Monday, January 31, 2011

The Misogynist Bill's Sponsors

The Post, tonight:
A Republican bill seeking to permanently cut off federal funding for abortions has angered women's groups who say it alters the definition of rape, permitting coverage for the procedure only in cases in which the rape is considered "forcible." Legislative proposal puts abortion rights supporters on alert

So if it isn't violent, it isn't rape.

Shelby Knox posts the names of the sponsors of the bill ...

It's hard to figure out why these legislators are not more concerned about women's rights. Republicans, you say?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Arab Revolutions

Michael Hirsh, writing in the National Journal:
The current popular unrest in the Arab world has a lot of lessons for Washington. Undoubtedly one of the most jarring is this: The leak of a simple series of cables from a U.S. ambassador in an obscure country -- officially condemned by Washington -- may have done more to inspire democracy in the Arab world than did a bloody, decadelong, trillion-dollar war effort orchestrated by the United States. The WikiLeaks Revolt

Hirsh's article is short and readable. Truths about official corruption, long hidden by the aboveground press and revealed by WikiLeaks, have inspired the citizens of the Arab world to revolt.

The US government has been supporting dictators in the region for a long time, and whoever succeeds to power when these dictators are thrown out is not likely to be friendly to us. My feeling is that the people of the US and the people of the Arab world share a love of freedom and resentment of crushing authority which has not been well represented by their governments. The Obama administration can take these revolts as an opportunity to turn a corner in foreign policy in the direction of supporting freedom. Failure in these ripe moments could lead our country into a generation of conflict. The US has to decide if we really want democracy in the Middle East, or business partners.

BTW, by far the best coverage of the revolutions is seen on Al Jazeera English. Incredible around-the-clock coverage. They have had their broadcast license taken away in Egypt but are broadcasting live from Cairo and other Egyptian cities. It is amazing and dramatic video, with excellent interviews and commentary.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ted Haggard Comes Closer to the Truth

We watched with cynical fascination a few years ago when megapreaching gay-basher Ted Haggard, president of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals, was outted by a male prostitute who had been having sex-and-meth meetups with him. Haggard went through a series of logical contortions, he was clearly busted but had rationalizations and excuses like you wouldn't believe. No, I mean it, you really wouldn't believe them.

Now in an interview in GQ, Haggard seems to be a little closer to dealing with the truth. It is fascinating to watch him maintain his grip on denial even as truth relentlessly surrounds him.

The article is well written, there are a few surprises in the introductory section, but the insights come later, on a camping trip, when Haggard opens up with the author of the article.
He says that despite popular perception, he was never a right-wing power broker in the vein of Jerry Falwell. His reported weekly chats with George W. Bush were usually just briefings with low-level White House staff. He was never a homophobe, either, he says, and though he supported a 2006 amendment outlawing gay marriage in Colorado, he was also in favor of a ballot measure that would have extended domestic-partner benefits to same-sex couples.

When I start to ask about Mike Jones, the escort who exposed him, he cuts me off.

"We never had sex sex," he says, glancing at the car to make sure that Elliott and Jonathan are asleep. "I bought drugs and a massage from him, and he masturbated me at the end of it. That's it."

But Ted's true sore spot, the thing that drains the life from his voice, is the way he and Gayle were treated by their church in the wake of the scandal. "Here I was, feeling like I'd wasted my life," Ted says. "And they just sent me away."

When Ted resigned from New Life, a board of church-appointed overseers presented him with a separation agreement that required him to cut off all contact with members of the church, stay away from the media, perform no ministry-related work, and move his family out of Colorado. As severance, the church would provide fourteen months' salary for him and Gayle (about $200,000) and assorted other benefits. Ted obediently signed the agreement, but he now believes it was excessively harsh treatment for a family in the midst of a major crisis—especially since, well, isn't providing mercy for sinners sort of the entire point of Christianity?

"I used to think the church was the light of the world," Ted says. "But I've completely lost my faith in it."

Ted's complaints about New Life are old news to anyone who's been following his saga, but tonight, when I ask him if he really means to say completely, he stops and looks at the sky already starting to lighten.

"You've got to understand, Kevin, people are, at their cores, hateful," he says, rising to stamp out the fire's embers and go to bed. "I don't want to believe that, but the facts have prevailed over my idealism." The Last Temptation of Ted

I understand why he feels that people are hateful, but I disagree with his conclusion. Ted Haggard has spent a lot of time with hateful people. He was fine when he was on the haters' side, everything seemed fine, but once they turned on him he realized ... they're hateful. It is not a fact that "people are, at their cores, hateful." It may be a fact though that certain religious groups, including Haggard's, are hateful at the core. Sadly for him that's all he knows.

Oh, and he says he didn't have "sex sex" with the prostitute. Meaning what? Is anal sex the only kind of "sex sex" between two men, or is there something else? I have never thought it made sense to say someone masturbated someone else -- masturbation is when you stimulate yourself. I'm assuming the prostitute used his hand to stimulate Haggard to orgasm. Raise your hand if you agree that that is not "sex sex." <Looking around the room> Just as I expected. Dude is still in denial, obviously.

And before the rabble begin clamoring, Bill Clinton was just as full of it. He also had "sex sex," whether he says so or not.

Later in the piece comes this stunning exchange:
For the first time since we've met, Ted isn't looking directly at me. "Here's where I really am on this issue," he half whispers. "I think that probably, if I were 21 in this society, I would identify myself as a bisexual." After a weekend of Ted trying to convince me of his unambiguous devotion to his wife and kids, I'm at first too surprised to say anything.

"So why not now?" I ask finally.

"Because, Kevin, I'm 54, with children, with a belief system, and I can have enforced boundaries in my life. Just like you're a heterosexual but you don't have sex with every woman that you're attracted to, so I can be who I am and exclusively have sex with my wife and be perfectly satisfied."

"But what does it have to do with being 54?"

"Life!" he says. "We live an ordinary life."

It seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of sexual orientation. Sexual orientation does not mean that you are irresistibly drawn to have sex with every member of whatever sex attracts you. That is entirely off the point in a sad way. The guy appears to be bisexual -- so what?

This is creepy in that "a crowd of people turned away, but I just had to look" way. It's like the person with the least insight into Ted Haggard's mind is Ted Haggard. And at the same time he is going around as a wise man, a spiritual leader, advising people on how to live their lives.

I'm sure it is a major step forward for Ted Haggard to say, "if I were 21 in this society, I would identify myself as a bisexual," he probably had to go through a lot of soul-searching to get to that point. He's making progress, he at least recognizes that bisexual people feel like him, sort of. But you don't have to be 21 to be bisexual. You don't have to have sex with anyone besides your spouse. A woman catches your eye, a man catches your eye, there's no harm in it.

You wonder if Ted Haggard will ever get to the point where he says, oh yeah, now I see, I'm bisexual, I am attracted sometimes to men, sometimes to women. You find yourself leaning forward expectantly, waiting for the words to come out, the obvious revelation that explains it all so simply. So far it does not seem he is capable of it. But he's getting so close.

You Okay?

I admit I'm a little sore from pushing cars out of the slush and pulling branches out of the road, shoveling, even walking in it was hard. We had no electricity most of the night. Can't get out of the driveway this morning but it looks like the roads are mostly cleared.

It was not a whole lot of snow but I have never seen such a mess. Traffic was at a standstill everywhere.

How did you do?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Planned Parenthood Foils Hoax

You remember how some conservative activists dressed up like a pimp and prostitute for a video to make it look like ACORN was helping them get out of paying taxes on a fictitious child-prostitution ring? Remember how they took Shirley Sherrod'a speech and edited it to make her look like a racist, and she was fired?

