Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Reading

Friendly Help — J. Lester Feder at BuzzFeed has the story on Quakers helping gay Ugandans.

A group of American Quakers say they are offering a way out for some desperate Ugandans fleeing the country’s new Anti-Homosexuality Act.

This group, based in Olympia, Wash., calls its project the Friends New Underground Railroad (FNUR) because it sees itself as following in the footsteps of the Quakers who helped bring slaves out of the American South before the Civil War. Working with fewer than 10 Ugandan “conductors,” they report having funded passage out of the country for 107 people with grants ranging from $52-$185. The refugees mostly travel in small groups on back roads and make their way to safe houses in neighboring countries. FNUR says they know of at least 12 people who have gone on to third countries like South Africa and Sweden, and they have received unconfirmed reports that around 30 have reached Europe.

The security precautions they say they take makes their work impossible to verify. The identities and locations of the conductors are kept secret even from one another. FNUR won’t identify any of the people they’ve evacuated because they say they don’t yet feel secure in their new location, though they say they financed the escape of 22 students in a Catholic seminary accused of homosexuality in the eastern town of Jinja whose case made headlines abroad. They won’t say which countries people escape to, who aids them once they exit Uganda, or how those who have gone onto Europe have secured the visas that other refugees can spend years waiting for because they fear the escape routes being shut off. One of the three co-organizers — the only one of the group with experience in international relief work — won’t be publicly identified by his real name, saying “we don’t want to put anybody in danger.” Instead he goes by Levi Coffin II, adopting the name of one of the Quakers who was a leader in the original Underground Railroad.

“We got into this because we were asked,” Coffin said in a phone interview from Washington state. The person who became Conductor Number One was a Ugandan acquaintance who asked for support when a group of LGBT people asked him to help get them out of the country. “Quakers have a long tradition of this kind of work… This is work that we were both literally and figuratively called to do.”

If their account is accurate, it is a remarkable feat for a handful of individuals with very little experience in international aid. (Their project was adopted by their congregation, the Olympia Friends Meeting, and has since teamed up with another similar effort and other Quaker meetings. It also was just endorsed by the national Unitarian Universalist Association.) Most Ugandan activists and international human rights groups are discouraging LGBT Ugandans from fleeing, since they largely go to Kenya and wind up in enormous refugee camps that are often just as dangerous for LGBT people as Uganda itself. Those lucky enough to be identified as candidates for resettlement abroad can spend months or even years waiting for a plane ticket.

HT to Julie.

An Agenda for 2014 — John Nichols at The Nation looks at what Elizabeth Warren is telling Democrats to run on this year.

Elizabeth Warren says she is not running for president in 2016—despite the enthusiastic “Run, Liz, Run” chanting that erupted when the senator from Massachusetts took the stage at this year’s Netroots Nation conference. But Warren came to Detroit with the platform on which Democrats should be running in 2016.

And in 2014.

Warren is frequently described as a populist. And she can certainly frame her message in populist terms, as was well illustrated by the strongest statement of her Friday Netroots Nation address: “A kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail, but a big bank launders drug money and no one gets arrested. The game is rigged.”

But as the Rev. William Barber, of North Carolina’s “Moral Mondays” movement, reminded the conference in a Thursday evening keynote address, populism is not an ideology or a program unto itself. Populism can go left or go right. Populism can be cogent or crude. What matters is the vision that underpins a populist appeal.

What Elizabeth Warren brought to the Netroots Nation gathering was a progressive vision that is of the moment—a vision rooted in the understandings that have been established in the years since the “Republican wave” election of 2010. As Republicans in Congress practiced obstructionism, and as an increasingly activist Supreme Court knocked down historic democratic protections, Republican governors aggressively attacked labor rights, voting rights and women’s rights. Citizens responded with rallies, marches and movements—in state capitals, on Wall Street, across the country. They developed a new progressive vision that is more aggressive and more precisely focused on economic and social justice demands, and on challenging the power of corporations and their political allies.

Warren’s Netroots Nation speech incorporated what has been learned, and what has been demanded. She made a connection between the movements and the political process that has tremendous significance for the coming election cycles.

Warren’s Democratic Party has not fully recognized that connection—not by a long shot—but Warren gets it. And the response of the thousands of activists, organizers and communicators gathered at the Netroots conference suggests that “the base” is ready to rally around it.

So what is it?

