Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hang On to Your Hat

I hope our local Vigilance readers are preparing for a few days without electricity, with possible flooding, high winds, and probably some impassable roads. The derecho lasted about twenty minutes and put us out of business for a week; this thing is going to blow for a couple of days at least, so it might be a while before things are back to normal.

You are not hearing anything on the news about "climate change" or "global warming" as this storm, which is of a type and intensity that has never been seen before, tears into the Eastern seaboard. As you can see from this map -- which came from the really cool Wundermap web site -- this convergence includes a huge system descending from the Arctic and a gigantic hurricane coming up from the Caribbean. Hang on to your hats, people!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Gallaudet Wants Anti-Marriage Ads Removed

The story of the Gallaudet diversity officer who signed the petition against marriage equality is an instructive distraction. Question 6 is not about whether tolerance of diversity should be a qualification for a university's Chief Diversity Officer, and it certainly has nothing to do with infringing citizens' free speech. Question 6 is about the right of Maryland couples to marry and start a family. The Gallaudet issue is a personnel matter. It is worth talking about because it demonstrates several ways that the campaign can be drawn off track.

To summarize: Angela McCaskill, the Chief Diversity Officer at Gallaudet University, was put on leave after university officials learned she had signed a petition calling for a referendum in Maryland to overturn legislation providing equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. Naturally the anti-gay groups used her suspension as proof that the "gay agenda" is trying to take away everybody's freedom of speech. But of course, her job is to protect diversity, to support the special needs of minorities, and her petition signature revealed that she may be unqualified for that job.

The anti-gay Maryland Marriage Alliance is using her story in an ad opposing Question 6 on the Maryland ballot, and now she and Gallaudet University are asking them to stop.

Well of course it's embarrassing for a university to be used to promote prejudice and discrimination, and it is probably embarrassing for the Chief Diversity Officer to be paraded around as a poster child for bigotry. She should have thought about that before she signed the petition.

Her defense is absurd. She is trying to say now that she only signed the petition to put the question of same-sex marriage up for a vote, she was not actually saying she is against marriage equality.

The state's elected representatives had debated the issue of same-sex marriage, had fought over it, "evolved" in their personal opinions, had taken sides and switched sides, committees had fought over it and eventually it went through the process, like all new laws, and was adopted by majority votes. Then it went to the governor, who gladly signed the bill. This is how a representative democracy works. If you don't like it, vote for somebody different next time.

We don't vote on whether citizens should have rights. Angela McCaskill knows that.

Baltimore's CBS Local News has some new information.
There’s more fallout in the Gallaudet University controversy over the suspension of an administrator who signed the same-sex marriage petition.

Political reporter Pat Warren explains this time it’s over a campaign ad.

Dr. Angela McCaskill says signing the same-sex marriage petition does not mean she’s for or against same-sex marriage.

“No one has the right to decide what my signature meant,” McCaskill said at a news conference.

Gallaudet University suspended McCaskill, and this Maryland Marriage Alliance ad warns that it could happen to anyone:

“She’s not alone. When marriage has been redefined elsewhere, as Question 6 does, people who believe in traditional marriage have been punished.”

“That kind of threat is real,” said Derek McCoy, Maryland Marriage Alliance. Gay Marriage Opponents Have No Plans To Pull Ad Featuring Gallaudet Official
The story says that Gallaudet is meeting with legal counsel to see about having the ad pulled, or at least the parts that are copyrighted by them. The anti-gay group is continuing to run the ad and has no plan to remove it.
McCaskill’s attorney says his client would like the ad to stop running as well.

“She has been neutral. She has not opined one way or another. The marriage alliance folks have taken a position for her. Well, that’s the same thing Gallaudet did on the other side of the spectrum,” her attorney Wyndal Gordon said.
That would be -- thank you, Joe Biden -- malarkey.