Somebody was trying to do that same sort of thing to Planned Parenthood but it backfired on them.

Planned Parenthood issued a statement:
Last week, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) alerted federal authorities to a potential multistate sex trafficking ring. Over a five day period, visitors to Planned Parenthood health centers in six states said they were seeking information from Planned Parenthood about health services Planned Parenthood could provide to underage girls who were part of a sex trafficking ring. Subsequent to alerting U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Planned Parenthood learned the identify of one of those involved and believes these visits are likely a hoax by opponents of legal abortion seeking to discredit Planned Parenthood, which delivers preventive health care and abortion services to three million women each year.

Men, sometimes accompanied by a woman, have visited at least 11 Planned Parenthood health centers in six states within a one-week time frame. During their visits, they claimed to be involved in sex trafficking of teens, some of whom are in the United States illegally. These men appeared at health centers without appointments and said that they were seeking health services for themselves, but they quickly turned the conversation to the sex ring they said they were managing. Planned Parenthood Informs Federal Authorities of Potential Sex Trafficking

Somebody went into Planned Parenthood offices all over the country with hidden video equipment to get staff to offer to help them with their teen sex-trafficking scheme. PP says the men asked for health services for themselves, so it is not clear what they were hoping for. Maybe they could get Planned Parenthood staff offering them some sort of treatment and then edit the video to make it look like something for female teenage sex slaves. I don't know, this stuff is too crazy to comprehend sometimes.

Planned Parenthood noted the connection and alerted the US Attorney General. A group called Live Action Films has admitted responsibility.

Interestingly, if you Google for "Planned Parenthood trafficking" (without quotes) you will find the preponderance of sites attacking Planned Parenthood.. A typical example is, with its blaring headline: Planned Parenthood Possibly Caught in Abortion-Sex Trafficking Coverup.

This is actually kind of interesting. Of course is an anti-choice site, but after they get past certain rhetoric about Planned Parenthood they actually add a few details:
The sting operations has the man posing as a pimp — similar to the way in which the liberal activist group ACORN was exposed — asking for abortions for his supposedly pregnancy clients. The clients, the man says, are either in the United States illegally or are minors. The man reportedly first inquired about treatment for a sexually transmitted disease and then detailed the alleged sex trafficking ring once granted a private conversation with Planned Parenthood staff.

The visits to the Planned Parenthood abortion centers reportedly occurred between January 11-15 at facilities in Virginia, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Arizona.

After Planned Parenthood officials began conferring together and with staff at the national office of the abortion business, Planned Parenthood’s vice president for communications, Stuart Schear, says it requested an FBI probe into the sting operation. He told AP that an internal investigation Planned Parenthood conducted revealed the man has connections with Live Action. He said the man’s face was picked up by Planned Parenthood security cameras and that abortion business staff believe he has ties to Live Action.

“On the face of it, we have to take it very seriously, and that’s what we’ve done,” Schear said. “At the same time, as we gathered more information, it came to our attention that this person has some connection with Live Action.” Planned Parenthood Possibly Caught in Abortion-Sex Trafficking Coverup

Planned Parenthood offices may provide contraceptives, emergency contraception, screening for breast, cervical and testicular cancers, pregnancy testing and pregnancy options counseling testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, comprehensive sexuality education, menopause treatments; vasectomies, tubal ligations, and abortion. The organization has been around since the 1940s and has provided services to many young women who could not afford them otherwise.

It may be too much for some people to understand that an organization like Planned Parenthood could provide an important and positive service to young women, even if it does support the option of abortion. I understand there are simple minds out there. You might find that a volunteer at Planned Parenthood has given erroneous or questionable advice. But Planned Parenthood is not involved in sex trafficking of teenage girls, and it is reprehensible to try to make them look like they are doing something they are simply not doing.

PPFA says:
In recent years Planned Parenthood has been the target of activists attempting to portray the organization negatively by secretly videotaping inside health centers and publicizing heavily edited versions of those tapes to the media. Recent incidents are the first time that such visitors have told Planned Parenthood staff that they are involved in sex trafficking of minor girls.

"If a multistate sex trafficking operation is in place, those responsible must be pursued to stop the exploitation of girls and young women," said Schear. "If these visits are part of a 'dirty tricks' campaign, they must be condemned. Falsely claiming sex trafficking to health professionals to advance a political agenda is an astoundingly cynical form of political activity."

Yes, this is astoundingly cynical. If you've got a case to make, make it. If you don't, go to your room and be quiet.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

PHB Calls Out Madaleno

We mentioned recently that both houses of the Maryland legislature will be considering marriage equality bills: good. The press quoted Rich Madaleno, to no one's surprise, as Madaleno is an openly gay politician who has taken up LGB causes in the past.

Lurleen at Pam's House Blend takes Madaleno on this morning for ignoring the "T" in LGBT and not supporting a state gender-identity nondiscrimination bill similar to the one that was passed in Montgomery County.
Maryland state Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18) posted "Rich Madaleno's Equality Agenda" over at Maryland Politics Watch on Monday.  Saying he is "proud honor Dr. King's legacy through two civil rights initiatives I am working to pass this year in the Maryland General Assembly", he lists the marriage equality bill and...the Maryland DREAM Act.  What's glaringly absent from that short list is the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act.  Senator Madaleno, you're forgetting something.

Equality Maryland has assured us that the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act is on their equality agenda.  But one wonders why it isn't on Senator Madaleno's agenda because Senator Madaleno isn't some rabid Republican bigot.  He's an openly-gay pro-equality Democrat who invokes MLK, Jr. but fails to champion a non-discrimination bill that MLK, Jr. surely would have dubbed a no-brainer. Senator Madaleno, aren't you forgetting something?

Our Montgomery County officials have been courageous in tackling hard problems even when they don't have a vested interest in them. You shouldn't have to be gay, for instance, to realize that discrimination against gay people is wrong. Our County Council and Executive understood the injustice of discrimination against transgender citizens even though none of them are transgender. It's just wrong, and they passed a law to empower transgender people to protect themselves.

There is clearly a surge in favorable attitude toward marriage equality. More and more people realize that it's unfair, unkind, and counterproductive to prevent same-sex couples from marrying and starting a family. Politically it is not an especially risky or bold thing to propose, especially for someone like Madaleno who is clearly associated with gay rights already.

There is not the same surge in favor of transgender rights. This is probably because the proportion of transgender people in the population is quite small, most people have never met a transgender person and are completely unaware of the difficulties they face. But many transgender individuals suffer a constant stream of abuse when they go out in public, they have difficulty being hired for jobs they are qualified for, they have problems with police and even paramedics, they face discrimination everywhere they go.

It may be unfair to argue that because Madaleno is gay and supports gay rights that he should automatically support gender-identity rights as well. Though he is a friend to the LGB population he is not especially looked upon as a very progressive politician in general. Maybe Pam's House Blend is wrong to focus on him, expecting him to stand up for a group that he does not apparently identify with.

LGB people may not identify with transgender people as a group, but they face exactly the same kind of prejudice -- I would bet that most homophobes can't tell the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. We are not surprised when a politician avoids controversy, but Madaleno is in a unique position to accomplish something good here. Let's see if he rises to the challenge.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Oh, Woops, Sorry

The US government has held Bradley Manning in solitary confinement since July while they tried to build a conspiracy case showing that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had gotten Manning to turn over classified documents.

This just in. MSNBC has it:
U.S. military officials tell NBC News that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between a jailed army private suspected with leaking secret documents and Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The officials say that while investigators have determined that Manning had allegedly unlawfully downloaded tens of thousands of documents onto his own computer and passed them to an unauthorized person, there is apparently no evidence he passed the files directly to Assange, or had any direct contact with the controversial WikiLeaks figure.

