Friday, December 31, 2010

Imagine Peace in 2011

It is a New Year, 2011, war is raging, hatred abounds, greed is rewarded with power, love is reviled as filth. Good people need to be vigilant, paradoxically to fight for peace.

Take a minute to play this simple anthem and contemplate it.

Imagine - John Lennon

Here is a photograph of the Imagine Peace Tower, located on Viðey Island in Kollafjörður Bay near Reykjavík, Iceland.

ONO's SALES LIST These works (c) copyright Yoko Ono 1965

E. Architectural Works* (priced according to contractors' arrangements and cost of property)
types: a. LIGHT HOUSE - a house constructed of light from prisms, which exists in accordance with the changes of the day

In 1967, John Lennon invited Yoko Ono to his house to ask her if she could build this light house, which was really only a whimsical expression of conceptual art and never intended to be constructed in reality.

The Imagine Peace Tower was lit on October 9, 2007, powered entirely by geothermal energy. It is a tall shimmering tower of light that is visible from October 9th (John Lennon’s birthday) until December 8th (the anniversary of his death). In addition, according to their web site, the Tower will illuminate from Winter Solstice (December 21st – 28th), on New Year’s Eve (December 31st) and the first week of spring (March 21st -28th). It is lit from 2 hours after sunset until midnight, and until dawn on New Year’s Day.

Let's imagine peace in 2011 and learn how to bring it to reality.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

American Voters Are Poorly Informed: Why?

Speaking of the media, Jonathan Stray has a good article online addressing the fact that Americans were misinformed about important facts at the time they went to the polls to vote in the 2010 mid-term elections. Stray quotes from the report on this survey by World Public
The poll found strong evidence that voters were substantially misinformed on many of the issues prominent in the election campaign, including the stimulus legislation, the healthcare reform law, TARP, the state of the economy, climate change, campaign contributions by the US Chamber of Commerce and President Obama’s birthplace. In particular, voters had perceptions about the expert opinion of economists and other scientists that were quite different from actual expert opinion. By the numbers, American journalism failed to inform voters.

The survey also showed Fox viewers to be the most misinformed of all, which generated some comments in the blogs, but Stray directs our attention to the more general point:
I think this Fox thing is a terrible diversion from the core problem: the American press did not succeed in informing the public. Not even right before an election, not even on the narrow set of issues that, by survey, voters cared to base their votes on.

Stray reviews the survey report findings:
  • 68% of voters thought that “most economists” believe that the stimulus package “saved or created a few jobs” and 20% thought most economists believe that the stimulus caused job losses, whereas only 8% correctly said that most economists think it “saved or created several million jobs.” (The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the stimulus saved several millions jobs, as do 75% of economists interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.)

  • 53% of voters thought that economists believe that Obama’s health care reform plan will increase the deficit, while 29% said that economists were evenly divided on this issue. Only 13% said correctly that a majority of economists think that health care reform will not increase the deficit. (The Congressional Budget Office estimates a net reduction in deficits of $143 billion over 2010-2019, and Boards of Trustees of the Medicare Fund also believe that the Affordable Care act will “postpone the exhaustion of … trust fund assets.”)

  • 12% of voters thought that “most scientists believe” that climate change is not occurring, while 33% thought scientists were evenly divided on the issue. That’s 45% with an incorrect perception, as opposed to the 54% who said, correctly, that most scientists think climate change is occurring. (Aside from the IPCC reports and virtually every governmental study of the issue worldwide, an April 2010 survey of climate scientists showed that 97% believe that human-caused climate change is occurring.)

Stray discusses the idea that individuals might consider the facts and come to a different conclusion from the experts. It might even be that the experts are wrong. But that isn't what this survey was about, it asked voters what they thought the experts believed about certain important topics, topics that should affect their decision about who to vote for. contrary to the opinions of economists may be a fine thing, but voting without any awareness of their work is just silly. Yet that seems to be exactly what happened in the last election.

This is a very even-handed essay, he's not in a hurry to judge anyone or score cheap political points. The question has to do with the function of journalism in informing the public, and more specifically the fact that primary information sources are available to every citizen on the Internet -- the Congressional Budget Office has a blog, fer cryin' out loud!

So in this world where "the truth is out there," just a mouse-click away, why are people so poorly informed?

WikiLeaks Working With the Media

A big chapter of history is being written right now, as government and big business attempt to control the WikiLeaks story, pitting centralized chains of authority against a distributed system of autonomous agents. It is by far the most interesting news story in our world today, with twisted strands of subtle dynamics and implications.

The media have to be especially careful, because they themselves routinely publicize leaked classified government information (read THIS STORY from back in October), and if they come out too hard against WikiLeaks they will end up creating a backlash that will affect them too, possibly resulting in laws that make investigative reporting a crime. Government authorities are frantic, because the documents WikiLeaks possesses are embarrassing, and the very fact that the leakers can do their business without corporate sponsorship is an embarrassment to the Old Way. WikiLeaks is exactly Todo lifting the hem of the Wizard's curtain.

As such, the media have painted a picture of WikiLeaks as a dangerous loose cannon, leaking hundreds of thousands of documents indiscriminately, endangering secret agents and sensitive diplomatic negotiations. Much of what has been said is false, and almost all tellings are incomplete. [Note: NPR has just published a blanket correction of misstatements by staff and guests on its shows HERE -- let's see who follows suit.]

The AP had a pretty good story earlier this month explaining some of the facts about the journalistic process of releasing the leaked documents. Unless you have followed the story closely, you probably don't know this. I will quote the whole thing:
PARIS (AP) — The diplomatic records exposed on the WikiLeaks website this week reveal not only secret government communications, but also an extraordinary collaboration between some of the world's most respected media outlets and the WikiLeaks organization.

Unlike earlier disclosures by WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of secret government military records, the group is releasing only a trickle of documents at a time from a trove of a quarter-million, and only after considering advice from five news organizations with which it chose to share all of the material.

"They are releasing the documents we selected," Le Monde's managing editor, Sylvie Kauffmann, said in an interview at the newspaper's Paris headquarters.

WikiLeaks turned over all of the classified U.S. State Department cables it obtained to Le Monde, El Pais in Spain, The Guardian in Britain and Der Spiegel in Germany. The Guardian shared the material with The New York Times, and the five news organizations have been working together to plan the timing of their reports.

They also have been advising WikiLeaks on which documents to release publicly and what redactions to make to those documents, Kauffmann and others involved in the arrangement said.