Signing the petition calling for a referendum is taking sides. The bill was passed, it would go into law, it doesn't need the certification of a public vote any more than any other law does. You call for a referendum in order to interrupt the ordinary course of events, to block the bill before it becomes law.

It is weird how this reporter inserts their own opinion here, accepting the malarkey at face value.
If McCaskill’s case influences the same-sex marriage debate, it’s certainly an unintended consequence on her part. Whether same -ex couples get married here next year is up to the voters.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance and Marylanders for Marriage Equality have both called for Dr. McCaskill’s reinstatement.
First of all, McCaskill's intentions are made clear by her actions, not by her words. She signed the petition to challenge the law. You don't do that if you think the law is okay.

Second, the reason Marylanders for Marriage Equality want her reinstated is because this can be made to look like something it is not. The Chief Diversity Officer opposes diversity, and the university suspends her, what is the problem there? It is a problem of how it can be made to appear. This event can be twisted to frighten people into believing that they can't express their opinions about LGBT issues, that their freedom of speech will be endangered if gay and lesbian people are allowed to marry the person they love.

Marriage equality is a real issue, it isn't about appearances, there is substance to be discussed. Have gay and lesbian citizens in the state of Maryland gained enough respect from their neighbors to be accepted and allowed to live a normal life like everyone else, with a spouse and a family and the rights and consequences that go with that? Or will their loving relationships be treated as trivial, unimportant, unreal? That is a the question that will be put before the voters in a few weeks.

The assertion that anybody's freedom of speech will be taken away is malarkey.

The Chief Diversity Officer at Gallaudet signed a petition to allow Maryland voters to overthrow a law giving equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. Her support of the anti-gay cause is a direct indicator that she is not qualified to advise the university on diversity issues. Her suspension does not shed any light on the actual question of whether state voters should vote Yes for Question 6, supporting the rights of our gay and lesbian friends, relatives, and neighbors to marry and have families like everybody else.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Diversity Officer Suspended for Opposing Diversity

See what you think about this one. The Chief Diversity Officer at Gallaudet University signed a petition opposing a law giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry, and the university administration suspended her.

The Baltimore Sun:
Gallaudet University's diversity officer has been placed on leave for signing a petition to put Maryland's same-sex marriage law on the ballot, The Washington Blade has reported.

The official, Angela McCaskill, could not be immediately reached for comment.

In a statement to The Blade, Galleudet president T. Alan Hurwitz said: “It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer; however, other individuals feel differently.

“I will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps taking into consideration the duties of this position at the university," he said. "In the meantime an interim Chief Diversity Officer will be announced in the near future.”

McCaskill has worked at Gallaudet for 23 years and was the first deaf African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. from the university, according to her bio on the university's website. She is also on the Board of Trustees of the Maryland School for the Deaf, according to her bio on Gallaudet's website.

Her suspension fits neatly into a narrative that opponents of same-sex marriage are pushing: Approving gay marriage in Maryland will have unintended consequences, and opposition to it in the public square will not be tolerated. Gallaudet official suspended for signing anti-same-sex marriage petition
Nice of the Sun to raise that last question right from the start. This gesture by the university will of course be portrayed as some kind of "gays shoving it down our throats" situation, where good moral people are being forced to approve of sinful behavior or they will be punished.

Note: this is the Chief Diversity Officer of the university, taking a public stand against diversity.

I see, later in the story, the pro-marriage-equality side is adopting the other side's frame and joining them in considering this a matter of freedom of speech:
Kevin Nix, a sokesman for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, which supports same-sex marriage, said the campaign "strongly disagrees" with the university's decision and wants her to be "reinstated immediately."

"Everyone is entitled to free speech and to their own opinion about Question 6," Nix said.
(Strange amount of misspelling and weird grammar in this, don't you think?) Of course everyone is entitled to free speech without government interference, they are not guaranteed speech with no consequences at all.

