Thursday, July 31, 2008

Twisted logic

We've long known that some people won't let logic get in the way of a good rant. The case this time is Peter LaBarbera, an ex-gay gadfly, who I can usually ignore. If you really want to know more about him, I’m sure you can get your fill from the sidebars at Pam's House Blend or the Box Turtle Bulletin.

But to the nonsense at hand. LaBarbera is annoyed with the media attention around the Knoxville church shootings and he says that proves that hate crimes to protect gays aren't necessary. So if the media attacked gays (which would rile up more crimes against gays) then hate crime laws are necessary? Perhaps to LaBarbera's dismay the FBI is treating the case as a hate crime -- based on religion. The gunman chose that church for its liberal religious beliefs, one of which is to welcome gays. Hate crime laws still don't protect gays and if the crime had happened in a gay community center you can be sure the FBI would not be involved.

Not as permanent as I feared

Monica Goodling was an aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. She resigned (and accepted congressional immunity) over her role in the federal prosecutor firings a couple years ago). Now a recent Department of Justice report says that she very deliberately used highly partisan criteria when interviewing people for non-partisan jobs in the department. That means these highly-partisan people are seen as career jobs and not the kind that end when a new president takes office. I was worried that Goodling had damaged the DoJ for a long time to come. A friend assures me that isn't the case. If the (hopefully) Obama appointees don't like what the partisan flunkies are doing the managers can make life so miserable for the flunkies they will soon leave. Whew! Alas, this is the same as the good people who left the DoJ because they couldn't stand working in such a highly partisan and corrupt place.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Getting doctrine out of the way

On Sunday a gunman opened fire in the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church during a children's program, killing two people an hospitalizing 7 (forgive me if I have that wrong). He left behind a screed denouncing gays and liberals and many believe he chose this particular church at this time because it recently publicly stated its welcome to gays. Several gay blogs have written several postings of the incident.

Here's a posting by Sara Robinson discussing why it seems the gunman went after a UU church and the traditional UU response to these kinds of tragedies and to American life in general. It is noteworthy for several reasons, even though I am not a Unitarian.

From the opening paragraph:

"Conventional wisdom says that we're soft in all the places our society values toughness. Our refusal to adhere to any dogma must mean that we're soft in our convictions. Our reflexive open-mindedness is often derided as evidence that we're soft in the head. Our persistent and gentle insistence on liberal values is evidence of hearts too soft to set boundaries. And all of this together leads to a public image of a mushy gathering of feckless intellectuals that somehow lacks cohesion, backbone, focus, or purpose."

I've encountered such accusations thrown my way as well -- Christians saying we "must stand for something" and using that as an excuse to wield doctrine like a club. I've been roundly (verbally) clobbered because I've dared to say that many times our insistence on doctrine is getting in the way of our ability to share the love of Christ.

After describing several Unitarians in our nation's history who have done heroic things (in spite of no doctrine as impetus) Robinson says:

"These are not fearful people. Nor do any of them seem to be bedeviled by a lack of conviction. 'Mushy' or 'feckless' are about the last words I'd use to describe any of them. ('Stupid' isn't anywhere on the list, either.) When you sign up to become a UU, this is the legacy you take on, and from then on attempt to live up to. It's not God's job to make the world a better place. It's yours. This has never been work for the faint of heart, mind, or spirit -- and in this era of conservatism gone crazy, it still isn't."

Now I would personally say that I would tackle making the world a better place by aligning myself with God's desire for the same. But this shows that morality can be rich and deep outside of Christianity -- and it seems many Unitarians have come up with a better, (dare I say it?) more Christian morality, than many Christians.

Then Robinson takes on secular progressives, saying religion does have a place in morality:

"Secular progressives don't seem to understand that while politics is all about how we're going to make the world better, progressive religion tells us why it's necessary to work for change, and what 'better' will look like when we get there. Liberal faith traditions offer the essential metaphors and worldview that everything else derives from -- the frames that give our dreams shape and meaning. It has an invaluable role to play in helping our movement set its values and priorities, understand where we are in the larger scheme, and gauge whether we're succeeding or not."

So, if doing away with doctrine gets us people looking out for others and striving for a world that is a better place for all people, let's have more of it! Like the author I am not saying we should do away with faith. It is my faith that drives what I do and my personal doctrine and morals derive from that faith. But my faith does not derive from doctrine and doctrine is secondary to faith. For many on the Right it seems they've got it backwards.

The whole posting is worthwhile.

Somebody likes me

Wow! One of my regular readers likes what I write well enough that s/he has recommended me to his/her own blog readers! So here is a thank you to Queers United.

Policy and Fiction

It appears our torture policy is based on fiction. Yeah, we knew that. But, really, on fictional character Jack Bauer of the TV show "24" according to Dahlia Lithwick of Newsweek. Jack, played by Kiefer Sutherland, is a counterterrorism agent. When our torture policy was formulated after 9/11 he was cited more frequently than the Constitution and after Bauer saves Los Angeles from a bomb even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wouldn't want to convict him.