"The cables we have release correspond to stories released by our main stream media partners and ourselves. They have been redacted by the journalists working on the stories, as these people must know the material well in order to write about it," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a question-and-answer session on The Guardian's website Friday. "The redactions are then reviewed by at least one other journalist or editor, and we review samples supplied by the other organisations to make sure the process is working."

Each publication suggested a way to remove names and details considered too sensitive, and "I suppose WikiLeaks chooses the one it likes," El Pais Editor in Chief Javier Moreno said in a telephone interview from his Madrid office.

As stories are published, WikiLeaks uses its website to release the related cables. For example, The Guardian published an article Thursday based on diplomatic cables discussing the assassination of former Russian security officer Alexander Litvinenko by radiation poisoning, and WikiLeaks quickly posted three cables on the same subject.

The close arrangement is unusual because it ties the media outlets more closely to WikiLeaks, and reveals an unusual collaboration with a group facing a U.S. criminal investigation.

"In this case, what you have is news organizations partnering with an organization that very clearly has a different set of values," said Kelly McBride, a journalism ethics professor at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.

But McBride notes that the unique collaboration also forces some degree of journalistic standards on WikiLeaks, which in the past has released documents without removing information considered sensitive.

New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller told readers in an online exchange that the newspaper has suggested to its media partners and to WikiLeaks what information it believes should be withheld.

"We agree wholeheartedly that transparency is not an absolute good," Keller wrote. "Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity."

Days before releasing any of the latest documents, Assange appealed to the U.S. ambassador in London, asking the U.S. government to confidentially help him determine what needed to be redacted from the cables before they were publicly released. The ambassador refused, telling Assange to hand over stolen property. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called Assange's offer "a half-hearted gesture to have some sort of conversation."

U.S. officials submitted suggestions to The Times, which asked government officials to weigh in on some of the documents the newspaper and its partners wanted to publish.

"The other news organizations supported these redactions," Keller wrote. "WikiLeaks has indicated that it intends to do likewise. And as a matter of news interest, we will watch their website to see what they do."

While Keller has emphasized to readers that the Times is "not a 'media partner'" of WikiLeaks and that it did not receive the State Department documents from WikiLeaks, his public comments describe a working relationship with the group on the release of the material and decisions to withhold certain information.

Keller told the AP in an e-mail Thursday that advising WikiLeaks about removing names and other sensitive details is the responsible thing to do.

"We have no way of knowing what WikiLeaks will do, no clear idea what they make of our redactions, but if this to any degree prevents WikiLeaks from carelessly getting someone killed, I'm happy to do it," he said. "I'd be interested to hear the arguments in favor of having WikiLeaks post its material unredacted."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said this week there is "an active, ongoing, criminal investigation" into WikiLeaks' release of the material. He said it jeopardized national security, diplomatic efforts and U.S. relationships around the world. He declined to equate WikiLeaks to traditional news organizations that enjoy certain free-speech protections.

"I think one can compare the way in which the various news organizations that have been involved in this have acted, as opposed to the way in which WikiLeaks has," Holder said. He did not elaborate on the distinction he sees between WikiLeaks and the publications.

Although WikiLeaks has said it will ultimately post its trove online, The Times said it intends to publish only about 100 or so of the records. And the other news organizations that have the material said they likely will release only a fraction.

"We are releasing only what is interesting," Le Monde's Kauffmann said. "I couldn't tell you the proportion, but the vast majority of these documents are of no journalistic interest."

She said there was "no written contract" among the organizations and WikiLeaks on the use of the material.

"The conditions were that we could ourselves — that's to say our journalists and those at the other newspapers — do our own selection, our own triage," and select which documents to withhold from public view, Kauffmann said.

The media outlets agreed to work together, with about 120 journalists in total working on the project, at times debating which names of people cited in the documents could be published.

"With this, I really think we have taken all the possible precautions," Kauffmann said. "At times, it comes up that we'll discuss it between us, with the other papers, on some points. One of us struck too much out and another said 'Come on, it's about a high official, we can leave his/her name in. There won't be any reprisals.'"

Le Monde and El Pais came into the media partnership late, about a month ago. The Times, Guardian and Spiegel had already done quite a bit of work on the documents and shared it, El Pais' Moreno said.

Kauffmann declined to say how or when WikiLeaks contacted the publications about the documents. They began sorting through the material after WikiLeaks obtained it.

Some news organizations, including AP and The Washington Post, also have sought access to the documents, but they were denied because of the arrangement between the five media partners.

The Post reported this week that WikiLeaks approached CNN and the Wall Street Journal about receiving the documents and asked them to sign confidentiality agreements that would have entitled WikiLeaks to a payment of around $100,000 if the partner broke the embargo. The two news organizations declined.

Kauffmann of Le Monde said there was no financial agreement with WikiLeaks.

"Never has anyone asked to pay anything, and if they had, we probably — certainly — would not have done so, because we never pay for news." Respected media outlets collaborate with WikiLeaks

We live in incredible times, and the relationships among WikiLeaks, the various governments, business and the financial world (Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and Bank of America have all refused to process donations for the organization), Anonymous and other decentralized hacker coalitions (who have brought down the web sites of the aforementioned financial institutions) (and yesterday 4chan itself was the target of a successful DDoS attack), the federal government's ham-handed announcement that federal workers and contractors must not read any classified documents even if they are published on the Internet or in the newspaper, the horrifying treatment of Bradley Manning and Wired and the Washington Post's coverups of the chat logs with hacker/informant Adrian Lamo that led to his imprisonment and could possibly prove his guilt or innocence, the sordid story of Julian Assange's sex charges in Sweden and the feminist backlash to Michael Moore and Keith Olberman's discussion of it, the many lawless calls for the assassination of Assange and his threat that if he is harmed he will release the encryption key to hundreds of thousands of unredacted documents -- keep your eyes open, this story can blow up along any of these dimensions, or all at once.

Remember, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have not been charged with any crimes in relation to the leaking of documents, which is a journalistic act that is protected by law. Your morning newspaper may not be motivated to convey an unclouded picture of the situation, but it is one of the most fascinating stories in the world today.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

MoCo Leading the State on Domestic Partnerships

We are lucky to live in one of the most progressive counties in the country. You might not have noticed this press release that Montgomery County put out over the holidays:
Beginning January 1, 2011, the Equal Benefits Law, also known as the Domestic Partner Benefits Law, becomes effective in Montgomery County. The law applies to County procurement contracts subject to Montgomery County Code Section 11B-33A, the Wage Requirements Law, also known as the Living Wage Law, and those subject to Code Section 11B-33C, the Prevailing Wage Law.

