Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why Was the Nondiscrimination Bill Derailed?

The Maryland Politics blog at the Baltimore Sun has been following the insider stuff going on with the state's gender identity nondiscrimination bill. The bill passed easily in the House of Delegates and was sent to the Senate, where it was siderailed to a dead-end committee, making sure it will not be voted on.

Why was this one bill chosen for this treatment, and no other? One theory is that this was itself an instance of anti-transgender discrimination. The competing theory is the the Senate is getting even with the House for not passing the marriage bill.
The Senate president's decision to sideline House-backed legislation to prevent the discrimination of transgendered people has infuriated activists and some lawmakers.

On Saturday, the House of Delegates voted 86-52 in favor of the bill, shipping it to the Senate before the Monday crossover deadline. It was one of 94 bills that arrived at the Senate doors over the weekend -- and the only one to land in the Rules Committee rather than in a panel that can move legislation to the full chamber.

"It goes there to die or because it was late," said a steaming Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, who sponsored the anti-discrimination legislation. "My bill was not late." Transgender discrimination bill subject to discrimination, some say

If you've followed the story you know that the deadline was set and the House made sure to send the bill to the Senate on time.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller offered his take yesterday: "At this point in time I’d say the chances of passage of that bill are next to none." He added that his chamber "spent a lot of time" on "important social issues" only to see them die in the House, an apparent reference to the same-sex marriage legislation.

Miller did not support the right of same-sex couples to marry but, knowing a majority of senators wanted the bill passed, labored to move it along to the House of Delegates. Bill leaders in the House did not secure enough votes for passage and marooned the bill in a committee.

Yes, it was lame the way the marriage bill got undermined in the House. Delegates favored marriage equality, but some were picked off by religious groups in their districts that did not want to use the word "marriage" for same-sex unions, and the majority was split. That debate should have been resolved before the bill advanced to a vote, but unfortunately some important questions were not addressed sufficiently as it moved through committees and was debated on the floor.

On the other hand, that bill has nothing at all to do with this one.
Gay-rights group Equality Maryland and Pena-Melnyk called Miller's move on the anti-discrimination bill unfair, comparing his tactics to the bullying that transgendered people can face.

"The way this bill is being handled, with such an iron fist, it's like a big bully," Pena-Melnyk said. "It's absolutely disrespectful and gross. It's marginalizing a small group of people and telling them they don't count."

Pena-Melnyk noted she waited more than an hour yesterday to talk with Miller, a fellow Prince George's County Democrat, to no avail.

In a release this afternoon, Equality Maryland Executive Director Morgan Meneses-Sheets wrote, "Here's the irony -- a bill designed to eliminate discrimination is now be subject to discriminatory procedure."

If the bill had gone to a vote, it would have passed, just as it did in the House. The people of the state and their representatives agree that it is reasonable to prevent discrimination against people on the basis of their gender identity. Most agree the bill should have been stronger, but it was a lot better than nothing.
The Rules Committee has met at least once since the transgender anti-discrimination bill was sent there, but it has not taken up the issue. "It's all up to the president," said Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, the Baltimore County Democrat who chairs Rules.

Asked whether it was unusual to assign a timely bill to her committee, Klausmeier said she didn't know, but then later conceded it was.

Politicians! Of course it was unusual. This is not the way business is conducted at all. This is what you do when you want to kill a piece of legislation that you know is going to be enacted into law otherwise.
"I'm trying to work with the president to get it out," she said. If Rules does vote out the bill, it would move to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which could hold a hearing on it, vote and send it to the full chamber.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, who sits on Judicial Proceedings and supports the bill, offered a theory on what's happening:

"I think the president perceives the disappointment of the Senate in the House's failure to pass the marriage bill," the Montgomery County Democrat said. "There is lingering disappointment."

He added: "We shouldn't express our disappointment in the failure of one major civil rights bill by killing another one."

Oh, okay, there's the other explanation. This isn't an expression of prejudice against transgender people, it is the Senate's way of going neener-neener to the House for not passing the marriage bill that the Senate sent to them last month.

Great, just great.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Insider Politics Killing Gender Identity Civil Rights

Man, this is frustrating. The Maryland state gender identity nondiscrimination bill passed in the House of Delegates by a wide margin. The bill had been significantly gutted in order to avoid controversy, but did offer protection against discrimination in areas of employment, housing, and other important matters. The measure had wide support, both among voters and legislators, as it was passed from the House to the state Senate.

But for some odd reason, this one bill was sent to a committee that is almost certain to let it die rather than come to a vote. If it were to come to the floor for a vote, most observers believe it would pass easily. But the President of the Senate has chosen to kill it procedurally.
Less than a week after being approved in the Maryland House of Delegates by a vote of 86-52, a transgender non-discrimination bill is facing an unexpected roadblock in the State Senate.

In a development that has baffled many supporters of the bill, Senate President Thomas Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) bypassed normal procedures by sending the bill to the Senate Rules Committee, which is known as a “graveyard” for controversial legislation.

“This is not a good sign,” said transgender activist Dana Beyer, who is closely following the bill.

The Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act calls for banning discrimination against transgender Marylanders in areas of employment, housing, and credit.

Its approval in the House of Delegates by such a large margin gave advocates hope that the legislation would clear the Senate before April 11, when the Maryland Legislature adjourns for the year.

Beyer and officials with Equality Maryland, the statewide LGBT group leading the lobbying effort for the bill, have said they believe they have the votes to pass the bill if it reaches the Senate floor.

But they have long expressed concern over getting the bill out of committee. The gender identity measure has died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee for the past four years. This year, following its strong showing in the House, supporters and others familiar with the Senate were hopeful that the Judicial Proceedings Committee would approve the measure. Trans bill hits snag in Md. Senate

The vice-chair of the Senate Rules Committee is District 16 Democrat Brian Frosh. His name is familiar to Vigilance blog readers, as he has consistently over the years been instrumental in killing bills that benefit our LGBT neighbors. Assigning the bill to the Rules Committee almost guarantees that it will stall and die this year.
Miller’s decision to send the bill to the Rules Committee rather than directly to Judicial Proceedings is being viewed as an ominous sign that Miller or Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County) are seeking to kill the bill this year by preventing it from reaching the Senate floor.

Neither Miller nor a spokesperson for his office returned a call seeking comment as of late Tuesday.

Frosh denied reports by some Annapolis insiders that he asked Miller to divert the bill from his committee because he didn’t want to deal with it.

“I don’t make bill assignments, so it’s not me,” he told the Blade. “The president makes those determinations, and it’s not up to a committee chairman. When he sends me the bill, I’ve got it. But until he does, I don’t.”

Should it reach his committee, Frosh said he isn’t certain whether the bill has enough votes to clear the panel.

“I have four new members on the committee, none of whom has ever heard the issue before,” he said. “I have no idea where they are on the bill.”

I think we all recognize this kind of talk.

Oh, and here's another angle.
In yet another development likely to trouble the bill’s supporters, Frosh said his office was “inundated” on Monday by calls from transgender activists opposed to the bill because it has been stripped of a provision banning discrimination against transgender persons in the area of public accommodations.

The bill’s lead sponsor in the House of Delegates, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties), said she reluctantly removed the public accommodations provision as the only way to ensure approval of the bill this year in the House.

“They are livid that that was taken out and oppose the bill,” Frosh said of Trans Maryland members. “So there’s a division within the transgender community apparently about whether or not it’s a good idea. I have no idea how that will affect the four people who have never heard the bill, let alone the other folks on the committee.”

Most transgender activists, including officials with the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s transgender rights project, are supporting the bill with the objective of adding the public accommodations provision next year.

I doubt that Frosh's office was "inundated" with calls from transgender people opposing the law. Some might have called to ask that the public accommodations wording be replaced, but, as the Blade notes, most would rather have a weak law that can be beefed up later than no law at all.

Frosh defended himself.
Although the bill has died in Frosh’s Judicial Proceedings committee for the past four years, he told the Blade Tuesday he would vote for it if it reaches his committee. He said he’s being unfairly blamed for derailing the bill.

“I’ve gotten calls saying I’m responsible for killing it, I’m responsible for sending it to Rules,” he said. “I’ve gotten calls saying make sure the bill dies and you got to do something to make sure it passes. I wish I had as much power as people ascribe to me.”