Assange told msnbc TV last month that WikiLeaks was unsure Army PFC Bradley Manning is the source for the classified documents appearing on his site.

"That's not how our technology works, that's not how our organization works," Assange said. "I never heard of the name of Bradley Manning before it appeared in the media."

He called allegations that WikiLeaks had conspired with Manning "absolute nonsense." NBC: U.S. can't link accused Army private to Assange

If Manning committed a crime he should be arraigned and tried like anybody else. If he is dangerous or is a flight risk a judge may deny bail. There is no condition where a nonviolent person not convicted of a crime should be held in solitary confinement and denied visitors for this long. Manning is an American political prisoner and his incarceration is a national embarrassment.

Crowded Train: Oh Yeah, The Big Protest

The ride into the city on the Red Line this morning was a nightmare. First, it was seven degrees outside when I left the house. Then there were track problems at Rockville station and a train broken down at Medical Center. A nearly-empty train pulled up just as I ascended to the platform at Twinbrook, three or four sleepy looking people in each car -- the train stopped, sat there, never opened its doors, and it left again. The next train was a classic rush hour sardine can, as I tried to get toward the center of the car a guy standing at the door coughed all over me. He coughed all the way to Metro Center. There was a backpack jammed into my side and people jockeyed for a grip on the overhead support rails, too close for comfort.

After a few stops the familiar sound of chattering tourists out of season made me remember, oh yeah, today's the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. They're having their big protest on the mall. I didn't see any signs this year, not one, but there were excited teenagers on the platforms and you could tell they were from out of town. If you live here you know the sound of it.

It is intriguing to me that abortion, of all things, is the most emotional issue, the one they kill over. It is estimated that forty percent of American women have had an abortion, this isn't something obscure or rare, it's something that happens every day. Conservative women have abortions, liberal women, white and black, religious women and nonbelievers.

I think almost everyone would agree that preventing an unwanted pregnancy is better than terminating it. That's one reason it is important to teach young people how to properly use contraceptives. But the fact remains, approximately half of pregnancies are unintended, and sometimes life's circumstances lead a woman to decide to end the pregnancy.

The idea that an embryo is a person from the moment of conception is unnecessarily absolute. For simple minds that can only consider black-and-white truths, this may be a useful heuristic, but I don't believe that anyone in their right mind really believes that the expulsion of a pinpoint ball of cells from the uterus is equivalent to killing a real baby. If you believe that a deity introjects a soul into some biological material at the moment of the union of a sperm and ovum, then fine, you have the right to believe that. If your religious beliefs teach you that aborting a fetus is a kind of murder, then again, good for you, nobody minds if you think that. The appropriate response then is for your religious leaders to promote practices that result in live births for members of your religious group. It doesn't matter how right you think you are, not everybody agrees with you, and they also have the right to their beliefs.

When it comes down to it, the only person who can decide if a woman will have an abortion is the woman herself. The father can offer his input, he may have an opinion, but in the end she is the one who will decide. It's just the way nature created us, the developing fetus resides inside the body of the female of the species, and she's the one with the final word on how that body will be treated. She may be intimidated or even forced to choose one way or the other, but a civil society should respect the fact that it is ultimately her decision.

The idea that government should force women to have babies seems entirely un-conservative to me. The decision to abort is perhaps the most private decision anyone can make, you are choosing whether to bring life into the world, and no one makes that decision capriciously. And yet the trains are crowded today with excited conservative people, conservative leaders will speak to the crowds, insisting that the government is better suited to make that decision than the woman herself.

If these people want to meet to show their support for pregnant women, in other words if they were really "pro-life," then there would be no controversy. They can rally to support live birth, encourage women to prevent unwanted pregnancy and provide assistance to those who are not sure they can handle the responsibility of a child. But I have the feeling we are not going to see a lot of people promoting birth-control pills and condoms on the Mall today, I am pretty sure we are not going to hear a lot of cheers for welfare and other assistance for impoverished mothers. No the subtext today will be about the irresponsible inferiority of women and minorities.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Maryland May Consider Marriage Equality

Maybe this will be the year for it. From The Post:
The majority leaders in both the Maryland House and Senate are acting as lead sponsors of bills this session allowing same-sex marriage, a symbolic move meant to underscore the momentum behind the legislation.

A bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola (D-Montgomery) was introduced Friday.

Garagiola's lead role "shows the very strong support there is within the body, and the Democratic caucus in particular," said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), an openly gay lawmaker who has served as lead sponsor of similar bills in previous years.

Madaleno is among 17 senators who are co-sponsoring the bill with Garagiola this year.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said he expects his panel to hold a hearing on the bill within the next two to three weeks.

Frosh said he believes there are sufficient votes on the 11-member committee to send the bill to the Senate floor, where he called prospects for passage "a source of great speculation."

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) is planning to introduce similar legislation in his chamber.

Barve said that neither he nor Garagiola is sponsoring the legislation as part of their leadership positions and that all members are free to vote their conscience on the issue.

Barve said the Senate is likely to act first on the issue. Md. majority leaders sponsoring same-sex marriage bills

Brian Frosh has blocked marriage equality and gender-identity nondiscrimination bills consistently in the past. It sounds like there may be too much of a tidal swell now for him to hold it back.

Harassment for Delivering Petitions

I have spent a lot of the afternoon watching Twitter as Jane Hamsher and David House attempt to deliver petitions to the Marine base at Quantico and visit Bradley Manning. Manning is being held there under conditions that amount to torture for the alleged crime of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks.

Jane Hamsher is a blogger at FireDog Lake, appears frequently on news shows. Okay, I admit it, I kind of have a crush on her, okay?

Bradley Manning is an American soldier who started saving files and sneaking them home on CDs, and gave them to WikiLeaks. Maybe. He hasn't confessed or had a trial. The only evidence the government has against him is the word of one very shady hacker/informant, Adrian Lamo, and some instant message logs that Wired and the Washington Post have but won't release to the public. In the meantime, Manning is being held in solitary confinement and under a "suicide watch," not allowed to exercise or pretty much do anything. He is allowed pre-approved visitors for an hour once a week -- David House is a friend of Manning's who has been approved to visit and in fact has visited previously. Manning has been locked up in a Marine brig since July 2010. Quote: "I want people to see the truth regardless of who they are because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public." (Timeline of Manning events HERE)

The conditions of Manning's incarceration are inhumane, especially since he has not even been tried yet, and people around the world are rallying to support him. A petition asking for better treatment for Manning received 42,000 signatures and Hamsher and Manning's friend David House went today to Quantico to deliver it to the Marines. House has permission to go on base and has previously visited Manning in the brig. Hamsher called ahead to notify the authorities they were coming.

Reading the Twitter stream, it seems that their car was stopped at the gate and information was demanded of them. Hamsher's proof of insurance is electronic and the Marines would not accept it or allow her to go across the street to print it out. The Marines wouldn't let them onto the base or off it, but kept them there until visiting hours were over. Their car was impounded and House has been served a summons to appear in court in two weeks.

There are a couple of things here. One is the fascinating phenomenon of observing news in the making over the Internet. While they stand beside the car in 28 degree weather, watching it being towed away, they are both tweeting to the world. I know that if I drove down there right now I would see them at the gate. I doubt that any news teams have arrived, in fact I doubt this will be a big news story at all, but I can sit at my kitchen table and "watch" the whole thing.

