"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Friday, July 30, 2010

I'm Appalled (Updated)

I'm not taking this as an expression of bigotry so much as an indication of the degree to which the ravings of lunatics like Sarah Palin drive public discourse in America. This is the ADL on the proposed Muslim community center a couple blocks away from Ground Zero. (I would link directly, but the link is broken.)(Update: Here's a working link.)

We regard freedom of religion as a cornerstone of the American democracy, and that freedom must include the right of all Americans – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths – to build community centers and houses of worship.

We categorically reject appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion, and condemn those whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry.

However, there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site. We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel – and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001.

The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process. Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.

Eric Martin dissects the logic of the release (which is almost nonexistent) pretty effectively in his post, but I want to call attention to one thing: "The controversy which has emerged" is another "controversy" created by the bigots on the right because they can use things like this to fire up their base. It's deliberate race-baiting.

I won't bother to go into the arguments against this sort of racist campaign, but they're pretty simple to summarize:

1. The site of the community center is not visible from Ground Zero, and vice-versa;

2. The group owns the land and has gotten approval from the city for the expansion plans;

3. There were Muslims killed in the collapse of the towers -- it was a pretty multicultural affair;

4. New Yorkers support the community center -- we're talking about outside agitators here.

Y'know what? In spite of everything that Sarah Palin and Newt Gringrich and their ilk can do, it's still a free country. The ADL should take another look at the "controversy" and maybe come to its senses.

Update: It gets worse:

In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values. These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming. But regardless of how they respond, the issue at stake is a broader one.

I question the legitimacy of those questions. Everything I've seen smacks of smear tactics and fabricated concerns. The "connections" are simply that they are all Muslims, and, like Christians and even Jews, there is a broad spectrum of interpretations within that faith. The ADL here is playing along with the Palin/Beck wing of the so-called "conservative" movement -- the wingnut fringe.

And then it goes right down the toilet:

Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.

Ultimately, this is not about the ADL's opinion of what building the community center will cause to victims. This is about caving into the terrorists, which the right has been doing ever since 9/11.

I have to revise my opinion of the basis for this statement: it's espousing bigotry while pretending not to. Where have we seen that before?

Here's the post that provided the link above. Eli sums it up rather nicely:

Look, it’s very simple really: You don’t oppose bigotry by tut-tutting it and then siding with the bigots.  You oppose bigotry by opposing bigotry.

Follow that link.  That's what the ADL's statement should have said.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wow! on Marriage

Very strong, very moving little speech from XXX, Pam's House Blend. The post is on the fact that 90% of the "surveys" sent out to the troops on DADT repeal haven't been answered in three weeks -- because 90% of the troops don't care.

This is Iowa State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, refusing to co-sponsor a constitutional amendment repealing same-sex marriage:


God Doesn't Believe in Professional Standards

Parallel stories in the news, about counseling students who are asked to leave their programs because their religious beliefs preclude them from adhering to professional standards. They're suing, of course. First, via Pam's House Blend, this story:

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Eastern Michigan University by a student who was kicked out of its graduate program in school counseling last year for refusing, on religious grounds, to affirm homosexual behavior in serving clients.

In an order granting summary judgment to the university on Monday, Judge George Caram Steeh of the U.S. District Court in Detroit held that the university's requirement that the student be willing to serve people who are homosexual was reasonable, and did not amount to an infringement of the Christian student's constitutional rights to free speech and free expression of religion.

The university "had a right and duty to enforce compliance" with professional ethics rules barring counselors from being intolerant or engaging in discrimination, and no reasonable person could conclude that a counseling program's requirement that students comply with such rules "conveys a message endorsing or disapproving of religion," Judge Steeh wrote.

According to Joe Jervis:

Last year Ward refused to treat a suicidal gay student, telling fellow counselors that her religious views prevented her from helping him feel better about himself.

And now I can't find a link to the second story, but it's almost a repeat: a "Christian" girl suing her school because the counseling program insists that she follow professional standards.

I left a comment on the post at PHB, but it's worth expanding on here. Given that we bend over backward to accommodate religious beliefs in this country, but I think we've gone over the line with allowing pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control against their religious beliefs, even if we require that the refer a client to another pharmacist: this is a situation ripe for abuse, and people being what they are, they will abuse it.

There comes a point, though, where you have to say to yourself, If my religious beliefs preclude me from engaging in my chosen profession with honesty and integrity, maybe I need to find another profession. I think this is especially true of something like counseling. To put, as this woman does, her (uninformed) belief that homosexuality is a "choice" or a "lifestyle" and a sin, in place of the necessity of offering support and acceptance to a client subverts the basic principles of psychotherapy.

And in spite of the position of ADF, which argued her case, it's not a matter of being forced to abandon her religious beliefs. It's simply the fact that, if she's going to place those beliefs in a primary position of her approach to counseling, she's not fit to practice. I mean, come on -- to refuse to help someone who's suicidal? WTF?

What I'm getting from both these cases is a huge sense of entitlement (which seems to be a necessary corollary of belief systems in which authority hands down absolute and immutable "truth"), and a certain degree of childishness: no one else counts, it's all about me. And that, of course, flies in the face of what counseling is all about: it's about the clients and their well-being. First rule: the client must make the decision to change his or her behavior. The counselor's beliefs are irrelevant. To impose them on vulnerable people who need real help is, in a very real sense, immoral.

Gah! The whole thing makes me crazy. Fortunately, the judge in this case wasn't hoodwinked.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I < 3 Balloon Juice

I was actually going to post on this this morning but got distracted. Fortunately, DougJ came up with something pithy and brilliant.

Go read it. And then read the post he links to at Rortybomb.

I don't have anything to add.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Good Christian Americans

A couple of stories this morning that sort of pushed themselves together in my mind.