Unless the whole position is a hoax, the role of the Chief Diversity Officer should be to represent minority students at the university, to find opportunities for them and help the others understand and tolerate the special circumstances of their classmates. The Office's web site says "The Office for Diversity and Inclusion will lead the university in realizing its potential to become a more welcoming, diverse, and inclusive University by empowering the community with a shared vision, understanding and acceptance of responsibility for diversity and inclusion."

Personally I don't think the administration should have put this person on leave, but they should definitely have had a serious, closed-door sit-down with her. They should reevaluate the meaning of diversity in the university environment and determine whether she is capable of supporting the needs of LGBT students and faculty. It appears the answer to that question will be negative. Terms of her leaving the university can be negotiated if administrators find that she is unable to do her job.

As for free speech, the government has not interfered with Angela McCaskill's right to express herself. She signed a petition and was not arrested, government agents did not question her.

Signing the petition did focus her bosses' attention on the question of whether she is qualified and capable of doing the job she was hired for. That has nothing to do with freedom of speech -- you wouldn't want your Chief Diversity Officer supporting the Klan, either. It is inconsistent with the ability to perform the job.

This year the Maryland legislature passed, and the governor signed, a bill extending the privileges of marriage to same-sex couples. Of course there was opposition and the issue will be presented as a referendum on the Maryland election ballot in a few weeks. Voting Yes on Question 6 supports gay and lesbian families.

The new law is not a matter of anyone forcing anyone to change in any way, it simply grants rights to couples who are so far deprived of them.

The Gallaudet Chief Diversity Officer has raised the question of her ability to perform her duties effectively and the university's administration has acted fast in taking serious steps to deal with her. Let's see how this one comes out.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Preachers Defying the Law Today

This is a strange situation, more than a thousand preachers saying they are going to break the law today.

The preachers want to promote political campaigns from the pulpit and still continue to get a tax break. And it seems that the IRS is such a mess that they might get away with it.

From the Washington Post:
As part of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” on Oct. 7, religious leaders across the country will endorse political candidates — an act that flies in the face of Internal Revenue Service rules about what tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, can and cannot do.

The IRS says tax-exempt organizations, or what they refer to as a 501(c)(3), are prohibited from participating in partisan campaigning for or against political candidates. Yet, despite what’s in the rules, the agency continues to struggle to do anything about those who defy the law.

Though the regulation has been in place since 1954, in 2009, the U.S. District Court of Minnesota ruled the IRS no longer had the appropriate staff to investigate places of worship after a reorganization changed who in the agency had the authority to launch investigations.

New procedures for conducting church audits have been pending since 2009, which has left the IRS virtually impotent in conducting any kind of new investigations. The IRS did not respond to questions seeking comment. Pastors to challenge IRS over political endorsements, and they’re likely to get away with it
It doesn't say but I guess probably about half of them will promote Democrats and half will promote Republicans, don't you figure?

The US government doesn't have to make churches tax-exempt. They do that as a kind of courtesy or show of respect for religious institutions. If you want to worship a deity you can do it freely, as long as you don't endorse a political candidate or party.

That isn't much of a restriction. Since politicians make the laws, they can change them, and if you take advantage of their generosity to campaign against them they are not especially likely to help you out.

Despite the lack of manpower, organizations such as Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal ministry that first launched “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in 2008, say they take the IRS restriction seriously — even as they disagree with it.

“Every pastor and every church has the right to decide what their pastor preaches from the pulpit and to not have that dictated to them by the IRS,” said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly the Alliance Defense Fund.

Jim Garlow, senior pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa, Calif., says the prohibition has caused religious leaders to shy away from speaking about what they see as theological truth, such as the belief that homosexuality is biblically unacceptable.
Well, there is nothing wrong with talking about homosexuality being unacceptable in a church, preachers do it all the time, it's legal and nobody cares if they talk that way.

