Friday, November 27, 2009

The neverending debate...

An interesting article over at The Washington Post regarding how benefits for same-sex couples are expanding even as the same-sex debate rages on and the losses for our community mount.

This ties into a very brief article over at the Gay Agenda.com where I left a comment.

I also left a comment over at The Daily Beast. Naturally, the usual long-winded, vitriolic, impassioned debate ensued. Some highlights:

Challenging the arguments in favor of substituting same-sex civil "unions" for same-sex civil "marriage" as a compromise (here and here).

Turning around the claim that conservative Christians who make a habit out of judging and lecturing homosexuals aren't hateful, they're doing it out of "love".

There was lots of debunking the typical canards about homosexuals being disproportionately pedophiles. Some people love to cling to the notion that men who have sex with male children are "homosexuals". Too bad for them that intellectual honesty gets in the way. If one wants to be less technical about differentiating sexual orientations (and be consistent) then one could claim that men who have sex with male children are homosexuals but we'd have to proclaim that men who have sex with female children are heterosexuals.

One genius, who calls him/herself, "thinkitout"opined:
"Gay Rights: If gay rights are passed, what is going to prevent two guys, or two women, that are not Gay, to move in together and claim theiy are Gay, just to get the benefits of a married man and woman? Would they have to perform, to prove that they are Gay. Why not give the same rights to non Gay couples that just live together and are not married?"
Next time, try thinking it through... The obvious answer was succinctly provided by another blogger in the form of a question: "What prevents a man and a woman from getting married just for benefits?"

And I must say, one blogger pulled out an argument that I've never seen used before, and for someone that has debated this issue as much as I have, that's saying something:
"when muslims look at america and seening same sex couplesare entiled to the same benfits a man and a woman are entitled do it makes them believe rightly so that we are a heathen nation and should be destroyed as was SODOM ANd gomorrah and if GOD wont they will guite simply."
In other words, if we hope to stop terrorism by Islamist extremists we should probably do as certain Christianist extremists would have us do here and outlaw homosexuality completely and segregate homosexuals from society, or eradicate us altogether... New argument against equality for gays: we must appease terrorists.

Of course, they weren't all negative. Not at all. A good supportive post here. And this one was brief but covered a lot of the important bases.

Now there were numerous posts by a blogger who obsessively comments — almost exclusively — on threads dealing with homosexuality.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Boy takes principled stand for equality

Last week I heard about a young boy from Arkansas who had decided that he would not stand to recite the pledge of allegiance while homosexuals in this country are treated like second-class citizens. I thought it was very touching that someone would take such a principled stand, but the fact that it was by someone so young made this truly extraordinary.

The boy, Will Phillips, a ten-year-old in fifth-grade, has said during a CNN interview, “I looked at the end and it said "with liberty and justice for all." And there really isn't liberty and justice for all. There's -- gays and lesbians can't marry. There's still a lot of racism and sexism in the world, yes.” 

How right he is. Our nation was founded on principles of "liberty and justice for all". Though, as slavery, segregation, persecution of Native Americans, and the denial of equal rights for women can attest, our country has often failed to uphold this most noble of principles. And, though so much inequality has been reversed, much still exists today. In particular, government discrimination against homosexuals is probably the most glaring example of all in our time.

Young Will also said on CNN, “I've grown up with a lot of people, and good friends, that are gay.... I think they should have the rights all people should.” From the mouths of babes. It's amazing how obvious fairness and treating others as equals can be to someone who hasn't been conditioned to let prejudices warp his sense of right and wrong. A lot of adults in this country could learn some very important lessons from this young man. Perhaps if they had spent time around some of us, as this young man apparently has, he'd see us for the human beings we are and judge each of us for the content of our character.

As one might imagine, Will has been subjected to a great deal of ridicule from his peers for bothering to make a principled stand for a cause he believes in. But in response to this, he is showing a maturity and intelligence that is far beyond what so many adults in this country are capable of on their best day. (As can be evidenced by checking the asinine comments over at the right-wing "NewsBusters" blog)

Here's a glimpse of his ability to articulate himself on the bullying:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Political correctness gone wild?

While I think he put much too sharp a point on his argument, conservative talk-radio host Michael Smerconish brought up an important subject and made some good points on his morning show (article version) about political correctness gone wild in our society.

In particular, Mr. Smerconish is suggesting that it is political correctness that kept the military from acting on the suspicious activity of Major Nidal Malik Hasan, years prior to his recent alleged mass-shooting at Fort Hood. I think it's too early to jump to this conclusion, we don't know just how much Hasan's superiors knew, but I agree that it certainly appears to be the case. If so, this is a very serious problem that must be addressed.