“This is a fight over economics, a fight over privilege, a fight over power,” says Warren. “But deep down it’s a fight over values. These are progressive ideas; these are progressive values. These are America’s values. And these are the values we are willing to fight for.”

Bonus: Charlie Pierce on Sen. Warren.

Rick Scott Rakes It In — Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones on the people buying the Florida governor’s re-election.

Florida Governor Rick Scott really knows how to pick a fundraiser. Last month, he was scheduled to attend a $10,000-a-plate event at the home of a real estate developer who’d done prison time on tax charges. Hours after Mother Jones disclosed the event, Scott canceled it. Now, on July 21, Scott will headline a $10,000 per person fundraiser at the Boca Raton home of another deep pocketed donor who is the CEO of a private prison company that’s profiting handsomely over the immigration crisis at the Mexican border.

George Zoley is one of the founders of the GEO Group, the second-largest private prison company in the country. Among the 98 facilities the company owns or manages are several detention centers for undocumented immigrants run through contracts with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. One of those is a facility in Broward County, Florida, that’s been the site of at least one hunger strike and protests over allegedly poor treatment of the 700 immigrants held there, most of whom have no serious criminal histories.

In 2012, members of Congress demanded that ICE investigate the Broward facility after reports the center was holding people who should have been released and that it was not providing adequate medical care to the detainees. An investigation last year by Americans for Immigrant Justice also found credible reports of detainees suffering food poisoning from being served rotten food. The group noted instances of sexual assault among detainees and inadequate mental health care that may have contributed to at least three suicide attempts. Detainees also reported being forced to work for $1 a day and to pay $3 a minute for phone calls.

The Geo Group, which rakes in $1.5 billion in annual revenue, earns $20 million annually just from the Florida center.

The GEO Group also operates the Adelanto Detention Center that, with 1,300 beds for men, is the largest immigrant detention center in southern California. In 2012, a detainee there died from pneumonia. The US Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Detention Oversight concluded that the man’s death was preventable. Investigators determined that the medical staff had “provided an unacceptable level of care” and commit “several egregious errors” that led to the man’s death. Immigration reform advocates have reported various forms of abuse at the Adelanto facility: maggots in the food, inadequate medical treatment, mistreatment by the GEO staff, and the overuse of solitary confinement. These allegations landed the center on the nonprofit Detention Watch Network’s list of the worst detention facilities in the country.

The GEO Group is now expanding the Adelanto facility to add another 650 beds, which includes a women’s wing. The GEO Group expects the expansion to result in an additional $21 million a year in revenue. The GEO Group has also invested heavily in lobbying Congress, spending more than $3 million over the past decade to keep the money flowing to its detention centers.

Zoley netted $22 million in compensation from the GEO Group between 2008 and 2012. He’s donated a fair bit to the GOP and to Scott, who’s made privatizing Florida’s jails and prisons a priority of his administration. Zoley accompanied the governor to the UK in 2012 on a trade mission. The Geo Group donated $25,000 to Scott’s inauguration, and Zoley also personally donated $20,000 to help spiff up Scott’s living quarters in the governor’s mansion.

Zoley’s sponsorship of a fundraiser for Scott, who is in a tight race against former governor Charlie Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, isn’t surprising. (Scott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.) But the governor’s cozy relationship with the operator of some of the country’s biggest immigrant detention centers might not go over well with Latino constituents, who tend to oppose federal immigration detention policies.

Doonesbury — Fiction writing.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Short Takes

U.S.: All signs point to Russia’s involvement in Malaysian airliner shoot-down.

Iran nuke talks to be extended another four months.

President Obama will sign executive order banning LGBT discrimination without religious exemption.

Federal court overturns Oklahoma’s ban on marriage equality.

GM delayed recall in another ignition switch case.

The Tigers lost to Cleveland 9-3.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sunday Reading

Where Will The Slippery Slope End? — Katha Pollitt in The Nation on the ramifications of the Hobby Lobby ruling.

Where will it all end? “It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial,” Justice Alito writes. There is no limit to religious requirements and restrictions in our land of a thousand “faiths.” Several companies have already filed cases that object to all forms of contraception, not just the four singled out by Hobby Lobby, and the day after the decision the Court clarified that its ruling applied to all methods. And why draw the line on legal exemptions at religion anyway? Plenty of foolish parents now risk their children’s lives and the public’s health because they reject vaccines on “philosophical” grounds. What happens when Aristotle, the CEO, claims that birth control—or psychotherapy or organ transplants—goes against his “philosophy”?