First, as reported by Bil Browning at Bilerico, this choice piece of work from NOM's "rally" in Indianapolis:

Read Browning's post -- they even got an interview with this asshole.

And somehow that seems a good match with this story at TPM:

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, currently running third in the state's Republican gubernatorial primary race, says he's not sure if Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion apply to the followers of the world's second-largest faith, Islam.

At a recent event in Hamilton County, Ramsey was asked by a man in the audience about the "threat that's invading our country from the Muslims." Ramsey proclaimed his support for the Constitution and the whole "Congress shall make no law" thing when it comes to religion. But he also said that Islam, arguably, is less a faith than it is a "cult."

"Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult whatever you want to call it," Ramsey said. "Now certainly we do protect our religions, but at the same time this is something we are going to have to face."

Maybe Ramsey has to face the fact that he's ignorant and bigoted. He tried to backpedal, of course, but only ended up sounding like Sarah Palin -- not a plus.

Honestly, I read stuff like this and I just want to throw up my hands -- why aren't these people using the brains God gave them? Maybe it's just because they've been told all their lives what to believe, and if they don't believe it, awful things will happen. The problem is, they're the awful things.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Not All That Innocent

Via Ed Brayton, this piece from Daniel Larison on Mosquegate. I found this particularly interesting:

As I said earlier this year:

The greatest danger all along has been that we would destroy or corrupt our institutions and our values out of an irrational exaggeration of the threat posed by jihadists, and that we would make this even worse through a widely shared blindness to the consequences of our national security and foreign policies. One reason anti-jihadist commentary has seemed less and less persuasive to me over the last decade is that anti-jihadists have done nothing to avoid these dangers and have done all that they could to make them worse.

Anti-jihadists keep making the same errors over and over. Instead of exploiting differences between jihadists and non-jihadists, among different kinds of Islamists, and between different groups of jihadists, anti-jihadists have been perfectly content to roll all of them into a single “Islamofascist” menace. That artificially inflates the strength of actual jihadist enemies by lending credibility to their propaganda, and as a result it makes jihadist causes more appealing.

Two points here:

1) The corruption and/or destruction of our institutions and values is a desired result of this campaign and those behind it. It's been a desired result of the new right since its inception, from the Christianists and their "Christian nation/Biblical principles" mantra to the everlasting "War on Terrah" to legalized torture and detention without recourse on the president's say-so to the corporatist decision in Citizens United.

2) It's almost a cliche at this point that the jihadists are the new right's favorite wet dream. This "lumping" that Larison notes is not an error, it's a tactic. It's not about making jihadists more appealing to disaffected Muslims, it's about making them more frightening to otherwise complacent Middle Americans.

Conor Friedersdorf also makes a good point:

Even worse, opponents of the project are opportunistically invoking the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, even going so far as to appropriate their imagery. "Join the fight to kill The Ground Zero Mosque," intones a video advertisement released by a group called National Republican Trust PAC. "A mosque at Ground Zero must not stand. The political class says nothing. The politicians are doing nothing to stop it. But we Americans will be heard. "

As an American in good standing, I'd like to be heard--and to make sure that James Madison, a colleague of mine in citizenship, is heard too. The fourth president of the U.S. once wrote, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." It's a line that National Republican Trust neglects to remember. Perhaps "the political class" isn't doing anything to stop the construction of an Islamic community center because the Constitution forbids it.

Has anyone noticed how inconvenient the Constitution is these days?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Must Read

Dan Woods' closing argument in Log Cabin Republicans vs. United States of America, as prepared, posted by Karen Ocamb.

It's long, but it's amazing.  Obama's DoJ has fallen flat on its face.

The full transcript is available at the LCR website.

It's Not Race, It's Class

Something that I've pointed out a number of times. There are several stories that converge on this point this morning. I'm just going to lay out the dots, and you can connect them.

First, Nicole Bell's post on this speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders:

Oligarchy is really the only way to describe this. The Republican platform benefits such a small percentage of Americans. And that's the way they prefer it. Social programs are democratizing and give voice to the unwashed masses, which only get in the way of the elite. That's why there's been a systematic dismantling of social programs since Reagan.

Meanwhile, the Republicans keep just a high enough percentage of authoritarian-minded voting against their best interests by preying on their worst instincts--fear of the Other, where the other is alternatively people of color, women seeking reproductive rights, gays, undocumented workers, or any other variation on a theme. The oligarchy points to these fellow-victimized groups as the ones to blame for the poor condition of your life, rather than admit that it is their policies: free trade, union-busting, corporations off-shoring, and the dismantling of social safety nets that hurt you.

And they just flat out lie to you. Other countries manage to offer systems that enable there to be a thriving middle class, social programs like universal healthcare, paid college educations, public transit, child care, and job training. But you'll never hear the truth about how well these programs work, because that might clue in the masses at just how much is kept from us.

This segues quite neatly into this post at Mahablog:

I’d also say that while the issues of racial discrimination and entrenched poverty do overlap, a lot, they aren’t exactly the same. I agree also with John that the real issue is closer to what Shirley Sherrod was saying about class v. race.

But whatever it is, it’s a real issue, and it is not at all helpful to react to discussion of the problems of white poverty with knee-jerk declarations that “This isn’t about white people; it’s about privileged white men.”

No, it’s about white poverty, and about the cultural marginalization of rural whites. I don’t think Webb addressed the topic as well as it needed to be addressed, but I know where he’s coming from, because it’s pretty close to where I came from.

I've had a taste of that myself, when I was growing up. I'm not sure, however, that the idea that "it's about privilege white men" is necessarily a knee-jerk reaction, nor that it's incorrect.