Questions about the military's lack of action in the case of Major Hasan and the possibility that political correctness played a role is very valid, but conservative demagogues are, of course, already concluding this to be a point of fact and are using it as proof that their anti-Muslim rhetoric all these years have been correct.

Watch as my head spins now. Half-term, ex-Governor Sarah Palin went so far as to advocate fascism, yes fascism on Sean Hannity's Fox News program the other day. I say this not simply because Ms. Palin advocates "profiling", but rather the way in which she opens up the possibility of a disregard of civil rights or civil liberties if it does (or could be twisted) into saving American lives.

Specifically I'm referring to this line, "profiling, in, in the context of doing whatever we can to save innocent American lives — I'm all for it, then." It is this comment which reeks of the sort of tactics utilized by the Nazi regime and the police-state, protect-the-homeland-at-all-costs mentality that the German people embraced out of a mindless fear spurred on by fear-mongering and jingoistic propaganda.

Here is my take on what the Sarah Palin phenomena and Nationalistic, right-wing populism could lead to...

I think real Americans adhere to the sort of principals espoused by Benjamin Franklin, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." But then, Sarah Palin, with all her rhetoric about "real America", and her Palin drones, have no clue about it. Read more about the culture of fear.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A voice of reason, in an era of extremism

Author and public speaker, among other things, Frank Schaeffer is a a former right-wing conservative Christian who has become disenchanted with the conservative movement and the Republican party.

He's written several novels and even some non-fiction books, including his autobiography Crazy For God. He's also done various interviews on TV and radio, plugging his books and discussing the dangerous trends emerging in the political and religious systems in this country. I first encountered him on the Rachel Maddow program, and was blown away by how outspoken a man with his background was against the extremism on the Christian right.

He has called-out those Christianist evangelizers who have made careers (political or otherwise) out of demonizing those who don't share their so-called "values" as well as sounding the alarm against the rising paranoia and bigotry in the Republican party.

Now in his latest book, Patience With God, he's taking on certain militant atheists for their own brand of evangelizing and the bellicosity among some secular militants towards people of faith. He made some excellent points in a very good interview on GRITtv with Laura Flanders.

While I can agree with many things that Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Bill Maher have to say about the irrationality and dangers of superstitious beliefs, insulting religious people en masse really isn't improving public discourse nor secular/sectarian relations.

As I've mentioned on other blogs, given his background, his honesty and his balance, I think Frank Schaeffer (click here for his blog) is an indispensable voice of moderation who can help bridge understanding between the sectarian and the secular, as well as help tamp down the extremist rhetoric that is paralyzing our society and political system.

I'd love to see him interviewed by Charlie Rose.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Marriage for some becomes marriage for none?

Is it possible, technically speaking, that in an effort to ban domestic partnerships, same-sex unions and same-sex marriages, that a Texas constitutional amendment passed in 2005 has effectively banned all marriage, including opposite-sex marriage, in the state?

According to Barbara Ann Radnofsky, Democratic candidate for attorney general in Texas and also a lawyer, some of the language in the amendment has done just that. The story over at McClatchy.

Such effort for such triviality?

Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog has temporarily paused while he and his staff take the time to read, digest and dissect ex-governor and VP candidate Sarah Palin's new book 'Going Rogue'. This seemed, to me, a massive waste of his/their/our time.

While I think it's extremely important that journalists and analysts take great pains to actually study a subject or an event or a piece of work and then provide an objective assessment of it, and while I think it is becoming increasingly necessary that more professionals in the business take the time to do this, and while I commend Andrew Sullivan for doing so, I'm perplexed as to why he would go to so much effort for something as seemingly trivial, written by someone as lacking of substance as Sarah Palin.

I'd guess that he's wanting to read the book and pick it apart for errors, gaffes and inconsistencies, presenting a complete picture of it rather than releasing it in drips and drabs. He should have an easy enough time at this...

I left a comment over at Mediaite.com about Sarah Palin and the possible dangers that her brand of "populism" could quite possibily lead to — i.e. right-wing fascism.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Put kids first, not teachers

It is exceptionally rare that I agree with former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gringrich, but this Sunday was one of those occasions when he, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Rev. Al Sharpton were on Meet the Press.

They discussed improving education in the country by creating more accountability among school administrations, getting parents and communities more involved, ensuring that schools have the resources they need, and raising expectations both in the home and in the schools. It may not be a glamorous subject, but it is an imperative one.