With this kind of insider politics you can't tell what's going on when everybody keeps their cards close to their chest. Frosh is the likely culprit here, even though he says he supports the bill, because he was the culprit numerous times in the past; this instance looks like all the others, even if he gazes heavenward in a saintly pose asking, "Who, me?" A bill that would pass in a vote has been derailed to a committee that will stall it, and Frosh just happens to hold a leadership position on that committee.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Brief Personal Note

In some ways this blog is a public forum for the discussion of issues that affect us all, and in some ways it is a vehicle for personal expression, and in that light let me mention this. Last week my father was moved to hospice care and I went out to Phoenix to see him one last time. As it turned out, my sister and I were at his bedside when he passed away quietly Thursday night. It was the end of a good life, an inspiring life, and we will miss him.

Miller: Gender Identity Bill Will Die in the Senate

The latest on the Maryland state gender identity nondiscrimination bill, from the Baltimore Sun blog:
After the House of Delegates this weekend voted overwhelmingly to prohibit employer and housing discrimination for the transgendered, the bill crossed over to the Senate Monday where it landed in an unusual committee: Senate rules.

The move presents a formidable procedural hurdle for the effort with less than two weeks left of session. There would have to be a brief hearing in the Rules Committee to determine the proper policy committee assignment. Then the policy committee would need to hear the bill before it could reach the Senate floor.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said that his chamber is engaged with the budget now and is unlikely to take up the bill.

"When we are through with the budget we’ll have time to deal with other issues that might have a chance of passage," he said after the morning session. "At this point in time I’d say the chances of passage of that bill are next to none."

He said the Senate has raised the issue in previous session, only to see it fail. "There are not the votes to move it in committee," he predicted. Miller: Transgender bill unlikely to pass senate

I know it's a hard game, getting people to agree on things. Of course the Nutty Ones will scream about men in the ladies room but serious residents and officials understand that it is worthwhile to ensure fair treatment for those whose gender identity lies outside the mainstream. On the other hand, pusillanimous politicians shrink from controversy, and we have come to expect this kind of failure from them.
Miller noted that his chamber "spent a lot of time" on "important social issues" earlier in the session that died in the House of Delegates. The Senate passed a landmark bill legalizing same-sex marriage, only to see their efforts wilt when votes could not be secured for House passage.

Oh yeah, that'll show them. The House wouldn't pass the Senate bill, so now the Senate won't pass the House bill.
Proponents of the transgendered anti-discrimination bill are still pushing forward. "We are already working with allies to keep this important bill moving,"said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, the Executive Director of Equality Maryland. "

"It is challenging, but this bill would literally save lives and is worth fighting for," Meneses-Sheets.

Maybe they can pull it out, but it doesn't sound like it. It passed in the House by a large majority after the "public accommodations" wording had been pulled, crippling the bill in a cowardly concession to the shower-nuts. Then it got passed over to the Senate, and they're talking like they just couldn't be bothered.

Let's see if the activists can generate enough energy to keep the bill alive in this legislative session.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Maryland Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Bill Passes In the House

A couple of weeks ago the Maryland House of Delegates collapsed under the weight of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Yesterday they were presented with the question of whether to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity, and this time they came through, though the bill was gutted in a serious way.

Metro Weekly has this:
The Maryland House of Delegates voted 86-52 in favor of the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, House Bill 235, today, during the bill's third and final reading.

The bill now moves to the Senate's Judicial Proceeding Committee for amendments and according to the Maryland House's clerk office, will be voted upon on the Senate floor before the end of this year's legislative session on April 11. Maryland House of Delegates Votes 86-52 in Favor of Gender Identity Bill

Sexual orientation is a dimension that describes who you are attracted to, gender identity describes who you are. While it may be common to conceive of gender in terms of two discrete categories based on unambiguous physical characteristics, in reality many people do not experience their lives that way.

Some people distinctly feel that they are the "other" gender from what their biological equipment suggests, some people's biological equipment is not itself clear, and some people do not particularly identify with either gender.
During discussions leading up to the vote, which began at noon, Del. Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery) said the bill is about ending discrimination and that transgender people are "normal."

"There are not now, and never have been two simple boxes, male and female, that people fit into," Kelly said, "and that's okay."

Most people find that they do easily fit into a simple box, and that's the problem. Someone whose gender is simple might not be able to understand what it is like for someone else who differs from them. If they don't know better they may also believe that everyone's gender identity should be as simple as theirs. They may think that people who express their gender differently from them are up to something, or that there is something wrong with them. The result is prejudice and discrimination. Hence the need for a law.
Kelly's remaks followed those of Del. Joseph Minnick (D-Baltimore County), who mocked male-to-female transgender individuals he saw in the men's bathroom when the bill was in committee and said women should be "appalled" by the legislation.

Del. Michael A. McDermott (R-Wicomico and Worcester) was vocal about voting against the legislation.

"We're dealing with folks who don’t have a compass," he said, "they're not sure which direction points up."

I don't get this. He mocks male-to-female transgender individuals in the men's room and at the same time wants to make sure the law keeps them out of the ladies room. It is not hard to see that there is a problem here.

And doesn't it seem strange that this guy regards gender as a compass?

I can only guess that he is implying that gender-variant people are lacking a moral compass of some sort, and again that just seems weird. I'll assume that Mr. McDermott is one of those who feel comfortable in a discrete gender category. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is naive to assume that everyone else should feel the same as him.

Speaking of moral compasses, it is always enlightening to me when someone sends me literature from our local hate group, the Citizens for Responsible Whatever. At the moment they are calling themselves Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government. They sent out an urgent email blast last week, trying to get people to testify and lobby their delegates on this issue. Listen to what their president, Ruth Jacobs, has to say:
There are many reasons that this is a bad bill and while advocates are denying that it will affect the bathrooms, we have heard that before. The bill will affect workplace bathrooms, lockers and showers on the basis of "nondiscrimination." HB 235 would redefine Gender "as appearance expression, or behavior of an individual regardless of the individual's assigned sex at birth." This redefines gender as expression or thought.

We need your help to stop this bill!

The bill in the state House excluded wording about "public accommodations," apparently to avoid facing a repeat of the bogus bathroom attack.
Transgender activist Dana Beyer and Lisa Deane-Polyak, who serves as vice president of Equality Maryland's board of directors, where in attendance in the House chambers to monitor the vote.

"We have a plan to go ahead," Beyer said. "Obviously its died, it's been killed the last four years in JPR, so it's a consideration, however, the composition in the Senate and of the JPR has changed. Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery) is a hero to many people, and he's running with the bill, so I'm very hopeful that we will see a different result."

Deane-Polyak said she was gratified by passage of the bill, and the floor speeches in favor of the legislation, including one by Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), who admitted to being wrong on this issue in the past.

"Their speeches came through with the real authenticity and the real truth of this matter, which is that these folks are disproportionably subject to harm, this bill administratively is a step in the right direction of making all people equal under the law."

The article notes that Baltimore city and Montgomery County "provide protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity with regard to housing, employment and public accommodation."

This bill passed by a wide margin in the House, as well it should. We'll see what happens as it moves toward the Senate.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

MoCo Pregnancy Center Law Weakened

Some news:
A U.S. District Court judge has weakened a law in Montgomery County requiring some pregnancy centers to post information about the care they provide.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, Judge Deborah K. Chasanow found that the county no longer can require anti-abortion pregnancy centers to post signs implying that pregnant women should seek care elsewhere.

The judge upheld the county's right to advise women that the centers do not have licensed medical professionals on staff — at least until a trial on the matter has concluded. No date has been set for the trial. Montgomery must alter pregnancy centers law, judge rules

It should be a tip-off when you learn that the place does not have any medical professionals. I would think that someone going in for counseling would want to receive information about the options that are available for her, not just the ones that a particular religion favors.