The other thing is the reawakening of the word totalitarianism. These people were delivering petitions, fer cryin' out loud. And now the military has taken their car. A guy is locked up in supersolitary confinement for the crime of embarrassing the government, and these people are delivering petitions with more than forty thousand signatures protesting the conditions of his imprisonment, and the Marines are acting like big babies about it.

There is a need for security on a military installation, and it is a kind of duty for us as citizens not to question that -- they live in their own separate world and our national defense depends on their discipline and order. The guys at the gate are getting their orders from somebody with stripes on their sleeve, who are getting their orders from somebody in the Pentagon, who are getting their orders ultimately from the Commander in Chief. Somebody somewhere in the chain of command has determined that there is danger in allowing the delivery of petitions, and everybody below that level is doing what they're told to do.

Also, we all understand that Bradley Manning is going to get in trouble for leaking classified material. You or I would get fired for giving away company secrets, higher-ups would not be happy about it, since this is the military it is altogether reasonable that he would be charged with violating a regulation and taken to trial. There are probably some legal angles to this, having to do with freedom of speech for instance, but basically you know you're going to get in trouble if you do certain things, whether there's a law against it or not. Then you weigh the risks and decide whether to go through with it.

But look at it this way. Manning leaked, for instance, this video showing Americans murdering more than a dozen innocent people. As far as I know, none of the murderers have been charged with anything. Manning apparently downloaded some information and handed it over to WikiLeaks. No one was killed or even endangered, but some government officials were embarrassed. Yet not only is Manning being held under desperate conditions, the military is impounding Hamsher's car and harassing the two of them because they tried to deliver some petitions.

Murdering innocent civilians: okay. Revealing that fact: a crime.

Now, as I write this and refresh my screen, House tweets "MPs looking for a reason to arrest us; brass arrives. The US government is like any animal: scare it and it will try to tear your face off." Hamsher has her lawyer on the phone and is advised that either they have permission to be on the base or they don't, either security should allow them to pass or turn them away. It doesn't make any sense to take her automobile. Oh, and now the tow truck driver wants to be paid for the time he spent waiting. There's three hundred bucks down the toilet.

The most interesting thing will be seeing how the media handle this. They should support Hamsher and House -- remember, Manning's crime is that he is a source for a journalist, he is no different from the people who give Bob Woodward classified information for his best-selling books.

It appears now that the Marines have given permission for Hamsher and House to leave the base. FireDog Lake is following the story. It appears that part of the reason for this was to prevent Manning from receiving a visitor. House missed the opportunity to see his friend, and the next visiting hour is next week. Well, the story has only just happened, there will be explanations and details, I'm sure.

It will be interesting to see how the government explains its extraordinary behavior in this case.

[ Update: Statement of Events: Bradley Manning’s Primary Visitor Detained at Quantico ]

Friday, January 21, 2011

Olbermann Leaves MSNBC

This screenshot from Pam's House Blend:

Keith's statement:

There are strange things happenin' every day. It will definitely be interesting to learn the story here.


You've probably heard that Starbucks is introducing a new size of drink.

I just happened to come across this graphic on the Internet somewhere. It might not be scientifically accurate to the millimeter, but you can get an idea here about what people are putting into their stomachs.

Oh, by the way, that word "pop" in the phrase "average pop can" refers to a category of carbonated beverage that people drink in the West, for instance where I'm from. Very similar to "soda" that people drink out here in the East, but pop tastes better. And is better for you.

The Post: Obama Needs to Push For Marriage Equality

The Washington Post this morning published a persuasive editorial by Kerry Eleveld encouraging the President to consider marriage equality. Eleveld interviewed President Obama as he was preparing to sign the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal into law.
Given that openly gay men and women would soon be fighting and, in some cases, dying for their country, I wondered whether the president thought it was time that those women and men be entitled to full marriage rights.

"Like a lot of people, I'm wrestling with this. My attitudes are evolving on this," Obama responded. "What I know is that, at minimum, a baseline is that there has to be a strong, robust civil union available to all gay and lesbian couples."

His current position on gay marriage - that this is an issue he struggles with as he watches his gay and lesbian friends marry and create loving households - goes beyond his 2008 campaign stance, which was simply to support civil unions. (Earlier in his political career, as a candidate for the Illinois state Senate, Obama supported full marriage rights for same-sex couples.)

But the president is facing new terrain now that some gays in the military will undoubtedly be lawfully wedded to their partners. For example, will the families of those service members have access to the same benefits and support networks that their heterosexual counterparts have? Will their spouses be the first informed if they pay the ultimate sacrifice in the course of defending their country?

There is a serious flaw in the president's position of viewing civil unions as a path to giving same-sex couples equal relationship recognition: The federal government does not recognize civil unions for the purposes of spousal benefits. In fact, no legislation to formalize civil unions exists at the federal level.

That means that advocates of civil unions, Obama included, are suggesting for lesbian and gay couples a status for which the federal government has no definition and no frame of reference within its codes, and one that provides no path to legal recognition.

Meanwhile, his administration continues to defend a law that expressly prohibits the federal government from honoring same-sex marriages, which are legal in five states and the District of Columbia. Next up for Obama: Marriage equality for gay Americans

This is an important point to consider, even as Maryland considers a new civil union bill. Marriage is recognized everywhere, including by the federal government, but civil unions are undefined. Why not just call them "marriages" and be done with it?

It sounds easier than re-writing all legislation that mentioned marriage, to include this new class of... marriage arrangement.

Eleveld explains that the President has said that the country needs to discuss the issue of marriage equality.
I hope that the president is serious about leading that discussion, much the way he did with his landmark Philadelphia speech on race in 2008.

That, too, was considered troubled territory that many of his advisers warned against broaching - yet it became a moment that helped define Obama's character.

With equality legislation stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, one of the most significant advances Obama can make between now and his 2012 reelection campaign is to evolve fully on marriage equality.

The repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" was a turning point in the marriage discussion. It poses a major challenge and an opportunity for the president.

While he, like many Americans, grapples with the fact that civil unions provide no remedy for gay taxpayers with regard to federal spousal benefits, he has enlisted the most powerful lobby in the nation to work on behalf of gay rights - the U.S. military.

Once repeal is implemented, the military will begin to move toward eradicating the inequalities endured by gay service members.

Indeed, 67 percent of service members told the Pentagon's study group that lifting the ban would have a positive effect or no effect at all on readiness - surely those service members will care that their comrades in arms get equal treatment. I would bet they will insist on it.

I think that when the President says his opinion is "evolving" he really means that he knows he's wrong but he's waiting for the right opinion to become more popular with voters. It's time for him to take the lead on this issue.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MLK Quote of the Day

Martin Luther King Jr. in his "Beyond Vietnam" speech delivered on April 4, 1967.
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

And Yes, It's Called "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act"

I'll be curious to see if our conservative readers disagree with this nugget, from Krugman:
The key to understanding the G.O.P. analysis of health reform is that the party’s leaders are not, in fact, opposed to reform because they believe it will increase the deficit. Nor are they opposed because they seriously believe that it will be “job-killing” (which it won’t be). They’re against reform because it would cover the uninsured — and that’s something they just don’t want to do. The War on Logic

Read the rest, it's good.

20 Mass Shootings a Year

I went to China a few years ago, and as we drove from the airport to the hotel we passed through a seedy-looking neighborhood. People were standing on street corners, the buildings were dirty, and I asked my translator if it was safe to go there. "It's safe," he said. "There are no guns here. You want to watch for pickpockets, but guns are against the law."