The connection, I think, is in the Andrew Breitbarts of the Republican party. Remember, the scandals that Breitbart has trumpeted have all involved, in the conventional wisdom, race. He's delilberately avoided the mention of the real issues, most tellingly brought home in the speech by Shirley Sherrod that he didn't want to report all of, when she mentioned her realization that it's not about black versus white, it's about the haves versus the have nots. It's about the deliberate employment of tactics designed to keep the electorate at each other's throats while the upper crust makes off with the loot.

Among the most vivid revelations of just how deeply ingrained this sense of privilege has become over the past couple of generations is the reaction of Wall Street to the financial crisis: it's simply that they don't understand why their failures should be penalized, because they don't see them as failures. They did what they were supposed to do: they made a lot of money for themselves, and don't understand why the people they screwed over don't see it that way. Things are supposed to run the way they want because they're rich, which by definition means they're better than the rest of us. And their minions, the politicians a pundits they've bought, will keep finding ways to be sure it stays that way.

Update: In that vein, this quote from Howie Kurtz says it all:

As for Boehner... don't take his heartless agenda-- limitless war, limitless tax breaks for the wealthy, no breaks for the middle class-- personally. His sister, Lynda Meineke, says Boehner has two brothers and two brothers-in-law back in Ohio who are out of work. He told reporters after he voted against unemployment insurance last week that three brothers had lost jobs during the recession and he wasn't sure which if any had found work. He did remember that one is named Bob Boehner though.

It's Not Ethnicity

It's religion that seems to be the determining factor in attitudes toward gay rights.

Joe Sudbay reports on this study, via this piece by Joseph M. Palacio in WaPo. Some interesting tidbits:

• 57% of Latino Catholics would vote for the legalization of same-sex marriage compared to 22% of Latino Protestants.

• Latino Catholics "say they trust the parents of gay and lesbian children more than their own clergy as a source of information about homosexuality."

Of course, the anti-gay, anti-Catholic right is on top of it. Bryan Fischer of the sadly misnamed American Family Association wants a religious test for immigrants.

Not so fast. According to the Christian Post, 57% of Latino Catholics in California support homosexual marriage. Let’s not forget that Latinos make up 36.6 percent of California’s population.

The good news, if you happen to be an evangelical, is that just 22 percent of Latino Protestants support gay marriage.

If getting pro-family illegals legalized is the goal, perhaps Dr. Land can be persuaded to amend his recommendation and give preference to Protestant illegal aliens.

Have you noticed that, as their "cause" migrates farther and farther to the fringe, the anti-gay right gets more and more open about their bigotry?

The irony here is painfully funny:

Latino Catholics orient their social lives around the family and extended family even in the context of high Latino single-parent households (estimated 33% of all U.S. Latino households; 36% of all Latino Children in California live in single-parent households). Family solidarity is strong and even though children may not follow "traditional family values" as projected by the church and the U.S. society, parents want to keep their children within the family. It is not surprising that Catholics in general and Latino Catholics in particular, as the Public Religion Research study shows, see that parents learn about gay issues from their children. Their moral and ethical judgments are primarily made through this social reality rather than abstract pronouncements from their church leaders.

My own experience supports that: I've worked with Latinos, and it's all about their families -- they socialize together, they buy property from each other, they take care of each other's kids, they take care of their parents. I know more about what's going on with their families than I do my own. (My father is notoriously reticent about "personal" things, a trait I seem to have inherited.)

So who really supports "family values"?

A conjecture: it seems that the more reality impinges on the Bryan Fischers of the world, the louder they have to scream, because they're running out of places to hide.

Here's Jim Burroway's commentary on that study. Worth a read.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

And I < 3 Rachel Maddow (Updated; Updated Again)

Via Crooks and Liars:

I can't add to Maddow's comments except to say that she is correct on every count. Nothing demonstrates the Democrats' essential ballessness at this point than their reactions to BS from Fox and the right.

Here's an AP article on the state of the game now.

Biggovernment.com is Andrew Breitbart's site, the one that managed, through the same tactics, to sink ACORN. Jeebus, people, we know that Breitbart's a liar and that Fox deals in propaganda, not journalism. WTF?

Backstory from Karoli at C&L: same conclusions, more detail. Included is the unedited video that Breitbart wishes were under lock and key -- although I guess it doesn't really matter now -- he's done his damage.

Update: More "he said/she said" reporting from WaPo. Notice what they don't point up in the article: that everyone knows that Andrew Breitbart is a liar specializing in heavily edited videotapes, and that Fox News uses his stuff for propaganda purposes. Of course, I don't expect them to couch it in those terms, but there might be some acknowledgment of the realities, one would think.

But I guess that reality doesn't apply in the Village.

Update II: Another follow-up from C&L: apparently Fox and Breitbart are getting some pushback from the (other) corporate media. They must smell blood.

I really, really hope Shirley Sherrod has grounds to sue Andrew Breitbart and Fox, and that she does it, for everything she can get.

And as far as the administration is concerned, this has been a major fuck-up. The W political team are obviously incompetent and impotent: they can't do anything right. When will those people learn not to dirty themselves when Republicans say "Boo!"?

We need more Alan Graysons.

I < 3 Alan Grayson

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On Palin, Mosques, and Religious Freedom

From Joe Conason, a scathing take-down of Sarah Palin and her infamous tweet about the proposed cultural center with mosque planned for a site a couple blocks from Ground Zero:

"Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate."

I'd like to take this opportunity to "refudiate" the semi-literate goddess of the wingnut right. I'd say she's beneath contempt, but that's being way too kind. And what the hell is she doing talking about "ours throughout the heartland"? I'm in the heartland. She's from freakin' Polarbearville.

Happily, I don't have to dwell on how fundamentally wrong and un-American her whole campaign is -- Conason did a good job of it. And New Yorkers aren't listening. They understand what living in America is really about.

