Friday, April 28, 2006

A Meeting of Disparate Minds

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, accepted an invitation to speak at Falwell's Liberty University with surprising and not-so-surprising results and reasons.
I can "believe what I believe without calling you a homophobic bigot, and you can do the same without calling me an uncaring baby-killer," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, in a convocation address Wednesday to about 9,000 students at Liberty University. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, one of the country's most influential and controversial evangelical leaders, founded the school, located in this city, more than three decades ago.

Yoffie, who received a warm introduction from Falwell, was politely received when he cited several areas of common ground between religious liberals and conservatives. However, scattered hisses and boos reportedly could be heard when he defended gay rights. Falwell, who later told the crowd that "nobody ever booed me in a synagogue when I said things opposite to what they believed," drew the day's loudest applause when he mentioned his own 48th wedding anniversary.
...
In his remarks, which were made as part of a Wednesday morning prayer service that is mandatory for students and faculty, Yoffie outlined several areas of agreement between evangelicals and Jews, including support for Israel, a commitment to democratic principles, and concern over the perceived sexual licentiousness and materialism of American culture. He proposed that Christians and Jews work together to help push for a uniform rating system for television and to fight poverty at home and abroad.

Yoffie also acknowledged that the two communities have sharply contrasting positions on several hot-button issues, including abortion, civil rights for gays and lesbians, and the role of religion in public life.

"We hear calls, sometimes from evangelicals and sometimes from others, for prayer in the schools and lowering the wall of church-state separation," Yoffie said. "But let us beware of simple answers. As a Jew, I don't like it when other Jews find an antisemite under every bed; I don't believe that Judaism is seriously imperiled, and I don't think that Christianity is under siege, either."

After the talk, during a brief session with reporters, Falwell praised Yoffie's remarks and said that "we can disagree about everything and still find common ground somewhere."
I never thought I'd ever say this, but thank you Jerry Falwell.

However, far more interesting than Falwell's plea for basic respect for different viewpoints is the fact that these people are together at all-- as well as the possibility that liberal Jews and conservative Christians playing nice with one another might be something we see more of in the future.
Yoffie, the leader of a politically liberal religious movement that claims to represent 1.5 million Jews, would seem on many levels a strange choice for Liberty, especially given an address he delivered last November, harshly criticizing religious conservatives on several domestic fronts. But his appearance comes at a time of growing political uncertainty for the religious right. President Bush's approval rating has hit at a new low of 32%, according to a recent CNN poll, and several other influential Republican figures strongly associated with the religious right also have seen their political fortunes fall in recent months.
...
"There's a sort of convergence" of interests, said American Jewish Congress's general counsel, Marc Stern. AJCongress is an organization that fights in court for maintaining a stringent separation of church and state. "Evangelicals are coming off a period where for three or four years, they were in the catbird seat — they were calling all the shots in the administration — and that is clearly no longer the case. On the other hand, the Jewish community has come to realize — I think 25 years too late — that the evangelicals are not going away... and we can no longer brush them aside as a passing bad dream."

Energy Independence and Presidential Politics

Instead of Senate Republicans' empty-headed gesture of a $100 rebate to taxpayers, our country's leaders could learn a lesson on how to achieve energy independence from Brazil:
When President Bush recently visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, he stressed the need for the United States "to end our addiction on oil" and explore alternative fuels. The United States doesn't have to look far to find an example of a major nation that has done just that.

Brazil, South America's largest economy, launched an ethanol motor fuel program in 1975 and, against heavy odds, has developed a cost-efficient alternative to gasoline. It appears now as though Brazil's sugar industry, once viewed as a remnant of the country's colonial past, may have a prominent place in the world's energy future.

About half of the country's 21,000 square miles of sugar cane under cultivation is used to make ethanol that, according to the World Bank, is being produced at a cost of $1 per gallon compared to $1.50 for gasoline.

Getting to that point required decades of steady pressure from Brazil's government, in ways that would be hard to duplicate in the United States. In the 1970s, with Brazil being hit hard by Mideast oil shocks, the ruling military dictatorship launched a national program to reduce the country's dependence. It encouraged the construction of ethanol plants by doling out low-interest loans to sugar companies, financed a national distribution network and imposed subsidies to keep the price of the fuel low.

... The government also switched its emphasis from alcohol-only to "flexible fuel" vehicles, mandating that all gasoline must be mixed with at least 25 percent ethanol. Now cars that can run on ethanol, gasoline or a mixture of the two account for 70 percent of all cars manufactured there. That has made motorists happy, because they can easily shift to whichever fuel is cheaper.
But there's a significant factor impeding the ability of the U.S. to do likewise:
U.S. ethanol is made almost entirely from corn, not sugar. Because of the need to convert the corn's starch into sugar before creating a usable alcohol fuel, it costs 30 percent more than its sugar-based counterpart.
Of course, there's a political subtext to all of this. As John McCain discovered in 2000, Iowa voters want presidential candidates to support federal incentives for ethanol production from corn.

But, as the previous story notes, corn is a more costly way to produce ethanol, and the resulting higher cost works against the goal of moving motorists from gasoline to ethanol. Yet a successful candidate could support continued incentives for corn, while also calling for federal incentives to significantly increase domestic sugar production. Since we'd need to drastically increase the supply of ethanol, this gap could be filled largely by more sugar production.

Sugar cane, of course, grows in semi-tropical climates -- states like, oh, Florida and Louisiana. Florida is a pivotal swing state, and one with many more electoral votes than Iowa. If a Democrat outlined such a proposal and the GOP presidential nominee opposed it, the Republican would be opposing a lot of jobs and economic activity in Florida. Not a wise move.

Even if we simply produced more mixed fuel (part ethanol, part refined oil), we still could lessen our dependence on oil. There are some tricky details to the push toward ethanol, but our dependence on imported oil has negative consequences that make this change worth exploring.

RE: Stop the Slaughter in Darfur

Following up on Frederick's post, there has been a huge increase in coverage of Darfur, mainly because George Clooney and his father recently snuck in there and are now calling attention to the crisis.

But this has been going on for three years, and one has to wonder if it all might not be too little, too late
WFP Halves Rations Due to Funding Shortage

The United Nations said on Friday it would cut food rations for more than 6 million people in Sudan, half of them in Darfur, due to a severe lack of funds.

Many donor countries appear to have tired of the long-term conflict in Darfur, despite signs that malnutrition is again on the rise among people living in squalid camps, the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) said.

WFP said it was halving food aid from the minimum daily requirement of 2,100 calories to 1,050 calories as of May.

"This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Haven't the people of Darfur suffered enough? Aren't we adding insult to injury?" WFP executive director James Morris said.

UN Threatens to Suspend Aid

The United Nations threatened on Friday to suspend relief operations in parts of Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region because of continued attacks against aid workers by rebel fighters.

The UN blames the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the armed wing of the Sudan Liberation Movement, the main rebel group in the region, for a spate of attacks in north Darfur.

"Several reports indicate that many of these attacks have been waged by SLA factions. Armed robbery and hijackings have endangered humanitarian workers assisting over 450 000 vulnerable people living in the area," it said in a statement.

It added that the UN has "credible information" that armed groups have also commandeered vehicles for military purposes, something it said is "unacceptable and contrary to international humanitarian law".

"Unless these attacks and harassment stop immediately, the UN and its partners will be obliged to suspend all relief assistance to this particular area till effective safety for humanitarian personnel and assets are guaranteed."

Sunday's Rally: Stop the Slaughter in Darfur

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin writes:
The Save Darfur coalition will hold a rally in Washington on Sunday to focus public outrage on the genocide in Darfur.

Over the past three years, Sudanese militias, aided by the government, have caused the deaths of up to 400,000 African Muslims in the Darfur region in western Sudan. They sent another 2.5 million fleeing to refugee camps. The rally's organizers, a broad umbrella of religious and human rights groups, hope a huge turnout will galvanize the White House to work harder to stop the slaughter.

After all, President Bush pledged in February to push for a U.N. (not U.S.) peacekeeping force, helped with logistics by NATO. This would replace an inadequate force that has been unable to protect civilians in Darfur.

Although the Sunday rally will be large, it appears the numbers won't be sufficient to make a truly powerful statement -- unless more demonstrators travel to Washington at the last minute.
Rubin's column was syndicated. The version that was published by the Baltimore Sun today contained this reference to Rwanda:
After the Rwandan slaughter of 800,000 in 1994, there seemed to be strong public sentiment against permitting another such mass killing.
But the Sun's version deleted the next sentence from Rubin's original column:
President Bush reportedly wrote in the margins of a study on Rwanda: "Not on my watch."
If you want to contribute to the relief effort and/or simply stay on top of what's happening in Darfur, check out our sister blog: Coalition for Darfur.