Many of us grew up in a world that believed that "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns," and it had never occurred to me that you could really have a situation where the outlaws did not in fact have guns, because they were outlawed. It is a constant force in American life, we know that at any moment somebody can pull out a gun. Cut somebody off in traffic and they might shoot you, bump into someone accidentally on the street and it might cost you your life. You don't worry that they will punch you or tackle you or even stab you though that might happen, too, you worry that they will shoot you.

USA Today had a piece recently that looked into the situation a bit. The story contained this interesting paragraph:
Notwithstanding changes over the years in regulations pertaining to background checks for gun purchasers, the temporary requirement for waiting periods, the passage and subsequence expiration of the assault weapons ban, and the spread of concealed carry laws, the number of mass shootings in the United States — averaging 20 per year — has remained relatively stable over decades. Mass shootings are a fact of American life

Arizona has some of the most liberal gun laws in the country. It's easier to understand if you live there. The desert is a wide open place, there are millions of acres of land where you can fire a gun and nobody will be hurt. There's lots of hunting, and yes it is the land of cowboys and Western justice, when you live on a ranch miles from your nearest neighbor you are responsible for your own protection. The people in the cities, Phoenix and Tucson, don't have quite that justification, but the attitude is pervasive from Tucson to Tucumcari and throughout the Southwest.

I have sat with earnest European professors who have asked me, seriously, why do Americans shoot each other so much? And I have tried to explain to them about the Second Amendment and the fact that no matter what you think makes sense, Americans are not going to give up their right to bear arms. They cannot understand it, it is a uniquely American tradition that makes no sense unless you accept the perhaps paranoiac vision of tyrannical government coming into your neighborhood to attack your home and family. And that vision disintegrates under scrutiny -- why would the government come into your neighborhood? It goes back to the day when colonists were forced to house British soldiers, but, really, that's not going to happen now. We love our guns because we love our guns, it has become circular and there is no way for the Ouroboros to swallow its own tail and no way to make it spit it out.
Although gun proponents are correct when they contend that firearms are not to blame for the behavior of mass killers, guns do make their attacks far bloodier. The availability of high-powered, rapid-fire weapons is surely a large part of the reason why the death tolls in mass murders have been so large in the recent past. Three-quarters of the deadliest mass murders in the United States have occurred since 1980, most of which involved firearms as the exclusive or primary weapon.

You might not have caught this little aside by Rachel Maddow on her January 11th show:
Laws about guns are one of the few things in the world that is ungoogleable. And all the things that all of us who work on the show research all day long, every day, in all of the days that we work on this show, there is a tiny handful of topics you can't do your research about on google. All the other ones are about something related to sex, or something that might seem like it might be related to sex when you type it into the google search engine.

But laws about guns, that is the one thing that has nothing to do about sex that you can't get any useful information about by googling, because the gun lobby so completely dominates the debate. You have to do your own independent research about this in the library and books. You will not find trustworthy, unbiased information about this online, I'm telling you.

But in 2004 when the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire, one of the things that expired with it was a ban on high-capacity magazines for handguns. It is a dog bites man story. It is behind a political cliche to note how powerful the gun lobby is in america. How much they dominate what's even allowed to be debated about guns. Transcript

So powerful they can tell Google to hide the information about how dangerous guns are.

The country needs to have an honest debate about gun safety. You will never take away the people's right to own guns for self-protection and for hunting, but every thinking person understands that the world is not safer when a random self-selected subset of the population is carrying firearms.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Self-Referential Recursive Irony Backfires

Sometimes you gotta put something on the blog just because:
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- An Indianapolis-based candy distributor has recalled all Toxic Waste brand Nuclear Sludge Chew Bar candies after California health officials said they found unacceptable levels of lead from the Pakistan-imported candies. Candy Co. Recalls Toxic Waste Bar

Who would have guessed that the Toxic Waste Nuclear Sludge Chew Bar would turn out to be bad for you?

Brock: Glenn Beck Responsible for Three Assassination Attempts

Media Matters President and CEO David Brock explains how Glenn Beck has previously provoked assassination attempts, on Hardball with Chris Matthews
BROCK: But this is not street theater, as you know. I mean, Glenn Beck himself has been responsible for three thwarted assassination attempts this year, and Sarah Palin hasn't condemned that.

MATTHEWS: How is he responsible for them?

BROCK: Well, you want to know what they are?

MATTHEWS: You said it.

BROCK: Yeah, sure. So, he burned Nancy Pelosi in effigy on his set. He tried to poison her with a chalice, OK? Some weeks later, somebody tried to firebomb Nancy Pelosi's house. That guy's mother went on television and said he gets all of his ideas from Fox News. Do you know about Senator Patty Murray and the death threat that she got?

MATTHEWS: No, go ahead.

BROCK: OK. It's recorded -- the guy says after the health care vote. He says you have a target on your back and I can accomplish what I want to accomplish with one bullet. Now he's tried, convicted, and in the sentencing phase, his cousin writes in for leniency, and she describes in a very chilling memo -- it's on our website -- that he was slowly drawn into Glenn Beck's world. And she portrays the guy, the attempted assassin, Charlie Wilson, as a victim of Beck.

And number three, which you probably do know about, this liberal foundation in San Francisco was targeted by a gunman, Byron Williams, in June. The shooter gave jailhouse interviews, and we published them, and he says Glenn Beck is this schoolteacher on television and points to specific episodes of the Glenn Beck show that inspired him do it. Brock: Beck "Has Been Responsible For Three Thwarted Assassination Attempts"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Arizona Republicans Resign -- Don't Want to Get Shot By Teabaggers

I was born in Phoenix, back when it was a little cowtown. I grew up there and then lived in Tucson for ten years. So even though I am disappointed by some things that have been happening in my home state for the past few years, I do feel I have a certain understanding of the people there.

It is sad to see news stories like this.
A nasty battle between factions of Legislative District 20 Republicans and fears that it could turn violent in the wake of what happened in Tucson on Saturday prompted District Chairman Anthony Miller and several others to resign.

Miller, a 43-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident and former campaign worker for U.S. Sen. John McCain, was re-elected to a second one-year term last month. He said constant verbal attacks after that election and Internet blog posts by some local members with Tea Party ties made him worry about his family's safety.

In an e-mail sent a few hours after Saturday's massacre in Tucson that killed six and injured 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Miller told state Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen he was quitting: "Today my wife of 20 yrs ask (sic) me do I think that my PCs (Precinct Committee members) will shoot at our home? So with this being said I am stepping down from LD20GOP Chairman...I will make a full statement on Monday."


The newly-elected Dist. 20 Republican secretary, Sophia Johnson of Ahwatukee, first vice chairman Roger Dickinson of Tempe and Jeff Kolb, the former district spokesman from Ahwatukee, also quit. "This singular focus on 'getting' Anthony (Miller) was one of the main reasons I chose to resign," Kolb said in an e-mail to another party activist. Kolb confirmed the contents of the e-mail to the Republic.


Kolb said the Tea Party and associated conservative groups ran their slate of candidates for seven Dist. 20 leadership positions, winning three -- the treasurer's post and two vice-chairmanships. However, Miller beat challenger Thomas Morrissey for the top post after Sheriff Joe Arpaio made a personal appearance for Morrissey. Phone messages left for Morrissey were not returned.

After the election and around the December holiday season, some of Miller's detractors made an issue of the residency of Dickinson, the first vice-chairman. Dickinson, who did not return phone messages, was a supporter of Miller's and allegedly moved to a different precinct within Dist. 20 last year, making him ineligible for the leadership post. Miller said he told the critics he would handle the matter after the holidays. In the meantime, a series of accusatory e-mails was exchanged among party members. Some blasted Miller's support of McCain, called him a "McCainiac with a penchant for violating the rules" and a "McCain hack."