Apparently, she's making capital on the uproar, tweeting away with snappy rejoinders. Do you remember in high school those kids who thought they were so witty who kept trying to make smart remarks that just didn't do it? Mostly because they weren't very smart? (I suspect Twitter is just right for Palin's attention span -- about 140 characters.)

It really starts to look as though Palin tried to rub her last two brain cells together and broke one of them.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Digby is one of those who's been following taser atrocities fairly closely, along with Pam's House Blend. Here's the latest story via Digby:

A fifth deputy put Booker in a headlock just as the female deputy began shocking him with a Taser with encouragement from one of the deputies, who kept repeating, "Probe his ---," Maten said. He could hear the Taser crackle repeatedly.

Booker said, "'I can't breath . . .," Yedo heard. Then, Booker went limp.

Booker's wrists were handcuffed behind his back in an awkward position when the deputies picked him up, each holding an arm or a leg, and carried him stomach-down to a holding cell with an unbreakable glass door.

They set him down on his stomach, with much of his weight on one shoulder and his legs bent, Yedo said. They took the handcuffs off and without checking his pulse, the officers left him on the floor of the holding cell.

The deputies walked away high-fiving and laughing, Maten said. Several inmates were saying, " 'I can't believe they're doing this,' " Maten said.

The usual reaction to these stories is anger against the manufacturer for maintaining that they are "non-lethal," and wishes that the officers responsible be prosecuted (dream on, children).

My question's a little different: what kind of people are we hiring as police officers? Did they start out as sadistic assholes, or was it part of their training?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sue, Baby, Sue!

Given the tenor of the time, that's about all we can do if we ever expect to have the same rights as everyone else.

Jack Balkin and Andrew Koppleman have written a number of posts on the decisions in Gill vs. OPM and Massachusetts vs. HHS (which I linked to in this post. Balkin also summarizes the possible outcomes of appeal or non-appeal. And he says this:

The argument is that losing in the Supreme Court forces the fight for marriage equality back to where it should be, in my view: to the individual states legislatures to get them pass new marriage laws, to state litigation to get state courts to recognize same-sex marriage, and to Congress to repeal DOMA.

The problem with this is that it's historically vacant (and we all have our lists of important civil rights cases that were decided against public opinion) and doesn't take into account that a majority of the states that forbid same-sex marriage have done so through constitutional amendments. A state court cannot overturn a provision of a state constitution.

As David Link points out in this piece, Balkin is concerned with the political fallout of overturning DOMA. He points out the constitutional flaw that I noted in Balkin's argument, and goes on to say:

It’s easy to talk about the virtue of political action. But if there ever was a situation where the ordinary constitutional rules have been disregarded or turned utterly upside-down, where constitutional protections have been torn up and thrown away, same-sex marriage is that case.

In that context, then, the political reaction to a federal court victory is something I fear a bit less than Balkin and others. At some point we need to stand up and say that the principles and plain words in our constitution actually mean something. Damage has been done to the ideals we jointly established for our democratic republic. The equal protection clause was put there for a reason. The equal protection clause was put there for this reason. Heterosexuals can minimize that in deference to politics. But sometimes -- now in particular -- lesbians and gay men can't.

That's really our only recourse -- to rely on the Constitution and the integrity of our judicial system. (Yes, believe it or not, I'm agreeing with David Link.) On that point, Timothy Kincaid pointed out something interesting: many of the judges who rendered decisions or wrote opinions in our support have been Republican appointees. This does not mean I have any confidence in the Supreme Court to render a legitimate decision in a same-sex marriage case -- Roberts, Alitto and Scalia are nothing more than Republican party hacks, and that's new Republican, thank you very much: the Christianist corporatist wing of the political spectrum. As Balkin points out, though, it would depend on Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Lawrence.

And it's not just marriage. It's the broad spectrum of anti-gay legislation that worked its way into the lawbooks in the Clinton administration and the fixes that are needed on other legislation now -- the Uniting American Families Act (and trust me, the Democrats will scuttle that part of immigration reform, otherwise Mitch McConnell will say mean things), ENDA (which is now off the table for this Congress, thank you to the Republicans and their Democratic lapdogs), and whatever else is left. And no, DADT repeal is not a done deal, at all.

For that, from the Log Cabin Republicans website, transcripts and statments on LCR vs. US, the latest case against DADT, which the Obama administration is fighting tooth and nail.

Don't count on political action to get legislators to pass pro-gay laws. In some cases they can't; in others, they're afraid of Tony Perkins.

So, all I've got to say is "Sue, baby, sue!"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quote of the Day.

Maybe the week. From this post at Mahablog:

I just hope for their sake they don’t spin off an organization to convert Buddhists. We may be non-violent, but we also invented kung fu.

I can't add to that, except to note the Pagan Rule:

Do no harm.

Nobody said we can't defend ourselves.

Argentina Makes Ten

According to Timothy Kincaid, the Argentine Senate passed the marriage bill in the wee hours of the morning. It now goes to President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who has spoken out strongly in support. I'm going to repost Kincaid's list because there's an interesting pattern there:

2001 Netherlands
2003 Belgium
2005 Spain
2005 Canada
2006 South Africa
2008 Norway
2009 Sweden
2010 Portugal
2010 Iceland
2010 Argentina

Look at the dates -- do you get a sense that momentum is building? Remember that Nepal (Nepal?) has announced that its constitution will be altered to allow same-sex marriage, probably next year. There is a move in Britain to change civil unions to marriage. And who knows what other country will suddenly jump on the bandwagon? (Iceland came right out of the blue on it.) Hmm -- according to one of the comments on Kincaid's post, Luxembourg is in process.