Mr. Gingrinch stated that "education is the number one factor in our future prosperity" as well as the "number one factor in national security". He even went so far as to agree with Al Sharpton that education is "the number one civil right of the 21st century". He is absolutely right on these points. Unfortunately, for decades education has been largely ignored both financially and administratively. It's been a long time coming but it appears that the Obama administration is taking education much more seriously than other Administrations have in recent memory.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Best government money can buy

I got on my soapbox today over at the Daily Beast.

I was outraged over what has, sadly, become increasingly typical — our elected representatives being bought and paid for by lobbyists who represent special interest groups and corporations that most definitely do not have the nation's interests at heart.

In particular, according to the New York Times (you will need to get a free account to view the article),
"The lobbyists, employed by Genentech and by two Washington law firms, were remarkably successful in getting the statements [they drafted] printed in the Congressional Record under the names of different members of Congress.
"Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists.
...
"In recent years, Genentech’s political action committee and lobbyists for Roche and Genentech have made campaign contributions to many House members, including some who filed statements in the Congressional Record. And company employees have been among the hosts at fund-raisers for some of those lawmakers. But Evan L. Morris, head of Genentech’s Washington office, said, “There was no connection between the contributions and the statements.”

This reminded me of two scenes from 'The Aviator'. In one, aviation pioneer and associate of Howard Hughes, Jack Frye asks, "So you want me to bribe senators?" to which Mr. Hughes responds, "I don't want them bribed, Jack. I want it done legally. I want them bought."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

For Veterans Day

I wanted to thank our soldiers both at home and abroad, and both actively serving and retired for their service to our country. Many of us take for granted the sacrifices that you and your families make every day for our sake. It's something we should be far more mindful of, and not just a few days out of the year.

I also want to apologize to those who have served, those who are serving, and especially those who have been maimed or killed while fighting in Iraq, and to their families. I apologize for not trying to do more to get my elected representatives to prevent or stop the unjust and unnecessary war in Iraq.

It is your duty to protect the nation and its citizens. To fight the wars the Congress declares and to do so as the Commander-In-Chief orders you to do. And you have done that with great distinction. It is the duty of us, the civilian citizens, to ensure that our leaders in government, the ones we elect into office, are thoughtful and never careless about where they send you, why they send you, and to ensure that they give you the necessary resources to accomplish an achievable, legitimate mission. At large the American public failed you in this sacred duty. And I am one of them.

Even if waged entirely for the wrong reasons, even if the premise was based on deliberate lies by our own government, you have done your duty in carrying out Operation Iraqi Freedom. I, and I'm sure most of those even who oppose certain policies or even wars, do support you.

Here is a good site for veterans and those who are interested in what some of them have to say.

Here are releases from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Here is data on casualties regarding Operation Iraqi Freedom & Operation Enduring Freedom.   

Check here for an honor roll of our fallen soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lastly, go to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America website for some great resources for soldiers, their families, learn or become active on issues, volunteer and contribute financially to the needs of soldiers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

'Liberals' should tone it down, or expect more backlash

Keith Olbermann revealed a lot of truth about the Carrie Prejean farce on his show tonight. But I must say, Mr. Olbermann closed with a gesture at the end of the show that was downright crude and I'm wondering how much attention it will get.

He signed off the show making a reference to honesty while holding up two-fingers, mimicking the Boy Scouts oath. He then looked off camera and paused, for comedic effect, and while invoking Ms. Prejean held up three fingers mimicking the Boy Scouts, three-finger salute, alluding to the Girl Scouts. (unfortunately the video on MSNBC's website does not include the very close of the show where the incident happened. I'll post it here if that part of the video becomes available online)

This would be seemingly innocent in itself, if it were not for the fact that the segment was largely in response to the scandal involving Ms. Prejean and the (solo) sex video of her that has been circulating lately. It doesn't take an all too vivid imagination to put together the intentional 2 (then 3) finger salute gesture, the context of the situation, and Mr. Olbermann's not-so-subtle, sophomoric style to discover just exactly what was meant — female masturbation and how many fingers it would require in Ms. Prejean's case.

Now I like shows like Jon Stewart's, Bill Maher's and Stephen Colbert's not just in spite of but because of their crude and irreverent styles, and I certainly don't mind a bit of that on shows like Keith Olbermann's and Rachel Maddow's, but it can be easily overdone and undermines any credibility they might otherwise be trying to convey.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Get real on healthcare reform

In spite of all the things going on I haven’t written much about the huge healthcare dilemma in this country. I suppose in light of news reports which claim we're getting close to voting on a final health care bill in congress, that I should give my take on it all.

