Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Reading

But They’ll Take the Money — Alaska scorns the federal government, but still has their hand out.

Backed by a blue row of saw-toothed mountain peaks, the Republican state lawmaker Carl Gatto finds himself on a fine roll.

Roll it back, he says, roll back this entire socialistic experiment in federal hegemony. Give us control of our land, let us drill and mine, and please don’t let a few belugas get in the way of a perfectly good bridge.

“I’ve introduced legislation to roll back the federal government,” he says. “They don’t have solutions; they just have taxes.”

And what of the federal stimulus, from which Alaska receives the most money per capita in the nation? Would he reject it?

Mr. Gatto, 72 and wiry, smiles and shakes his head: “I’ll give the federal government credit: they sure give us a ton of money. For every $1 we give them in taxes for highways, they give us back $5.76.”

He points to a new federally financed highway, stretching toward distant spruce trees. “Man, beautiful, right?”

Alaskans tend to live with their contradictions in these recessionary times. No place benefits more from federal largess than this state, where the Republican governor decries “intrusive” federal policies, officials sue to overturn the health care legislation and Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, voted against the stimulus bill.

Although its unemployment rate sits at just 7.9 percent, about two percentage points below the national rate, Alaska has received $3,145 per capita in federal stimulus dollars, the most in the nation, according to figures compiled by Pro Publica, an investigative Web site. Nevada, by contrast, has an unemployment rate north of 14 percent and has received $1,034 per capita in recovery aid. Florida’s jobless rate is 11.4 percent, and the state has obtained $914 per capita.

Alaska has budget woes, and, more perilously, oil production is slumping. But its problems are not mortal; the ax falls on new police headquarters and replacement Zamboni blades rather than on teachers and libraries. The state avoided the unemployment devastation visited on the Lower 48 in part because federal dollars support a third of Alaskan jobs, according to a university study.

Not that this has assuaged antigovernment rancor. The Alaskan Representative Don Young, a Republican, denounced the stimulus as appalling, done under the cover of night and without full disclosure. He also promised Alaskans that “if there are earmarks, we will have our fingerprints on them.”

I don’t know what they call it in Alaska, but down here in the Lower 48, it’s known as flaming hypocrisy — not a real surprise from a state that inflicted Sarah Palin on us — and an equal measure of us playing the sucker for giving them all the money.

More below the fold.

So That’s What It’s Like — A straight man gets to see first hand the prejudice that gay people are subjected to.

Over the last few months I have spent several Saturday afternoons with my almost 3-year-old daughter and her godfather, my friend Damian. On several of these excursions I gained new insight into an issue that I’ve read and heard about often but never had an opportunity to witness and experience from a privileged vantage point.

Damian is openly gay though he defies the stereotypical, retrograde macho litmus test used by society to judge gayness. In fact, the big joke between us is that I’m fashionably and stylistically ”gayer” than he is.

Now that I’m a dad and my daughter joins us for our weekend hang-out sessions, I have heard comments and noted reactions that clearly peg our situation as gay parents raising a child.

Oh, what an interesting and eye-opening experience it has been.

The first awkward incident happened at a popular Cuban dining establishment in southwest Miami. As we sat at the table and watched my daughter munch on her croqueta (croquette) I surmised from the frequent and unusually long stares from the customers sitting around us that we had been sized up and pigeonholed into the ”alternative” family category.

The snickers and the gawking would have been tolerable had it not been for the alarming incident that ensued.

As our lunch wound down and our cafes arrived Damian excused himself to go to the restroom. I then vividly watched as a boy no more than 10 years old, told his mother that he needed to pee. As Damian walked by their table and headed straight for the bathroom, the boy’s mother who realized where my friend was headed put her arm across the boy’s chest and forbade him from getting up and going to the john.

The overt message: This woman did not trust a gay man in the bathroom at the same time as her son. The notion that gay men, in particular, have a higher rate of pedophiles among their ranks is an absolutely abominable notion. Credible studies conducted over the last 20 years overwhelmingly show that there is no correlation between sexual orientation and pedophilia.

Beyond the social stats, I felt sad for my friend who is as kind a person as you will find and would never contemplate harming a child, yet unbeknownst to him, he was being judged as a child predator.


Morality is difficult to legislate. However, on the issue of gay rights we need to have laws like the 1964 Civil Rights Act in an effort to protect gay Americans from discrimination and hopefully begin to change the image the mainstream has of this minority group.

Sadly, the rules now in place are riddles like the U.S. military’s policy of ”don’t ask, don’t tell,” which derived from lack of leadership from the Oval Office and Congress on social and civil liberty issues.

The argument that laws should not protect a specific group has no legs given the other constitutional amendments protecting specific minority groups from discrimination.

Gay Americans are not asking for preferential treatment. They simply deserve the same constitutional protections afforded to all this country’s citizens.

Frank Rich — The real terrorist command center in New York: Fox News.

Were McCain in the White House, Fox and friends would have kept ignoring Park51. But it’s an irresistible target in our current election year because it revives the most insidious anti-Obama narrative of the many Fox promoted in the previous election year: Obama the closet Muslim and secret madrassa alumnus. In the much discussed latest Pew poll, a record number of Americans (nearing 20 percent) said that our Christian president practices Islam. And they do not see that as a good thing. Existing or proposed American mosques hundreds and even thousands of miles from ground zero, from Tennessee to Wisconsin to California, are now under siege.

After 9/11, President Bush praised Islam as a religion of peace and asked for tolerance for Muslims not necessarily because he was a humanitarian or knew much about Islam but because national security demanded it. An America at war with Islam plays right into Al Qaeda’s recruitment spiel. This month’s incessant and indiscriminate orgy of Muslim-bashing is a national security disaster for that reason — Osama bin Laden’s “next video script has just written itself,” as the former F.B.I. terrorist interrogator Ali Soufan put it — but not just for that reason. America’s Muslim partners, those our troops are fighting and dying for, are collateral damage. If the cleric behind Park51 — a man who has participated in events with Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes, for heaven’s sake — is labeled a closet terrorist sympathizer and a Nazi by some of the loudest and most powerful conservative voices in America, which Muslims are not?

In the latest CNN poll, American opposition is at an all-time high to both the ostensibly concluded war in Iraq (69 percent) and the endless one in Afghanistan (62 percent). Now, when the very same politicians and pundits who urge infinite patience for Afghanistan slime Muslims as Nazis, they will have to explain that they are not talking about Hamid Karzai or his corrupt narco-thug government or the questionably loyal Afghan armed forces our own forces are asked to entrust with their lives. The hawks will have to make the case that American troops should make the ultimate sacrifice to build a Nazi — Afghan, I mean — nation and that economically depressed taxpayers should keep paying for it. Good luck with that.

Poor General Petraeus. Over the last week he has been ubiquitous in the major newspapers and on television as he pursues a publicity tour to pitch the war he’s inherited. But have you heard any buzz about what he had to say? Any debate? Any anything? No one was listening and no one cared. Everyone was too busy yelling about the mosque.

It’s poignant, really. Even as America’s most venerable soldier returned from the front to valiantly assume the role of Willy Loman, the product he was selling was being discredited and discontinued by his own self-proclaimed allies at home.

Doonesbury — Oakland, dude!