Members of the Ahwatukee Tea Party group did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.

Miller said when he was a member of McCain's campaign staff last year has been criticized by the more conservative party members who supported Republican opponent J.D. Hayworth. The first and only African-American to hold the party's precinct chairmanship, Miller said he has been called "McCain's boy," and during the campaign saw a critic form his hand in the shape of a gun and point it at him.

"I wasn't going to resign but decided to quit after what happened Saturday," Miller said. "I love the Republican Party but I don't want to take a bullet for anyone." Gabrielle Giffords' Arizona shooting prompts resignations

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Peter Sprigg Advises: Don't Be Too Extreme

Peter Sprigg, senior fellow at the Family Research Council hate group and advisor to Montgomery County Maryland Public Schools, had these words to say on the Christian Broadcasting Network about the suggestion that rightwing rhetoric has anything to do with the mass murder in Arizona.
I think it's absurd really to say that any political rhetoric contributed to this particular event. Now certainly, it's always a good time for us to reflect on our rhetoric, that we not be too extreme, and that our discourse be civil when we discuss public policy issues. But on the other hand, I don't think something like this should be used to prevent a vigorous debate of the issues, and people when they're discussing issues are always going to use symbolic language, metaphors, and so forth and if we stripped all of those away from our language then it would be very difficult to even conduct debate. I think it is unfortunate however that liberals are saying that the rhetoric is worse on the conservative side, I don't agree with that, I think that there's extreme rhetoric on both sides.

As if anyone opposes symbolic language and metaphors. No, Peter, I think the issue is when people suggest killing people who disagree with them.

Asked a question about how Christians are supposed to express themselves, Sprigg says:
... Sometimes people will accuse of us hate because we speak the truth. But the most loving thing we can do is to speak the truth, we do need to be aware of our rhetoric and so forth, but not to demean people as individuals, but to disapprove of a behavior such as abortion or homosexual conduct is not the same as demeaning people as individuals and it's certainly not encouraging violence against them.

I am assuming that our readers know who Peter Sprigg is and understand the hypocrisy of what he is saying here.

BTW, someone linked to a very good discussion of this topic in our comments. Read this: Giving Rational Cover to Irrational Acts. Well put.

This Gets Scarier the More You Think About It

OK, tell me what kind of person thinks this is a good idea. From the Columbia (SC) Free Times:
A South Carolina gun and accessories company is selling semi-automatic rifle components inscribed with “You lie” – a tribute to the infamous words of 2nd District Republican Congressman Joe Wilson when he shouted at President Barack Obama during a congressional speech about national health care reform in the fall of 2009.

“Palmetto State Armory would like to honor our esteemed congressman Joe Wilson with the release of our new ‘You Lie’ AR-15 lower receiver,” reads a portion of the company’s website.

The product “is neither endorsed nor affiliated with Joe Wilson or his campaign,” according to a line of text at the bottom of the page. A picture of Wilson holding a rifle and standing in the company's gun shop appears on the same page. The company offers the components, marked “MULTI to accommodate most builds,” for $99.95 apiece.

“Only 999 of these will be produced, get yours before they are gone!” the website reads. S.C. Company Sells Engraved “You Lie” Component For AR-15 Rifle

And now you are going to select a low point in American leadership and celebrate it by inscribing the guy's outburst on semi-automatic gun parts.

I guess the arms manufacturers know their market.

Monday, January 10, 2011

NYT -- Good Editorial on the Violent Political Atmosphere

The New York Times had a good editorial this morning about the environment within which the recent mass murder in Tucson took place..
She read the First Amendment on the House floor — including the guarantee of “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” — and then flew home to Arizona to put those words into practice. But when Gabrielle Giffords tried to meet with her constituents in a Tucson parking lot on Saturday, she came face to face with an environment wholly at odds with that constitutional ideal, and she nearly paid for it with her life.

Jared Loughner, the man accused of shooting Ms. Giffords, killing a federal judge and five other people, and wounding 13 others, appears to be mentally ill. His paranoid Internet ravings about government mind control place him well beyond usual ideological categories. Bloodshed and Invective in Arizona

There does not seem to be any serious ground for saying that the Tucson murderer was a Republican or a follower of any particular candidate or political ideology. He seems to have been a mentally disturbed person with delusions about the government controlling citizens' minds through somehow controlling grammar.
But he is very much a part of a widespread squall of fear, anger and intolerance that has produced violent threats against scores of politicians and infected the political mainstream with violent imagery. With easy and legal access to semiautomatic weapons like the one used in the parking lot, those already teetering on the edge of sanity can turn a threat into a nightmare.

When you are surrounded by hateful talk, by people threatening to solve their problems by killing other people, you are more likely to see such a solution as acceptable. You can be sure that this young man saw himself as a hero when he pulled out his gun and started killing people.
Last spring, Capitol security officials said threats against members of Congress had tripled over the previous year, almost all from opponents of health care reform. An effigy of Representative Frank Kratovil Jr., a Maryland Democrat, was hung from a gallows outside his district office. Ms. Giffords’s district office door was smashed after the health vote, possibly by a bullet.

And let's not pretend that there is equivalent violence and violent speech on both sides. You might find a liberal getting out of line, but the gun-talk, the talk of overthrowing the government, the talk of assassinating people, comes from conservatives. The Tea Party is taking a lot of the heat these days because they have defined themselves as the true patriots in a situation where socialists or Nazis or Muslims or foreigners or something have taken over the government and must be removed from office. This is not reasoned political debate, it is a kind of paranoia that does not quite reach the threshold of psychiatric diagnosis, and it is very dangerous.
The federal judge who was killed, John Roll, had received hundreds of menacing phone calls and death threats, especially after he allowed a case to proceed against a rancher accused of assaulting 16 Mexicans as they tried to cross his land. This rage, stirred by talk-radio hosts, required marshals to give the judge and his family 24-hour protection for a month. Around the nation, threats to federal judges have soared for a decade.

It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats. They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people.

I expect the previous paragraph to be misconstrued. The NYT is not saying the Republicans and the Tea Party should share the blame with liberals. They are only saying, as I noted above, that Jared Lee Loughner's delusions were not fundamentally ideological or political. The political and social environment stoked by the Republicans and teabaggers, though, provided much support for a belief system that presumed that taking up arms against political leaders is an acceptable way to solve problems.
That whirlwind has touched down most forcefully in Arizona, which Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described after the shooting as the capital of “the anger, the hatred and the bigotry that goes on in this country.” Anti-immigrant sentiment in the state, firmly opposed by Ms. Giffords, has reached the point where Latino studies programs that advocate ethnic solidarity have actually been made illegal.

Its gun laws are among the most lenient, allowing even a disturbed man like Mr. Loughner to buy a pistol and carry it concealed without a special permit. That was before the Tucson rampage. Now, having seen first hand the horror of political violence, Arizona should lead the nation in quieting the voices of intolerance, demanding an end to the temptations of bloodshed, and imposing sensible controls on its instruments.

This will get interesting. The nuts were already saying that "Obama wants to take our guns away," despite all evidence to the contrary. Now let's see how long it is before they say that Loughner was a stooge for the left in a plot to create an anti-gun backlash.

You will hear calls for more civil discourse in politics but I'm afraid the cat is out of the bag. Media personalities like Sarah Palin know there is power in transforming fear into hate. They're not going to stop talking like that -- people like it too much. Even now, while she's scrubbing her web sites of evidence that she is a provocateur, you aren't hearing any apologies from her. As long as a candidate can win votes by playing to the fears of the people they're going to do it.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


Andrew Sullivan live-blogging the aftermath of the murders:
3.49 pm Various Palin sites are frantically removing various incendiary materials - which is both gratifying, but also, it seems to me, an acknowledgment of previous rhetorical excess. is in meltdown, images like these are being removed ASAP, and Palin's Facebook page simply cannot cope with the number of commenters blasting her.