Justice Alito’s opinion is canny. Slippery slope? No problem: “our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs.” He specifically mentions vaccines, blood transfusions and protection from racial discrimination as being in no danger, but he gives no argument about why Hobby Lobby’s logic would never apply. In other words, birth control is just different. Of course, it’s about women. Anyone could need a blood transfusion, after all, even Alito himself. And it’s about powerful Christian denominations, too, to which this Court slavishly defers—for example, in the recent decision finding no discrimination in the Christian prayers that routinely open town council meetings in Greece, New York.

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg argues in her stirring dissent, there’s “little doubt that RFRA claims will proliferate, for the Court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood—combined with its other errors in construing RFRA—invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith.” The reason it’s unlikely the Supreme Court would uphold a religious exemption for vaccinations or blood transfusions is not something intrinsic to those claims; it’s simply that Alito finds them weird. Birth control is banned by the Bible? Sure. Blood transfusions are banned by the Bible? Don’t be silly. For now. We have no idea, really, how far the Court might be willing to extend RFRA. Could a CEO refuse to pay childbirth costs for unmarried women? Could he pay married men more because that’s what the Lord wants? (Actually, he’s probably already doing that.) But here’s my prediction: the day a religious exemption burdens by so much as a mouse’s whisker the right of men to protect their own bodies from unwanted, well, anything, is the day the Supreme Court Five discover that religion is not so deserving of deference after all.

Some But Not All — From Mark Joseph Stern in Slate, marriage equality is but one of the hurdles gay couples still face.

The U.S. Constitution protects gay people’s right to marry the person they love. It does not, however, protect them from getting fired for doing so. Throughout the first decade of marriage equality, most states that legalized gay marriage also proscribed anti-gay employment discrimination, rendering this legal dissonance moot. But as more and more states find marriage equality foisted upon them by a judicial mandate, this discordance in rights presents something of a ticking time bomb for the LGBT movement.

Currently, Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with both gay marriage (thanks to a federal judge) and no employment protections for gay people. But as this dizzyingly polychromatic Guardian chart illustrates, several other states also boast same-sex marriage while lacking hospital visitation, adoption rights, or housing protections for sexual minorities. In New Mexico, a man can marry his male partner—but can be forbidden from visiting him in the hospital. In New York and New Hampshire, trans people can be evicted from their houses and fired from their jobs for being trans. In Hawaii, a gay student can legally be kicked out of school based solely on his orientation.

And when the Supreme Court almost inevitably legalizes marriage equality nationwide, the chasm between gay marriage and broader LGBT equality is going to expand rapidly in dozens of red states. Marriage equality was supposed to be an umbrella issue, pulling purportedly lesser gay rights into its sweep. To some extent, this strategy has succeeded: Most Americans now profess a generalized support for gay equality. But in direly reactionary states, it may take decades to convert this support into legislative action—even after the judiciary renders gay marriage a settled issue.

There are some stopgap solutions here. President Barack Obama has ordered most hospitals to provide visitation rights to gay couples, extended LGBT protections to federal employees and federal contractors, and forbidden gay and trans discrimination by HUD-assisted housing programs. But administrative regulations and executive orders can’t extend as far as a federal measure would, and a Republican president could swiftly reverse them on his first day in office. An ENDA-type federal law could permanently outlaw this kind of discrimination everywhere, but the Republican-controlled House refuses to pass one, and LGBT job discrimination remains legal (and common) in 29 states.

What’s the solution to this coming crisis? The fight for nationwide gay marriage will turn out to be a hollow joke if gay couples in red states are too afraid of discrimination to actually get married and enjoy the dignity of true, state-prescribed equality. Because the Republican House refuses to consider gay rights measures—and because states like Tennessee and Alabama seem unlikely to act on their own to protect sexual minorities—the best solution is probably the one gays have relied on for decades: the courts. Thanks to federal lawsuits, judges are already considering the idea that existing law outlaws anti-gay discrimination in every state and that the Constitution guarantees same-sex adoption rights. The same logic that shoehorns anti-gay discrimination into sex discrimination could be used to turn the Fair Housing Act’s sex discrimination clause into a protection for LGBT people.

North Korea Pans Hollywood — Paul Fischer on the film industry in a place with no sense of humor.