A Real Apology? I'm Going to Faint

A pro baseball player who is playing minor league ball for a farm club of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays has been suspended indefinitely for throwing a bat that hit an umpire in the chest earlier this week. The player, Delmon Young, not only issued an apology, but it was a real apology.

As much as I have complained on this blog about public figures who issue phony apologies, it's worth recognizing that some of them are capable of truly apologizing.

This was Young's apology:
"I sincerely regret my actions in the game yesterday. Regrettably, in the heat of the competition my emotions got the better of me.

"My behaviour was completely unacceptable. I want everyone to know that I recognize that it is never right to throw a bat and I certainly never intended for the bat to make contact with the umpire. Nevertheless, I owe an apology to my team, the fans and most importantly to the umpire, for the incident. I am sorry."
Wow. His apology didn't contain a single "if." Amazing.

A Film That's "Catchy, Hip" and Grasping at Straws

A new independent film on the 9/11 tragedies is creating quite a buzz and fedding the fancies of conspiratorial types:

... (the film) says, among other things, that the Pentagon was hit by a cruise missile fired by the military as an excuse to go to war.

Called Loose Change, it is being downloaded from the Internet and shown in small screenings here and overseas. It is not alone in the genre, and it is not unusual in American history either to offer simplistic explanations or demonize opponents.

The film appears especially popular among young people immersed in a Web culture brimming with sites that question the credibility of government. They see 9/11 as the defining moment of their lives.

“This is our generation's Vietnam, our generation's Kennedy assassination,'' says Korey Rowe, 23, the film's producer. .... Made by Rowe and friend Dylan Avery, 22, from Oneonta, N.Y., on a laptop computer for less than $10,000, the film contrasts sharply with United 93, a film opening today that portrays the struggle for the jetliner that crashed in Shanksville, Pa.

... Most of what the film alleges is refuted by the evidence at hand. Anything not answered definitively by the government is interpreted by the film as proof of a coverup.

Among the assertions in Loose Change is that a missile hit the Pentagon even though eyewitnesses saw the jet, numerous pieces of wreckage were found including the flight recorder, and those on the flight and in its path at the Pentagon are dead.

There is also the claim that because jet fuel burns at up to 1,500 degrees and steel melts at 2,750 degrees, the World Trade Center's infrastructure could not have been brought down by the airliners. However, as reported by the Journal of the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society, steel loses 50% of its strength at 1,200 degrees, enough for a failure.

“The only thing they (the filmmakers) seem to have gotten right about the Sept. 11 attacks is the date when they occurred,'' says Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of American Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon.

... Some college students who saw Loose Change and are promoting it say it's good to raise questions. .... Christian Pecaut, 25, a Stanford graduate who is promoting the film at the University of California, Berkeley campus, said the film is “catchy, hip,” with an “upbeat soundtrack.”

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The GOP's (Latest) Empty-Headed Proposal

I thought the Democrats were bankrupt of ideas, but the GOP is now giving the Dems a run for their money. This is the clinging-to-the-status-quo proposal that Senate Republicans are pushing:
Every American taxpayer would get a $100 rebate check to offset the pain of higher pump prices for gasoline, under an amendment Senate Republicans hope to bring to a vote Thursday.

However, the GOP energy package may face tough sledding because it also includes a controversial proposal to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, which most Democrats and some moderate Republicans oppose.
There's no price tag estimated for the cost of this gimmicky proposal, which will simply add to the deficit while providing very little cushion from rising gas prices.

Is it such a terrible thing that Americans are reminded of the down side of having an economy that is dependent on oil? Americans are facing a lot of cost pressures these days. Why are Republicans so much more concerned with the rising price of gasoline than with the rising price of health care?

These rising prices could have the silver lining of building a consensus for greater investments in synthetic fuels, liquified natural gas and other alternatives to oil. They encourage more Americans to buy hybrid cars.

Finally, the CNN article doesn't mention how much it will cost the federal government to process and print these $100 checks and then mail them to every taxpayer. That cost will simply be added to an already swelling deficit.

Real Reform or Just Window-Dressing?

Am I the only one who is shaking his head over calls by a U.S. Senate panel to abolish FEMA? It doesn't seem to me that anyone has yet proven that FEMA's failings during Katrina were agency-wide. Most of what hampered FEMA's efforts can be traced back to the man who was then at the helm: Michael Brown. And he has already been abolished, so to speak.

Even if FEMA has systemic, internal troubles to address, I frankly wonder, as does Slate.com's Eric Umansky, whether the Senate panel's report addresses those problems. Umansky writes:
The report calls for the agency to be replaced with (or is it relabeled as?) the "National Preparedness and Response Authority," whose chief would still work inside DHS but would brief the president personally.

The GOP's Sudden Interest in "Price-Gouging"

At Slate.com, Jacob Weisberg writes:
Few topics seem to addle the collective brain of Washington like high gas prices.

... Republican talk about price-gouging is inane at several levels. If you don't have some sort of monopoly power, gouging is another word for charging the highest price the market will bear, also known as capitalism. This is why the FTC investigation has turned up nothing.

What constrains filling stations from marking up gas excessively is not the fear of prosecution but competition from other filling stations. Even many Republican congressmen understand this, but calling for an investigation is a good way to deflect attention from the party's favoritism toward corporations that are now so profitable that they have become unpopular.

Of course, there is outrageous anti-competitive conduct in the petroleum industry — it's called OPEC. But no presidential administration, especially the current one, takes seriously the idea that this price-fixing cartel is a criminal conspiracy under American law.
As for Democrats? Weisberg writes:
Democrats, who can barely restrain their glee at this political opportunity, bandy the same implausible complaints about gouging and "speculation" and speak even more enthusiastically about confiscating oil-company profits. They also have their own distinctive form of gas-price stupidity, which is to ignore the conflict between the environmentalism they espouse and the cheap fuel they demand.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi even moaned about high gas prices in her Earth Day statement last week. If you care, as Pelosi claims to, about clean air and preserving the coastline, you should welcome high gas prices.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

EU Report Cites CIA Violations

The Associated Press reports:
European lawmakers said Wednesday they had discovered a "widespread regular practice" of human rights violations by the CIA in Europe. The lawmakers said they had documented a series of incidents in which terror suspects were kidnapped by the CIA in Europe, or handed over to the agency by European officials in violation of human rights treaties.

They said they had also found that the CIA has conducted more than 1,000 undeclared flights over European territory since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks — some carrying suspected terrorists to countries where they could face torture

... "After 9/11, within the framework of the fight against terrorism, the violation of human and fundamental rights was not isolated or an excessive measure confined to a short period of time, but rather a widespread regular practice in which the majority of European countries were involved," said Italian lawmaker Giovanni Claudio Fava, who drafted the report.

The CIA declined to comment on the report.

... Secret stopovers in Europe en route to countries where suspects could face torture, and extraordinary renditions of detainees would breach the continent's human rights treaties.

As of late December, some 100 to 150 people have been seized in "renditions" involving taking terror suspects off the street of one country and flying them to their home country or another where they are wanted for a crime or questioning.

... Data showed that CIA planes made numerous stops on European territory that were never declared, violating an international treaty that requires airlines to declare the route and stopovers for planes with a police mission, Fava said.

"The routes for some of these flights seem to be quite suspect. .... They are rather strange routes for flights to take. It is hard to imagine ... those stopovers were simply for providing fuel," he said.

"... A Joyous Refresher of Your Cherished Memories of Me"

When I first stumbled upon this website for Zimbabwe's president-for-life, Robert Mugabe, I was a little suspicious that it wasn't his official website. On the one hand, the home page features this didactic statement:
Dear Comrades,

After the recent spate of biased and mischievous reporting by the colonialist foreign press, I have ultimately decided to reveal to you, the honest and hard-working citizens of Zimbabwe, a little more of Mugabe -- The Man.

I know you love your leader as much as you love your country. I know you deserve to see what kind of man I am. To those of you that already know me, this will simply be a joyous refresher of your cherished memories of me. To those with the still unfulfilled desire to know me better, I welcome you to an intimate glimpse of Mugabe -- The Man.
On the other hand, having read quotes and transcripts of Mugabe's speeches, these egomaniacal phrases seemed plausibly to be from Mugabe's mouth.

But the parody was exposed after I clicked on the My Early Years link. Quite amusing.

Yeah, Right

At a news conference this morning, President Bush made these remarks as he introduced his new press secretary, Tony Snow:
[Tony Snow] understands like I understand that the press is vital to our democracy. .... He's going to work hard to provide you with timely information about my philosophy, my priorities, and the actions we're taking to implement our agenda.
Why do I find this hard to believe?

Is This Study Surprising?