Under the Equal Benefits Law, County contractors or subcontractors who are employers must provide the same benefits to an employee with a domestic partner as those provided to an employee with a spouse. If a required benefit cannot reasonably be provided to a domestic partner, the contractor or subcontractor must pay the employee the cash equivalent. Montgomery County Domestic Partner Benefits Law Becomes Effective January 1

This shouldn't even have to be written into law, companies should recognize on their own that their gay and lesbian employees have families to take care of. In fact the law is surprisingly broad, covering not only marriages from other states, but local domestic arrangements that are the equivalent of marriage:
The law defines domestic partnership as a relationship between two individuals of the same sex that has been licensed as a civil union or marriage in a jurisdiction where such a civil union is permitted. Domestic partnership is also defined as an unlicensed relationship between two individuals of the same sex who share a close personal relationship and are responsible for each other’s welfare; have shared the same legal residence for at least 12 months; are at least 18 years old; have voluntarily consented to the relationship without fraud or duress; are not married to, or in a domestic partnership with any other person; are not related by blood or affinity in a way that would disqualify them from marriage under State law if the employee and partner were opposite sexes; are each legally competent to contract; share financial obligations; and legally register the domestic partnership if a domestic partnership registration system exists in the jurisdiction where the employee resides.

Companies can't fire people in order to get out of this, either.
A contractor or subcontractor must not discharge or otherwise retaliate against an employee for asserting any right under the Equal Benefits Law, or for filing a complaint of a violation. The law provides that an aggrieved employee as a third-party beneficiary may, by civil action, recover the cash equivalent of any benefit denied in violation of the law. The County may perform audits and investigate any complaint of a violation. In the instance of a demonstrated violation, the law provides for sanctions including withholding payment due the contractor and liquidated damages.

The law applies to any contract awarded on or after January 1, 2011, but does not apply to any renewal or extension of a contract that was originally awarded before January 1, 2011.

The Washington Blade had an article a couple of weeks ago, stating that some legislators were "cautiously optimistic" that a marriage equality bill could be passed in Maryland. They say they think they have the votes for it, the problem historically has been getting it to the floor for debate and voting. There are some details in that article regarding committee membership changes that may make it more likely.

Once again Montgomery County leads the state in the march toward reason. A couple who have established a household, share expenses, and who love one another should be respected regardless of the sameness or oppositeness of their gender. They want to take care of one another, and our society needs to make sure it is not impossible for them to do that.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Story

Merry Christmas, everybody! I hope all our readers are able to spend this holiday season with family and loved ones.

This is a great story, from the New York Times.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Saint Barney

Thanks to Alvin at Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters for calling attention to this one. Barney Frank is great in this. A conservative interviewer tries to get embarrass Frank but the tables get turned on him.

And watch in the last seconds, Dana and Duchy walk across the background.

Beautiful interview.

Metro Random Searches Have Started

Unbelievable, if people are willing to go along with this. From WTOP:
WASHINGTON - Metro Police are randomly inspecting bags at the Braddock Road and College Park Metro stations Tuesday.

The searches started at 7:30 a.m.

The searches, which are designed to be non-intrusive, come in the wake of recent terror plots.

Police are randomly selecting bags or packages to check for hazardous materials using special technology as well as K-9 units trained to detect explosive materials.

For example, if you've been to a firing range, you bag could set it off the machine. Household chemicals can prompt a positive test.

One Metro transit officer tells WTOP's Adam Tuss that "homemade bombs often come from household chemicals."

At Braddock Metro, one man was stopped for about 8 minutes because his bag tested positive for some type of explosives. Police went through the bag, and found nothing. They did take his identification and questioned him for several minutes.

Another woman, who did not object to the bag screening, was stopped for 45 seconds. She missed her train as her bag of Christmas presents was searched.

Groups upset about the bag searches have started an online petition. Metro begins random inspections of bags

So apparently people are just letting these official strangers go through their bags. Metro is randomly stopping innocent people getting on the train and looking through their private possessions, deciding if they qualify to take public transportation. And people are letting them.

Note that the guy whose bag set off the alarm had to give them his identifying information, even though he had done nothing. He's "in the system" now, with a check mark labeling him a possible terrorist.

About three-quarters of a million people ride the Metro every weekday, and so far none of them have been terrorists. The chance that a random search is going to find a bomb or terrorist weapon is, for all practical purposes, zero. If you were a terrorist and came up to the station and saw they were set up to do this, you could simply turn around and go home. Or, if you were determined, you would use something the Metro isn't looking for.

So how is this supposed to make anyone safer? Obviously it doesn't. It is just more proof that Americans are frightened sheep.

One of my favorite blogs, Unsuck DC Metro, exchanged email with security expert Bruce Schneier, who wrote them:
It's another "movie plot threat." It's another "public relations security system." It's a waste of money, it substantially reduces our liberties, and it won't make us any safer.

Final note: I often get comments along the lines of "Stop criticizing stuff; tell us what we should do." My answer is always the same. Counterterrorism is most effective when it doesn't make arbitrary assumptions about the terrorists' plans. Stop searching bags on the subways, and spend the money on 1) intelligence and investigation -- stopping the terrorists regardless of what their plans are, and 2) emergency response -- lessening the impact of a terrorist attack, regardless of what the plans are. Countermeasures that defend against particular targets, or assume particular tactics, or cause the terrorists to make insignificant modifications in their plans, or that surveil the entire population looking for the few terrorists, are largely not worth it. Security Expert on Random Bag Searches

I vaguely recall in my reading years ago coming across a heartwarming snippet written back in Ye Olde Thymes: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." I forget what fairy tale those words came from.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hate Groups: The Post Clouds the Issue

The Washington Post this morning published a piece that misrepresents the concept of hate and the categorization of several anti-gay groups as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The piece opens with the statement:
In the debates over gay marriage, "hate" is the ultimate conversation-stopper. In the gay marriage debate, stop playing the hate card

and then goes on to list three stories of educators or students who took an anti-gay stance and received negative feedback for it. One person was dismissed from his job and reinstated, one was "denounced," and one group was "marginalized" by the college. Woo, those anti-gays sure have it tough.

Then the writer, Matthew J. Franck, comes to his bread-and-butter paragraph:
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a once-respected civil rights organization, publishes a "report" identifying a dozen or so "anti-gay hate groups," some for no apparent reason other than their vocal opposition to same-sex marriage. Other marriage advocacy groups are put on a watch list.

The SPLC has made it very clear, over and over, that nobody was put on their list because of their opposition to same-sex marriage. From the introduction to the report:
Generally, the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.

Lies and groundless name-calling. Not "vocal opposition to same-sex marriage."