In mid-June, the trailer for Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s comedy “The Interview” hit the Internet. The movie, due in October, stars James Franco and Mr. Rogen as an American talk-show host and his producer, recruited to assassinate the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, while in Pyongyang to interview him. The trailer features Mr. Franco and Mr. Rogen riding tanks, the actor Randall Park as Kim Jong-un smoking a missile-size cigar, and a discussion, played for laughs, of reported North Korean propaganda claims that none of the Kim leaders defecate.

Within days, the North Korean Foreign Ministry slammed the film as “intolerable,” as well as “the most blatant act of terrorism and an act of war,” and threatened “merciless” retaliation if it was released. The next day the North Korean military launched three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, as if to hint, “See what I mean?”

The lesson: Never underestimate the power of marijuana in Hollywood, and phallic jokes about rockets and cigars.

It seems absurd for the leader of a nuclear state to be so incensed over an anarchic comedy by the guys who brought you “This Is the End” and “Pineapple Express.” But movies have held inordinate importance in North Korean politics, beginning even before the country’s founding in 1948. One of the earliest actions by Kim Il-sung, called Great Leader, was to create a Soviet-supported national film studio, where he gave filmmakers and crews preferential food rations and housing. His son, Kim Jong-il, called Dear Leader, was a film buff who owned one of the largest private film collections in the world and whose first position of power was in running the regime’s propaganda apparatus, including its film studios. For over 20 years he micromanaged every new North Korean film production, as writer, producer, executive and critic; to his people, he is still known today first and foremost — thanks to propaganda rather than any real talent or skill — as the greatest creative genius in North Korea’s history.

The Dear Leader was less quick to take offense than his son Kim Jong-un is today — partly because, at least early on, he preferred threats he could follow up on; in those days, North Korean covert operatives still had the know-how to hijack a plane, bomb a state function, and target a South Korean president. Also, taking offense would have been an obvious case of the pot calling the kettle black. Most of his productions treated foreigners, Americans especially, the way Mr. Rogen, Mr. Franco and Mr. Goldberg treat Kim Jong-un: as cartoonish stock baddies. North Korean films of the 1980s are full of Western villains, usually admirals or colonels, with Dr. Evil bald heads and names like Dr. Kelton or Her Majesty’s officer Louis London. These characters all hatched devious schemes to destroy North Korea and take over the world for the White House.

As North Korea had no Western actors to speak of, they were first played by Koreans in heavily caked whiteface makeup. Later on, American defectors and foreign prisoners, diplomats or visiting businessmen were “persuaded” to come into the studio for a day or a week and paste a monocle and fake mustache on for the cameras and dialogue-dubbers.

Like Mr. Rogen and Mr. Goldberg’s work, Mr. Kim’s films could be hilarious. But it was always unintentional. North Koreans don’t do comedy. To try and make someone laugh you must be ready for them not to take you seriously, something all three generations of Kim rulers have been unable to do. Where Pyongyang’s propaganda billboards used to threaten war if North Korea was invaded or attacked, now they warn foreigners “not to interfere with our self-respect.”

Doonesbury — Born to be mild.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Obama Does ENDA Run

Since the House has decided to never bring up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which would protect the LGBT community from discrimination by employers, President Obama is preparing to issue an executive order that basically puts ENDA-like rules in place for companies that get federal contracts.

“Following on his pledge for this to be a year of action to expand opportunity for all Americans, the President has directed his staff to prepare for his signature an Executive Order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” a White House official said. “The action would build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This is consistent with the President’s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.”

The official reiterated his support for ENDA, which passed the Senate in November, and criticized the Republican-led House for declining to bring it up.  In February, the president took similar action on a minimum wage hike after it stalled in Congress, raising it to $10.10 per hour for federal contractors, the small portion of the economy that is directly under his control.

It will be interesting to see how the GOP takes this one.  Do they really want to raise a stink like they did over the executive order on the minimum wage back in February?  That was easy; their record on crapping on the low-wage worker is sterling.  But to take a stand in favor of discrimination?

My guess is that they’ll try to weasel out of it by saying, “Oh, well, no one should be discriminated against, but the black president shouldn’t be acting like a dictator issuing executive orders.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Common Knowledge

Wow, this is off the rails even for an upstate Florida Republican:

Common Core may not be a well-intentioned set of improved educational standards, as supporters would have you believe, but instead a trojan horse designed to turn every schoolchild in Florida, if not America, gay.