I see this in the same light as palm reading. It's fine with me if gypsies open palm-reading shops, as long as their sign says "palm reader," and not something like "financial advice." Then, if you want your palm read you know where to go. Same thing, if you are pregnant and don't believe in abortion, then by all means, go to a place that does not even raise the subject. But we have here a problem with people claiming to give "counseling" when in fact they are proselytizing, and there is no way for a potential client to tell the difference.
The County Council — acting as the Board of Health — passed a law in February 2010 requiring centers that do not provide abortions or do not provide referrals to abortion clinics to post disclaimers visible to those seeking care.

The signs must state the center "does not have a licensed medical professional on staff," and the "Montgomery County Health Officer encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider."

The council passed the law, saying anti-abortion pregnancy centers were providing inaccurate information to women — a claim critics and the centers deny.

However, Chasanow ruled Tuesday that the county no longer can require the centers to state the health officer's recommendation.

This is as clearly as the line can be drawn. Do citizens of Montgomery County deserve to receive the benefits of medical science and research, or should they be conned into accepting advice from religious advocates disguised as experts? It would not be necessary to place signs in these places if they were not misrepresenting themselves, unfortunately these "pregnancy centers" prey on young women who are in a crisis situation and don't know what to do. The mandated signs were one way to inform a client about the nature of the product they are about to receive.

Hopefully our County Council will persist in defending this law and re-writing it to meet legal criteria if it fails to hold up in court. It is reasonable to ask a business to present itself accurately in our county, if religious outlets want to package themselves as "pregnancy centers" they have the right to do so, but a woman should know what kind of place she is going to.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Slow Blogging

I am in Phoenix to spend some minutes with my father, who has been moved to hospice care. I don't know if I will be posting to the blog or not, but will certainly be paying less attention to it than usual.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I saw two articles recently that go together. First, Newsweek has one that talks about how poorly informed Americans are, showing that we don't even know the answers to the test you have to pass to become a citizen.
They’re the sort of scores that drive high-school history teachers to drink. When NEWSWEEK recently asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test, 29 percent couldn’t name the vice president. Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar. How Dumb Are We?

The answer to the question "How dumb are we?" is, obviously: pretty dumb. But you knew that. We know we don't know anything. Never mind the rest of the world, we mostly don't even know about our own country's history.

Newsweek goes through and discusses the reasons for this. Complicated political system, etcetera. Seems like it's always been this way, Europeans know a whole lot more about the world than we do.
In March 2009, the European Journal of Communication asked citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland, and the U.S. to answer questions on international affairs. The Europeans clobbered us. Sixty-eight percent of Danes, 75 percent of Brits, and 76 percent of Finns could, for example, identify the Taliban, but only 58 percent of Americans managed to do the same—even though we’ve led the charge in Afghanistan. It was only the latest in a series of polls that have shown us lagging behind our First World peers.

You're not surprised.

Does it matter? You bet. The ignorant person's vote counts exactly the same as the knowledgeable person's. That's probably the most serious argument against democracy, the counterargument being that there is no system that can reliably tell the two apart, and whatever you set up will immediately be exploited by the power-hungry.

Here's where it matters:
The current conflict over government spending illustrates the new dangers of ignorance. Every economist knows how to deal with the debt: cost-saving reforms to big-ticket entitlement programs; cuts to our bloated defense budget; and (if growth remains slow) tax reforms designed to refill our depleted revenue coffers. But poll after poll shows that voters have no clue what the budget actually looks like. A 2010 World Public Opinion survey found that Americans want to tackle deficits by cutting foreign aid from what they believe is the current level (27 percent of the budget) to a more prudent 13 percent. The real number is under 1 percent. A Jan. 25 CNN poll, meanwhile, discovered that even though 71 percent of voters want smaller government, vast majorities oppose cuts to Medicare (81 percent), Social Security (78 percent), and Medicaid (70 percent). Instead, they prefer to slash waste—a category that, in their fantasy world, seems to include 50 percent of spending, according to a 2009 Gallup poll.

Needless to say, it’s impossible to balance the budget by listening to these people. But politicians pander to them anyway, and even encourage their misapprehensions. As a result, we’re now arguing over short-term spending cuts that would cost up to 700,000 government jobs, imperiling the shaky recovery and impairing our ability to compete globally, while doing nothing to tackle the long-term fiscal challenges that threaten … our ability to compete globally.

There you go, democracy at work.

You want to take the test? Newsweek has it HERE.

On the other hand, Slate had an article last week where a Canadian who took the citizenship test points out that you have to give a lot of wrong answers to pass it. After some introductory fluff, the author, Dafna Linzer, writes:
After years of steep filing fees and paperwork (including one letter from Homeland Security claiming that my fingerprints had "expired"), it all came down to a test. I passed, and, my fellow Americans, you could, too—if you don't mind providing answers that you know are wrong.

Take Question 36. It asks applicants to name two members of the president's Cabinet. Among the correct answers is "Vice President." The vice president is a cabinet-level officer but he's not a Cabinet member. Cabinet members are unelected heads of executive departments, such as the Defense Department, or the State Department.

The official naturalization test booklet even hints as much: "The president may appoint other government officials to the cabinet but no elected official may serve on the cabinet while in office." Note to Homeland Security: The vice president is elected.

Still, a wonderful press officer in the New York immigration office noted that the White House's own Web site lists the vice president as a member of the Cabinet. It's still wrong, I explained. I told her that my partner wrote an entire book about the vice president and won a Pulitzer Prize for the stories. I was pretty sure about this one. A parade of constitutional scholars backed me up.

My immigration lawyer accompanied me to my interview. In the security line, I told her I was bothered by Question 16: Who makes the federal laws?

Each of the three possible answers, it seemed, was incomplete. The official answers were: "Congress"; "Senate and House (of representatives)"; "(U.S. or national) legislature." I'm not a lawyer but even Canadians watched Schoolhouse Rock. Where, I wondered, was the president, whose signature is what makes a bill into a law?

My lawyer sighed, she agreed. But: "If you get asked that question, just give the official answer," she said. I didn't get that question.

I also wasn't asked Question 1: What is the supreme law of the land?

The official answer: "the Constitution." A friend and legal scholar was aghast. That answer, he said, is "no more than one-third correct." He's right.

Article VI, clause 2 in the Constitution, known as the Supremacy Clause, explicitly says that three things—the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties—together "shall be the supreme law of the land."

Question 96 asks: Why does the flag have 13 stripes? The official answer: "because there were 13 original colonies." In fact, the flag has 13 stripes for the 13 original states. The Problem With Question 36: Why are so many of the answers on the U.S. citizenship test wrong?

She gives lots more examples. It's like her lawyer says, don't try to give the right answer, just give the official one. It seems to me a lot of things are like that.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Strange Things Happening

Does it seem like there is more going on than usual these days? Somebody commented that the revolutions across the Arab world are like the Berlin Wall coming down. Suppressed people are revolting against tyrants and it puts the US in an odd position, of course, because we have supported those tyrants, even created them in some instances, but we claim to stand for freedom. Now, eight years after our in initial attack on Iraq, American weapons have been unleashed on Libya. Ghadafi was massacring his own people, putting down a popular rebellion, and I have the feeling most of us feel the intervention was justified, if it doesn't drag on forever like Iraq has. (And BTW did you read THIS interesting op-ed piece about living conditions for US military in Baghdad?)

They voted in Egypt yesterday. American newspapers didn't feel obligated to show propagandistic photos of purple fingers, it was a step forward for a country that may be moving into the modern world. The people there organized and overthrew a dictator. It might be tough for a while, they won't elect people that favor the US necessarily, but the people are taking over their country and if we live by our stated standards that will all work out for everyone, we can have new friends in the Middle East. This, it seems to me, is how it ought to work.

Japan is a mess. We don't really know what's happening with those nuclear reactors, the reports are exaggerated both ways. The Japanese government right now is saying they're getting a grip on the radiation leaks, but there is reason to be skeptical of their reports. At any rate, even without a nuclear disaster the country is a wreck, damage exceeds our ability to imagine. Tens of thousands dead, entire towns wiped out. Our sympathies are with those poor people as Americans watch the video and follow news reports obsessively.

Meanwhile, in the United States, newly elected conservatives are trying to crack down on the working class, stripping away collective bargaining rights in a number of states. They are also passing laws aimed at curbing the rights of women, especially laws that offer assistance for reproductive health and child care. Immigrants also find themselves in the crosshairs, the crackdown is comprehensive and vile. People are rebelling in many states, with huge demonstrations and recall campaigns, but it might be too little too late, they shouldn't have elected those guys in the first place.