I think not. From the Boston Globe:
A combination of therapy and incentives -- such as clothing and movie tickets -- can be successful in helping someone kick a marijuana addiction, according to a new study.

... (The study) followed 90 men and women who had been diagnosed as being dependent on marijuana. One group received vouchers, redeemable for pre-approved uses such as meals, clothing or movie tickets. Another group received cognitive therapy and a third group received both vouchers and therapy. The group that received both had the highest success rate, with 43 percent of subjects no longer smoking marijuana at the end of the 14-week study.

"We found that vouchers generated greater rates of marijuana abstinence compared with therapy alone, but that therapy enhanced the voucher effect following treatment," said Alan Budney, professor in the department of psychiatry in the [University of Arkansas] College of Medicine.

... Participants in the study, which was conducted in Vermont, had the potential to earn a total of $570 to be used for "almost anything pro-social" such as restaurant meals, movie tickets, exercise equipment, children's games or work clothes, said Andrea Peel, a UAMS spokeswoman.

Twice a week, participants could receive their vouchers if they passed drug tests.
I'm not sure I'd call movie-going a "pro-social" activity; even if you go to the movie with a friend, you can't talk to them (at least you're not supposed to).

But, more importantly, should it really surprise us that pot smokers can be encouraged to stop smoking marijuana if they're bought off with free restaurant meals, new clothes and free movie tickets?

Frankly, this study makes my college alma mater look a little silly.

It Goes Both Ways!

It's well known that the American public's ideas about gays and lesbians has been in a period of radical flux over the past decade or so. But a new marketing survey shows that attitudes and expectations of gays and lesbians about themselves is changing too.
Two-thirds of lesbians and a third of gay men in the United States plan to add children to their families over the next three years, according to a marketing survey to be released this week.

Those numbers have increased dramatically over the past four years, according to Jeffrey Garber, president of OpusComm Group, which conducted the annual survey of gays and lesbians with Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

In 2002, just 15 percent of lesbians and 5 percent of gay men told the researchers they would add children to their families.

"People are saying they're more comfortable with their sexuality, that they have a right to a life partner. And along with that -- if they have a loving home -- why not a child?" Garber said.

In the same time period, the proportion of gay people surveyed who reported being "out" increased from 93 to 97 percent.
Yes, I know because it is a marketing survey it's not scientific, however, that doesn't mean that attitudes by gay and lesbians about marriage and parenting aren't shifting rather dramatically. This is especially pronounced by comparing LGBT people in their teens with people who are 30 or older.

I am cringing as I write this, but, back in my day when I was a teenager there were no "out" students or teachers in my high school. I was closeted to nearly everyone but a few of my closest friends-- most of whom were glbt as well. I'm not saying this out of any self of self-pity, but we all suffered a lot for it. I had a friend who was harassed so much for being suspected of being gay that he had to drop out of public school and go to a private Catholic school-- because the school itself and the teachers didn't think anti-gay harassment was a problem. I had another friend who contemplated killing himself because he feared what his future as a gay man would be like, he feared being rejected by his family. I look back and am very thankful that we all made it to adulthood, to see that most of our fears only reflected the times we were in, not the way things have turned out to be.

Sometimes when I think about the life I have now, at the age of 30, I am keenly aware that I have a life I never could have imagined for myself at the age of 15. Happily married to a woman I am deeply in love with with the full love and support of my entire family? Not to mention that we are planning on having children soon? Nope. Honestly, I don't think it crossed my mind. It just wasn't on the menu.

Even when I think back to my early years, even though I grew up in a very progressive, feminist family, the subject of homosexuality might have been mentioned once or twice, but only in passing. This is in spite of the fact that my parents were big proponents of giving us a lot of shame-free, age-appropriate books about sex and sexuality as we were growing up. But homosexuality was never a subject in any of those books, there wasn't even a cursory paragraph that explained that "sometimes women love women" or "men love men." In all my conversations about sex with my mom lesbianism never came up. It just didn't occur to her to bring it up.

Steroetypically, I grew up feeling and knowing I was "different" but didn't know why. But kids growing up GLBT today? An entirely different experience. I can't even imagine what our community is going to look like in 20-30 years.

FoxNews and White House Merger

Our Decider-in-Chief can't seem to make a good decision these days. The hiring of a FauxNews right-wing pundit as his press secretary seems like a storyline ripped straight from The Onion.

Why stop at Tony Snow? Why not just make Rupert Murdoch an offer and buy the whole channel?

It'll be interesting to see if Tony Snow turns out to be a retread of the whole Harriet Miers fiasco. Like Miers, I think it's highly possible that this could turn into a joke and an embarassment considering all of Snow's not-so-flattering things Snow has said about Bush and his agenda in the not so distant past. The last thing the Bush Administration needs right now is this to become a leggy story about his own press secretary being on record that he thinks that Bush is an "embarassment" as well as "impotent."

I'm not sure why they think this selection will help their image-- oh, wait, because they live in a Magical Bubble That Reality Cannot Penetrate. They are, in a word, clueless.

By the way, just an (obvious) suggestion-- whenever Snow starts dancing around and avoiding uncomfortable questions the way that the press secretary job requires, it should be called a Snowjob.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Speech v. Silence

In honor of the official National Day of Silence (NDoS) tomorrow I want to address a recent 9th Circuit decision that has a lot of conservatives upset and angry because the court affirmed the ruling of a lower court that stated that a public high school has the right to have and enforce a dress code that clearly states that students are not permitted to wear clothing with inflammatory messages that degrade other students.

This student and his right-wing lawyers believe he had his first amendment rights trampled on. I would wholeheartedly agree if he were in college, as I am a very strong opponent of hate speech codes, specifically in a higher ed setting. Not only are they unconstitutional but they also don't accomplish much of anything except exacerbate tensions, sometimes they even create tensions that weren't there before. While words themselves can be weapons if they are used in a threatening manner, the expression of bad or offensive ideas are not inherently hostile.

That being said, a public school, specifically high school, it is a completely different context. Why? We're talking about the behavior and expression of (mostly) minors in a compulsory, government-funded institution.

To be frank, the case at the center of this controversy is pretty pathetic as far as test cases go. As it states in Harper v. Poway a student wore a shirt that had handwritten on the front, "Be Ashamed, Our School Has Embraced What God Has Condemed," and on the back, "Homosexuality is Shameful." He specifically chose to wear this shirt on the student-led National Day of Silence protest that is supposed to represent the silence and isolation felt by GLBTQ students and the silencing effect of homophobia. A teacher first noticed his shirt because other students were reacting to and talking about it in the classroom. The student was asked to change the shirt, he refused. He then demanded to see an administrator.

In the case it is reported that he had already had a dispute about it with with other students that morning. The principal decided that the shirt violated the school's dress code that banned inflammatory, inciteful messages and said that he could return to class if he removed it. So what actually happened to the student? The student refused to remove or change his shirt so he was kept in the principal's offices for the day, he had no disciplanary actions placed against him and he got full attendence credit for the day. (Even though he asked to be suspended-- twice.) By all accounts he was treated well by everyone, the principal even “discussed [with Harper] ways that he and students of his faith could bring a positive light onto this issue without the condemnation that he displayed on his shirt.” The lawsuit alleges that he has a right to wear the shirt based on first amendment grounds, that it was specially protected religious speech. The court disagrees.

The courts have construed the First Amendment as applied to public schools in a manner that attempts to strike a balance between the free speech rights of students and the special need to maintain a safe, secure and effective learning environment. See, e.g., Tinker, 393 U.S. at 507 (balancing the need for “scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual” against the need of schools to perform their proper educational function). This court has expressly recognized the need for such balance: “States have a compelling interest in their educational system, and a balance must be met between the First Amendment rights of students and preservation of the educational process.” LaVine v. Blaine Sch. Dist., 257 F.3d 981, 988 (9th Cir. 2001).

The fact is that public schools have all kinds of rules that govern student behavior-- including expression-- and dress codes are part of those rules. Shirts that have curse words, sexual or derogatory images, racial slurs or epithets are banned without question. (They don't even have to be banned to explicitly condemn or reject their message, but because they are disruptive and inflammatory.) It's not hard to imagine that a hostile message on a t-shirt could incite verbal as well as physical conflict among students. If one is to concede that schools are obligated to do what they can to minimize the harassment of students by other students, to decrease the likelihood of violence between students, if that means banning a t-shirt that says "Homosexuality is Shameful" then so be it. The same rule should be evenly applied to any message that condemns or mocks another group of students-- so an explicitly anti-Christian shirt would also be covered under that policy.

The thing that truly bugs me is that this lawsuit wouldn't exist if the shirt had said something derogatory about, say, Jews or Muslims or kids with disabilities. It's because it's about homosexuality.