This ominous warning came at an anti-Common Core event in March courtesy of Florida State Rep. Charles Van Zant (R). Speaking at the “Operation Education Conference” in Orlando, Van Zant warned that officials implementing Common Core in Florida are “promoting as hard as they can any youth that is interested in the LGBT agenda.”

Their aim, Van Zant warned, was to “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.” He then apologized to the crowd for having to be the bearer of bad news. “I really hate to bring you that news,” the Florida Republican said, “but you need to know.”

No, sorry, that’s not from The Onion, more’s the pity.

I hate to break it to you, Mr. Van Zant, but the copy of the LGBT Agenda Monthly that I got when I came out in 1976 didn’t have that in it.  But then, I only got the paperback.  (I hear it’s on Kindle now.)  Some of the topics covered were: “Coordinating Your Accessories,”  “Having The Talk with Mom & Dad,”  “How To Disco Without Sweating” (it was the ’70′s, after all), and “Barbra: The New Judy?”  Nothing about recruiting.  For one thing, the paperwork is a nightmare.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

First Draft

Michael Sam reacts to being drafted by the St. Louis Rams.

In case you have been in the Delta Quadrant for the last six months, he is the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Don’t Want To Hear It

The case that launched the anti-gay discrimination bill in Arizona and several other states has been turned down for a hearing by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court refused on Monday to be drawn into the spreading controversy over the right of business firms to refuse to serve gay and lesbian customers, turning aside the appeal of a New Mexico photography studio and its owners.  The Court made no comment as it denied review of Elane Photography v. Willock, involving a refusal to photograph a lesbian couple’s wedding-style ceremony.

That doesn’t mean that in the future another case might make it through to the Court, but for now, it’s a good thing to know that businesses that are open to the public don’t have the right to turn people away based on their sexual orientation.  At least in New Mexico.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Prove It

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told us that he thought some people would pretend to be gay just to sue businesses in Arizona.  Stephen Colbert is all over it.

COLBERT: Yes, the only way for gays to be protected is have their gayness independently verified. I think what Steve King is saying, gays, is he wants you to send photos and/or videos proving to Steve King that you are gay.

Again, that’s Steve King, 2210 Rayburn Office Building, Washington, DC 20515. Be sure… be sure to label your envelope “campaign contributions” so you know that he’ll read it.

Use a plain brown wrapper.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sunday Reading

Nervous States — Matt Ford in The Atlantic on what Russia’s seizure of Crimea means to former Soviet satellites.

Fifteen independent countries, including Russia, emerged from the Soviet Union’s disintegration. Six of them—Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—are in Europe, and all of them have a complicated relationship with modern Russia. Seven other countries once belonged to the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union’s military alliance in Eastern Europe. With the Cold War’s end, none of them had faced the threat of military intervention by the communist superpower’s successor state—until now. (In discussing Europe here, I’m not including Eurasian countries like Georgia, which fought a war with Russia in 2008, or the military support Russia offered Moldova’s breakaway Transnistria region in the early 1990s.)

In response to the standoff in Crimea, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves announced that he would convene the National Defense Council on March 2 to discuss the crisis and called upon the Baltic states to increase their defense spending. “The events in Ukraine show that this struggle is taking place within Europe as well,” he said in a speech to the Baltic Defense College last week. “This sends a clear signal to Estonia and the [other] Baltic states: we must invest more in our national defense.” Estonia, along with Latvia and Lithuania, joined NATO in 2004.

“The Baltic states have been among the most vocal EU states during this crisis, urging Russia to abandon its military intervention in Ukraine and respect Ukrainian territorial integrity,” Erik Brattberg, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told me. “They will watch the events in Ukraine closely to see if the U.S. and NATO will stand up against Russian aggression.”

Recent experiences with Russia also fuel Estonia’s concerns. The removal of a Soviet-era war statue from the capital city of Tallinn in 2007 led to riots among ethnic Russians (who make up almost a quarter of Estonia’s population) and diplomatic outrage from Moscow. Shortly thereafter, a concerted, three-week cyberattack crippled Estonian government agencies, banks, news outlets, and other organizations—a vital blow to what some have called “the most wired country in Europe.” Estonian officials blamed the Kremlin for the cyberattacks, a claim Russian officials vociferously denied.

Linas Linkevicius, Lithuania’s foreign minister, responded on Saturday by invoking Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, whereby NATO member states consult one another if their territorial integrity or political independence is threatened, for only the fourth time in the alliance’s history (Ukraine is not a NATO member).

Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors “are certainly very worried that what is happening to Ukraine today could happen to them tomorrow,” Brattberg told me, noting that both Estonia and Latvia have “significant Russian ethnic minorities.” Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted on Saturday that Russia retains the right to protect Russian-speaking populations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Both the NATO ambassadors and the NATO-Ukraine Commission will meet tomorrow to plan the alliance’s response to the unfolding crisis.

Fixing MSNBC – Leslie Savan in The Nation on the same old same old on the cable network.

Saying things on national TV once relegated to The Village Voice or The Nation understandably lends MSNBCers a confidence, almost a sense of triumphalism, which sometimes trips them up into merely nyah-nyah-nyahing the right. Fox does this with far more gusto at the left, but it doesn’t serve MSNBC well. A friend of mine says she can’t watch MSNBC anymore, because “they’re smug. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them, they treat like they’re stupid.”

The flip side of smug is a sense of insecurity. Hosts are coming (the estimable Joy Reid, as well as Farrow, debuted a show this week) and going (Baldwin, Olbermann, Martin Bashir, Dylan Ratigan). Clearly they’re under constant pressure to rack up ratings, something the Chris Christie scandals have indeed helped them do.

Which brings us to Bill Maher’s critique. Unlike Baldwin, Maher “loves” MSNBC. But in a Valentine’s Day post he decided to break up with the network because it’s preoccupied with another man, the New Jersey governor.

[Rachel] Maddow defended the heavy coverage on Maher’s HBO show the next week. “I am totally obsessed with the Christie story, unapologetically,” she said, “and will continue to be obsessed with it while amazing things in that story continue to happen.” Maher conceded that Benghazi isn’t a real scandal while Bridgegate most definitely is—though, he added, “It’s just that it’s not Watergate.” And he softened that too-easy trope that MSNBC is the Fox News of the left, saying, “I hate false equivalency. MSNBC, one of the great things about it is that they are scrupulous fact-checkers whereas Fox News are scrupulous fact-maker-uppers.”

If the non-Fox media have been hard on Chris Christie lately, it’s in direct proportion to how hard they fell for him before. For years, the media—and this includes MSNBC stars like Scarborough, Matthews and, on occasion, Al Sharpton—loved the blunt-talking, fuggedaboutit Jersey guy who had the guts to “work across the aisle.” When Bridgegate revealed that in fact he had been intimidating and threatening Democratic office-holders all along, it unleashed a torrent of pent-up, actual reporting.

So, yes, as Bill Maher says, MSNBC has been obsessed with Christie, but no, they’re not covering him too much. And yes, as Alec Baldwin says, in stronger words, the shows have fallen into a sameness.

It’s a problem, however, that can be remedied, sometimes as simply as having a host light out for the territory. Ed Schultz, for instance, is running a weeklong series on the Keystone XL Pipeline, reporting from Nebraska and listening to the citizens TransCanada is trampling over. Ed, who began as a (surprising) supporter of the pipeline, now appears to be leaning against it. It’s a change of heart and venue that’s making his show, and at least one hour of MSNBC, suddenly suspenseful and dynamic.

Thanks, Anita Bryant — Cliff O’Neill in the Miami Herald on how the anti-gay crusader helped him come out.

I’m grateful for Anita Bryant.

I should clarify.

See, if it weren’t for Anita Bryant and her fear-mongering in the ‘70s, things would probably have turned out quite differently for me.

In 1977, when Miami (and, by extension, the entire nation) was debating whether children needed to be “saved” from homosexuals, I was one of those children.

I may have been 12, but I was quickly coming to understand that I was gay, or at least bisexual. Thanks to the popular culture of the time and shows like All In The Family and Barney Miller, I knew that “that thing” had a name. And I was probably that.

But I didn’t know what to make of it. Aside from the fact it wouldn’t make me terribly popular among my peer group, that is.

Enter Anita. Of course I knew the pretty lady from the orange juice commercials. But suddenly she was on TV telling everyone that they needed to “save our children” from homosexuality. I had no idea that there existed a (then-named) gay liberation movement, that local activists had recently effected passage of an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual preference (then the term of the day) or that the world was suddenly focused on my hometown.

And I certainly didn’t let on to my parents that I had a personal interest in all of this. Still, it didn’t take long to realize how they felt about it.