Joe Jervis has a more detailed report. He also has this little tidbit:

According to the below CBC report, even if Argentina's Senate votes against same-sex marriage today, the nation's Supreme Court has already written a ruling to legalize it and is just waiting for the result of the vote.

The problem that the anti-gay right seems to run into again and again is that in countries with constitutional democracies, "equal rights" means "equal rights." They can't quite wrap their heads around that one. (This assumes, of course, that the judges are actual judges, and not ideologically driven hacks. Timothy Kincaid has an interesting observation on how that's played out here.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Score One For Our Side

This popped up in my headlines summary just now:

A federal appeals court on Tuesday found that a government policy that can lead to broadcasters being fined for allowing even a single curse word on live television is unconstitutionally vague.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan tossed out the Federal Communications Commission's policy after finding that it violates the First Amendment.

Take that, Brent Bozell!

The Latest Christian Martyr

This post by Timothy Kincaid is probably the most level-headed response I've seen to the "firing" of the U of I professor who decided an e-mail to prep for an upcoming test was the ideal place to rant against gays.

The tone of the e-mail is quite reasonable, but there are a couple of places where it goes entirely overboard:

But the more significant problem has to do with the fact that the consent criterion is not related in any way to the NATURE of the act itself. This is where Natural Moral Law (NML) objects. NML says that Morality must be a response to REALITY. In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same. How do we know this? By looking at REALITY. Men and women are complementary in their anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Men and women are not interchangeable. So, a moral sexual act has to be between persons that are fitted for that act. Consent is important but there is more than consent needed.

First off, his "Nature Moral Law" has nothing to do with reality, in spite of his protestations. His "reality" is an entirely theologically-driven human construct based on a limited and highly selective idea of what's desirable, not what's natural. (Oh, and the "consent" argument, which comes in the paragraph before, is so much BS, to the extent that I saw no point in dropping it in here. You can go read it if you want.)

OK -- he's still in the realm of Catholic theology, and even though it's wrong, I can't object to that.


One example applicable to homosexual acts illustrates the problem. To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the "woman" while the other acts as the "man." In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted. I don't want to be too graphic so I won't go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men. Yet, if the morality of the act is judged only by mutual consent, then there are clearly homosexual acts which are injurious to their health but which are consented to. Why are they injurious? Because they violate the meaning, structure, and (sometimes) health of the human body.

Sexual relationships between men: he can't get away from the dichotomous male/female point of view. 1) we do not automatically fall into "man" and "woman" when we're having sex. There are lots of alternatives, even in the most functional reading of that idea. 2) "a physician has told me. . . ." is not a valid argument; we have no way of knowing whether the physician is qualified to opine on this subject. I have seen the argument that anal sex (which the good professor is too coy to actually name) presents a greater vulnerability for the receptive partner in HIV transmission, but I've never seen any evidence of the "microscopic tears and abrasions" that a number of physicians claim are the result. 3) based on the fallacies he's presented so far, this conclusion has no weight.

Here's the capstone of the nonsense:

Natural Moral Theory says that if we are to have healthy sexual lives, we must return to a connection between procreation and sex. Why? Because that is what is REAL. It is based on human sexual anatomy and physiology. Human sexuality is inherently unitive and procreative. If we encourage sexual relations that violate this basic meaning, we will end up denying something essential about our humanity, about our feminine and masculine nature.

Again, one can take this as a legitimate exposition of Catholic doctrine, although presented in a heavy-handed, authoritarian manner that doesn't allow for the recognition of another point of view. That doesn't mean it's correct, and if you take into account his insistence on reality, it's obviously nonsense. In case anyone was wondering, people don't have sex to procreate. They have sex because it's fun. (There was actually a recent study published on this, which I can't find online. Sort of blows the procreation idea out of the water, though.)

The parting shot is priceless:

As a final note, a perceptive reader will have noticed that none of what I have said here or in class depends upon religion. Catholics don't arrive at their moral conclusions based on their religion. They do so based on a thorough understanding of natural reality.

This is a howler on the order of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s famous dictum that "morality is absolute." It's also a flat lie.

And now to the controversy. (I hadn't actually planned on dissecting the e-mail, but it was just too ripe.) A student complained, the university investigated, and decided not to renew his contract. He's an adjunct professor, and basically serves at the university's pleasure. The university was not pleased.

You will hear many fulminations about freedom of speech and academic freedom. They don't apply here -- he's a teacher in a position of responsibility, and to present provable falsehoods as truth is an abuse of that responsibility. He's presented Catholic doctrine not as doctrine, but as objective reality, which it is not. For that alone, he deserves to be given his walking papers.

Update: The paragraph about gay sex being bad for your health calls to mind nothing so much as Mat Staver's insane ravings about shoving penises up rectums and calling it love. I have a solution for Mr. Staver:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

For Law Geeks

Those wishing to wade through some detailed and lawyerly analyses of Gill vs. OPM and Massachusetts vs. HHS can find some very interesting back-and-forth at Balkinization.

Be Careful What You Wish For Department: Federal District Court Strikes Down DOMA -- Jack Balkin

No, the district court got it (mostly) right -- Andrew Koppelman

More on Gill v. OPM and the Equal Protection Argument against DOMA -- Jack Balkin

Tradition and same-sex marriage -- Andrew Koppelman

It's a pretty good, although not terribly optimistic (well, Koppelman is more optimistic than Balkin), take on what's likely to happen on appeal.


Via TPM, this is one of the most blatantly bigoted things I've heard so far in the DADT fracas:

In response to questions from reporters, Morrell clarified that the survey responses could lead the military to conclude that it would "perhaps need adjustments to facilities themselves," indicating that it is not outside the realm of possibility that, in order to preserve the privacy and modesty of heterosexual service members in group showers and barracks, the military would consider segregating gay and lesbian service members in some way.