Frankly what the school is trying to do is strike a certain balance and they should be given the power and discretion to do so. The fact is that most high schools are barely-controlled chaos as the students far outnumber the teachers. In fact such a dress code rule isn't just about protecting students who are harassed and marginalized, but it also serves to protect a student wearing an inflammatory t-shirt from getting in a fight with other students.

That is the brilliance of the NDoS-- the kids who participate aren't harassing anyone, they're not actually criticizing anyone, they're merely using organized, intentional silence to symbolically speak volumes. Clearly it's a hard thing to counter.

This isn't the end of this case, though, the kids's right-wing attorneys at the Alliance Defense Fund have promised to appeal, claiming that “The majority implied that Brokeback Mountain is in, and the Bible is out."

"H" Is for Halliburton, not Helpful

Why does it seem that so many fu**-ups in Iraq lead to Halliburton's doorstep?
... Robert Sanders was sent by the Army (in 2004) to inspect the construction work an American company was doing on the banks of the Tigris River, 130 miles north of Baghdad .....What he found instead that day in July 2004 looked like some gargantuan heart-bypass operation gone nightmarishly bad.

A crew had bulldozed a 300-foot-long trench along a giant drill bit in their desperate attempt to yank it loose from the riverbed. A supervisor later told him that the project's crews knew that drilling the holes was not possible, but that they had been instructed by the company in charge of the project to continue anyway.

The project, called the Fatah pipeline crossing, had been a critical element of a $2.4 billion no-bid reconstruction contract that a Halliburton subsidiary had won from the Army in 2003.

The spot where about 15 pipelines crossed the Tigris had been the main link between Iraq's rich northern oil fields and the export terminals and refineries that could generate much-needed gasoline, heating fuel and revenue for Iraqis.

... The Fatah project went ahead despite warnings from experts that it could not succeed because the underground terrain was shattered and unstable.

It continued chewing up astonishing amounts of cash when the predicted problems bogged the work down, with a contract that allowed crews to charge as much as $100,000 a day as they waited on standby.

More Interesting Than Aunt Martha's Slide Show

Slate.com is featuring this photo essay by Paul Fusco that says far more than words could about the legacy of Chernobyl.

Another Phony Apology

Over the past few years, Eugene and I have posted on this unwelcome and growing phenomenon: the non-apology apology. To halt bad press and public flack, someone says, "I am sorry if people were offended ..."

This time, it's from the sports world. The offending party is Keith Hernandez, who is the broadcast analyst for the New York Mets' baseball team. It all happened during the TV broadcast of the game played Saturday between the Mets and the San Diego Padres. As the New York Times explains:
When [Kelly Calabrese] was hired by the San Diego Padres in 2004, she was the first woman working full time on the training staff of a major league team, and she is still the only one. But what she did not realize was that anyone would think it was a big deal.

The 33-year-old Calabrese suddenly became a big deal when Hernandez, a Mets television analyst, saw her in the Padres' dugout during Saturday night's game against the Mets ..."
This is what Hernandez told his TV audience when he spotted Calabrese in the dugout:
"Who is the girl in the dugout, with the long hair? What's going on here? You have got to be kidding me. Only player personnel in the dugout.

... "I won't say that women belong in the kitchen, but they don't belong in the dugout."
Bruce Bochy, the Padres manager, offered this reaction to Hernandez' words: "I didn't think gender was even an issue anymore."

Hernandez has reportedly apologized for his remarks. But his apology was pretty lame. According to today's USA Today, Hernandez said on Monday "if I offended anybody I sincerely apologize." He obviously offended somebody. Even he knew that or else he wouldn't have said what he did on Monday.

So, once again, a public figure declines to acknowledge that what he said or did was wrong -- i.e., a real apology. Instead, what we get from Hernandez is a non-apology apology that almost suggests the problem wasn't what he said, but, rather, that some people out there are "too sensitive."

Not only did Hernandez show himself to be a narrow-minded fool; he also revealed that he could use a refresher course on Major League Baseball rules. As the Times explains:
... Hernandez, while backing away from his gender distinction yesterday, maintained that a massage therapist was not allowed in the dugout.

Major League Baseball officials said, however, that while there were restrictions on how many trainers and conditioning staff members could be in the dugout at one time, they did not dictate which ones could be there.
Associated Press sports columnist Tim Dahlberg summed up the episode best:
Apparently "Just For Men" isn't just a hair dye that Hernandez endorses. It's his way of looking at life.

Fly the Frenzied Skies

Tired of cramped airline seats? Believe it or not, the future of air travel may get even worse. As the New York Times' Christopher Elliott reports:
The airlines have come up with a new answer to an old question: How many passengers can be squeezed into economy class?

A lot more, it turns out, especially if an idea still in the early stage should catch on: standing-room-only "seats."

Airbus has been quietly pitching the standing-room-only option to Asian carriers, though none have agreed to it yet. Passengers in the standing section would be propped against a padded backboard, held in place with a harness, according to experts who have seen a proposal.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Want Some Dirty, Bloodsoaked Fake Money?

I don't ever open or read spam, but the sender's name caught my eye. The email says it is from Charles Taylor's personal attorney.
My name is Barrister XXXXX(Esq.), the personal attorney to the former president of Liberia MR CHARLES TAYLOR here referred as my client who is presently in political asylum.

Before his departure to asylum, my client handed over to me some documents containing his deposit in one of the security company here in Ghana and he instructed me to move this consignment out of Ghana through a diplomatic courier.

The consignment contains money worth of ($30.8) Thirty million eight hundred thousand United States Dollars in the two trunk boxes right now in the Finance firm.
Ugh. I have no words for the revulsion I have towards whomever is trying to run an identity theft scam using the promise of a well-known warlord's blood money.

I hate people.

The Army's Perspective: 38% = a "Slight Increase"

The Associated Press reported:
The number of U.S. Army soldiers who took their own lives increased last year to the highest total since 1993, despite a growing effort by the Army to detect and prevent suicides.

In 2005, a total of 83 soldiers committed suicide, compared with 67 in 2004, and 60 in 2003 — the year U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq.
But this Army official didn't seem all that bothered by the news:
“Although we are not alarmed by the slight increase, we do take suicide prevention very seriously,” said Army spokesman Col. Joseph Curtin.

Let's be clear here. What the Army calls a "slight increase" is a 38% jump in the past two years.

So how can we believe his claim that the Army takes the issue of suicide "very seriously" when he says the Army is not alarmed by a 38% jump in suicides?

The Christian Right: Georgia's On Their Mind

Bible-thumping conservatives are at it again. Georgia's GOP governor just recently signed a bill into law that creates an elective course on the history of the Bible. According to the latest issue of Newsweek, a key question now is which Bible curriculum will local districts decide to use:

... two groups with national influence and powerful backers are offering states comprehensive curricula. .... the National Council for Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, backed by a long list of conservative evangelicals, including Pat Robertson, says its curriculum is already taught in 353 school districts.

[A new] study, written by Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University, says that the (National Council) program teaches the Bible from a primarily conservative Protestant view. The council says its approach is constitutional.

... State Sen. Tommie Williams, one of the Georgia bill's authors, used the council's curriculum as a guide when drafting his proposal. "We simply have to teach 'This is what happened — make your own judgments'," he says.

How does he know "what happened" thousands of years ago in Biblical times? The events described in the Bible are what a court of law would call "heresay." So it's presumptuous for Williams or anyone else to say, "This is what happened."

Williams' statement also strikes me as contradictory. Telling students, "This is what happened," suggests that there's no room for them to "make [their] own judgments."

Of course, the most intense debate over the Bible lies not in the events or "what happened," but, instead, in what the Bible supposedly teaches about morality and human behavior. Putting the State in the position of interpreting these Biblical teachings is completely inappropriate.

Of course, even if we somehow knew what the correct interpretation of the Bible was, there's no reason why that interpretation should be taught in a manner that elevates it above other religious or non-religious points of view.

Those Earmark-and-Spend Conservatives

From Sunday's New York Times:

It was only last month that the Senate staged a breast-beating debate about the need to control the rampant pork-spending abuse of earmarks — boondoggle appropriations tucked into vital legislation with little public scrutiny.

Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, orated on the side of the angels in calling for reform. Well, the angels have lost another player.

As the Senate returns from recess it will confront the year's prize porker blithely trotted out by Senator Lott — a $700 million earmark to relocate a Gulf Coast rail line, which was just rebuilt, post-Katrina, at a cost of $250 million.

Invoked in the name of public safety, the project is actually a transparent attempt to tap already scarce hurricane reconstruction funds so the rail bed can be replaced by a touristy "beach boulevard" long sought by Mississippi to aid the casino industry and coastal developers.

The railroad relocation dwarfs the $223 million "bridge to nowhere" proposed for the Alaska outback, the giveaway that brought all the vows for reform from Congress.