Congresswoman Targeted by Palin Shot

Breaking news about a Second Amendment remedy in Tucson:
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was among as many as 12 people wounded in a shooting at a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store where she was holding a campaign event.

ABC affiliate KGUN-TV in Tucson reported that as many as 12 people had been shot, including Giffords. A law enforcement source told KGUN that the shooter was in custody.

Giffords, a Democrat, was scheduled to hold a "Congress on Your Corner" event today at a supermarket in northwest Tucson. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Shot at Grocery Store Event

Huffington Post had a piece in 2009 about the nuts getting out of control at Giffords' town hall meetings. Someone dropped a gun at one of them, read HERE.

Giffords was listed fourth on Sarah Palin's campaign poster, with crosshairs over her.

Early reports are bad. Pray for her and the other victims.

[ Update: Giffords was killed in the shooting. Congresswoman, 6 Others, Killed By Gunman ]

[ Update #2: No, she did not die. Surgeon says he is optimistic. ]

[ Update #3: Chilling: Giffords discussing the danger to herself following the Health Care vote. HERE ]

God-Hates-Fags Group to Protest AU

The Westboro Baptist Church will be protesting at American University this Friday, January 14th. From the AU Eagle Online student paper:
The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., released a statement Jan. 5 saying they will protest the “fag-infested, pervert-run” school between 4 and 4:45 p.m.

The group also plans to picket the Islamic Center and diplomat Richard Holbrooke’s memorial at the Kennedy Center earlier in the day.

“American University, like all the other universities in this country now, are teaching rebellion against God 101, 201 … you’ve got advanced degrees,” said Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member and attorney of WBC.

In a telephone interview Friday night, she said universities are not educating students properly.

“You children have been taught that God is a liar, that if you’re not fornicating your day away, you’re just a freak,” she said. “These people have taught you that it’s OK to be gay.” Westboro Baptist Church to protest at AU Jan. 14

Yeah, whatever. I see there is a counterprotest Facebook page with, so far, 1,279 people saying they will attend. Could be a circus.

Here's a picture I found online from a recent time that the Phelpses came to our region:

The one in the middle is my kid, btw. Apple, tree, etc.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Muslims Serve as Human Shields for Egyptian Christians

I expect to see this heartwarming holiday story on all the major American corporate news media... don't you?
Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside.

From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea.

Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole.

“This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”

In the days following the brutal attack on Saints Church in Alexandria, which left 21 dead on New Year’ eve, solidarity between Muslims and Copts has seen an unprecedented peak. Millions of Egyptians changed their Facebook profile pictures to the image of a cross within a crescent – the symbol of an “Egypt for All”. Around the city, banners went up calling for unity, and depicting mosques and churches, crosses and crescents, together as one. Egypt's Muslims attend Coptic Christmas mass, serving as "human shields"

Thanks to David Weintraub for pointing this out.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Civil Unions in Maryland?

The Gazette is reporting that a Republican state Senator is going to sponsor a bill allowing civil unions for same sex couples in Maryland.
ANNAPOLIS — Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman plans to sponsor legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session that would legalize civil unions for all Marylanders, regardless of sexual orientation.

His proposal, which he detailed in an interview Wednesday prior to issuing a news release, would grant same-sex couples the same rights and benefits extended to heterosexual couples.

"My initial goal was to allow civil unions for everybody and have marriage, which most people see as a religious institution, as something separate," said Kittleman (R-Dist. 9) of West Friendship, who stressed he was submitting the bill on his own and not on behalf of the GOP caucus. Kittleman to sponsor bill legalizing civil unions

There is a subtle but clear line between a "civil union" and a "marriage." A state can give same-sex couples the legal rights that heterosexual married couples have, without granting them the social legitimacy of being a real, loving, family. It'd be like a business contract that covers things like inheritance and visitation, insurance plans and employment benefits. And that's nice, long-term committed gay couples certainly deserve that as much as straight couples. But is it enough?

What if the state licensed civil unions and not marriages, and left marriage to the religious authorities?
However, in hopes of reaching consensus on the divisive issue, the bill stops short of formally legalizing gay marriage in Maryland. It retains the right of marriage for opposite-sex couples who receive certain benefits through the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Same-sex couples would not miss out on any rights or benefits in being allowed to have civil unions, even if not granted marriage equality.

"I don't want people to think it's separate but unequal," he said.

If one group is allowed to refer to themselves as married while the other group is not, that is separate but unequal.

And don't forget, the Defense of Marriage Act (read the section titled "Effects") means that there are some privileges same-sex couples cannot have, no matter what a state decrees.
Kittleman said he has received various reactions from members of the GOP caucus and at least one Democratic senator with whom he has shared the proposal. Some Republicans have reservations about embracing any legislation that would give further recognition to gay couples, and others have signaled it could be a good compromise on the contentious issue, he said.

"If government gets out of the marriage business and focuses on civil unions, then I'm hopeful that some of the controversy [surrounding gay] marriage will dissipate, and we can focus on civil unions for everybody while preserving the sanctity of marriage," he said.

And the "sanctity of marriage" being a religious concept, ideally religious organizations would decide for themselves whether to approve any particular civil union as a marriage. I'm guessing the Baptists might decide not to give their blessing to same-sex partners, the United Church of Christ might decide the opposite. And there you've got it, religious freedom for all.

Oh and by the way, "not religious" would have to be respected, too, government can't require you to belong to an organized religion. So there would have to be accommodations for secular ceremonies, too.

This might be the way for convergence on the difficult issue of marriage equality. I have never understood why the government licenses marriages. It seems to me that marriage is a religious concept, and that is why there's a big fight about it in the first place -- some congregations with a lot of members do not think same-sex couples should be considered married. They don't believe their God approves. Others worship a God who does approve of such marriages.

It makes sense to me that the state only issues licenses for civil unions, no matter whether the sexes of the couple are mixed or matched. At the same time, religious authorities can perform the wedding ritual for any kind of couple their religion approves.

The restrictions of DOMA are spelled out in the bill itself, only opposite-sex couples can receive the federal benefits of marriage. The state can't do anything about that, but the state can decline to define marriage for its residents and to allow religious freedom to perform ceremonies as each group believes.

In a "traditional" American marriage the couple already undergoes two procedures. They go to the courthouse and get the license and maybe there are some legal requirements to meet. Then they -- the traditional couple -- go to their place of worship and dress up and a religious authority blesses them and pronounces them married. The Senator does not seem to be set on the details of exactly how this would work, but from this article it appears that the proposed law would offer a license -- a "civil union" license -- to same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples, and I don't see how the government can tell a religious group that it can't host a wedding ceremony for whoever they want.
Kittleman said he also has spoken with individual members of advocacy groups involved in the issue.

Although preserving the institution of marriage is considered a bedrock Republican value, Kittleman said the inspiration for the bill comes from his father, the late Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, who fought for racial equality during the civil rights movement.

Same-sex marriage advocates have expressed optimism that momentum is building for state lawmakers to pass marriage equality this year. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has said he would sign a bill legalizing gay marriage if it reached his desk.