A little farther down in the Post piece, the author says this:
The SPLC's report on "hate groups" gives the game away. It notes that no group is listed merely for "viewing homosexuality as unbiblical." But when describing standard expressions of Christian teaching, that we must love the sinner while hating the sin, the SPLC treats them as "kinder, gentler language" that only covers up unreasoning hatred for gay people. Christians are free to hold their "biblical" views, you see, but we know that opposition to gay marriage cannot have any basis in reason. Although protected by the Constitution, these religious views must be sequestered from the public square, where reason, as distinguished from faith, must prevail.

Marginalize, privatize, anathematize: These are the successive goals of gay-marriage advocates when it comes to their opponents.

Let's be clear. I have heard Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council speak many times, I have appeared opposite him on television, I have sat in meetings with him, and here is his message: gay people are promiscuous, perverted, disease-carrying pedophiles who want to recruit our children into their lifestyle. He expresses this opinion behind a well-constructed curtain of researchy-sounding terminology, his sentences are well formed, his vocabulary sophisticated, he tends to smile when he speaks and I have never seen him raise his voice. His is the face of hate that the SPLC observed.

We first met Peter Sprigg when he spoke out against a sex-ed curriculum that would introduce the topic of sexual orientation, and he said nothing about marriage equality -- I don't know if I have ever actually seen him address that particular issue. I'm sure he opposes gay people marrying, but that's not what makes him a hater. The truth is, he opposes everything about gay people. He has assembled all the arguments he can find to support the most disgusting stereotype of gay people, and he travels around the country persuading ignorant people that the stereotype is accurate. He spoke in our county (read the transcript HERE), the topic was "myths about homosexuality" and every point he made supported the idea that the nastiest, most hateful stereotype of gay people is absolutely true. And he did not once mention gay people wanting to marry. The SPLC's classification is not based on any group's opinion of marriage equality.

Franck has changed the subject from the classification of certain groups as hate groups to an analysis of the debate for and against gay people marrying. It's kind of fascinating to see how he is going to try to elicit sympathy for the haters, the reader is supposed to agree that they have been wrongfully vilified simply for having traditional Christian beliefs:
First, ignore the arguments of traditional marriage's defenders, that marriage has always existed in order to bring men and women together so that children will have mothers and fathers, and that same-sex marriage is not an expansion but a dismantling of the institution. Instead, assert that no rational arguments along these lines even exist and so no refutation is necessary, and insinuate that those who merely want to defend marriage are "anti-gay thugs" or "theocrats" or "Taliban," as some critics have said.

Second, drive the wedge between faith and reason, chasing traditional religious arguments on marriage and morality underground, as private forms of irrationality.

Finally, decree the victory of the new public morality - here the judges have their role in the liberal strategy - and read the opponents of the new dispensation out of polite society, as the crazed bigots of our day.

First, those arguments against marriage equality do not deserve countering; there is no way in the world that gay people marrying will damage the marriages of straight people or the institution of traditional marriage. It's not that you have to "ignore" the argument or call anyone names over it, it just doesn't make sense.

BTW, I followed his links. The phrase "anti-gay thugs" is used by a commenter in the first article. The commenter then goes on to say, "Personally I think we should have a 'gay gas' that can transform straights into gays. Then we should drop a 'gay bomb' on America and let things develop." So, you have a ... strange person writing that comment, I can't tell how much of it is satire but there is no sign that the author of the article agrees with any of it. The article itself looks at the link between the GOP and an anti-gay group in Arizona, and is pretty good.

The word "theocrat" is used one time in the article The Post says calls people who oppose marriage equality that, even though the site is called "Theocracy Watch." The word is used in a link and not in the text. Also, there is no use of "theocracy," "theocratic," or any other form. The article does not call people who oppose marriage equality "theocrats," Franck is simply hoping you won't do what I did, and follow the link.

And the third link is a post by Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos, author of American Taliban, talking about the similarities between the rabid religious right in our country and the Taliban. There is a quoted comment that mentions same-sex marriage, but Kos never says anything about it. He certainly is not saying that everyone who opposes marriage equality is like the Taliban. Post editors should have clicked on the links before they allowed this piece of propaganda to go out to the public.

As for his second point, that opposition to marriage equality is seen as irrational, if some religious group chose not to allow marriage between individuals of the same sex, nobody would care. It is not a question of the irrationality of the belief, it is a question of trying to get people who are not members of that religious faith to abide by their system of taboos. Some religious groups don't eat ham, which I think is delicious; I don't care if they eat it or not, it's their business. I do not judge whether the belief is rational or irrational. I would care very much though if they tried to make it illegal for me to eat ham. And that is exactly what the Christian right is doing to gay people, making it illegal to marry the person they love whether you are a member of their church or not.

His final point, about the "new public morality," might have a kernel of truth to it. There is a new public morality. Gay people have done a really good job of opening up to the world and letting the rest of us see that they are just people, not so different from us. Fifty years ago they had to be secretive about their orientation, and now most people understand the simple fact that some people are attracted to people of their own sex. It's not a big deal, it turns out, it doesn't hurt anything if some people are gay or lesbian, but not many years ago it was a secretive, mysterious thing that most straight people knew nothing about. Now, people who continue to propagate to the old-fashioned stereotypes in spite of obvious truth are, indeed, viewed as the "crazed bigots of our day." Because that's what they are.

This article presents a false idea and then argues against it. Franck alleges that the SPLC classified some groups as hate groups because they oppose same-sex marriage, and that is simply not true. If his premise had been correct, then the article might have been worth reading, I would agree that holding an opinion and hating are two different things, and that it would not be nice to classify someone as a hater just because they don't think gay people should marry. But that isn't what the SPLC said.

I'm sorry to see The Post headed this way. This piece does not clarify any issue but only confuses readers who might not be following the culture wars as closely as we are. The SPLC had very good reasons for designating those anti-gay organizations as hate groups.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Say Bye-Bye to DADT

Breaking news. USA Today:
In a historic move, the Senate has passed a bill that would repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The vote was 65-31.

The bill to overturn the ban on gay people serving openly in the military now goes to President Obama, who vowed during his campaign to overturn the policy.

"No longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans ... because they happen to be gay," Obama said before the vote. Senate passes 'don't ask,' sends repeal to Obama

DADT Cloture Passes in the Senate

The Senate has voted not to allow a filibuster of the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, meaning that the repeal bill will almost certainly pass when it is brought to a vote next week. It has already passed in the House. USAToday:
The bill to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" cleared a major Senate hurdle on Saturday and now heads toward a final, historic vote next week.

By a 63-33 vote, the Senate agreed to a procedural move limiting debate on the bill. The vote is a sign that repeal of the ban on gay people serving openly in the military will easily pass the Senate and head to President Obama's desk for his signature.