Even worse, Senator Lott and his fellow Mississippi Republican, Thad Cochran, are attaching this frivolous add-on to a bill that is supposed to be used to pay for emergencies — specifically the war in Iraq and hurricane reconstruction.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Stay Away from South Dakota is You're a Female of Childbearing Age

It's just not safe there with folks like these running the state.

Last month South Dakota state senator Bill Napoli made a name for himself by stating that he wants to ban all abortions without exceptions, well, unless the woman is a Christian teenage virgin and was raped in places other than just her babycave, then it's OK.

Well now Rep. Joel Dykstra has said something that is, quite possibly, even more insane.
“I think ‘rape and incest’ is a buzzword,” said Rep. Joel Dykstra about not including those conditions in the abortion bill. “It’s a bit of a throwaway line and not everybody who says that really understands what that means. How are you going to define that?”
Hmmmm. Apparently he's never heard of something called the criminal code and isn't familiar with the concept of writing and passing laws. (Which is pretty funny coming from a legislator.)

Either that or he doesn't believe a girl or woman ever has the right to say no.

Oil: Could the Future Be Even More Bleak?

Normally, I wouldn't feel a sense of panic hearing someone make this prediction:
"I believe we are either at or very close to peak oil (production). If I'm right, then we have to assume that five or 10 years from now we'll be producing less oil than we are today. And yet we have a society that is expecting, under the most conservative assumptions, that oil usage will grow by at least 30 to 50 percent over the next 25 years.

"In other words, we would end up with only 70 percent of the oil we have today when we would need to have 150 percent.

"It's a problem of staggering economic proportions -- far greater than the temporary setback of a terrorist attack on energy infrastructure -- that could end up leading to more geopolitical fistfights than you can ever imagine. The fistfights turn into weapon fights and give way to a very ugly society."
But this forecast isn't coming from a flake, an environmental lefty or just another "someone" trying to sell a book. This is the prediction made several months ago by Matthew Simmons, an investment banker and Harvard Business School grad who has cozy Republican contacts.

Not surprisingly, part of Simmons' prescription to deal with this anticipated crisis is dramatically increasing oil drilling (both in ANWAR and off-shore sites).

But his prediction begs a question: Why won't the Democratic Party call for a Marshall Plan-like approach to significantly ramp up the level of federal investment in the research and other incentives needed to produce alternative fuels that will make America energy independent? (Hell, even Bush has decried the level of America's oil dependence; he just hasn't offered any concrete proposals to address it.)

A Marshall Plan to make America energy independent by, say, the year 2013 would also portray Dems as a party of ideas, as a party focused on the future.

It not only makes good policy sense, but I think it can be sold to those Bubba voters as a way to stick it to those Middle Eastern oil barons. And it can be sold to entrepreneurial types as a way to spawn a whole new generation of innovation and business activity.

When we decided it was so critical to land a man on the friggin' moon, we did it. Surely, with so much more at stake today than just American pride, we can free ourselves of the oil addiction.

At Least in This Case He's Being Honest

When oil prices rise and the media interviews a public official from Saudi Arabia or another OPEC country, the official invariably offers reassurance that the rise is only a temporary spike in prices and sounds almost disappointed that prices are rising.

For that reason, it was kind of refreshing to read this news story from Reuters:
Iran’s president said on Friday the rise in oil price was “very good,” Iran’s Mehr News Agency reported, emphasizing the hawkish position of the world’s fourth largest oil exporter as crude prices have hit record levels.

“The increase of the oil price and growth of oil income is very good and we hope that the oil prices reach their real levels,” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said as he toured an oil exhibition in Tehran ...
Yes, Ahmadinejad is a holocaust denier. He is also a scary religious zealot who, as mayor of Tehran, required all male city employees to have beards and instituted separate elevators for male and female municipal employees.

Yes, he is all of these things and more. But, unlike his peers in other oil-rich nations, at least he's not pretending to be anything other than pleased that his country is reaping hefty profits from oil exports.

Naturally

Fox News host Tony Snow is listed by the Washington Post's Reliable Source as one of the leading contenders (4-1 odds) to replace White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

How interesting that a key figure from a supposedly "fair and balanced" network would be seen as such a natural choice for the Bushies.

The Post's Credibility Springs a Leak

Daily Kos reported yesterday:
Media Matters is taking on Fred Hiatt's editorial inanity directly at the source. They're running an ad on WaPo's online editoral page critical of the paper's "A Good Leak." .... Remember that one? The one that was directly contradicted by a news article appearing the same day on the front page of the paper? The Media Matters ad asks what we've all been asking: "Do Washington Post editorial writers read their own newspaper?"
But I felt the New York Times provided the best rejoinder to the Post editorial. The Times' headlined its editorial "A Bad Leak":

... the version of the facts that Mr. Libby was authorized to divulge was so distorted that it seems more like disinformation than any sincere attempt to inform the public.

This fits the pattern of Mr. Bush's original sales pitch on the Iraq war — hyping the intelligence that bolstered his case and suppressing the intelligence that undercut it. In this case, Mr. Libby was authorized to talk about claims that Iraq had tried to buy uranium for nuclear weapons in Africa and not more reliable evidence to the contrary.

... Since Mr. Bush regularly denounces leakers, the White House has made much of the notion that he did not leak classified information, he declassified it. This explanation strains credulity. Even a president cannot wave a wand and announce that an intelligence report is declassified.

To declassify an intelligence document, officials have to decide whether disclosing the information would jeopardize the sources that provided it or the methods used to gather it.

To answer that question, they closely study the origins of the intelligence to be disclosed. Had Mr. Bush done that, he should have seen that the most credible information made it clear that the Niger story was wrong.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Duck isn't Lame, it's on Life Support

Bush's approval rating is 33% according to a new FoxNews poll. Although, quixotically, of that 33% only 52% say "he is doing a good job."

A few other fun poll facts:

57% dispprove of Bush, 11% of which say it's because they just don't like him.

66% of Republicans approve of Bush-- this is the first time in Bush's presidency that he has had ratings below 70% among Republicans.

11% of Democrats approve of Bush, representing the perpetually confused, drunken, or possibly institutionalized wing of the party.

And guess whose approval rating is higher than Bush's? Donald Rumsfeld got 35% in the same poll. (There was no mention of Cheney's ratings in this poll.)

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who does everyone like most of all? Condi has 60% approval ratings. (Good thing she's not running in '08, right? Although frankly I don't have too much confidence that America would elect a smart, single, childless African-American woman as president.)

Just an aside-- a funny coincidence-- guess how many months Bush in his presidency?

33.

Finally, I Agree With Peggy Noonan

Noonan has written this column in today's Wall Street Journal in which the former Reagan speechwriter assesses Bush's presidency in the wake of staff comings and goings. Noonan writes:
[Bush] is not, like Jimmy Carter, a man who seeks to gain a sense of control by focusing on details.
She's dead right in that assessment. No danger of Bush considering the details. And although this use of "details" probably had a different connotation for Noonan than how I'm reading it, later in the same column Noonan seems to acknowledge that some details deserve a president's focus. She writes:
[Bush] seeks a sense of control by making and sticking to the decision. When he won't budge, the White House won't budge. When it clings to an idea beyond evidence and history, it is Mr. Bush who is doing the clinging.
She couldn't quite bring herself to tap the letters S-T-U-B-B-O-R-N on her computer keyboard. But at least Noonan seems to agree that "evidence and history" are pretty important details -- details that a president shouldn't have to be coaxed or reminded to pay attention to.

The More Things Change, the More .....

Excerpts from an editorial in today's New York Times:
President Bush wants to show the nation he's shaking things up in his administration, but it is clear that the people who messed everything up will remain in place. The press secretary goes; the political-and-domestic-policy adviser is losing half his portfolio. There's a new White House chief of staff.

But the folks at the Defense Department are still on the job, doing ... what they've been doing.

Metaphors about deck chairs abound.
And even where the personnel changes are substantive ....
The administration is changing the fiscal team, but doing everything possible to send the signal that there are no new brooms in this venture — just the same old faces with new labels.

Rob Portman will morph from being the trade representative into being the director of the White House budget office. Mr. Portman, a longtime Bush loyalist, used his nomination acceptance speech to champion all the policies that wrecked things in the first place. More tax cuts will be forthcoming, he vowed, and budget cuts will make things balance out in the end.

We Are a Strange Race of Beings

From Channel NewsAsia:
A woman known world-wide as the "hugging saint" has been creating a sensation in a building off Singapore's Orchard Road. Hundreds have been queuing for hours just for the chance of a three-second hug from her.

Fifty-three-year-old Mata Amritanandamayi has built hospitals and raised millions for tsunami victims. But Mata, better known as 'Amma', meaning 'mother', is best known simply for hugging people.