Are you surprised that a Republican is saying this? It follows from conservative principles that the government should not be involved in the personal lives of citizens, telling them who it does and does not approve as a marriage partner for them. Doesn't it? The proposed legislation also maximizes religious freedom, allowing groups to practice as their beliefs dictate. Every conservative would be on board this bandwagon, if they believed what they say they believe.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

It Gets Better at Blake

Most of our readers are probably familiar with the local MoCo blog, Just Up The Pike. Dan there had a great post this morning, which I will take the liberty to replicate here in its entirety.
Yesterday, representatives from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice came to Blake High School in Cloverly to premiere a video for the "It Gets Better" project, which aims to stop anti-gay bullying. Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, was on hand to introduce the video and answer questions from students as cameras from local TV stations rolled.

In the nine-minute film, Justice Department workers, many of whom were gay or lesbian, talked about their experiences being bullied in high school. The video had two messages: that gay and straight youth alike should feel proud of who they are, and that the government is committed to protecting them from being mistreated. I was told that yesterday's premiere happened at Blake because of the school's reputation for being "gay-friendly."

Before I graduated from Blake six years ago, my friends and I lovingly called it "the liberal faggy school on a hill." But my brother, who goes to Briggs Chaney Middle School, tells me his classmates say that "any boy who goes to Blake is an F-A-G." I was shocked by this comment, because it's words like this that kept me from reaching out to people who could help me when I struggled with my sexuality in high school.

Blake has a gay-straight alliance called Allies 4 Equality. Though it existed when I went there, the first time I ever attended a meeting was last October. Deena Barlev, who advises the club when she's not teaching 9th grade English, invited me to speak at A4E. I've been best friends with her son Gili since 1998, and it's accurate to say that Deena watched me grow up and eventually come out.

In a Facebook message, Deena told me about the school's commitment to its LGBTQ students:

Blake High School prides itself on being a place where LGBTQ students and their straight allies feel safe and respected. Virtually every instructional area of the building has a "Safe Space" sign posted, and our principal has made strong and repeated statements to faculty that our students' emotional as well as physical safety is a professional expectation."

Even coming from a trusted teacher like Deena or an official like Tom Perez, a phrase like "It Gets Better" might be kind of irritating to a teenager who's being tormented every day without relief. At A4E, I heard about kids who got picked on in class and teachers who didn't really care. I met one boy who got kicked out of his house for being gay. The club meets Thursdays at lunch, and for forty-five minutes these kids have a safe space in which to sort themselves out. For the rest of the week, they're out in the wild.

I still wish I'd been smart enough to come to an A4E meeting back in 2005. I'd been picked on since elementary school, and as the taunts grew from "wuss" in fourth grade to "queer" in ninth grade, I didn't want to invite any more attention to myself. I was already a brainy, mixed-race kid who preferred theatre and chorus to gym. So I tried very hard to fit in, wearing football jerseys and baggy pants, and each week I'd find a new girl to chase after. The taunting eventually stopped, but I'd spend high school working very hard to be someone I wasn't.

It was exhausting. By the time I finished senior year I was terribly confused and very depressed. Worse yet is that I knew why I was unhappy, but I couldn't admit it to myself.

But things got better, and fast. I went from a suburban high school of 1,900 students to a university with 35,000 students. I felt anonymous, but it gave me the opportunity to take stock of my life and my identity; not surprisingly, I came out two months into freshman year. After college, I was incredibly fortunate to spend a year working for the Montgomery County Council, which was a very tolerant place. I had several out coworkers, and I was able to see that gay people can lead happy, successful lives.

I live a happy, successful life, and I look forward to having a career and a family of my own one day. It's not always perfect. When Tastee Diner kicked out a lesbian couple two summers ago, I was reminded of the prejudice that remains even in as tolerant a place as Silver Spring. Occasionally, I'll still get called a faggot on the street. And, most painfully, I'm still not out to most of my family.

But yesterday, I returned Blake with my boyfriend and signed the "It Gets Better" pledge, which reads:
Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I'll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I'll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and other bullied teens by letting them know that "It Gets Better."

I also saw that my government is working to keep all of its people safe and free to be themselves. I saw that kids who are going through what I did are getting the love and support they need. And I got real, tangible proof that things are getting better indeed.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Prop-8 Question Goes Back to the State

News today from the San Francisco Chronicle:
The federal appeals court reviewing California's ban on same-sex marriage asked the state Supreme Court today to answer a legal question that may determine the outcome of the case - whether a ballot measure's sponsors can defend it in court when state officials refuse to do so. Appeals court turns to state on key Prop. 8 issue

For the time being this means that same-sex couples still cannot marry in California.

What does it mean, really? I spent a couple hours trying to figure it out and explain it and then found that a University of Southern California law professor had already done that on his blog, much better than I ever could. So I'm just going to copy and paste what he said. It is a little complicated, and it's hard to know what's going to happen next, but here's the skinny.
“Why leave me standing here? / Let me know the way.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today put the attempted appeal in the Proposition 8 case on hold so they could certify a question of California law to the Supreme Court of California (SCOCA). If that court says that the official proponents who sponsored Prop 8 do not have all-purpose authority to defend the measure in any litigation in any court, that would almost certainly spell the end of the appeal effort after the case gets back to the Ninth Circuit.

The issue, recall, is whether the Proponents are legally entitled to appeal Chief Judge Walker’s decision holding Prop 8 unconstitutional. To satisfy the “standing” doctrine that governs in federal courts, they must have a particularized, concrete, non-abstract injury resulting from the invalidation of Prop 8, not just an ideological objection to his decision or a firm conviction that he was legally mistaken. Because that is probably impossible for them to show, they are trying to argue that they should be able to take an appeal based on the injury to the voters of California acting as legislators through the initiative process.

That’s where state law comes in. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has previously doubted that initiative proponents suffer a sufficient injury to have standing when measures they sponsored are invalidated, but it has suggested (without definitively ruling) that legislatures have the requisite injury when their laws are invalidated provided state law authorizes them to defend their laws in court. The proponents want to extend that rule from legislatures to initiative proponents. So they want to argue that California law authorizes them to represent the state’s interests in defending Prop 8.

And California courts have, generally without extensive analysis, allowed ballot proponents to defend their initiatives – in state court, thus necessarily subject to the supervision of California state judges. That is not a general-purpose vesting of proponents with authority to represent all the states’ voters in any court. Rather, California courts, not bound by federal standing rules, have made individual decisions to allow proponents to defend laws in California’s own state courts.

But individual legislators have not had standing to represent the entire legislature without legal authorization to that end. When legislatures have passed resolutions allowing representatives to defend measures in court, that has sometimes been allowed to satisfy standing rules. The proponents, however, cannot point to an authorization by the voters of California to represent our collective interests in any courts including federal courts. Indeed, although some initiatives have contained clauses that have authorized their proponents to defend the measures, Prop 8’s proponents did not choose to include any such language.

Accordingly, the California Supreme Court should choose to answer the certified question about the authority California law does or does not give to the Proponents (as it is a matter of their discretion whether they choose to), and then after briefing and oral arguments, hand down a decision along the lines sketched above. Based on the earlier Prop 8 challenge before SCOCA and other past certified questions, I would think this would happen within six months at the very most. Then, the Ninth Circuit should hold that the proponents do not have standing; dismiss their attempted appeal; and lift their stay of Judge Walker’s order directing the Governor and the Attorney General of California to allow same-sex couples to marry again. If the appeal effort is resolved on these narrow, somewhat technical grounds, there would then be a decent chance that SCOTUS would not bother to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision and equal freedom to marry would be restored in California.

-DBC Prof. David B. Cruz: Prop 8 Case Returns to California Supreme Court

The state Supreme Court might take months coming up with an answer to the question of whether proponents have standing to appeal, and as I understand it they have the option not to respond at all. Proposition 8 has been found unconstitutional, now we go through the process of making it stick.