"We are on the verge of ending "don't ask, don't tell" for good," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "This is one of those moments in our history when we stepped up and squared our policies with the values this nation was founded upon."

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said Saturday that the Senate action does not "just right a wrong" but it would "honor the service of a group of American patriots who happen to be gay and lesbian." Senate pushes 'don't ask' toward repeal

This is good news, of course, a discriminatory policy will fall by the wayside when President Obama signs the bill into law.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Metro Riders: Does This Make You Feel Safer?

Or does it give you a chill?

Conservatives Embrace Hate

It will be interesting to see how conservatives promote hate as a positive value. The recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center classifying the Family Research Council and other anti-gay organizations as hate groups has sort of thrown the religious right for a loop. They argue that they are not "anti" anything, they are in favor of heterosexual monogamy and traditional values regarding family life.

It seems to me that it would be entirely possible to hold a particular view of the family and reject other views without being hateful about it. You could say, "I'm sorry, but that's just not the way we live." You could associate with others who share your beliefs and values, you could teach your beliefs to your children, I don't see that there needs to be anything hateful about that.

The Family Research Council and other groups named by the SPLC go far beyond that. Their focus is not on the benefits of the traditional nuclear family, but rather on the dangers of homosexuality. They have their famous "ten myths" that they like to circulate to enforce negative stereotypes of homosexuality -- as a historical note, we were exposed to one of the earlier drafts of that insidious message when the FRC's Peter Sprigg spoke at the CRC Hate Fest in March, 2005 -- read the transcript HERE. Nobody would care if there was a group who said they believed in mom-and-dad-and-the-kids families. Actually, I have that kind of family and I think it has been a good way for us to live. Even this lefty blogger is pro-family-values, in the positive sense.

It should be easy to maintain a happy family without feeling that you are threatened by some outside group. You can love your spouse and your kids and if the neighbors are gay you can still wave to them when you pick up your paper off the lawn in the morning, there is really nothing threatening about it and no reason to give it a second thought. You don't have to fantasize that your neighbor is trying to "recruit" you or your kids into some nefarious lifestyle that will tear your family apart. If one of your kids turns out to be gay, it seems to me that the family-values approach would dictate that you do everything you can to make their life happy and satisfying; it just doesn't make sense to demonize your own child.

It is unnecessary to imagine that gay people are a threat to your well-being in any way, but the groups identified by the SPLC do imagine it, they dwell on it constantly, and that's why they're classified as hate groups; their entire focus is on prejudice and discrimination against gay and lesbian people as a group. Good conservative people should be able to tell the difference. On the other hand, we have this story from the Minnesota Independent:
Rep. Michele Bachmann and Gov. Tim Pawlenty have thrown their support behind the Family Research Council and other groups that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as anti-gay hate groups. In an open letter, Bachmann, Pawlenty and several other Republican elected officials say the SPLC has “targeted FRC and other organizations that uphold Judeo-Christian moral views, including marriage as the union of a man and a woman.” But the SPLC’s report, released last month does not target groups that oppose gay marriage or uphold Christian values; rather it lists groups that make “claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities” and “repeated, groundless name-calling.”

FRC, for instance, has suggested that gays be “exported” from the United States and says that homosexuality should be criminalized. The American Family Association, another group that Pawlenty and Bachmann are supporting, recently said that Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan should be disqualified from office because she’s a lesbian (she’s not).

The AFA has made some particularly bizarre statements. Bryan Fischer, AFA’s director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy, recently said, “Hitler recruited around him homosexuals to make up his Stormtroopers, they were his enforcers, they were his thugs. And Hitler discovered that he could not get straight soldiers to be savage and brutal and vicious enough to carry out his orders, but that homosexual solders basically had no limits and the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict on whomever Hitler sent them after. So he surrounded himself, virtually all of the Stormtroopers, the Browshirts, were male homosexuals.”

The open letter, signed by Bachmann and Pawlenty, reads, “We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with Family Research Council, American Family Association, Concerned Women of America, National Organization for Marriage, Liberty Counsel and other pro-family organizations that are working to protect and promote natural marriage and family. We support the vigorous but responsible exercise of the First Amendment rights of free speech and religious liberty that are the birthright of all Americans.”

The SPLC, in releasing its list, noted that the organizations were not chosen for their biblical values or promotion of “traditional marriage.” Bachmann, Pawlenty throw support behind ‘hate groups’: Republicans sign open letter defending groups on SPLC list

Nobody objects if these groups promote a message supportive of the Leave-It-To-Beaver family structure. Most Americans think that's a good way to live, we grow up and marry and have kids and work, maybe Mom works now, too, and not just dad, you raise up your kids and try to teach them to be good people, homes across the country live like that. But that family structure is not for everyone. Obviously, many of the biggest promoters of "tradition family values" have been divorced or caught committing adultery, or have disowned their own children. Besides that, people who are gay and lesbian have nothing to gain by marrying someone of the opposite sex and going through the motions of pretending to be heterosexual -- this is only a recipe for unhappiness, both for the gay member of the couple and the straight spouse who will never be loved fully. There is no reason to hold it against them if they choose not to pretend to be something they are not.

It will be interesting to see how these conservatives absorb and embrace the concept of hate and wear it as a badge of honor. They have taken the first steps, let's see how they make it work for them.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

DADT Repeal One Step Closer to Reality

From CNN:
Washington (CNN) -- The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to overturn the ban on openly gay and lesbian soldiers serving in the U.S. military, passing legislation repealing the controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The bill -- a so-called "standalone" measure not tied to any other legislative items -- passed 250 to 175 in a virtual party-line vote. It now advances to the Senate.

The House previously passed a repeal of the ban as part of a larger defense spending authorization bill, but the measure stalled last week in the Senate.

"Now is the time for us to act," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. "We should honor the service of all who want to contribute" to America's security. "Repealing 'don't ask, don't tell' makes for good public policy."

"Discrimination is wrong," declared Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia. "On the battlefield it does not matter who you love. Only the flag that you serve." House passes 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal

That was not a close vote.

Of course because the Republicans threaten to filibuster everything they need 60 votes there to pass a bill. It is thought that they have it. We'll see. This just might happen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Hope That DADT Is On Its Way Out

Politico is expecting the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal bill to be introduced into the House of Representatives today.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) are expected to introduce standalone "don't ask, don't tell" repeal legislation on Tuesday, three sources actively involved in repeal discussions told POLITICO Monday.