In Washington, a government shutdown seems inevitable, as the Republican majority in the House keeps putting things into the appropriations bills that the Senate will never approve and the President will never sign. I saw a poll recently that showed that most citizens believe the Democrats will be responsible if the government shuts down. It just goes to show you.

President Obama recently implicitly claimed ownership of the torture of Bradley Manning, the whistleblower who is being tortured in a Marine brig in Quantico without a trial. Demonstrations are beginning to appear around the country, there is one today at Quantico. When a veterans group wanted to place a bouquet at the Iwo Jima Memorial to honor Manning, the Marines shut the memorial down.

It hasn't gotten as much publicity, but the Internet's security infrastructure took several fatal blows this week. A PHP vulnerability has exposed data around the world, RSA security certificates are compromised, and there was some question of accountability for why TOR, the identity-hiding platform, was so easily disabled by Iran recently. These are not sexy stories, but if you buy things online you are affected.

Our Maryland Democrats let marriage equality slip away from them. They brought it to the House of Delegates before they had a firm majority of votes, and it got picked apart when members started wondering if maybe civil unions wouldn't be enough, and certain preachers started twisting arms. I'll say it: it was a shameful display of political ineptitude. Maryland, of all places, shouldn't have a problem with this. But who's surprised?

And in our area, a bloody murder in Bethesda has everybody shaking their heads. I don't shop at Lululemon myself but I've been in the Apple store next door to it. You were surprised to learn there had been a brutal double rape and murder there, and then were more surprised to find out that a young woman had killed her co-employee and tried to fake an alibi. They sell what, yoga clothing? Oh yeah, there you go, leads directly to horrible bloody murder.

And on that note, I leave you with this beautiful video of Sleepy LaBeef doing a gospel song, first recorded by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, on Conan O'Brien's show (the sound isn't very good, you might have to turn it up a little but it's worth it):

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Man Stoned to Death in PA for Homosexuality

Ironically, the Bible provides the most common justification for anti-gay bigotry. There's not much there, a couple lines in Leviticus mainly, a couple of vague statements here and there, but a cool thing about the Bible is that you can almost always find something in it to back you up. And of course Leviticus is full of rules that Christians ignore. Like, here's a guy with a tattoo quoting an anti-gay passage from the book of Leviticus:

even though Leviticus 19:28 says "'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves." It's easy, you just pick the parts you like.

Here's another example of intelligent spirituality, a story from Pennsylvania:
A 28-year-old Upper Darby man has been charged with murder after telling police that he stoned a 70-year-old man to death when the man made homosexual advances toward him, authorities say.

John Joe Thomas, 28, of Sunshine Road in Upper Darby, spent almost every day with 70-year-old Murray Seidman at Seidman’s Lansdowne home, police say. Days before Seidman’s body was found on Jan. 12, Thomas allegedly beat Seidman to death with a sock full of rocks.

Thomas told authorities that he read in the Old Testament that homosexuals should be stoned to death. When Seidman allegedly made homosexual advances toward him over a period of time, Thomas said he received a message in his prayers that he must end Seidman’s life, according to court documents.

Police say that Thomas struck Seidman in the head about 10 times with the sock of rocks. Thomas left Seidman dead in his apartment, and then threw his bloody clothing and the bloody sock in a dumpster, according to authorities. Man, 70, Stoned to Death for Homosexuality: Police

At least our local nuts just make up lies and stuff, so far I have not heard of any instances of them actually killing somebody.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rabbi Marries Gay Men and Lesbian Women

See what you think of this idea. From the Vancouverite:
JERUSALEM – An Israeli rabbi of the modern national religious stream has matched and married 11 observant Jewish gay men to observant Jewish lesbian women and, with surprising successes, plans twith colleagues to institutionalise the experimental venture through a well-known religious matchmaking organisation.

All the matches were arranged by Rabbi Areleh Harel of the West Bank settlement, Shilo near Nablus who told Haaretz daily that he has another 30 gays and 20 lesbians seeking matches.

“They don’t deny their sexual identity, but want to establish a home, whether to become parents or for social recognition. A family isn’t just sex and love. It’s an instrumental partnership, and not just a technical one,” Harel told the paper.

Secular homosexuals see gay marriage as the solution; religious homosexuals are often unwilling to violate the halakhic (religious law) prohibition on homosexual sex, and seek other solutions. Israeli rabbi match-marries religious gay-lesbian partnerships

The good thing here is that there is no pretense that anyone has "changed," or even that there was anything wrong with anyone in the first place. They are what they are, and this approach avoids ostracizing them, it avoids weaving a web of delusion (for instance, that they are "ex-gays" and no longer homosexual), and it does not ask people to pretend to be something they are not.

Granted, there will be some dissatisfaction, but given the constraints of the culture this compromise may best meet the needs of all involved. Do you think?
Gay-lesbian marriages have long been practiced among the ultra-Orthodox, but the current initiative results from a growing acknowledgment of homosexuality, prompted in part by four organisations for religious homosexuals.

“Most of the couples agree not to have relationships with members of their own sex, but if there are ‘lapses’ once every few years, they don’t see this as a betrayal,” Harel said. “Generally, it’s between them and their Creator.”

Each couple decides how its marriage should organised. Harel deals mainly with the moral and ethical issues of the relationship. But he is worried by the fate of children of failed experimental gay-lesbian marriages.

The married couples receive close support from a team of psychologists, marriage counselors and social workers. They also consult frequently for moral and legal advice with reputed rabbinic authorities of the modern orthodox establishment like Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein of the Har Etzion Yeshiva outside Jerusalem and Rabbi Menachem Burstein, who heads the Puah Institute which specialises in halakhic solutions to fertility problems.

I will point out one important thing about this arrangement. That is, this Jewish group is not demanding that everybody else should do what they're doing. They do not insist, for instance, that evangelical Christians follow these traditions, they do not seem to be judging the secular community or trying to get them to change their expectation of marrying someone they might be sexually compatible with. While they themselves do not accept same-sex marriages, they do not seem to be insisting that no one else should allow them. A religious community has every right to establish their own norms and practices, and no right to impose those norms and practices on others.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Oh Yeah, Here's What We're Looking For in a Government

This is real, real smart.
WASHINGTON -- A spending plan being pushed by Republicans would slash funding for the agency that warned the West Coast about the devastating tsunami in Japan.

The plan, approved by the GOP-controlled House last month, would trigger an estimated $126 million in cuts for the National Weather Service, the agency that houses the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii. The center issued widespread warnings minutes after Friday's earthquake and issued guidance and updates throughout the day.

A union representing workers at the tsunami center said the proposed cuts - part of $454 million in cuts for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - could result in furloughs and rolling closures of weather service offices. If so, that could affect the center's ability to issue warnings similar to those issued Friday, said Barry Hirshorn, Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

"People could die. It could be serious," HIrshorn said.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, called the GOP cuts reckless and even dangerous.

"This disaster displays the need to keep the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center fully funded and operational," said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "I hope my Republican colleagues in the House are now aware that there was a horrific earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific."

GOP budget targets agency that warned of tsunami

I can't see anything at all wrong with this plan, can you? It's a much better idea for balancing the budget than getting another couple of percent in taxes from the one percent of Americans who hold fifty percent of country's wealth, I'm sure you agree.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

NPR Should Be Ashamed of Themselves

When I saw that NPR had instantly caved after being slimed by known hoaxers, I started to write about it but I was so mad I couldn't make a sentence. As far as I'm concerned, even if their executive had said approving things about Sharia law and disapproving things about teabaggers, NPR should have defended him. They should have circled the wagons and counterattacked. Their federal funding is being discussed in Congress and their cowardice in this situation was an admission of guilt that is guaranteed to put them in the same trash can with ACORN and Planned Parenthood.

You have to fight. If the company really thinks the guy did something wrong they should call him into a private office and deal with the situation quietly. For NPR to go to the newspapers and tell them that they were putting two executives on administrative leave, that they were ashamed of the things their people had said on camera, was pure capitulation. It was the reaction of a loser.