And I agree, "Every pastor and every church has the right to decide what their pastor preaches from the pulpit and to not have that dictated to them by the IRS." All they have to do is render unto Caesar and they can say anything they want. But if they want the free money, if they want to keep a hundred percent of the dollar bills in the collection plate, they have to refrain from taking sides in a political campaign.

This arrangement seems ultimately fair to me. The churches get a special deal, but they have to keep their part of it. It should be easy, God never mentioned His preference for either party and you'd think his spokespersons on earth could follow that example.

I don't know how "Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2012" came out, but I do have a thought about it. Every church that participates in this should have their tax exempt status revoked. They can have the right to express themselves on political topics, and they can have the pleasure of paying taxes like everybody else, to help the country afford that right.

Misperceptions About PBS and the Budget

It is the least important issue in the presidential campaign, the question of Big Bird. In the recent debate, Republican candidate Mitt Romney told host Jim Lehrer "I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for [it]." In the following days, it was perhaps the most discussed single topic raised in the debate (not counting Obama's semicomatose performance). It seems crazy to stop the subsidies for educational television, but there it was, he'd do it.

The Lede, a New York Times blog, has a rather wordy and awkwardly-written story about how the international community sees this:
At least some of the confusion among viewers watching the debate from outside the United States centered on the question of how Mr. Romney expected to get votes by pledging to eliminate state support for televised educational programming, and news, which is taken for granted in much of the developed world. Romney’s Threat to Big Bird Sows Confusion Abroad, and Feeds It at Home
It is always strange to travel to foreign countries and be asked to explain certain American quirks. People in other countries cannot understand why we won't take care of our own people, why we don't regulate guns, why we waste so much, why we want to go to war so often -- in Spain I was once asked, "Is it true that after work, Americans go home and watch television?" They are curious about us. And now a candidate for President of the US wants to cut support for educational TV.

But the interesting stuff is further down in this blog, reporting on a survey conducted last year.
As Politico reported, “Most Americans think public broadcasting receives a much larger share of the federal budget than it actually does,” according to a poll conducted for CNN last year. The results of that survey, which asked respondents to estimate what share of the federal budget was spent on certain programs, found that just 27 percent of Americans knew that the money for PBS and NPR was less than 1 percent of government spending. Remarkably, 40 percent guessed that the share was between 1 and 5 percent and 30 percent said it was in excess of 5 percent — including 7 percent who said that more than half of the federal budget was spent on television and radio broadcasts.

Asked if the spending on PBS and NPR should change, 53 percent called for it to be increased or stay the same, while just 16 percent said it should be eliminated entirely.

It might seem strange for anyone who knows that the federal government spends so little on PBS to begin a discussion of necessary cuts there, but perhaps Mr. Romney has calculated that the undecided voters he is chasing might be among the three-quarters of the American population that thinks the subsidy is far larger than it is.
Mother Jones reports that "the Center for Public Broadcasting, which funds PBS, made up .00014 percent of the federal budget last year." A commenter did the math and reported that it costs each American about eighty cents a year. Slightly more than one ten-thousandth of one percent of the budget.

About one person in every fourteen believes that more than half of the federal budget is spent on radio and TV broadcasts. I can only think that people who spend a lot of their time watching television and listening to the radio must think that these media are magnified and somehow more important than things like defense, energy, transportation ...

The NYT blog explains how the system works.
A spokeswoman for PBS, Anne Bentley, told USA Today that the Congressional subsidy does not go to PBS or NPR, but to local stations around the United States that pay fees in exchange for broadcast rights to their programs, which are produced with donations and revenue from other sources. Ms. Bentley added that Congressional support accounts for up to 50 percent of the operating budgets for some local stations in rural areas. “They’re really in jeopardy of going dark if they don’t receive funding,” Ms. Bentley said.
Romney thinks it will help him to say he is going to cut fluffy things like educational television and support for the arts. As long as people are ignorant these statements may attract votes. If he can save fifty percent of the federal budget by firing Big Bird, well, hey yeah, who cares if some liberals whine about it, fire the damn bird!

