500 billion to foreign banks.

(BTW, Grayson's interrogation of Bernanke is HERE, and it is really fascinating to watch.)

This is a long story. Wow, the guy has pink cowboy boots, that is cool.

We're going to be hearing Alan Grayson's name a lot in the next couple of years, you might want to take a look at this informative article about him, how he grew up, how he became the outspoken straight-talker he is today.

In the horrible video I linked above, which I of course am not responsible for and do not endorse in any way, Hitler barks at his advisers, dejectedly, "How long before other Democrats find his courage?"

Good question.

Antipatriots Cheer US Failure

You'd think they'd be embarrassed. But the truth is, there is a population of dangerous nuts out there who really do want America to fail. Watching this video, you realize how they see themselves, they think this is the norm, failure is a goal for them, they applaud the news when America comes in last.

Hosting the Olympics is a big deal. It brings in a lot of money, it creates thousands of jobs over years of time, it is prestigious, there are just a gazillion reason why it's a good thing. It's a big enough deal for the President of the United States to go give a presentation and try to book the gig. Even Oprah went.

The US turned on the charm, turned up the firepower, the President himself went to Copenhagen to make the pitch. There are people in our country who want failure for anything the President does, it doesn't matter if it's good for the country, they only see things in terms of sibling rivalry, it only matters what's good for the Republican Party.

Watch this video. These are people at the Americans for Prosperity "Defending the American Dream Summit," when they get the word that Chicago was eliminated in the Olympic selection process. They are ecstatic, this is the best news they could get. Boo America! Yay for Rio, or any place that is not the United States!

I could see if they wanted to focus on some faux pas that the President made, a word he stumbled over, a misstatement that exaggerated his own importance. It's fine for the Republicans to try to find a way to beat the Democrats in the next election.

But this has gone beyond that, this isn't partisan, it's not Republicans against Democrats. It turns out these people have no concept of "united we stand," or if they do it is a concept where "we" are bounded by religion, skin-tone, sexual identity, language. These white people want "their country" back, they don't consider the Negro President to be one of them, all these brown people with Spanish accents, the queers and she-males and feminazis acting like they own the place. They want their "real" America back the way it used to be, with straight white Christian men running things.

To tell you the truth, I didn't much care if the US got the Olympics or not, and I was hardly aware they were deciding. The committee chose Rio de Janeiro, and that sounds good, Rio can use the business, I have a friend who was robbed on the beach there in plain daylight, they said there are big parts of town you just can't go into, lots of desperation and poverty. I don't really care if Chicago or some other city gets the Olympics, personally, but I am not rooting against America. I was in Beijing a year or so before they hosted the Olympics, and you could see the whole city was energized, the skyline was a tapestry of cranes and new structures. It looks like it is really a big thing to host the Olympics.

According to Think Progress, the Weekly Standard, an extreme conservative media outlet, announced that “Cheers erupt at WEEKLY STANDARD world headquarters” when the news was announced. Later they changed the blog post but you know how the Internet is. For the antipatriotic sector of America, failure is the biggest success they can wish for.

I don't mind that a party fights to win. I do mind when a political party encourages armed insurrection and secession of states, when every elected official of the losing party votes against important legislation just to make the winning party look bad. Our side waited for four years while the country was being run into a ditch, then had a heartbreaking loss, then waited another four years. It was hard, sorry, this is America, that's what you do. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Vatican Wants To Stop Calling It "Pedophilia"

The Vatican issued a statement this week clarifying that their priests are not (mostly) pedophiles. The term pedophilia is inaccurate, the Church says, they would prefer to call what they do ephebophilia.

I know, I'd never heard of it either. According to Wikipedia, "Ephebophilia is a word indicating sexual preference for mid-to-late adolescents." Adolescence is usually considered to refer to the time between about 13 and about 19 years of age, so "mid-to-late adolescents" would be, I'd guess, fifteen to nineteen years old. Wikipedia goes on: "The term ephebophilia is used only to describe the preference for mid to late adolescent sexual partners, not the mere presence of some level of sexual attraction."

Here's The Guardian on the Vatican's statement:
The Vatican has lashed out at criticism over its handling of its paedophilia crisis by saying the Catholic church was "busy cleaning its own house" and that the problems with clerical sex abuse in other churches were as big, if not bigger.

In a defiant and provocative statement, issued following a meeting of the UN human rights council in Geneva, the Holy See said the majority of Catholic clergy who committed such acts were not paedophiles but homosexuals attracted to sex with adolescent males.

The statement, read out by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent observer to the UN, defended its record by claiming that "available research" showed that only 1.5%-5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse.

He also quoted statistics from the Christian Scientist Monitor newspaper to show that most US churches being hit by child sex abuse allegations were Protestant and that sexual abuse within Jewish communities was common.

He added that sexual abuse was far more likely to be committed by family members, babysitters, friends, relatives or neighbours, and male children were quite often guilty of sexual molestation of other children.

The statement said that rather than paedophilia, it would "be more correct" to speak of ephebophilia, a homosexual attraction to adolescent males.

"Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17." Sex abuse rife in other religions, says Vatican

(I'm going to ignore the Vatican's desire to call these criminals "homosexuals." The issue is not the sex of their victims, that whole thing is just a distraction.)

I'd like to separate two concepts here -- age of consent and exploitation. The first concept has to do with a society's judgment about the age when a person is ready to decide to have sex. Obviously there are people who believe that forty year olds should not have sex unless they're married, and equally obviously by the end of high school about half of teens have had intercourse. Most people are physically mature by the age of fifteen or sixteen, though it is our society's consensus that they are not psychologically mature. For an adult to find a seventeen-year-old attractive is not perverse or necessarily dangerous, but for a trusted adult to initiate sexual interaction with an adolescent is exploitative. We may differ among ourselves about the appropriateness of two seventeen-year-olds having sex, but I don't think there is any dispute that someone like a Catholic priest has no business touching or even speaking seductively to any person who comes to them for confession and guidance, no matter what their age is.

Priests who claim to be celibate having sex with parishioners is wrong, regardless of the age or gender of the parishioner. It's wrong with teenagers, it's wrong with adults. It's exploitation.

Young people have their lives ahead of them, they should discover love and sexuality at a natural pace, they should not have adult expectations forced on them in their innocence. And I know people won't like me saying this, but there are degrees of this -- start with the nineteen-year-old boy with the seventeen-year-old girlfriend. It is possible that an underage person is mentally mature, nothing magical happens on your eighteenth birthday, and the issue of consensual sex with minors really isn't black and white. There is real controversy these days about laws that criminalize young people -- the issue of "sexting" has brought it to the fore -- and we will have to do something about it soon as a society. But in the case of a priest the question is, in fact, black and white. He is sworn to celibacy, and one reason for that is that it removes a motive for bias in his ability to provide counsel to his flock. You can't give good marital advice to someone, for instance, when you're thinking there's a chance you'll get into their pants later.

Maybe most priests don't molest teenage boys, in fact that's probably true. But the church has a problem, and it won't change anything to try to rename it using a word nobody knows.