However, considerable uncertainty swirled around the mechanics of the "don't ask" repeal effort over the course of the day Monday. At one point, a key repeal advocate said advocates and lawmakers supporting repeal had agreed that the Senate would take the initiative on the freestanding measure and that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) planned to file a motion on Tuesday to bypass the usual committee process.

A couple of hours later on Monday, other sources told POLITICO that the House had agreed to act first and that the Hoyer/Murphy bill would be promptly moved through the House as a privileged resolution. That scenario seemed to get support from a post on the Center for American Progress blog Monday afternoon that said Hoyer and Murphy had already introduced their bill. The news was tweeted and retweeted, but within minutes the link to the story was dead. (It was sucked quickly down the memory hole, but I did manage to scrounge up this cache.) The author of the post, Igor Volsky, told me late Monday that it was "published prematurely."

Adding to the murk, Hoyer's office refused to confirm that any bill was imminent, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a cryptic statement that observed that "all options are on the table," and Reid's office declined to comment on the scheduling issue.

By evening, it appeared that identically-worded bills would be moved independently in each body depending on the flow of business, rather than moving from one body to the other. House action still seemed likely to precede Senate action on the legislation, however, because of the likely need for a cloture petition and associated debate on the Senate side due to the filibuster expected from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) Hoyer expected to file 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal bill Tuesday

As it stands, gay and lesbian servicemembers must remain in the closet or be kicked out. DADT is not a law that bans them from serving, it is a law that mandates hypocrisy. You can fight for your country as long as you act like you're ashamed of yourself. Everybody knows this is wrong, the world has changed since the days when this was an acceptable compromise, and it's time to repeal the law.
Repeal advocates view the standalone bill as their best hope for enacting legislation to set in motion a repeal of the ban on openly gay servicemembers. Advocates had pinned their hopes on the broader defense authorization bill, which already contains conditional repeal language, but it fell three votes short last week of the 60 needed to move to the floor. However, during that process it appeared that there were more than 60 votes for repeal itself, so backers quickly shifted their focus to passing a standalone bill.

A lot of people will be checking the news today to see if this promised piece of progress makes it to the President's desk to become law.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Disapointment Over DADT

As Vigilance blog readers are already well aware, Don't Ask Don't Tell was not repealed. Despite support on every side including at least sixty Senators who support DADT repeal, the bill received only 57 votes calling for debate, when it needed 60 votes to override the threat of a Republican filibuster.

Now there is talk of a standalone DADT-repeal bill. Huffington Post:
Just hours after the Senate failed to pass a defense authorization bill that included the repeal of the gay military ban known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the White House suggested there were other ways to get it through Congress.

Pointing to a standalone bill to repeal the ban, championed in the Senate by Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), Pelosi's Twitter account issued the following statement: "If new Lieberman & Collins #DADT bill passes Senate, an army of allies stands ready to pass standalone repeal in House."

White House spokesman Reid Cherlin, meanwhile, said in a statement, "The President is committed to working with Congress to achieve a repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' this year. The White House is willing to explore all legislative options to reach this goal during the lame duck session."

Of course, President Barack Obama could simply issue an executive order rolling back the ban on openly gay servicemembers, but the White House has chosen to press its luck with what administration officials argue is a more permanent solution. White House, Pelosi Signal Support For Standalone DADT Repeal Bill

There are lots of problems with all of this, but it is not hard to see what has happened. Democrats were elected into the Congress and the Presidency on promises that they would fight to end discrimination against LGBT Americans, and they haven't done it. And now you think they're going to work hard to force a new standalone bill through the lame duck session?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The WikiLeaks Standoff

There's so much to say about this WikiLeaks situation. I think every conscientious person feels ambivalent about it, and that's the way it should be, it is not a black-and-white phenomenon but rather an evolving story with a rich plot, deep characters, and the possibility of altering history. The Post just put up this story:
Over the past several days, the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks has been hit with a series of blows that have seemed to threaten its survival. Its primary Web address was deactivated, its PayPal account was frozen, and its Internet server gave it the boot.

The result: WikiLeaks is now stronger than ever, at least as measured by its ability to publish online.

Blocked from using one Internet host, WikiLeaks simply jumped to another. Meanwhile, the number of "mirror" Web sites - effectively clones of WikiLeaks's main contents pages - grew from a few dozen last week to 200 by Sunday. By early Wednesday, the number of such sites surpassed 1,000.

At the same time, WikiLeaks's supporters have apparently gone on the offensive, staging retaliatory attacks against Internet companies that have cut ties to the group amid fears they could be associated with it. On Wednesday, hackers briefly shut down access to the Web site for MasterCard and Visa, both of which had announced they had stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks avoids shutdown as supporters worldwide go on the offensive

There is ancient Internet lore that says, "The net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." Here you go: this is what they were talking about.

I did want to point out some insanity in The Post this morning. The story is called "WikiLeaks founder's arrest in Britain complicates efforts to extradite him." Check out this paragraph:
But to bring Assange to trial on American soil could be increasingly messy. Not only would the United States need to come up with creative charges that may be difficult to prove, it would also have to launch a laborious extradition request with Sweden, a country known for protecting asylum seekers. WikiLeaks founder's arrest in Britain complicates efforts to extradite him

Well, yes, it might be more difficult to extradite him if he is locked up in a British jail.

But, y'know, the hardest part about extraditing him to the US is that he hasn't broken any American law. They'll have to "come up with creative charges."

I heard a radio interview yesterday about this where the word "totalitarianism" was used quite a bit. They've got this guy locked up without bail for the crime of allegedly having sex without a condom, they're talking about extraditing him when he has not done anything demonstrably illegal, they have no case against him, they just want to shut him up. But he's got the goods on them, gigabytes of documents that could blow international government, diplomacy, military, and business to smithereens if they are released, and if he is mistreated they will be released.

This might be a good occasion for Americans to contemplate the function of law in our way of life, and whether we want to respect it or give it up altogether.

Why We Call Them the "Red States"

We even see it here, in our comments, talk about the Democrats being socialists and all. It's a good throwaway sound bite for illiterate Fox audiences, you can figure that liberal equals socialist, socialist equals bad, and there ya go, all you have to do is say the word "socialist" and roll your eyes and everybody will know what you mean. It is much easier than thinking.

In that regard, this was an interesting little piece from the CNBC Mainstreet blog...
When the Democratic Party took over the presidency and both houses of Congress in 2008, conservatives were quick to warn their supporters of a coming era of socialism led by President Barack Obama.

Indeed, that message was a constant in the debate over the health care reform bill as well as the Congressional midterm elections, when Tea Party conservatives made taxation a rallying cry for frustrated Americans.