OK -- this is army life: you're living together in barracks, sharing showers and toilets, and if you are a majority of serving personnel, you know or suspect that some of your barracks-/shower-/toilet-mates are gay. They're just not allowed to tell you about it. (Leaving out those who have and whose commanders have refused to initiate discharge proceedings -- there are some.) So, the generals in the Pentagon, who freak out at the idea of Teh Gays being soldiers, are now all concerned about your privacy, which hasn't been an issue so far, because the aforementioned mates might be allowed to say they're gay.

Umm, exactly what has changed? (I particularly like the part about "privacy and modesty . . . in group showers." WTF?)

So the solution -- segregate Tey Gays!

John Aravosis' only comment was: "A black president considering segregation."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

DADT: The "Survey"

Here's the DoD DADT survey as I've been able to find it online.

(Updated) 2010 DoD Comprehensive Review Survey of Uniformed Active Duty and Reserve Service Members

Here are some reactions, via Pam's House Blend. And from Servicemebers United, this statement:

“While it remains safe for gay and lesbian troops to participate in this survey, it is simply impossible to imagine a survey with such derogatory and insulting wording, assumptions, and insinuations going out about any other minority group in the military,” said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army interrogator who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “Unfortunately, this expensive survey stokes the fires of homophobia by its very design and will only make the Pentagon’s responsibility to subdue homophobia as part of this inevitable policy change even harder. The Defense Department just shot itself in the foot by releasing such a flawed survey to 400,000 servicemembers, and it did so at an outrageous cost to taxpayers.”

Nicholson added, “Flawed aspects of the survey include the unnecessary use of terms that are known to be inflamatory and bias-inducing in social science research, such as the clinical term ‘homosexual;’ an overwhelming focus on the potential negative aspects of repeal and little or no inclusion of the potential positive aspects of repeal or the negative aspects of the current policy; the repeated and unusual suggestion that a co-worker or leader might need to ‘discuss’ appropriate behavior and conduct with gay and lesbian troops; and more.”

My Internet connection is going out sporadically this morning, so I'll probably have more to say once I get a chance to read the survey, but from what I've ween, Nicholson's correct -- this is a sham. One of the commenters at PHB called it "push polling," which is what it looks like to me. If your connection's more stable than mine, take a look and leave a comment.

There is one bright spot in this, however. From Denver Post:

The officer said he had already seen several chain e-mails mocking the survey's language and questions. He also said several groups asked to provide input on the survey before it was released but were turned down.

"It's being made fun of," the officer said. "The reaction to the survey from the troop level is showing how out of touch leadership is from the subject."

More later -- I'm also trying to defrost the freezer and put CDs away.

Oh, and one other bright spot: Alexander Nicholson. He can share my shower any time.

Update: OK, the freezer's defrosted, the CDs are put away, and the connection seems to have stabilized. I read the survey, and most of it's inoffensive enough, if you can get past the "need" to ask these questions at all. The revealing section starts on page 24 and includes all the questions that people are objecting to -- and they are thoroughly objectionable. (What is this fascination that the Pentagon brass has with men in showers?)

By the way, I understand that the contractor that designed this study is a reputable firm that does very good work. I have no doubt that they did exactly what they were asked to do.

Friday, July 09, 2010

There Are None So Blind. . . .

I ran across references to this OpEd by Jonathan Rauch a couple of days ago, but hadn't actually read it until just now.

It takes all of three paragraphs for Rauch to dig himself a hole that there's no escape from:

ELENA KAGAN uttered neither the word “gay” nor “marriage” in her opening statement at the Senate confirmation hearings on her nomination to the Supreme Court, but she addressed the issue nonetheless. No, she didn’t say how she will vote when gay marriage comes before the court, as it may soon. What she did say was this:

“The Supreme Court, of course, has the responsibility of ensuring that our government never oversteps its proper bounds or violates the rights of individuals. But the court must also recognize the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the American people.”

Ms. Kagan may not have had gay marriage in mind when she made that statement, but it could not be more relevant. She seems to be saying that protecting minority rights is the Supreme Court’s job description, but also that a civil rights claim doesn’t automatically trump majority preferences. This is something absolutists on both sides of the gay marriage debate don’t like to hear, but it has the virtue of being right.

No, Jonathan, she's not right. A civil rights claim, if found to be valid, always trumps majority preferences. The Bill of Rights was not included in the Constitution to make the majority comfortable, which is the thrust of both Kagan's statement and Rauch's seconding of it. They were included to set the limits on the government's power to infringe on the lives of citizens, which necessary includes limits on the power of the majority to likewise infringe on those rights.

And on Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, he has this to say:

This case is not primarily about the merits of gay marriage. It is primarily about who gets to decide. The plaintiffs say marriage is a civil right, and when a civil right is assailed, the Supreme Court has no choice but to take command. If the Supreme Court doesn’t protect minority rights, it abdicates its job.

Proposition 8’s defenders retort that gay marriage is not a civil right, because it is not marriage, or not marriage as defined by most Californians. If the court does not defer to the voters’ wishes, it oversteps its bounds.

This is the sort of sophistry that gives me headaches. The question, as I've noted before, is not whether same-sex marriage is "marriage" as understood by the population at large. The question is simply, given that marriage has long been recognized by the courts as a fundamental right, whether the government has the power to limit it to one group at the expense of another in the absence of a rational reason (under which I include "compelling state interest"). So far no one has been able to provide a rational reason (and I'm including those cases in which the constitutionality of various state DOMAs has been upheld -- I've read those decisions, and "rational" is not part of the mix). And I defy anyone to show me a constitutional provision that allows the majority to determine the rights of any minority by simple majority vote.

Quite honestly, I can't consider Rauch's piece as anything but drivel. Beginning from unexamined assumptions, he proceeds through shoddy arguments to a conclusion that is stunning in its wrongness. If this is indeed Elena Kagan's position on civil rights, I hope the Senate kills her nomination.