Over the past 35 years (she) has probably hugged almost a million people a year, many of them on her travels around the world to places like Japan, the US, Europe and the Middle East.

... "You have to experience [one of her hugs] yourself. I cannot explain it, it's a really good feeling," one person said.

... crowds of people from all ages, races and religions, who range from lawyers to teachers to businessmen, continue to flock to her. Many queued for up to four hours for the chance of a three-second cuddle from her.

"Our queue number is about 2,000, so we still intend to wait and queue," said one patient person.

Such a scene is quite the norm -- Amma's assistants say she often goes on for up to 24 hours at a stretch without stopping for food, rest, or even a bathroom break.

Organisers expect about 8,000 people to have seen her by the end of her three-day visit.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

That's Some Damn Fine Kool-Aid

An e-mail from my little buddy Ricky "War on Christians" Scarborough on the proven effectiveness of right-wing corporate boycotts.
FORD’S FUTURE ON COLLISION COURSE WITH SUPPORT FOR GAY MARRIAGE

The giant automaker is being rocked by a boycott (launched by the American Family Association, but backed by a coalition of more than 20 pro-family organizations including Vision America) over its support for gay marriage. [ed.- italics mine]

During March, Ford’s sales declined 5% over the same period last year. AFA discloses that since the boycott began, shares of Ford’s stock have lost roughly 7% of their value.

So, what is Ford’s response? The company is proudly sponsoring a homosexual “marriage” commitment ceremony at the upcoming Motor City Pride Event (June 2-4 in Detroit). My friend Don Wildmon, AFA chairman, comments, “Evidently Chairman Bill Ford is willing to take the company into bankruptcy in Ford’s support of homosexual marriage.”

This demonstrates the hold the gay agenda has on American companies. Once, Ford proudly stood for family values. Today, the company is spitting in the faces of millions of American families who have been its loyal customers.
This is true only in your dreams.

The first rule of boycotting a corporation is that people have to actually know about it for anyone to claim success. But since few people about this we-hate-homos boycott, a boycott that has been on-again and off-again for a year, I'd say it's a little silly that any of them can take credit for this. Also, Ford says their spring sales are down 2.8% from last year, not 5%. But that is beside the point.

At least they got one thing right, it's always a safe bet to declare a boycott on a company that is known to be having financial trouble, especially if their industry overall is smarting. They can keep telling themselves that Ford's problems are because of their boycott, which only works as long as they don't ever read a newspaper or watch the news on TV. The thing is that I rarely read the business section and even I'm well aware that the entire American auto industry has been having a lot of trouble for some time-- Ford, GM and Crysler are all in deep trouble. The fact is that Americans are buying more Japanese cars than American cars. GM just reported its worst quarter earnings in 13 years, are they going to find a way to take credit for that too? Oh, wait, but they didn't boycott them...interesting.

Ford's problems have nothing to do with supporting gay rights, it has everything to do with their production of oversized, gas-guzzling American SUVs and a host of other business problems. (Ford likes to blame their workers greedy demand for health care and a living wage, but that's a topic for another day.) These Boycottford.com folks must think their followers are all pretty stupid, don't watch or listen to the news, read the newspaper or understand the difference between correlation and causation-- which is probably a pretty safe bet as well.

I Guess Vietnam Has a Few Abramoffs

The Vietnamese Communist Party's 10th party congress has gathered in Hanoi this week amid the aftermath of the PMU 18 scandal, named for the government agency that is charged with building highways, bridges and other infrastructure.

The scandal emerged when news broke that several administrators in this agency had been skimming millions of dollars from public projects and taking kickbacks from contractors. According to Agence France-Presse (AFP):
Some of the (skimmed) money was used to buy property and to bet on top English and Spanish league football matches.

Transport Minister Dao Dinh Binh was forced to resign and his deputy minister Nguyen Viet Tien was arrested.
Surprisingly, much of the public's outrage over the PMU 18 scandal has been fueled by the media. That wouldn't be noteworthy in most western countries, but Vietnam's media is state-controlled.

According to AFP: "State media has been unusually aggressive on the corruption issue in recent weeks, openly accusing relatives of top officials of involvement in the scam."

Greta Van Susteren: On the Ball

So I stumbled across this inane profile of Greta Van Susteren and discovered, heretofore totally unbeknownst to me, that she grew up in the same town that I did.

And then I discovered that she is an idiot
"Last Sunday I'm at home," said Shine, the Fox programming executive, "and I get a BlackBerry e-mail from Greta: 'Can you send me to Darfur?' That's how Greta's mind works. She's read the paper, something's struck her as interesting and important to find out about, and now she wants to go do it."
Wow, three years into the genocide and Van Susteren finally reads something about it that was interesting enough to temporarily distract her from her wall-to-wall coverage of Natalee Holloway.

And now she wants to go for a visit.

Too bad she didn't discover this before 400,000 people had died and the entire place descended into f***ing anarchy.

Playing Duck-Duck-Goose on the Titanic

Awww, such sad news. No more Scotty. Rove sorta steps sideways slightly so he can spend more time with his family, er, I mean on the mid-terms.

So, who is replacing Scotty "Stonewall" McClellan?

When I first read this I reminded myself that it's Wednesday, the day The Onion comes out-- FoxNews's Tony Snow is being considered to replace McClellan?!? If our talented Decider-in-Chief hires Snow does that mean that FoxNews can stop claiming once and for all that they're a real news channel instead of a Republican propaganda machine?

What's Your Favorite McClellanism?

Given today's announcement by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan that he is resigning, it's only appropriate that we honor some of his more outrageous spin efforts. You may have others worth suggesting -- by all means, share them -- but I'll offer a few of my favorite McClellanisms:
Last December, as the Senate debated extending the Patriot Act, Dems sought a short-term extension of the law to allow for more debate over the Act's renewal. McClellan accused these Senate Dems of putting partisanship above the nation's security. Even when he was confronted with the fact that several GOP senators joined the Dems in this position, McClellan offered a robotic response.

REPORTER: You suggested that those who are seeking an extension are putting politics above security. That now includes eight Republicans. Are you including them in that accusation?

McCLELLAN: No, it's the Senate Democrats.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

At a July 2004 press briefing, McClellan played dodge-ball as he was asked about the Bush administration's pre-war assertions that Iraq had WMDs.

REPORTER: Does the President feel that he had enough information about weapons to take this nation to war?

McCLELLAN: ... The President talked about how Saddam Hussein was a threat. It was a threat that was real --

REPORTER: -- was a threat how?

McCLELLAN: Well, we have learned since going into Iraq and removing that regime from power that the regime certainly had the intent and capability when it comes to weapons of mass destruction --

REPORTER: What do you mean by intent?

McCLELLAN: Well, the Iraq Survey Group ... has looked into the issues and showed that Saddam Hussein was in serious and clear violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441. That resolution, you'll recall, called for serious consequences if Saddam Hussein --

REPORTER: It didn't call for war.

McCLELLAN: It gave him one final opportunity to comply, or face serious consequences .... And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.

REPORTER: Do you know how vague you sound on that?

McCLELLAN: And you heard that directly from the President of the United States earlier today.

Those Generic Polls on Dem-GOP Preferences

Many liberals are encouraged by recent public opinion polls showing Democrats leading Republicans in the generic question about voters' preference for Congress. In the two most recent national polls, voters favor Dems by 10 points and 15 points respectively. Good news, right?

At the risk of being the mosquito at the picnic, these overarching numbers have little relevance to the Dems' goal of taking back the House, the Senate or both.

Only a relatively small handful of House and Senate seats will truly be in play. The reason for this is the post-2000 census redistricting by state legislatures, which generally opted to create "safe" House seats in their states. Even in the case of the Senate, overarching numbers can paint a misleading picture. Consider these tidbits from February's Harper's Index:
Margin by which total votes for Democrats in the last three Senate elections exceeded those for Republicans ...... 2,900,000

Number of seats won by Democrats and Republicans, respectively ....... 46, 56

Reason #192 the Mainstream News Media Sucks

First, speaking as a card-carrying liberal lesbian feminist, I am someone who takes the issue of rape and sexual assault very, very seriously. I have known quite a few women who have been raped, I have even helped care for a loved one in the direct aftermath of rape, but I have been lucky enough never to have been raped myself.

That being said, in regards to the Duke rape case I totally agree with norbizness.
"...I still have to place this in the category of “local news become national to the extent that national and international news gets shunted aside” that I deplore in missing white girl cases, and, to a lesser extent, serial killers who are operating exclusively in one area."
Seriously, this case DOES NOT deserve national attention. There is nothing more nauseating than watching a case like this being tried in the Court of Media Opinion, with all the half-assed bloviating by pundits about what this or that means, asserting the guilt or innocence of the people involved based on diddily squat. But what is even worse is the more they all talk the more they broadcast totally mixed, bizarre messages about rape-- specifically who does or doesn't commit it. It makes me realize how little we've truly come in terms of understanding and talking about the crime of rape.