Getting a final vote would be good news if serious reform were included in the package, but from what I've seen — and it is difficult to get accurate, digestible information on the proposals — the final bill appears to include little actual reform improvements.

Liberals are demanding a so-called ‘public’, or government ‘option’. That, to them, is already a huge compromise as what they really want is to completely scrap private insurance and create a single-payer healthcare system paid for by tax dollars and managed by the government. I’m glad that is off the table because such a thing would not possibly work in a country as populous, expansive and corrupt as ours.

The bill is reportedly likely to include a ‘public option’ though such a system may only come into being if certain conditions trigger it. It is also likely that there will be an opt-out for states that do not want to participate.

Many are saying that an opt-out for states will keep a ‘public option’ from achieving the cost savings, etc. that it is designed to create. That may be true, but I think it’s a fair compromise to give the states an opt-out and it also follows the constitution much closer by respecting state’s rights.

Personally, I oppose the ‘public option’, in part because it is going to come with individual mandates which will force people to buy healthcare whether they can afford it or not. A boon for insurance companies who would love to have a lot more customers, it will hit middle-income folks the hardest. These are the kind of people who typically don’t have a private insurance option through their employer and, living paycheck to paycheck, cannot begin to afford insurance premiums every month. They also cannot afford the penalties the government will impose for not buying insurance.

Of course, subsidies are supposed to address this issue, and for lower-income folks this may be adequate, but the subsidies proposed will not be adequate for those folks stuck in the middle who make too much for subsidies and too little for high insurance premiums. In the end this means less money for their families and still no health insurance. Incumbents should beware this group of individuals.

I also oppose the public option because it doesn’t actually address the exorbitant costs of health care. While increased competition for insurance companies sounds great — which is why, unlike Democrats who claim to support increased competition, I agree with Republican efforts to eliminate laws preventing insurance companies from offering services out of state — the fact is, much of the high costs in health care isn’t from insurance companies it is from the medical industry (doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies) itself. Insurers having to compete with a government program will not actually do anything about this.

So much for the Democrats pet project. Now for the Republicans. They keep harping on ‘Tort reform’. I’ve been cynical of the idea since I first heard it bandied about because I know that doctors and hospitals will more often than not weigh the costs of lawsuits and bad press vs. the costs of having adequate safety procedures in place and they will choose the least expensive option. That’s common sense that even a Tea Partier should be able to understand.

A little justice, afterall

I was glad to see that the Justice of the Peace, Keith Bardwell, from Louisiana who had refused to marry an interracial couple several weeks ago has now resigned his office.

While I felt that the appropriate action was for him to be removed from his official duties by the proper Louisiana authorities, in the end what mattered most was for Mr. Bardwell to no longer have a position of governmental power.

There is no place in an egalitarian society for those who allow bigoted views to interfere with their ability to carry out their official responsibilities to the public. A Justice of the Peace, for instance, doesn’t have to agree with interracial marriage but he must offer interracial couples the same equal protection of the laws that he would for non-interracial couples.

Whether it is at the national, the state or even local level, it is critical that government officials are held accountable and removed from positions of authority when they violate the constitutional rights of the citizenry. This is fundamental to maintaining both law & order as well as egalitarianism.

Though I accept this outcome as adequate, it does make me wonder if, had Mr. Bardwell not resigned, would state and local officials have done anything to remove him? It appears as though they would have let him continue on as before, though Gov. Bobby Jindal did call on him to resign. To me, for Mr. Bardwell to continue as Justice of the Peace after having violated the rights of admittedly 4 interracial couples, would have been completely unacceptable.

I'm glad that Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay were able to get married and I'm glad that this man will no longer be denying marriage to couples on the basis of their race, but it's sad that today same-sex couples all across this country cannot legally get married (except in 4 states). And after the election in Maine the other day, none will be had anytime soon in that state.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Justice For All loses again

What a truly depressing day for everyone in this country who (actually) supports egalitarian principles. Maine voted 53 to 47% in favor of repealing same-sex marriage, which had been legalized (though not yet legally binding) by the legislature last spring. 

What an embarrassing travesty of justice that a majority of American citizens actually voted to strip their fellow American citizens, their very neighbors, of rights that had finally been recognized in the state.

It was bad enough to me when, for instance, my state of Missouri voted 71% in 2004 in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage (even though it wasn’t legal in the state anyway). It was jarring to me that even in the 21st century such a large majority of people would vote to completely marginalize and in fact actively penalize a segment of the population, all to satisfy their own personal and religious comfort levels.