I still have a vivid memory of my mother hosting a “Stop the ERA” (Equal Rights Amendment) party for her ladies’ group, complete with a big, red stop sign-shaped cake and horrified whispers about unisex bathrooms.

So I just sat back and watched the drama on TV. The anti-Anita ads, explaining how if you start exempting one group from legal protection it’s not long before you start making it OK to discriminate against anyone, seemed logical. But the fear-based ads suggesting that “exposing” kids to gay teachers would make them gay made no sense to me at all. I was one of those kids. What I was feeling was as innate as my hair color. I wasn’t the victim of some adult molestation that “turned” me.

Nope, thanks to those ads and debates, and the ads and debates in cities from Eugene, Oregon, to St. Paul, Minnesota, in the ensuing months, I got really clear with this part of who I was. And I got to see eloquent, real-life gay and lesbian people on television answering questions, no matter how insulting.

Doonesbury — Tears of a clown.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Somebody Has Issues

It’s Freud 101 that people who talk all the time about something they say they hate are secretly longing for it.  So it must be that Tea Party leader Judson Phillips has a huge, uh, interest in what gay people do when they’re not living their lives like everyone else.

“Tyranny is on the march,” Phillips declares in a piece on the TPN website that he also emailed to members of the group, adding that business owners who are not allowed to discriminate against gays and lesbians are “slaves” to the “great liberal state,” aided by “French Republicans” like Brewer.

“The left and the homosexual lobby are both pushing slavery using the Orwellian concepts of ‘tolerance’ and ‘inclusiveness,’” he writes.

Phillips then wonders if business owners will be forced to “create a cake for a homosexual wedding that has a giant phallic symbol on it,” “create pastries for a homosexual wedding in the shape of genitallia [sic],” or “photograph a homosexual wedding where the participants decide they want to be nude or engage in sexual behavior.”

Why in the world would any balanced person hear about a same-sex wedding and immediately jump to a fevered vision of a wedding cake with a giant penis on it?

A word of advice to Mr. Phillips: Google Manhunt.net and get it over with.  You and the rest of us who are tired of hearing about your hormonally-charged love/hate relationship with gayness will be glad you did.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Two Cheers

Via TPM:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) announced Wednesday night that she has vetoed the anti-gay bill that has been sitting on her desk since last week.

The bill “does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona,” she said in explaining her decision. She took no questions after announcing the veto.

“I sincerely believe that (the bill) has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve,” she said. “It could divide Arizona in ways that no one could imagine.”

Brewer added that the legislation was “broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.”

I’ll give Gov. Brewer credit for acknowledging that the bill was divisive, it didn’t serve a pressing need, and that it was basically a solution in search of a problem.  She alluded to the fact that it would have caused economic turmoil, which was what I thought she might use as her reason for the veto, but she at least had the political sense to bury that lede among the priorities.

The reason for the qualified cheers is because she took her own sweet time with it, making it sound like it took a lot of thought and discussion about whether or not to veto it when a reasonably rational person would have taken one look at the two-page bill, laughed sardonically, and vetoed it while it was still warm from the printer.  Based on her own statement, this was not a tough call.

I suppose it would have been too much to ask for her to stand up for the dignity and basic human rights of the citizens of her state that this bill clearly targeted and to call out the proponents for being the religious bigots and hypocrites that they are.  But I’ll take what we can get, and I hope that this veto message tells the other states that are flirting with similar laws to back off.  One can only hope.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Message Received

The state legislature in Georgia was on the verge of passing their own version of the Arizona law codifying gay-bashing, but got cold feet.

One of the most controversial bills considered by the state House this year is likely dead for the session. However, a companion bill in the Senate remains alive.

Critics of House Bill 1023, or The Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, say it would allow private business owners to cite their religious beliefs as a reason to deny service to gay customers.

The bill is currently in the House Judiciary Committee. After two packed subcommittee meetings in recent weeks, Judiciary Chair Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, says more vetting is needed on the bill. He says it likely won’t make Monday’s Crossover Day deadline, the date in which legislation must be approved by at least one chamber to remain alive.

“Can’t see it happening. It came in rather late in the session. Too many proponents and opponents,” said Willard.

It looks like they saw what was happening in Arizona and thought better of it.  It’s a convenient way to get out of a sticky situation.