I personally have no opinion whatsoever about whether or not the Duke rape happened, however, I do have enough life experience to know that rape is more common than most people realize and that rapists can come in all shapes and sizes-- they can be "nice guys," they can be honor roll students, they can be rich or poor, drunk or sober, and they most certainly can be the person you least expect. But that doesn't stop some people who weren't there from saying otherwise or vying for their own 15 minutes of fame. Just this morning on CNN they were very busy conducting interviews with friends, acquaintences, fellow dorm residents, mail carriers of the accused who all swear that they just know in their hearts that the "boys" couldn't have done this.

I really wish the MSM would stop interviewing everyone and their mother to get their meaningless opinions about Shit They Can't Possibly Know just so they can spend more time talking about a nationalized local news story than, say, the Iraq war. Seriously, do not build this case up to the point that everyone in the country is supposed to have a reaction or an opinion like this is a big freaking spectator sport. This is the media exploiting an alleged gang rape for the sake of ratings and something titilating and controversial to talk about, something to stroke the so-called war between the sexes.

Please, everyone, consider the fact that there is really no need to pick sides, there is no law that you have to have an opinion about everything. Just let this case be settled in court, let the Durham community deal with this issue. Don't let this one case be a conduit for everyone to unleash all of their anger and frustration about rape, priviledge, elitism, sexism, etc. Don't waste your time debating the case with feminist-hating trolls. At this point all we can hope for is that the woman and the men get a fair shake in court, and in consideration of the wealth of the accused men, I really hope the woman gets a great attorney (or two) to defend her pro-bono.

My only truly strong opinion about cases like this is that all of the excessive media attention will make it less likely for other women to come forward when they are raped-- they won't want to risk their rape becoming a public spectacle or a national debate.

So, MSM, next subject, please. (And, no, that does not mean you can talk about "Tomkitty" instead. There is a lot of serious national and international news to talk about, take your pick.)

"God Is Love" = Liberal Claptrap

Some conservative Catholics seem to think so. They are upset that after a year in power, Pope Benedict XVI hasn't moved more aggressively to embrace conservative positions.

This article in today's Washington Post included a few examples of why conservatives are so disappointed in the pontiff. I was particularly amused by this example:
His first encyclical — often considered a guide to the direction a pope intends to take — was a gentle reflection on "God Is Love."
How disappointing that a religious leader would talk about God's love. No, we wouldn't want to hear that.

Perhaps an encyclical entitled "God Is a Fire-Breathing Dragon Who Will Torment Queers and Women Who Have Abortions" was more what conservatives were hoping for.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"When the Winds of Change ..." -- Oh, Shut Up!

Maria is a pleasant and likeable work colleague. A few weeks ago, she had been complaining of headaches — rather severe ones. Last week, she went to a doctor who did a CAT-scan. He told her she had a brain tumor that was so large they would need to operate immediately.

Surgeons removed that tumor on Saturday, but they also discovered other, inoperable tumors in her brain and, as if that’s not enough, a tumor in her lungs. Maria is roughly my age (early 40s) so this strikes close to home.

I don’t know Maria very well, but I do know her well enough to want to send her a note or card. At a time like this, Hallmark could come in handy. But I couldn’t imagine purchasing a single card that I saw earlier today under the “Get Well” or “Encouragement” banner at the store.

A simple card with a mere “get well” message didn't make sense; it seemed almost patronizing to someone in Maria's shoes.

The cover of one card I saw pictured a middle-aged woman with long, flowing hair who was dressed in sensible clothes. The card's cover read:

“When the winds of change are hard to handle …”

(then on the inside)

“… close your eyes and let them blow through your hair.”

How do you let multiple, inoperable tumors “blow through your hair”? I wouldn't even give that card to someone who had just lost his or her job.

If I were Maria and someone sent me a card like that, I’d probably drag myself out of my hospital room, catch a taxi, go to their home and punch them in the nose.

Another card pictured one of those ubiquitous sunsets over a quiet New England cove with this quotation inside:
“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.”
Gosh, how profound.

I strolled to the area of the card shop that was marked “Blank,” found a card with a pleasant landscape but no words inside and bought it. The handwritten phrase “thinking of you” is not terribly provocative or inspiring, but, for me, it seemed to be the best solution to a tough situation.

Then again, I’ll take the hassle of buying a greeting card anyday over the situation that Maria is facing.

Oh, Those Poor, Oppressed Christians

Townhall.com airs an array of opinions with which I disagree, but the quality of those opinion columns is very uneven. Whether you love him or despise him, George Will is quite capable of being eloquent. It's kind of insulting to Will and other more thoughtful conservative writers to be tossed into the same pile with the likes of Doug Giles.

Giles' most recent column is tired and sophomoric:
Can a Christian be a liberal? Short answer: no. There is no way a Christian can buy into neo-liberal ideology and be faithful to the bigger-than-Dallas teachings of the scripture ...

The Christian skipping around the maypole wearing his rose-colored glasses who has a bent to the liberal left needs to understand something: if it were left up to the modern, secularized liberal establishment, he would be more restricted than Bill when Hillary's in town.

If the Christophobic thugs had it their way, Christians would be relegated to a marginalized spiritual ghetto on the sidelines of life.
The rest of Giles' column is equally hysterical. He complains about "rabid, vapid secularism," warns that public schools want to turn every kid into "a Rocky Horror super freak," and fears that in the near future public officials will "be pressured to hide their faith in the closet ..."

Dream on. A candidate can't run for public office without talking about his religious faith.

Since America hasn't (yet) written all of their backward views into law, conservative Christians have convinced themselves that the reason must be that everyone — especially the media — hates Christians.

When you stop to think about it, it's a bit strange that the media and entertainment world are the constant target of the Christian Right's temper tantrums.

Didn't I notice from the TV schedule this weekend that the dreadfully long Cecil B. DeMille film "The Ten Commandments" was once again airing to pay homage to the Christian holiday of Easter? Doesn't ABC know it's supposed to hate Christians?

The Washington Post and virtually all other daily newspapers in America publish a weekly religion or "faith" page. Didn't they get the "we're anti-Christian" memo?

The number of Christian-oriented rock and religious stations has steadily grown in the past decade. And cable TV offers the public a wide assortment of preachers and faith-healers. I guess the cable programmers didn't get that memo either.

Publishing Pseudoscience

Good gawd, I think hell just froze over. By way of a comments board at Pam's House Blend-- it appears that Cambridge University Press is publishing a Paul Cameron study, "Children of Homosexuals And Transsexuals More Apt To Be Homosexual," in a peer-reviewed academic journal.

For those of you who are blessed with ignorance and aren't familiar with the work of Paul Cameron, he's a widely discredited right-wing researcher who has been repeatedly caught of not following standard scientific methodology. Short of making stuff up, Cameron likes to quote *old* studies-- he really likes to quote his own debunked studies-- to make broad, sweeping proclamations about the innate sickness and depravity of homosexuality and homosexuals. Cameron was expelled from the American Psychological Association in 1983 for shoddy methods and his research has been repeatedly repudiated by sociologists for not following basic scientific methods of inquiry, namely highly dubious sampling techniques. In a nutshell, he's an anti-gay right-wing propagandist whose only audience is people who already believe gays and lesbians are sick, deviant and dangerous but want it stated in "scientific" terms. Cameron is frequently quoted by Family Research Council and others to "prove" that gay people are child molesters, die young, etc.

So why does Cameron's work matter? Because Cameron believes that whenever Bush (or any other anti-gay politician) says things like "studies have shown that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman," that he is referring to research published by Cameron's "think" tank, the Family Research Institute. Why does Cameron believe this? For starters, he claims he has talked to staff at the White House about his research. Secondly, because Bush is certainly not referring to anything that any major medical group has published-- the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have made very clear statements about same-sex parenting that directly counter Bush and Cameron's assertions. (Bush denies reading Cameron's work, however, as we all know Bush isn't much for reading.) So getting published by a Cambridge University Press journal gives a false impression that his work has any credibility among professional researchers. Which means it could help him get invited as an "expert" to testify in legislative hearings on the "dangers" of same-sex parents-- something he manages to do already.