The fact that clearly a great many Democrats must have voted for this to have passed by such a margin confirmed to me that for all the lip-service about being progressive and standing for equality, the Democratic party is actually completely full of shit. Like the GOP, it is made up mostly of selfish people who are only out to advance their own interests, they don’t give a damn about the suffering of others. Concepts such as social justice, equality, civil liberties, and civil rights are just catchy words meant to portray them as being caring and enlightened.

As bad as all that was — legislating discrimination into our state’s constitution — I could at least say that all they had really accomplished was to impose some overkill by denying us something that was already not recognized by law. In the case of California, and now Maine, however, intolerant mobs motivated by their personal prejudices and misguided fears managed to revoke civil rights that had been granted (or were soon to take effect) by judicial or legislative action. It doesn't get much more personally insulting and confrontational than this.

So where do we go from here?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Take that, conservatives!

As of now it appears that Conservative party candidate Doug Hoffman is going to lose the special election in the 23rd congressional district of New York. Democrat Bill Owens has a 4-point lead, though there are still some precincts that have not reported and there are potentially some 10K absentee ballots which could make a difference.

If Mr. Hoffman does lose then this is a fantastic outcome! For one, it means a Democrat won a district that has been Republican since 1993. And it could be yet another indicator of a sort of national sea change that has taken place over the past several years in favor of progressivism over conservatism.

More importantly, perhaps, it also suggests that the theory among conservatives that it is the moderates of their party that is causing them to lose election after election is seriously flawed. Anyone with any common sense who has bothered to notice left-of-center Democrats have been winning more elections, including the presidency would see the obvious error in such thinking, but actual election results where this theory is tested is hard to argue against.

Nonetheless, look for them to try. Conservative pundits will be in full spin-mode tomorrow. Which is fine. They can keep telling themselves that they must purge the “RINO’s” {Republican In Name Only} from their party and get more ultra-conservatives to run, eventually the right-wingers will be effectively discredited as they lose more elections to this failed strategy. Then the Republican party can get back down to the necessary business of trying to balance out our two-party system.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The 23rd bellwether

The talking heads have been giving the special election in New York’s 23rd district a lot of attention over the past few weeks. But while some might want to write off all this as mere hype, I actually think a lot of them are right about the importance of this election. More so even than many of them acknowledge.

Ever since I first heard about this election between moderate Democrat Bill Owens, left-leaning Republican Dede Scozzafava, and right-wing Conservative party candidate Doug Hoffman, I knew this race and its outcome had the potential to forecast the political future in this country over the next several years.

The district is solidly Republican, yet here we had a Republican that was getting criticized for being too liberal, and a Conservative party candidate being endorsed by the conservative-wing of the Republican party.

Specifically, ever true to her 3rd party-leaning, rogue conservative populist persona and ex-governor Sarah Palin supports the Conservative party candidate. Thrice-married, recently converted Catholic adulterous hypocrite Newt Gingrich supported Ms. Scozzafava until she dropped out of the race two days ago. Apparently it is now a real toss-up between the Democrat and the Conservative party candidate, though polls indicate the Conservative party candidate has a 5-point lead.

This is important because it is yet another example of the Republican party moving ever to the right. For several years now one after another after another moderate Republican has been essentially forced out of the party, replaced by hard-right conservatives eager to make everything about guns, god, gays and abortion.

Add to the new litmus test list not only social conservatism but fiscal conservatism. The neo-(as in new)conservative movement demands tax cuts for everyone (especially the ‘overburdened rich’), slashed government spending (except endless wars & missile defense shields), ending entitlement programs (except Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, unemployment benefits, etc.), no more bailouts for the rich & shameless (and no regulating them or capping their multi-million $$$ bonus checks either), free-markets solve all the world’s financial problems (except all that free-trade that stole most of our jobs).

All of this, to me, spells disaster for the country’s political system. By the Republicans boiling themselves down to such a hyper-partisan, hyper-ideological, ultra-right-wing, exceedingly militant minority they are pushing moderates toward the Democratic party and setting themselves up for a lot more election losses.

Now if I had my way, I’d take George Washington’s advice and we wouldn’t even have political parties in this country. Run the issues, to hell with party affiliations and toeing partisan lines. But the only thing worse than having two incompetent parties is having one efficient one. Let's not forget the axiom that when it comes to government, only dictatorships are truly efficient.

So why shouldn’t a guy that leans left welcome more Republican losses and more Democrats in office?