As the narrative of the country’s purported move toward socialism persists, MainStreet decided to evaluate which states were the most and least socialist, to get a picture of how diverse the country is in how states manage their finances.

What is 'Socialist,' Anyway?

To evaluate the degree to which different states manifest socialist principles, we started from the core definition of socialism as a form of government in which the state owns the means of production and allocates resources to its citizens at its discretion.

In other words, a purely socialist state is one in which the state is responsible for 100% of economic output and spends all of it on social programs.

Since no part of the U.S. can be considered purely socialist, we measured total expenditures as a proportion of total economic output to compare the size of the public sector in each state. Using recently released 2009 state gross domestic product figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and total state expenditures for fiscal year 2009 from the most recent report of the National Association of State Budget Officers, we have come up with the 10 most socialist states in America... The Most Socialist States in America

I won't keep you waiting. Here are the top ten, from least to most socialist, with the percentage of the state's economic output allocated to social programs:
10. Rhode Island 15.0%
9. Hawaii 17.8%
8. Arkansas 18.1%
7. Wyoming 19.0%
6. Mississippi 20.2%
5. New Mexico 20.7%
4. Vermont 21.0%
3. Alabama 27.4%
2. Alaska 31.1%
1. West Virginia 32.1%

Draw conclusions as appropriate.

The Fall of Rome

A nutty state legislator in Illinois blamed "open homosexuality" for the fall of Rome. You've heard that before, it's a truism that is repeated without questioning, it was their lack of morals that caused the collapse of the mighty Roman Empire. But this columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, Neil Steinberg, decided to focus in on the statement and point out the obvious.
"If you look at the sociological history of societies that have failed," said Stephens (R-Greenville), "what are some of the commonalities- One of those is that open homosexuality becomes accepted."

A common idea: Mighty Rome toppled because it allowed those light in the togas to prance unchallenged through the Forum. We're on our way to ruin, too, not because of ascendant China or a collapse of political discourse, but because we allow gays and lesbians to live their lives with only moderate harassment.

That's funny. Not ha-ha funny, but ironic funny, and demands we shine a light down this well of ignorance.

First, the Roman Empire -- even lopping off the first 700 years, from Rome's founding to Julius Caesar -- lasted 500 years.

We should only fall so quickly.

Second, such a swath of land -- the empire stretched from Great Britain to Egypt -- had, over half a millennium, various views toward homosexuality. Yes, at times Romans would chat about their catamite lovers with an ease strange to our ears. But other times they'd be put to death for it.

If tolerance didn't topple Rome, what did-

Let us consult Edward Gibbon, whose classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire isn't read in high schools, at least not Downstate, apparently, the way it once was.

Gibbon puts the blame -- and this really is too delicious -- not on homosexuality, but on Christianity, which he says made the Roman population more worried about their place in heaven than about barbarians at the gate.Was Rome felled by gays or Goths or Christianity?

The conclusion is obvious, isn't it?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Schneier on the Monument to Fear

Bruce Schneier is a security expert who has consistently argued that we need is security and not security theater. Here he blogs about recently publicized efforts to "secure" the Washington Monument. I think he has come across the exactly perfect solution to the problem: don't secure it at all, just leave it as a monument to irrational fear.
Securing the Washington Monument from terrorism has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult job. The concrete fence around the building protects it from attacking vehicles, but there's no visually appealing way to house the airport-level security mechanisms the National Park Service has decided are a must for visitors. It is considering several options, but I think we should close the monument entirely. Let it stand, empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears.

An empty Washington Monument would serve as a constant reminder to those on Capitol Hill that they are afraid of the terrorists and what they could do. They're afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism -- or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity -- they will be branded as "soft on terror." And they're afraid that Americans would vote them out of office if another attack occurred. Perhaps they're right, but what has happened to leaders who aren't afraid? What has happened to "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"?

An empty Washington Monument would symbolize our lawmakers' inability to take that kind of stand -- and their inability to truly lead.

Some of them call terrorism an "existential threat" against our nation. It's not. Even the events of 9/11, as horrific as they were, didn't make an existential dent in our nation. Automobile-related fatalities -- at 42,000 per year, more deaths each month, on average, than 9/11 -- aren't, either. It's our reaction to terrorism that threatens our nation, not terrorism itself. The empty monument would symbolize the empty rhetoric of those leaders who preach fear and then use that fear for their own political ends. Close the Washington Monument

Read the rest, the guy is on target this time.

Johnny Depp On All His Gay Characters

On the set of the upcoming installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, [rocker-now-journalist Patti] Smith asks Depp what it’s like to play the iconic role of Captain Jack Sparrow. “Somebody once asked [Hunter S. Thompson], “What is the sound of one hand clapping, Hunter?,” and he smacked him. Captain Jack was kind of like that for me, an opening up of this part of yourself,” Depp says. “There is a little Bugs Bunny in all of us.”

“They couldn’t stand him. They just couldn’t stand him,” Depp says of Disney’s reaction to his controversial interpretation of Sparrow. “I think it was Michael Eisner, the head of Disney at the time, who was quoted as saying, ‘He’s ruining the movie.’ Depp reveals to Smith, however, that he remained unfazed by the studio’s hysteria. “Upper-echelon Disney-ites, going, What’s wrong with him? Is he, you know, like some kind of weird simpleton? Is he drunk? By the way, is he gay?… And so I actually told this woman who was the Disney-ite… ‘But didn’t you know that all my characters are gay?’ Which really made her nervous.” Johnny Depp Talks to Patti Smith About Working with Angelina Jolie, Jack Sparrow, and His Own Musical Aspirations

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Nice: Matthews Corrects Perkins

You had to grit your teeth and cringe watching Hardball the other day, when the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins quoted "research" from the American College of Pediatricians, proving that gay people homosexuals have 86 percent worse cooties than God-fearing straight people.

Neither Chris Matthews nor the guy from the Southern Poverty Law Center knew enough to stop him and point out that the American College of Pediatricians is a totally bogus group, formed to promote hatred against gay and lesbian Americans. Instead they let him slander LGBT people in the living rooms of America with fake research statistics (we showed you Box Turtle Bulletin's demolition of the cited "study" HERE).

Matthews did the right thing, though, and issued a statement explaining. It's not very good quality video -- looks like somebody videotaped their TV screen -- but check this out:

Missionary Creep

The anti-gay groups are complaining loudly about being categorized as hate groups. Yesterday's LA Times did a good job of looking at the question, focusing in particular on the Family Research Council and why the Southern Poverty Law Center decided to add them to the list.