Saturday, October 06, 2012

It Could Happen

Monday, October 01, 2012

Here Come the Marriage Campaigns

In about a month Maryland is going to vote for or against a bill that allows same-sex couples to marry. The legislature and governor already passed a bill into law, but certain cultural forces have organized to put it on the ballot in November.

You'd think there would be a lot of furor and argument, but so far I don't think I have seen a single bumper sticker or billboard, have not received a robocall on the subject, I haven't heard anybody talking about it on the Metro or anywhere else. Even on Facebook and Twitter, the activists I follow have been mostly concerned with other things.

I'd be pretty sure most people know where they stand on the issue of marriage equality, and doubt that there will be much in the way of people changing their minds at this point. Still, The Post is warning us that the debate is about to move to center stage.
Marylanders, who have been inundated by casino ads for the past month, are about to see a campaign blossom into full view over another high-profile ballot measure: same-sex marriage.

With barely five weeks until Election Day, groups on both sides of the debate are poised to make their cases in a blitz of television ads, mailers and other appeals that will alternately try to put a human face on the relationships of gay couples and warn of the consequences of allowing them to wed.

Until now, opponents have mounted a relatively quiet campaign, mobilizing through the state’s churches and civic organizations. That included an event last week featuring the archbishop of Baltimore and plans this Sunday for clergy in churches across the state to preach against changing the definition of marriage.

Proponents of Question 6 have been most visible raising money for the fight, gathering everywhere from the homes of local supporters to a New York rooftop bar where guests mingled with an array of celebrities, including Susan Sarandon. Last week, “American Idol” runner-up Adam Lambert spoke out for equal rights between songs at a benefit concert in the District. Maryland ad war coming over same-sex marriage vote
Question 6, the “Civil Marriage Protection Act,” will appear on the ballot in this form:
Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.
Voting Yes on Question 6 supports equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.

Skipping down in the Washington Post article...
Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, said his group is certainly aware of the historical significance of this year’s battle.

“Just about everybody in Maryland knows somebody who’s gay or lesbian,” Levin said. “They’re our neighbors, our family, our friends and our co-workers, and Question 6 is about treating them fairly and protecting religious freedom at the same time.”

Under the pending law, which would take effect Jan. 1 if voters approve, no religious group would be forced to perform same-sex weddings.

Recent public polling has shown proponents with an advantage of 10 or fewer percentage points. [Marriage opponent Derek] McCoy said he remains undaunted, given that in other states his side has generally performed better at the ballot box than in polling on same-sex marriage measures.
The Post's article outlines the gigantic organizing effort that has gone into opposing marriage equality in our state, led by "... Frank Schubert, a consultant who worked on the successful effort in California to pass Proposition 8, the ballot measure that banned same-sex marriages, and who has been on the winning side of a string of similar contests since then in other states." An anti-gay spokesman said that 1,000 churches were being organized to give sermons against same-sex marriage.
Proponents of same-sex marriage have also produced several dozen clergy members in recent weeks to counter the notion that all religious leaders oppose the right of gay couples to get married.

This month, the Rev. Al Sharpton and about a dozen black pastors from Maryland and well beyond held a news conference at the National Press Club to make known their support for Maryland’s same-sex marriage law.
You may belong to a religion that considers homosexuality a sin and does not recognize marriages between same-sex couples. Fine. If you subscribe to a religious faith you really should try to live within its code, if they don't allow something you should not do it. But please remember that there are other faiths, other belief systems, and in America we are promised certain kinds of freedoms, including the freedom to practice our religion and freedom not to be forced by government to follow the beliefs and practices of one religion or another.

It is hard sometimes to understand the other person's point of view, but our democracy depends on us realizing that even when we do not understand someone's thoughts or feelings we can respect them enough to give them the room to live as they believe they should. In return, they will grant us the same respect. That's how America works.