Round One: Double Whammy

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro gave our "fierce advocate's" justice department a black eye yesterday in two cases seeking to invalidate DOMA.

The two cases, Gill vs. OPM and Massachusetts vs. HHS were brought against Section 3 of DOMA, dealing with recognition of marriage for federal benefits. According to Judge Tauro, Section 3 doesn't even survive rational basis examination. (Here's a nice summary from Timothy Kincaid.)

Here's the decision in Gilll; the rational basis discussion begins on page 21 and it's choice -- Tauro demolishes the government's argument in detail.

Decision in Gill v. OPM

(I happen to think the rational basis part is key: if DOMA can't stand that very deferential level of scrutiny, it's doomed.)

And here's the decision in Massachusetts:

DOMA decision in Mass AG case

Tauro found that DOMA impermissibly infringes on state sovereignty in determining the validity of marriages and the treatment of legally married couples.

And both were summary judgments -- meaning there is no dispute on the basic facts, only on matters of law, in which the government is sitting there with egg on its face.

So DOMA violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and violates the state sovereignty provision of the Tenth Amendment.

I don't doubt for a minute that the Obama administration will appeal. Obama only refuses to defend laws that he doesn't find useful. What use he has for DOMA is beyond me, but it will go to SCOTUS. Interesting to see what happens there -- the Court may even rule on the basis of law and not ideology.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

DADT: The Survey

The Pentagon has announced that it is beginning the survey of enlisted personnel to gauge reactions in the ranks to repeal of DADT, which starts to seem less and less likely if you take a look at the survey and the way it is being conducted.

First, via Pam's House Blend, this report from CNN:

Here's part of the report as quoted at PHB:

The survey, which service members can expect to receive via e-mail, asks about such issues as how unit morale or readiness might be affected if a commander is believed to be gay or lesbian; the need to maintain personal standards of conduct; and how repeal might affect willingness to serve in the military.

The survey also asks a number of questions aimed at identifying problems that could occur when troops live and work in close quarters in overseas war zones. For example, the questionnaire asks military members how they would react if they had to share a room, bathrooms, and open-bay showers in a war zone with other service members believed to be gay or lesbian.

I take this as evidence of how deliberately clueless the Pentagon is being about this -- we already know that large numbers of troops know they are serving with gays and lesbians, sharing quarters and bathing facilities, and don't care. The ones who care are a bunch of upper brass whose fundamentalism is getting in the way of their being able to do their jobs.

I've long said that the brass is foot-dragging in an effort to derail repeal. The "survey" is unjustifiable by any rational standard, particularly given the evidence to date from the Pentagon's own studies (going back over 50 years now) and the experience of other countries who have abolished similar policies.

SLDN isn't buying it, as Spaulding reports. Here's SLDN's release:

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Statement on Pentagon Survey of Troops on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

“At this time SLDN cannot recommend that lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members participate in any survey”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a national, legal services and policy organization dedicated to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), released the following statement today after learning the Department of Defense is launching a survey to troops concerning DADT. Late last week, SLDN asked the Department of Defense and the Pentagon Working Group for the text of the surveys, more information on possible certificates of confidentiality, and whether DOD or PWG could guarantee immunity from DADT and other armed services rules and regulations for service members who are inadvertently "outed" by the surveys. The Department of Defense was unable to satisfy our request.

Statement from Army Veteran and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis:

“A number of service members have contacted SLDN to seek guidance on surveys concerning the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell -- the discriminatory law barring gay and lesbian service members from serving with integrity. At this time SLDN cannot recommend that lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members participate in any survey being administered by the Department of Defense, the Pentagon Working Group, or any third-party contractors. While the surveys are apparently designed to protect the individual’s privacy, there is no guarantee of privacy and DOD has not agreed to provide immunity to service members whose privacy may be inadvertently violated or who inadvertently outs himself or herself. If a service member still wishes to participate, he or she should only do so in a manner that does not reveal sexual orientation.”


PENTAGON STATEMENT ON INVESTIGATIONS AND DISCHARGES: In a Denver Post story on June 9, 2010, Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokesperson, said: "The law is still in effect, and if someone were to out themselves, we would have to begin the discharge process." Link to story: http://www.denverpost.com/ci_15256223

I really hate a world in which there are no surprises.

How much do you want to bet that the "study" will show that there will be massive disruption in the ranks if the gay and lesbian service members that everyone knows are there are allowed to be honest? Any takers?

Spaulding asks some good questions. Read her posts, especially the second one.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Google Follow-Up

Never underestimate the ability of the anti-gay right to warp reality. Steven H. Miller has this commentary over at Independent Gay Forum on the right's reaction to Google's move to even out compensation for gay employees.

The Drudge Report headline was "Google to Pay Gay Employees More than Straight Ones?," while Fox News online called its story "Google Raises Eyebrows With New Gay-Only Employee Benefit." In the Fox account, a spokesperson for Focus on the Family complains, "How is offering more money to only one group to offset a perceived inequity not a form of discrimination against those groups not fortunate enough to receive such bonuses?”

In fact, Google is paying to cover the income taxes the government requires on health coverage provided to employees' same-sex spouses/partners. The federal government requires no such taxes to be paid on the value of health coverage provided to opposite-sex spouses (thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, the IRS can't recognize same-sex spouses). In other words. Google is ensuring that the take-home pay for employees with covered same-sex spouses is the same as that provided to employees with covered opposite-sex spouses.

Until the government recognizes same-sex spouses, private industry will continue to turn to this type of work-around in order to treat gay employees fairly, and to attract the talent needed to compete in the marketplace.

As I noted in my earlier post, it's just good business.