Courage is measured by doing the right thing, not by not doing the wrong thing.  But we’ll take what we can get.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Your Money or Your Life

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) is being lobbied hard by businesses and state officials to veto the bill that legalized gay-bashing.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) said that SB 1062 “cruelly targets the LGBT community” and will hurt the state’s workforce. Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell (D) suggested Arizona should follow his city’s lead and protect LGBT people from discrimination. According to Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild (D), SB 1062 would “take our state backwards to a time when discrimination was the norm.” Mesa Mayor Scott Smith (R), a candidate for governor, explained that despite being a “Christian conservative,” he is concerned that the bill “could negatively impact our most basic rights” and “have a detrimental impact on Arizona’s business environment. They are joined by State Treasurer Doug Ducey (R) and Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R), both of whom are also running for governor.

So if she does veto the bill purely for economic motives, will that make it all right for those of us who were targeted to say, “Hey, all is forgiven” and plan for a vacation at the Grand Canyon?  I’m not sure.  After all, these are the people that passed the bill twice in the first place.  The economy didn’t matter when they voted for it.

I suppose it would be too much to expect some people to urge Gov. Brewer to veto it not because it would have a negative impact on the economy but because it’s the right thing to do.  Oh, sure they pay a bit of lip service to “our most basic rights,” but if you’re going to get Republicans on board, money talks.

Not to be too churlish, but don’t expect me to congratulate Gov. Brewer for vetoing the bill if she does it because of economics or any reason other than it’s a vile piece of crap that doesn’t deserve consideration in this or any other day and age because of the damage it would inflict on the lives of every citizen.  Economics has nothing to do with it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Takei This

George Takei, who starred as Lt. Sulu in the Star Trek series, has a message for Arizona.

Congratulations. You are now the first state actually to pass a bill permitting businesses–even those open to the public–to refuse to provide service to LGBT people based on an individual’s “sincerely held religious belief.” This “turn away the gay” bill enshrines discrimination into the law. Your taxi drivers can refuse to carry us. Your hotels can refuse to house us. And your restaurants can refuse to serve us.

[...]

The law is breathtaking in its scope. It gives bigotry against us gays and lesbians a powerful and unprecedented weapon. But your mean-spirited representatives and senators know this. They also know that it is going to be struck down eventually by the courts. But they passed it anyway, just to make their hateful opinion of us crystal clear.

So let me make mine just as clear. If your Governor Jan Brewer signs this repugnant bill into law, make no mistake. We will not come. We will not spend. And we will urge everyone we know–from large corporations to small families on vacation–to boycott. Because you don’t deserve our dollars. Not one red cent.

And maybe you just never learn. In 1989, you voted down recognition of the Martin Luther King holiday, and as a result, conventions and tourists boycotted the state, and the NFL moved the Superbowl to Pasadena. That was a $500 million mistake.

So if our appeals to equality, fairness, and our basic right to live in a civil society without doors being slammed in our face for being who we are don’t move you, I’ll bet a big hit to your pocketbook and state coffers will.

Gov. Brewer has not said what she will do.  She has until this Friday to either sign the bill, veto it, or let it become law without her signature.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Not In Kansas Anymore – Ctd.

They did it.

PHOENIX — The Arizona Legislature passed a measure on Thursday that allows business owners asserting their religious beliefs to refuse service to gays and others, drawing backlash from Democrats who called the proposal “state-sanctioned discrimination” and an embarrassment.

The 33-to-27 vote by the House sent the legislation to Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican.

Governor Brewer does not comment on pending legislation, but she vetoed a similar measure last year. That action, however, came during an unrelated political standoff, and it was not clear whether she would support this plan.

Let the lawsuits begin.

It’s been at least fifteen years since I was last in Arizona, and this pretty much insures that I won’t be going back there as long as this law is on the books.  It’s not a boycott; rather, it’s my Quakerly view that I do not wish to offend or embarrass the people of that state by putting them in the position of having to tolerate someone they clearly do not want among them.  I can take a hint.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Good Scout

Via TPM, Pascal Tessier is the first openly gay Boy Scout to reach Eagle Scout status.

For Tessier, it represents six years of work, 27 merit badges and projects in service, leadership and outdoor skills. He put all that at risk, though, to advocate publicly against the Scouts ban on gays.

[...]

For more than a year, Tessier, who lives in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Kensington, has been one of the most prominent openly gay scouts speaking out to change the Scouts’ longstanding ban. After a vote last year, the organization of 2.5 million youth members officially opened its doors to include all boys, regardless of sexual orientation. A ban on gay adult leaders remains in place.

That’s leadership.