Now, in an incomprehensibly twisted tangle of irony, Glenn Beck's web site has analyzed the raw footage and exposed how the rightwing frauds edited the video to make it appear the NPR executive was saying things he did not say.

There is a ton of it. They cut the tape up so he appeared to be answering one question when he was actually responding to something else. He talked about other people's opinions and the editors make it look like he was saying how he felt. Tons of stuff. You only had to look at the raw footage to see what had happened. And it took Glenn Beck's people to do it.

Wonkette tells the story well enough:

Glenn Beck’s Website Reveals NPR Lunch Video Was Edited To Ruin NPR

Whenever that James O’Keefe guy puts out another heavily edited video against some liberal bogeyman, both the White House and the Washington/New York media quickly fire everyone involved — because the only rational way to deal with claims made by partisan pranksters is to simply punish anyone targeted. That’s why Shirley Sherrod was immediately fired by the White House while the Lame Stream Media nodded approvingly and only Wonkette bothered to look at the allegedly damning video closely enough to see that Breitbart’s crew had carefully edited it to make Sherrod sound like a raving racist. Likewise, the firing of NPR executive Ron Schiller and his CEO boss was cheered by the liberal media and got solemn nods from Democrats in Washington. Only Glenn Beck’s reporters at his website, The Blaze, bothered to watch the unedited footage and note that the various bombshells in the video were taken out of context (the opinions of others made to look like the opinions of Schiller, for example) and that Schiller’s pro-Republican statements were (obviously) all cut out of the video released by O’Keefe.

Here’s the unedited section with Ron Schiller discussing the opinions of a senior Republican lawmaker and a major GOP donor. While Schiller seems to agree with the characterization of the Tea Party people at the end of this anecdote, it’s obvious he is quoting Republicans uneasy with the teabaggers here:

There’s a lot more of this on The Blaze: eight sections of raw video with written commentary by a video producer from the website. She finds numerous instances of editing to make Schiller sound like he’s replying to completely different statements (a bemused reaction to something about restaurant reservations is made to look like a response to implementing sharia law worldwide), and she also finds sections where the audio has clearly been switched from another part of the video, as well as the complete removal of many instances of Schiller and his colleague praising either Republicans or the Fox News audience.

And that’s where we stand in 2011 America, folks: If you want some basic journalism of the “actually looking at the material” variety, stay away from the Lame Stream Media and stick to a vile political joke site (that’s us) or the right-wing news blog of teevee’s nuttiest news clown.

Wonkette: Glenn Beck’s Website Reveals NPR Lunch Video Was Edited To Ruin NPR

Well said.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Marriage Bill Back to Committee [Update: The Bill is Dead This Year]

I have been flipping between Anne Kaiser's Facebook updates and Maryland Politics Watch's live-blogging of the Maryland House of Delegates' debate of the marriage equality bill, and it appears to have run into a brick wall. MPW says "The bill was recommitted to the Judiciary Committee without a single nay vote."

It sounds like there were a few nuts, but mostly serious debate. A number of those who opposed same-sex marriage seemed to do so on religious grounds. Some said they would accept a civil union bill that grants the legal privileges of marriage to same-sex couples but would not agree to using the term "marriage" for those relationships.

Some delegates also testified that they felt torn between their own beliefs favoring marriage and what they thought their constituency wanted.

It was probably sent back to committee because the supporters of the bill were not sure they had the votes to pass it. It sounds like the debate was honest and heartfelt, and now the lay of the land is clear to all. Some Delegates are solidly in favor, some are on the line, and some are clearly and immovably opposed. The most important fracture seems to be between those who would approve civil unions and those who want to go all the way with marriage. Those two groups together would form a majority, at least that's how it looks peering at the House debate through the slits of a couple of Internet sites.

[Update: Delegate Anne Kaiser is saying on Facebook that "Marriage equality will NOT be the law of the land this year." She says they were a few votes shy, it sounds like it will not come up for a vote again this year. ]

[ Update 2: Salon says the bill will not come back for a vote. ]

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dana Beyer Cleared of Ethics Charges

In February, 2008, the Citizens for Responsible Government were trying to get people to sign petitions for a referendum to repeal a gender identity nondiscrimination law that had just been enacted in Montgomery County, Maryland. Standing in public places throughout the county, they told unwary citizens that the new law would allow male pedophiles and sexual predators to go into ladies' showers and restrooms legally and molest their wives and daughters. People who heard this were of course shocked, and many of them signed the petitions, though the law had nothing to do with that but merely involved the addition of the term "gender identity" to the usual list of religion, national origin, etc. that was already part of the existing nondiscrimination law.

As you can read from the record of this blog HERE, members of our group and several others traveled around the county, visiting sites where petition signatures were being gathered. We would talk with those who were considering signing the petitions, explaining what it was about and hoping they would decide not to sign. We talked with those who were gathering the signatures, who often did not understand what the real issue was. And when we thought they were standing on land where they might not have given permission,we talked to property owners and store managers, explaining what was happening, and encouraging them to ask the people to leave. It was rewarding work.

Dana Beyer was an assistant to County Council memeber Duchy Trachtenberg at the time. Dana is a transgender woman who has run for office several times, a retired physician and high-profile member of the county's progressive community. She was not part of the group that traveled around the county, but did make an appearance at the Arliss Road Giant store in Takoma Park at the time we went there. Several surly men were haunting the front walkway of the store gathering signatures, and several of us talked with passersby. Dana and I went inside the store and talked with the Giant manager, who decided not to throw the CRG representatives off the property. At some point the police came and kept the two groups separated.

Later, some members of the CRG filed a complaint with the county, stating that Dana Beyer had threatened them, acting as an official of the county. There was a countersuit, hearings, additional complaints.

Now, three years after the event, we have a judgment.

Here is the Montgomery County Ethics Commission's description of the complaint against Dana Beyer.
The Complaint alleged that Dr. Beyer and other Bill proponents interfered with MCRG’s signature-gathering activities at various Giant Food stores by, among other things, yelling and screaming at MCRG volunteers and potential petition signers that they were “bigots;” that by signing the petition they were “for discrimination;” and that the names of those who signed the petition would be “all over the internet.” In one particular incident, at the Arliss/Piney Branch Giant on February 17, 2008, Dr. Beyer allegedly told the Giant manager that she worked for Councilmember Trachtenberg and that the manager would “have problems with the County Council” if he allowed MCRG to stay and gather signatures. The Complaint also alleged that Dr. Beyer intimidated signature gatherers and/or MCRG volunteers by purposefully bumping into them and physically getting between MCRG volunteers and potential petition signers.

The Complaint alleged further that Dr. Beyer used the prestige of her office for personal gain in violation of § 19A-14(a) because, as a transgendered woman, she stood to personally gain from Bill 23-10. MCRG maintained that Dr. Beyer also violated § 19A-14(c) when she used her County position and facilities (e.g., her office computer) in her campaign to thwart MCRG’s petition drive and uphold Bill 23-10. Finally, the Complaint alleged that Dr. Beyer’s conduct at the Giant Food stores violated § 19A-14(e)’s proscription against intimidating, threatening, coercing or discriminating against any person for the purpose of interfering with that person’s freedom to engage in political activity

The Commission investigated the charges and threw out all of them but one. They did decide to hold a hearing into the events that had happened at the Arliss Giant.

There were depositions and testimony. I testified, as did most of the people from our group who had been there. The CRG submitted a written affidavit and a recorded interview by Verlon Mason, a Giant assistant manager who had been there and who referred to Beyer using the derogatory term "shim," and a written statement by CRG signature gatherer Craig Koch. At a hearing the Commission heard testimony from CRG president Ruth Jacobs, who had not been present at the scene. One of the signature gatherers, Steven Schall, testified, refering to Dana Beyer repeatedly as "he" and "him." He said that Beyer had bumped into him and yelled at him.

Montgomery County Police Sergeant Douglas Cobb testified that he'd been there and hadn't seen anything, and Giant assistant manager Aaron Williams said he had seen some loud talking back and forth but no physical contact. He did not recall Dr. Beyer identifying herself as a County employee or saying that she worked for a Councilmember. There was also testimony from a CRG member who had not been at the scene, Alberta Bertuzzi, who had recorded Verlon Mason's testimony and then lost the tape and then found it again.