Here's the Fox News article -- pretty much what you'd expect from Fox. I didn't bother to read more than a few of the comments -- my capacity for smug ignorance is severely limited, and I pretty much hit overload when the article called Focus on the Family "a Christian organization aimed at providing practical help for marriage and parenting." I'd like some evidence that FoF has ever done anything that actually supports families.

And why the hell are they asking an organization as bereft of moral grounding as FoF to commment on something like this? That would be like Time asking James Dobson to comment on Mary Cheney's baby . . . oh, wait. Never mind.

The rest of Miller's post devolves into a rant about how unfair companies are to single employees, which is about what I'd expect from Miller. It occurs to me that my blood pressure might start dropping if I learn, finally, not to expect a lot from online commentators (or any other kind, for that matter). Did he ever stop to consider that under federal law, gay employees are legally single, no matter their real status? Why make the argument that people who aren't married (for whatever reason) are somehow more discriminated against than people who can't get their marriages legally recognized?

Tidy Time

I have to do some putting away today -- my worktable, desk, and bed all look like the aftermath of a tornado. (Sadly, the bed for the same reason as the table and desk -- it's just one of the places I toss stuff. I wish there were a better reason.)

I may be back later. Or I may not.

At any rate, have a bright, sparkly Fourth.

Why do you suppose

we have to learn about the basic processes of a constitutional republic from other countries?

The Sala Constitucional (Constitutional Court) has ordered the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (TSE) to suspend the process of the referendum on same sex marriages that was to have been included in the December 2010 municipal elections.

The court order was based on an appeal filed against the referendum.

The Recurso Amparo (appeal) was presented by an individual identified only by the last names, QuirĂ³s Salazar, alleging that the referendum violates the rights and freedoms of individuals.

The referendum was to have let the population decide the fate of a proposal for law that would allow same sex marriages in Costa Rica

Opponents to the referendum have argued that leaving the allowing the majority of the population (93%) which is heterosexual would be a constitutional violation of the 7% of the homosexual population.

I wish the various United States would pay attention to stuff like this -- before the fact.

I think there is a fairly strong argument to be made that the amendments to state consitutions outlawing same-sex marriage violate the federal constitution, since I'm pretty sure they can shown to violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. If there are any lawyers out there with any insights on this, I'd love to hear from you.

Via Joe.My.God.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Within Historical Times

A striking example of how fast evolution can work.

The evolutionary biologists say the results of their study, which compares the genomes of 50 Tibetans and 40 Han Chinese, shows that Tibetans rapidly developed a unique ability to survive in altitudes above 13,000 feet, where oxygen levels are about 40 percent lower than at sea level.

The study said that Tibetans evolved to adapt to high altitudes after splitting off from the Han about 2,750 years ago.

The first confirmed examples of writing in China are from about 1500 BCE; by 1000 BCE, China was a literate, historical civilization. (Damn -- another culture I've got to investigate -- markings have been found dating from 6000-5000 BCE that could be the antecedents of written Chinese. Fascinating.) (Umm -- in case you were wondering, yes, I am a history nut.)

The News

There's very little that I want to comment on lately.  Partly it's the residual effects of a brief burn-out, but mostly it's the news itself:

BP/Gulf of Mexico -- both BP and the feds are botching the clean-up, Mary Landrieu (D-BP) wants an independent commission composed of oil executives to investigate (the WH backed commission has -- *gasp!* -- environmentalists!!), BP has enlisted local police forces to keep the public, and especially reporters away while they destroy the evidence (burning sea turtles?  WTF?  Sorry -- that makes me crazy, although apparently that's going to stop), which is not only unethical, but illegal.

The economy -- the G20 leaders, the Republicans, and Ben Nelson have decided that the way to fix the economy is to punish the people who had nothing to do with creating the crisis by gutting Social Security, refusing to extend unemployment benefits, and protecting the financial industry against regulation while directing federal spending, which could create some jobs and turn things around, to deficit reduction.  (Military spending, of course, is exempt, even though Secretary Gates wants to cut a few hundred billion from the appropriations.)  Sounds like health-care reform all over again.  Nevertheless, they see the light at the end of the tunnel:  they will finally have created the underclass they've been wanting all these years.

Gay rights -- don't get me started.  Obama gets a C-/D+.  Congress gets a D+.  HRC gets an F.

Is it any wonder I'm fed up?

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Downside of Corporatism

If you're a "socially conservative" nutcase.  Via Pam's House Blend, an interesting story about how Google is addressing some of the disparities in benefits between straight and gay couples (from NYT)

On Thursday, Google is going to begin covering a cost that gay and lesbian employees must pay when their partners receive domestic partner health benefits, largely to compensate them for an extra tax that heterosexual married couples do not pay. The increase will be retroactive to the beginning of the year. . .

Google is not the first company to make up for the extra tax. At least a few large employers already do. But benefits experts say Google’s move could inspire its Silicon Valley competitors to follow suit, because they compete for the same talent.

The tax disparity is over $1,000 a year.

Several other companies have similar programs, and I suspect others will follow suit -- I remember when less than a dozen of the Fortune 500 had gay-inclusive non-discrimination policies -- it's now something like 450.

The Dobson Gang is going to hate this.  And the funny part is, it's just good business.

Far From The Fields We Know

The first photo of a planet outside our solar system:

The photo was originally taken in 2008 by David Lafreniere and collaborators working at the Gemini Observatory. Scientists weren't sure about it being an orbiting planet until now, however. New observations have shown that the planet follows an orbit around the star 300 times larger than Earth's orbit.

The planet has eight times the mass of Jupiter, and has a much higher temperature: 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit as opposed to the minus 166 degrees of the biggest planet in our solar system. Scientists believe this temperature is a product of the age of this star system, much younger than ours.