This is not just a national news story, it has meaning for us who live in Montgomery County, Maryland. Our local school district retains anti-gay activist Peter Sprigg, a Family Research Council Senior Policy Analyst, on the citizens advisory committee to recommend changes to the school district's health curriculum, in particular sex ed classes. Sprigg believes that "homosexual behavior" should be a crime. He has been meeting with the Superintendent of Schools' administrators, advising the school district, for five years now.

The LA Times:
The Southern Poverty Law Center is an organization with deep roots in the civil rights movement. Its ingenious lawsuits helped break the back of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist factions, and in recent years, it has joined the Anti-Defamation League as a reliable monitor of hate groups.

The Family Research Council is an influential Washington-based advocacy group with deep roots in the religious right. Its annual political forum, the Values Voter Summit, has become a nearly obligatory stop for ambitious Republican office-seekers hoping to win the support of so-called values voters. In recent years, the council has given an increasing share of its attention to opposing marriage equality and open military service by gays and lesbians.

Now, the two groups are locked in a sharp confrontation that raises crucial questions about where the expression of religiously based views on social issues ends and hate speech begins.

Last week, the law center added the Family Research Council to its list of more than 930 active hate groups, citing the anti-gay rhetoric of its leaders and researchers, which have included calls to re-criminalize consensual sex between individuals of the same gender. The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as one with "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics."

The council's president, former Louisiana lawmaker Tony Perkins, reacted angrily to the designation, calling it "slanderous" and demanding an apology. "The left is losing the debate over ideas and the direction of public policy, so all that is left for them is character assassination," Perkins said, insisting that his group "will continue to champion marriage and family as the foundation of our society and will not acquiesce to those seeking to silence the Judeo-Christian views held by millions of Americans."Hate under cloak of religion

There is a bit of controversy around the idea of adapting civil-rights language to gay-rights issues. I think an important objection comes from the so-called "black preachers," (I say so-called because there are many black preachers who don't agree with them) such as Bishop Harry Jackson, who support equal rights for African-Americans but see sexual orientation as a moral choice. This makes it a sticky problem; while plenty of African-Americans support gay rights, it is not a powerful movement within the black community, and there is some resentment when concepts and terms that successfully shifted the balance of power in the 1960s struggle against racial discrimination are applied to this new campaign.

On the other hand, the issues are parallel. Nobody asked to be black, and nobody asked to be gay. Both groups have faced prejudice and discrimination, both groups fought back against powerful opposition. African-Americans got there sooner and tipped the scales fifty years ago, while the revolution among LGBT citizens is largely considered to have begun for real after the Stonewall Riots in 1969. While the fight for racial justice is not finished, with racism having learned to disguise itself, principles countering racism are now embedded in our legal system and in the nation's belief structures -- everybody knows what is not acceptable. Gays and lesbians lag far behind, "that's so gay" is still common playground talk, and homophobia is still evident and open, requiring very little in the way of apology or justification in the public eye.

The SPLC may have made its name in the fight for racial equality, but the fight against prejudice and discrimination extends beyond any particular feature that distinguishes groups.
Other conservative commentators also have assailed listing the council as a hate group, calling it an affront to protected speech. That is a superficially compelling argument, but it won't withstand scrutiny. It is perfectly possible for a church or an organization associated with a denomination or religious tendency — as the Family Research Council is with evangelical Protestantism — to oppose, say, marriage equality as a departure from tradition and traditional notions of civic virtue without defaming gays and lesbians as a group.

But the council goes well beyond that. Over the years, it has published statistical compendiums purporting to quantify the "evils" of homosexuality. One of its pamphlets is entitled, "Dark Obsession: The Tragedy and Threat of the Homosexual Lifestyle." At various times, its spokesmen have spuriously alleged that the gay rights movement's goal "is to go after children" and that child molestation is more likely to occur in households with gay parents. Last week, one of its senior fellows, Peter Sprigg, told reporters on a conference call concerning repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that "homosexuals in the military are three times more likely to commit sexual assaults than heterosexuals are relative to their numbers."

Such rhetoric is eerily reminiscent of that with which religiously affiliated opponents of African American equality once defended segregation. It wasn't all that long ago that some of them argued against school integration because, they alleged, black adolescents were uniquely unable to control sexual impulses and, therefore, would assault white schoolgirls. Exhortations against "race mixing" were commonplace pulpit messages short decades ago, though we now recognize them as hate speech. It's past time to do the same with rhetoric that denigrates gays and lesbians.

It is fine and necessary to distinguish good people from bad ones, to be able to form conclusions about others, to predict whether they will help us or hurt us and whether we want to associate with them or not. I honestly don't know what to make of people who spend their entire day thinking of bad things to say about gay and lesbian people, I can't imagine what motivates them or how they think they are making the world a better place in any way. Sexual orientation is not a factor that distinguishes good people from bad, or people who can help us from people who will hurt us. Nobody chooses to be gay, and there are no known correlates, no special characteristics that separate gay and lesbian people from others, except their attraction to someone of their own sex, and how does that make them evil?
So long as even the most objectionable religious dogma stays under the church roof, it's a constitutionally protected view. People's religious beliefs — even when noxious — are a private matter. Our churches are free to order their internal affairs as they will — to set the terms of sacramental marriage as they see fit, to discriminate in the selection of their clergy, to racially segregate their membership or to separate the sexes in their schools or places of worship.

However, when a group sets out to impose its views on the rest of society by lobbying for public policies or laws, it can no longer claim special protections or an exemption from the norms of civil discourse simply because its views are formed by religious beliefs. This is precisely the dodge the Family Research Council has been running.

Excellent point. We understand that some religious groups have strange beliefs. Like, did you see where Family Radio Inc., a nationwide Christian network, has started putting up billboards saying that the rapture will be May 21, 2011? May 22nd is going to be kind of embarrassing for those of them whose cars have not become unmanned. Some religions have food taboos or prohibitions on certain kinds of behaviors, including sexual behaviors, there may be little things you are supposed to do during the day as part of your religious tradition. If you're a member of that religion you follow their rules, and if you're not you don't have to -- this is what we mean by "religious freedom" in the United States.

This LA Times piece describes something like "mission creep," the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, where evangelical Christians are taking religious beliefs that they apply to themselves and trying to get others to conform to them, as well. Maybe we can call this missionary creep. It does have a ring to it! A church congregation may hold strong beliefs and adhere to their practices, but after services they pour out onto the sidewalks and streets, where they mix with individuals who do not necessarily share their beliefs. And in public the congregation has no right to force nonbelievers to adhere to their traditions. Yet in the US, conservative Christians have long felt that they should be able to force the rest of us to respect their thin-skinned abhorrence of temptation: missionary creep.