Testimony was also taken from Dana Beyer, TTF member Andrea Kline, TTF president Christine Grewell, and me.

Here are the conclusions of the Commission:
The ethics law is not an unbounded general code of civil conduct for county employees. Rather, the ethics law is concerned with the way employees conduct County business; the law addresses employees’ private conduct only where the conduct intersects with their public employment. Accordingly, inherent in § 19A-14(e)’s proscription against a public employee’s intimidating, threatening, coercing or discriminating against any person for the purpose of interfering with that person’s freedom to engage in political activity is a nexus with County employment. In order for § 19A-14(e) to be violated, the employee’s conduct must be on the job, include self-identification as a public employee, or otherwise entail the prestige of office.

Assuming that Dr. Beyer did confront MCRG volunteers, Giant Food managers, and patrons, there is no credible evidence that she invoked her County position while doing so. The Commission found Mr. Schall’s testimony, as well as Verlon Mason’s audiotape and affidavit, unpersuasive. Mr. Mason’s use of the derogatory term “shim” when referring to Dr. Beyer, evidences a bias against transgendered individuals. Similarly, Mr. Schall displayed a palpable and unapologetic disdain for transgendered individuals which, in the Commission’s judgment, makes his testimony not credible.

On the other hand, the disinterested witnesses do not support the charge. Montgomery County Police Sergeant Douglas Cobb did not testify to any confrontation, let alone conduct that might violate § 19A-14(e). And while Giant manager Aaron Williams testified that there was a “confrontation,” “shouting,” and “loud talking back and forth,” he would not identify what, if any, role Dr. Beyer played in this confrontation.

It is apparent to the Commission that MCRG and Teach the Facts have very political agendas and this is reflected in their support or opposition to the Bill. There may, in fact, have been harsh words exchanged at the Arliss/Piney Branch on the day in question. But it was not proved that Dr.Beyer violated § 19A-14(e) by intimidating, threatening, coercing or discriminating against any person’s freedom to engage in political activity as a function of being on the job, self-identifying as a public employee, or entailing the prestige of office.

The complaint is dismissed.

This is not the end of the story. Three years of investigation has cleared Dana Beyer's name and now she can have her day in court.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

This is Amazing

Somebody pasted this into our comments section, and I found it amazing. From Daily Kos:
Number of teachers in Wisconsin: 59,552
Number of millionaires in Wisconsin: 89,977 (according to Phoenix Marketing International)

Yes, it's amazing, but true: Wisconsin by far has more millionaires than school teachers. Suffice to say, the two categories do not appreciably overlap.

Average Wisconsin teacher salary: $46,390 (US rank: 28th among all states)

Typical wage cut faced by a Wisconsin school teacher if Gov. Scott Walker's non- negotiable give-backs are enacted: $5,567 to 6,958 per year (based on net total compensation reduction caused by Walker's plan).

Continuing average income boost for millionaires in Wisconsin and elsewhere, thanks to the recent extension of 2001 Bush-era federal tax cuts: Approximately $100,000 per year. In Wisconsin: Millionaires v. Teachers


You see why they're mad.

I am actually at a loss for words. This is amazing.
If the State of Wisconsin increased taxes on resident millionaires to take back just one-twentieth of the extra money they've been keeping in their pockets thanks to the Bush tax cuts, that would totally wipe out the need to slash teacher salaries under Walker's scheme. Totally.

Would Wisconsin millionaires walking around with an extra $100K in their pockets every year notice the loss of five or six grand apiece? Unlikely.

Will hard-working school teachers notice the loss of five or six grand from each of their pockets, thanks to Gov. Walker? Damn right they will.

The middle class in the US is shrinking, and this is why. The rich are looking out for themselves, and the rest of us are out of luck.

I don't mind if somebody does well, in fact to tell you the truth I'd like to be a millionaire myself, I think it sounds like a pretty good deal. But I can totally understand why the people of Wisconsin decided to come out with the torches and pitchforks.
Is that fair? Is that just? Does that even make any kind of rational public policy sense?

This little exercise might be called a teachable moment, but you have not and will not hear it mentioned by Republicans, or for that matter many in the mainstream news media. Because, increasingly, the conventional wisdom is that being wealthy in America is a virtue; whereas being a teacher is a moral defect, and, moreover, that the two conditions are utterly unrelated.

I've always wondered what it would take for Americans to rebel against the system. It looked like they'll put up with anything. Apparently there is a limit. Good.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Reverse Robin Hood

Big budget cuts are necessary because of the government deficit, right? Gotta cut Planned Parenthood, public radio and television, Head Start, gotta worry about Medicare and Social Security, health care reform... Uh huh.

I have seen this chart several places, am linking to American Progress.

It's not a matter of spending less, it's not about cutting the budget. As usual it's about priorities, what you're going to spend the money on. This is a kind of reverse Robin Hood -- take from the poor and give to the rich.

People Make a Difference

Nice article in the Washington Post yesterday about how people-talking-to-people can change the world.
When he learned that Sen. James Brochin was planning to vote against Maryland's same-sex marriage bill, Tim Connor was dumbfounded.

After all, he and Brochin (D-Baltimore County) knew each other pretty well: For several summers, they had volunteered side by side in the concession stand at the neighborhood pool, where both have daughters on the swim team.

So last month, Connor, who adopted his 11-year-old daughter with his same-sex partner of 20 years, called his senator on his cellphone.

"I said, 'Jim, what are you doing here?' " Connor recalled. " 'Look at it through the kids' eyes. They don't have any issue with this.' "

Brochin didn't tip his hand at the time, but a couple of weeks later, he joined a majority of senators voting for the bill. That 25 to 21 vote shifted action on the legislation to the House, where a committee approved the bill Friday, setting up what promises to be a dramatic debate in the full chamber this week. Personal appeals on Md. gay marriage bill making a difference, lawmakers say

Anti-marriage arguments largely depend on some philosophical concept of marriage and a narrowed view of the "purpose" of marriage. In fact, marriage takes on an incredible number of forms around the world and through human history, it is an economic institution, a cultural institution, a system for preserving sometimes elaborate patterns of kinship, a tradition that often allows for the welding of alliances between families and social subgroups, in Western society marriage is an expression of a lifetime commitment of love, and marriage often functions as an institution that supports procreation and the upbringing of offspring. Given the multidimensional nature of marriage, it is overly simplistic to declare that this or that marriage does not meet the official dictionary definition. But that's really the only thing that the anti-marriage proponents have, the argument that marriage between two people of the same sex somehow violates an abstract conception of what marriage "should be."

In reality, each couple represents a unique flowing together of the forces of life, fate brings people together in ways that transcend logic and the feelings that people have for one another are unpredictable and surprising. What kind of rule determines if two people will fall in love? So they're both men, or both women, is their love any less real? And why shouldn't they act on their love, make a commitment, form a family, spend their lives together fighting over the remote control, and take care of each other into their old age?

This article makes a great point. Legislators might debate fine points of the philosophy of political systems and social implications of policy decisions, but when you get down to it, the people you talk to influence you the most.
As legislators have weighed the highest-profile issue in Annapolis this year - in some cases trying to reconcile their desire to extend rights with their religious beliefs - they've heard plenty from lobbyists and advocacy groups on both sides.

But it's the personal appeals that are making a difference, some lawmakers say.

Del. Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George's) cited the outpouring of opposition from black churches in her county as one reason for reconsidering her support of the legislation last week. On Sunday, ministers in some African American churches preached about the legislation and asked their congregations to register their opposition with lawmakers. A prayer vigil is planned for Monday night in Annapolis.

"I know that my community does not like this bill," Alston told her colleagues before voting against the measure Friday as a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Alston's unexpected absence at a voting session earlier in the week had slowed the bill's progress.

So yes, it works both ways. Legislators listen to people from both sides of an issue.

There is a moral to the story, of course.
Some of the personal outreach on both sides has been coordinated.

As part of a lobbying campaign, Equality Maryland, the state's leading gay-rights organization, has nudged neighbors, co-workers and fellow pool members of lawmakers to make personal appeals. Connor was encouraged to call Brochin by a former executive director of the group.