The illustrious Box Turtle Bulletin has an extraordinary deconstruction and rebuttal of Cameron's latest study. Here is a taste:
It's a terrible pity that the editors and reviewers of the Journal of Biosocial Science (JBS), who presumably posses far better credentials than I, have not been able to recognize blatant propaganda when they see it. This is all the more surprising given the clue that is not so well hidden in the very first sentences of the article:
Common sense holds that homosexuality is "contagious" (Levitt & Klassen, 1974). Thus Rees & Ushill [sic. ed.] (1956) state "it is vain to blind oneself to the fact that the problem of male homosexuality is in essence the problem of the corruption of youth by itself and by its elders. It is the problem of the creation by means of such corruption of new addicts ready to corrupt a still further generation of young men and boys in the future." (p.29).
This is ridiculous even for Cameron-- quoting assertions from a 1956 study? A peer-reviewed journal published this hackery? A simple google search would have revealed Cameron's questionable, widely rejected and debunked methods.

While the full article isn't available on-line, the abstract speaks volumes.
Do the sexual inclinations of parents influence those of their children? Of 77 adult children of homosexual parents who volunteered for three different investigations, at least 23 (30%) were currently homosexual: twelve (55%) of 22 daughters and three (21%) of fourteen sons of lesbians; five (29%) of seventeen daughters and three (17%) of eighteen sons of gays; none of six sons with both a gay and a lesbian parent. At least 25 (32%) were currently heterosexual. Of the ten with transsexual parents, one of nine daughters was currently lesbian, one was currently heterosexual, and one was transsexual. The sons' sexual preference was not reported. These findings suggest that parents' sexual inclinations influence their childrens'.
Typical Cameron-- a tiny, hand-picked sample and HUGE assertions, all done with the intent of "proving" his unshakable hypothesis that gays and lesbians are sick, dangerous influences on children and society in general.

Update: As if to underscore the flimsiness of Cameron's reseach, Author Abigail Garner has a blog post and a copy of the email she sent to the Journal of Biosocial Science regarding Cameron's study. One would think the JBS would listen to her considering that Cameron cites her non-scientific book of interviews with the grown children of GLBT people-- Families Like Mine : Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is -- and uses it as one of the three "investigations" for his study! Of the 77 people in his study 50 of them are people that Garner-- not Cameron-- interviewed.

But this is what Cameron does and has been doing for 20+ years. Cameron's "scientific methodology" is nothing more than him reading a few, select non-scientific sources, combining them with citations from a few very outdated studies, then unscientifically converting them into his own samples and presenting it all as "scientific research."

Paul Cameron's work is the very definition of pseudoscience. Cambridge University Press should be deeply embarassed for being conned into publishing the work of the walking, talking fraud known as Paul Cameron. You'd think it would give them pause that Cameron openly expresses his distain of GLBT people and their allies by doing such things as referring to them as "death activists" who are "destroy[ing] the US from within."

Update, Part Deux: If you feel like doing something, may I suggest writing to Cambridge University Press or sending Paul Cameron some information on the Scientific Method?

Watch Out for Gay Bodysnatchers!

A lot has already been written about the hundreds of gay and lesbian families attending yesterday's White House Easter Egg Roll, I think everything that needs to be said has been said, mostly by Pam at Pandagon. However, I did want to bring attention to this headline by local DC news station Channel 9.

Gay Invasion At White House Easter Egg Roll?

I don't think I could come up with a more ridiculously offensive headline, can you? Gay and lesbian parents and their children attending a public, family event at the White House constitutes an invasion?!? What were they armed with exactly, chocolate machine guns loaded with Peeps and Cadbury eggs?

Oh, wait, I neary forgot about this CNN headline from last week-- You've Got to be Yolking!!?? It's certainly #2 in the competition for the Mainstream News Headline Most Demeaning to Gay and Lesbian-headed Families.

Just Another Empty, Feel-Good Set of Remarks

As of this past Saturday, seven months had passed since President Bush delivered a prime-time speech to the nation from New Orleans. That evening, Bush made these statements:

Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America.

We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.
By using the word "we," I'm assuming that Bush feels he shares this duty. So, after seven long months, what truly "bold action" has the Bush administration taken?

None that I'm aware of.

Yes, I know that on that evening Bush made a few proposals -- one of them was a "Gulf Opportunity Zone." This, of course, is a warmed-over version of the "enterprise zone" concept that conservatives first proposed decades ago. Nothing new or bold there.

Another one of the proposals from Bush's speech was this one:

I propose the creation of Worker Recovery Accounts .... Under this plan, the federal government would provide accounts of up to $5,000, which these evacuees could draw upon for job training and education to help them get a good job, and for child care expenses during their job search.
But $5,000 won't even cover the average cost of in-state tuition at a four-year public university. And $5,000 falls short of covering the average annual day care costs for a single child.

I'm not suggesting that it's a simple task to break the cycle of poverty. It isn't.

And I'm not suggesting that there's a whole lot Bush could do about poverty right now. The crises of Iraq and Iran make it hard to launch a major domestic initiative and the budget deficit weighs against a major new funding program.

But it annoys me when Bush or other political figures pretend they give a rat's ass about poverty, speak of "bold action" and then only offer policy band-aids.

Bush's Small-Business Tax Cut Spin

Yesterday morning, President Bush traveled to the Virginia suburbs and talked about the way his tax cuts have helped small businesses:
"... the tax relief helped small businesses a lot. And since small businesses create two-thirds of the new jobs of America, it is no wonder that our job base is expanding. When you help the small business owner with tax relief, you're helping to create employment. And that's what we're seeing across the country."
That's wishful thinking. In this 2004 analysis, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities dismantled Bush's claims:
... the President has repeatedly invoked the benefits his tax cuts, and especially his proposal to reduce the top income tax rate, provide to small businesses. Yet, according to Treasury Department data, the top rate reduction benefits only two percent of small business owners. In other words, 98 percent of small business owners are not in the top tax bracket.

In fact, many more [small business owners] receive the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower-income working families than are in the top bracket.

Furthermore, the Administration’s definition of “small business owner” includes anyone who earns even one dollar of income that is classified as business income under the tax code. Under this definition, one need not actually run or own a major share of a business to be classified a business owner.

This definition includes wealthy individuals whose primary income does not come from small business ownership or operation but who do some consulting or invest in real estate on the side.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Master of the Painfully Obvious and Abundantly Clear

Headline: Anger at Bush May Hurt GOP At Polls, Turnout Could Favor Democrats

Is someone really bored over at the Washington Post today? This barely qualifies as "news."

It Can't Be Avoided

Headline: Changes to Bush Staff Expected Soon
It's an overused, abused cliche, but it's hard to read this headline without rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic coming to mind.

The fact is everyone knows it doesn't matter who leaves-- they'll keep the people they should toss and toss the people who have no reason to go. (Yes, Karl and Donald, I'm looking in your general direction.) The only way things could improve is if Bush suddenly changed his entire MO and hired some independent, well-informed people who are willing to tell him what they think rather than what he wants to hear.

But if Bush did that we would then have confirmation that bodysnatchers had successfully infiltrated the White House.

Is It Lying If You Say It in Spanish?

Even for the GOP this is gobsmackingly craven. From Carpetbagger:
Just to follow up on a post from Saturday, the RNC has put together a Spanish-language radio ad, for broadcast in four western cities with large Hispanic populations, which blames Democrats for an anti-immigration provision sponsored by a Republican, approved by Republicans, and inspired by a Republican presidential administration. The RNC's ad, to put it mildly, is wildly misleading.

Let's take a moment to consider the Republican response here. The 60-second spot — in Spanish — blames Democrats for legislation that passed the Republican-controlled House that would make illegal immigrants subject to felony charges. "Reid's Democrat allies voted to treat millions of hardworking immigrants as felons," the ad says, "while President Bush and Republican leaders work for legislation that will protect our borders and honor our immigrants."
Do you think Rush Limbaugh and all his listeners would care if they knew the GOP was misrepresenting their positions-- trying to pass off Dem positions as their own-- in Spanish to Spanish-speaking audiences?

Something Tells Me This Doesn't Raise Much $$$

At MSN.com, Debora Vrana writes:
... taxes can be as wacky and as quirky as the character of each state. The local taxes can reflect what is important to residents and what activities residents may hope to curb.

"Some of these are humorous and some probably don’t bring in much revenue,” said Lily Batchelder, an assistant professor at New York University who specializes in taxes and social policy.
One example:
Last year, Tennessee became the latest of more than 20 states to tax illegal drugs. Under the law, when you acquire an illegal drug, you have 48 hours to report to the state and pay your tax, although you aren't required to identify yourself. Once you've paid, you’ll receive stamps to put on your illegal substance to show evidence you paid the tax. You don’t have to identify yourself to pay the tax.
Question: if you don't identify yourself or at least identify your mailing address, how could the state send you the stamps you're required to place on your "illegal substance"?

Self-identification may not be required, but it seems pretty obvious that the State of Tennessee is hoping that some dumb, high-as-a-kite persons will contact the state and then identify themselves. Talk about a Darwinian moment.
 
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