Within the same span of a few days, the senator's position was also questioned by a real estate broker in his district and a Republican constituent with whom he speaks regularly.

"It all started to grow on me and have an impact," said Brochin, a divorced father who previously supported civil unions for gay couples but balked at same-sex marriage. "These are families, just like my daughter and me. It made me realize the problem with the word 'marriage' may be my own."

We have seen the email blasts from the Citizens for Responsible Whatever, as well, telling their people to make phone calls and go to Annapolis to talk to legislators. They are working this hard, it is really important to them to make sure gay and lesbian couples cannot marry.

The Maryland House of Delegates is probably going to vote on marriage equality this week, with debate expected to begin Wednesday. Some Delegates are uncertain, they may not have thought through the whole concept of real people of the same sex marrying -- and you can be sure they are hearing from the other side, they are hearing about the sinful ways of our LGBT neighbors, the moral depravity of those who have chosen the "gay lifestyle." If you have a story to tell, if you have feelings about the issue, this is the time to contact your representative in the House of Delegates, let them see your face, hear your voice. It can make a difference.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Marriage Bill Passes Judiciary Committee

Minutes ago the same-sex marriage bill that is being considered in the Maryland House of Delegates was passed by the judiciary committee, to be sent to the floor for a vote.

Let's quote Fox News this time ...
A Maryland House committee has moved forward a bill to legalize gay marriage in the state.

The panel voted 12 to 10 to approve the bill Friday.

The bill, which already has been passed by the state Senate, now goes to the full House of Delegates.

Same-sex couples in Maryland would have the same full marriage rights as heterosexuals under the bill. It includes protections for religious groups and institutions to keep them from being forced to participate in gay weddings. Maryland House Committee Passes Gay Marriage Bill

If the House passes the bill -- and that's still iffy -- the governor has said he will sign it. Then a referendum effort seems inevitable.

Delegate Lied About Support for Marriage [ Updated ]

Maryland Politics Watch called Maryland state Delegate Sam Arora "the Hunk of the Hill", "one of Capitol Hill’s most beautiful people," and "a nice guy, too." He worked for Hillary Clinton, looks like Ben Stiller, he is an easy politician to write about. Arora represents District 19, which includes Aspen Hill and Leisure World, in the state House of Delegates.

Arora ran on a progressive platform and was endorsed by Progressive Maryland and even Equality Maryland, following his positive responses to questionnaires and interviews showing strong support for LGBT issues, especially marriage equality.

But he lied.

When the subject of same-sex marriage came to the Maryland House of Delegates after passing in the Senate, activists had counted on Arora's vote, and suddenly it's not there. Jonathan Capehart tells the story well enough in the Washington Post:
Around 9:00 a.m. Thursday, Maryland House Del. Sam Arora (D-Montgomery County) -- who raised a ton of cash from the gay community and progressives based on his stance on marriage equality and who is a co-sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill now about to come up for a vote -- tweeted, "Hearing from constituents, friends. Please keep sending your thoughts ( Thinking & praying hard." And he's been catching hell on his Facebook page ever since.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Arora has said he will vote for the marriage equality bill in the judiciary committee, but has yet to commit to voting for the measure when it hits the floor, possibly next week. "This bill deserves an up-or-down vote, so I'm voting to send it to the floor," he told the Sun. That sudden reluctance to say he will vote for a bill he co-sponsored has friends mystified and former supporters fuming, at best, calling him a liar and demanding their donations back, at worst.

Even Arora's friends from Democratic Party politics and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign are mystified. Democratic strategist Karen Finney called his apparent change of heart "[v]ery disappointing" in a post on Arora's Facebook page. And Neera Tanden, policy director for Clinton's campaign and then the domestic policy adviser on the Obama-Biden campaign, is among those who wants her contribution refunded.
I am profoundly disappointed that supporting marriage equality is even a question for Sam. This isn't the Sam I knew and worked with, or supported in his campaign. I am asking him to return my contribution to his campaign.

I should point out that Arora received the endorsement of The Washington Post last October. Sam Arora's disgraceful wavering on marriage equality in Maryland

It appears he had everybody fooled.

A real trojan horse, his good looks and charm got him into the House and from there he is able to undermine the work of thousands of individuals, able to destroy the momentum built up by hundreds of Maryland couples who had hoped to be able to marry soon.

Capehart has an insight.
One clue to how he might vote was just noticed by the folks at AMERICAblog Gay. A Tweet from Arora on Jan. 25 championing his co-sponsorship of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act was deleted from his Twitter feed. Arora hasn't responded to my request to talk yet. If he does, I would ask him about that deleted Tweet. I would also want him to confirm reports by AMERICAblog Gay that he has already decided against voting for the marriage equality bill due to pressure from his church and because he doesn't want to "redefine marriage."

Wow, I didn't even know you can delete items from your Twitter feed. So he went back and revised his history ... very clever.
The outrage directed at Arora is understandable. As is the sense of betrayal. He raised money from gays and lesbians based on his support for marriage equality. He secured the endorsements of Progressive Maryland and of Equality Maryland because of it. In fact, get a load of what he wrote as an addendum to his questionnaire for Equality Maryland.
I am a former law clerk to Attorney General Doug Gansler. I publicly supported his decision to recognize out-of-state marriage licenses for same-sex couples and immediately put out a release praising his findings. For me, it's simply a matter of equal rights under the law.

Gay Marylanders want the respect, dignity and responsibility that comes with marriage. And Arora was elected to his first term in the House of Delegates, in part, because of his promise to get it done. Politicians break promises all the time. But this is different. If Arora fails to vote for the marriage equality bill he campaigned for and co-sponsored when it comes to the floor next week not only would it be disgraceful, he would be a disgrace.

Maryland conservatives might be gloating today about successfully sneaking a liar into the House of Delegates.

One campaign donor who is asking for his money back wrote an open letter which included this paragraph:
This morning, I spoke with a mutual friend who spoke yesterday to Sam about his pending vote. According to that friend, Sam told him point blank that he would be voting against marriage equality because he is born again and doesn't want to redefine marriage.

So it looks like the religious right successfully slipped a ringer into the House of Delegates. And man, people are mad! This guy's political career is toast.

[ Update: Arora has just posted a statement on his web site HERE saying that he will vote for the marriage bill. He writes: "I will vote to send the bill to the governor so that Marylanders can ultimately decide this issue at the polls." In other words, he will vote for the bill, assuming it will go to referendum. ]

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Dog Bites Man

It wouldn't be right if we didn't mention this. From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
The Rev. Grant Storms, the Christian fundamentalist known for his bullhorn protests of the Southern Decadence festival in the French Quarter, was arrested on a charge of masturbating at a Metairie park Friday afternoon.

Storms, 53, of 2304 Green Acres Road in Metairie, was taken into custody at Lafreniere Park after two women reported seeing him masturbating in the driver's seat of his van, which was parked near the carousel and playground, a Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office report said.

The first woman told deputies she was taking her children to the playground and parked next to the van at about noon. As she was walking around her own vehicle, she noticed the van windows were down and the occupant was "looking at the playground area that contained children playing, with his zipper down...," the report said. The woman noted that he was masturbating and quickly ushered her children out of her car.

She told a second woman, who walked to the van and also spotted the man masturbating, the report said. The second witness told deputies that the driver saw her and tried to conceal the zipper area of his pants with his hand. Southern Decadence protest leader booked with masturbating at Metairie park

When I first got involved in supporting comprehensive sex education, I thought it was unkind to imply that the anti-gay crazies have issues of their own. But over the years this kind of story has come up so many times, it is like a weekly installment, a new chapter every time you turn around. Why would any person be judgmental about another person's sexuality? It's like thou beholdest the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye, don't you think? Here's this guy disrupting gay people's celebrations with bullhorns and then parking next to the playground, masturbating while he watches the children playing. Yuck.

First, children are simply not appropriate sexual targets. When this preacher got busted he was alone in his car looking at some kids, no one was being harmed, the children didn't know what was going on, he may try to justify it as a victimless crime, but I think it's too close for comfort. What if one of those kids had chased a ball into the parking lot and started talking with him? Do you think he would have been able to pass up the opportunity to act on his fantasy? I don't think we should take a chance on that. People who find children sexually irresistible should recognize that they have a problem and seek help.

Second, this preacher was all too willing to judge others based on their sexuality, he has gone to great lengths to shame others without talk of forgiveness or second chances. He somehow appointed himself to persecute his gay and lesbian neighbors, whose sexuality causes no harm and leaves no victims, while -- if these reports are accurate -- he himself carried in his heart the most base desire to corrupt the innocence of children.
A self-styled "Christian patriot," Storms led a small West Bank congregation called The Reformer Church and for 10 years hosted "The Reformer Radio Show" on WSHO. Storms has railed against the Roman Catholic church, calling it "satanic" and "demonic."

He is especially known for arming followers with bullhorns, Bibles and picket signs to protest Southern Decadence, the three-day gay festival held in the French Quarter during Labor Day weekend. Storms grabbed national attention in 2003 with his failed attempts to shut down what Southern Decadence organizer Chuck Robinson called a peaceful festival that celebrates gay and alternative lifestyles.

"He's done everything through the years to disturb that and try to make it into something nasty that it's not," Robinson said. "If the Rev. Storms is caught doing that in our city, it is ludicrous and heinous that he would have the nerve to complain about any kind of sexuality."

The amplified antics of Storms and his followers prompted the New Orleans City Council to adopt ordinances banning the use of megaphones and other such devices in the French Quarter, though the law requires a certain decibel meter reading before it can be enforced.

Earl Bernhardt, co-owner of The Tropical Isles and two other Bourbon Street clubs, got a temporary restraining order against Storms during Southern Decadence 2004, then went bullhorn to bullhorn with him when that didn't work.

"He's, in my opinion, just repulsive," Bernhardt said Monday. "I'm not surprised at all that he got caught doing that. Serves him right. He'll be out of our hair down here."

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

If Delegates Vote Pro-Marriage, Expect a Referendum

Strange move, reported in The Post:
One of two legislators who went missing Tuesday morning for a committee vote on Maryland's same-sex marriage legislation said they are withholding their votes on the bill to gain "leverage" on unrelated issues they consider equally important.

Del. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore) told reporters Tuesday afternoon that she and Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D-Prince George's) are concerned about school funding for Baltimore and Prince George's County and some family law bills that have yet to move forward.

"This is still very early in the session, so I think there is time to get it all done," Carter said.

Colleagues had frantically tried to locate the two legislators for about half an hour Tuesday morning before calling off a scheduled vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Both Alston and Carter are co-sponsors of the House version of the same-sex marriage bill. Updated: Missing delegates stall Md. same-sex marriage bill

The bill extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples passed last week in the Maryland Senate and the House of Delegates had hearings last Friday -- you can listen to all the testimony HERE. Before these delegates disappeared, the House was expected to vote soon, even today. So far there are not enough committed votes to pass the bill, and in fact a couple of delegates who were in favor of it have changed their minds -- one guy said he would favor civil unions but not marriage, and some others seem to be having second thoughts. So it's not a sure thing.

On the other hand, the House of Delegates is usually more liberal than the Senate, and I'd say the odds are in favor of a pro-marriage bill passing the second house of the legislature. From there it goes to the governor, who has said he will sign it.

Normally that's it. The legislature passes a bill, the executive signs it, and it becomes law. But this subject, for some reason, has "certain people" in a major uproar. It appears that some heterosexual conservatives are afraid that something will happen to their own marriages if gay people are allowed to wed.

So you can figure that if the bill passes in the House of Delegates there will be a referendum effort. According to the Christian Post, they will need 53,650 signatures statewide to get the issue on the ballot in 2012. Can they do it? I wouldn't be surprised.

There will be a lot of money poured into this campaign. The haters will say anything to make our gay and lesbian neighbors look bad, we will hear the reverberation and elaboration of every negative stereotype -- watch the video I linked above, they even had a guy talking about how NAMBLA is trying to "infiltrate society." And this is nothing, this is just a committee hearing, just wait till they start putting advertisements on TV and trying to persuade uninformed voters to vote against letting gay and lesbian citizens marry the person they love, start a family, and participate in the goodness that the rest of us are privileged to enjoy.

It will be ugly.

Metro Weekly is looking into it.
Immediately following the Thursday, Feb. 24 passage of a bill on Maryland's Senate floor that would grant same-sex couples in the state legal marriage recognition, opponents promised to take the issue to the ballot box.

“I don't think the votes on that board accurately represent the citizens of the state of Maryland,” Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R- Cecil and Harford) said, “I think the vote on referendum in 2012 will be the vote of the people and I think this deserves to go to the people, and I'm sure it will.”

According to Donna Duncan, director of the Election Management Division for Maryland’s State Board of Elections, opponents of the marriage bill can start collecting signatures immediately after the passage of the bill in the House of Delegates, before Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signs the bill.

“I would imagine that they would begin that process soon, and they can start collecting the signatures on the petition with the final act of the General Assembly,” Duncan told Metro Weekly, adding, “It does not have to wait on the signature of the governor.”

A House version of the marriage bill is working its way through committee currently, with a vote expected this week.

The petition form, with the marriage bill’s language attached, would be submitted to the Maryland’s State Board of Elections for review by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D).

“It’s an advance determination of sufficiency, of the language and format of the petition,” Duncan says of that review process.

“The total number of signatures necessary for statewide referendum is 55,736,” Duncan says, adding that one-third of those signatures must be submitted to John P. McDonough (D), Maryland's Secretary of State, by 11:59 p.m. on May 31.

“The remaining two-thirds, must be submitted to the Secretary of State, 11:59 p.m., on June 30, in the year in which the legislation is passed,” she adds. Maryland Marriage Opponents Gearing Up for a Referendum

Oh-oh. The Christian Post says fifty three thousand, the Board of Elections says fifty five thousand. You remember when they were trying to re-legalize discrimination against transgender people in our county, they were shooting for the wrong number, I don't think they want to go through that again.

I'm sure the Christian Post is right, don't you figure?
Duncan says if the petition -- which states: “We, the undersigned voters, hereby petition to refer the bill identified below to a vote of the registered voters of Maryland for approval or rejection at the next general election” -- is successful it would be referred to the 2012 November General Election Ballot, Maryland’s next statewide election.

“Anybody could challenge the petition effort with a lawsuit," Duncan says, "which often happens.”

Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), co-author of the marriage bill, may be up for that challenge. After passage of the marriage bill on the Senate floor, he told Metro Weekly that if the marriage law does go to referendum, “then we'll run it like a campaign.”

“We will be the first state in America where same-sex marriage wins on the ballot.”

It's good to be confident, and he has a point, if any place can do it, it would be Maryland. But this is going to be a tough fight. The other side is going to push buttons, expect to see a lot of pictures of gay people doing weird stuff in funny outfits, expect to see fake statistics and studies and memorable slogans galore.

I saw an interesting discussion in Facebook this week, one of our legislators said, "With all the outrage from the opposition, I have yet to hear a legal argument against marriage equality. Anyone got one?" And in the conversation that ensued, nobody could offer a legal argument supporting the opinion that same-sex couples should not marry. You might say "that's not what marriage is for," or make some other statement about why you don't approve of same-sex marriages, but we live in a country of laws, there is a certain gravitas to the principles and policies that guide our public lives, and it does not appear that there is any legal justification for banning same-sex marriages, nothing beyond prejudice and discrimination.

One final thing.
The Maryland State Board of Elections notes that materials, including the Statewide Referendum Petition, are currently being revised.

“There’s some debate on how a signature and information of the voter must be placed on the petition,” Duncan says. “So there were several court decisions that somewhat counter each other in how the information from the voter has to appear, and we are still awaiting further instruction from the Court of Appeals on that issue.”

In the gender-identity nondiscrimination referendum campaign, the conservatives were very upset that their people had to follow the law and sign their legal names on the petitions. Lots of names were thrown out for failing to match voter records. They don't make it easy to overturn a law by election, and it should not be easy -- we elect people to represent us so that legislation can be passed efficiently by competent individuals with the knowledge to make good decisions. The system is designed to make it hard for the majority to vote to take away the rights of a minority.