But Bauer's world differs from ours in a number of crucial areas. (1) Bauer faces ticking time bombs every other episode. Real world: not so much. (2) Bauer gets accurate intel from his torture subjects before the commercial. Real world: torture victims rarely tell the truth. (3) Bauer knows what he does is illegal. Real world: If Jack Bauer does it, it can't be illegal. (4) Bauer accepts the consequences of breaking the law and is heroic for it. Real world: they point fingers crying "witch hunt."

Note to Bush: Jack Bauer isn't Real Life.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dealing with coming out young

This week's Newsweek has as its cover story, "Young, Gay and Murdered" about last February's death of 15 year old Lawrence King. It may seem like old news, but it took Newsweek a while to talk to parents, friends, students, teachers, and administrators. The last didn't talk much on the advice of their lawyers though their view will be presented during the trial of Brandon, the kid who pulled the trigger.

The story is about the conflict between gay kids (actually, all sexual minority kids -- Larry also had a strong transgender component) who are coming out at younger ages (average about 13, Larry did it at 10) and fellow students (and society at large) who don't yet know how to deal with it. Larry was quite the queen and seemed to be seeking attention (the story goes into his background, explaining why this might be true). He was doing this in a society (middle school) in which most boys are trying to prove how masculine they are and anything gay is a threat to that.

Here are some thoughts about what went wrong and how we might go about preventing another such murder. Some of these are from the story (Newsweek, regretfully, offers very little on how to change the situation), and some of them are mine.

We have a "shrinking closet" factor. How do we balance a kid's self-expression with inappropriate behavior? What about the balance between pushing boundaries and safety? Kids seem to be playing grown-up without knowing what that means. What's the line between expression and being in-your-face about it?

Larry loved to taunt boys to see them squirm, playing into their homophobic buttons. Brandon felt terrorized when Larry professed his love, which subjected Brandon to ridicule from his peers who took it as a sign that Brandon was gay too. In a sense, Larry was being the bully and that bit of self-expression wasn't nipped in the bud. But Larry had little guidance on how that behavior was unacceptable and, without a gay club at the school, had no way to identify which boys were gay and might welcome his attentions.

On the other side Brandon did not know how diffuse the situation, to decline Larry's attentions firmly without getting upset over the comments. This has to be coupled with efforts to make the situation less explosive, so that Brandon's friends wouldn't threaten him with a loss of masculinity over Larry's advances.

Many schools, especially middle schools, are simply not equipped to handle kid's questions on sexuality. This was an issue of middle school society gone wrong, yet the school didn't have enough social workers.

One of the assistant principals, a lesbian, was good at helping Larry with self-expression, but not so much about cautioning him about consequences (though that is an especially difficult task with a middle-school student).

I'm somewhat charitable about the article. Others were not. Here are other voices (and I refrained from reading them until I had written the above). I am specifically leaving out the comments on the Newsweek site, which (at least in this case) seems to have attracted quite a few slugs out from under their rocks.

This reaction is that the article is important and needed. But the first problem is that it seems the lesbian assistant principal gets too much blame -- let's find a gay to blame. The second is that by saying Larry should have been less in-your-face they are blaming the victim. If only the administrators could have straightened him up, this wouldn't have happened. One commenter suggests the lack of training in sexual issues is because of the Religious Right.

This second response sees the article as a hit-piece on Larry, a case of blaming the victim. Throughout Larry is portrayed using unfavorable terms, while Brandon is merely described as "smart" and "had his share of troubles." It is Larry who is the source of the trouble, "stalking" Brandon. The author even found a lawyer ready with the "gay panic" defense. Also implicated is the lesbian assistant principal with a "political agenda." Perhaps it is the case that Larry's acting out was self-defense, a response to the harassment he was already getting? That wasn't mentioned. Neither was that Brandon had lots of other options other than pulling a gun. There is evidence the author was biased (though I didn't follow the links to see the nature of the supposed bias). Outside of the author's control is a very public defense lawyer trying to spin the blame on the school, administration, and the victim, while the prosecution lawyer refuses to try the case in the papers. All of this means I'm contributing to the hit in what I wrote above.

Another, more recent comment, is that Brandon is the scapegoat. This week the court said that Brandon should be tried as an adult instead of a juvenile. This opinion says that in terms of justice it does no good, ruining Brandon's life. It also takes the blame off the churches who stirred up the homophobia that Brandon picked up and acted on and who have been silent on Larry's death since then (though they have defeated other anti-bullying laws in that time). Yes, Brendan should be tried and spend time in jail for his crime, but as an juvenile, not an adult.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Laughable defense

Congress is holding hearings on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell ban on gays in the military. Here's a summary of the options Congress has:

* Return to a full ban on gays rather than allow them if they keep their mouth shut. Yes, there are people who testified for this option, most notably Elaine Donnelly of her own Center for Military Readiness, which I think she runs out of her home in Livonia, MI (no, I'm not going to link) and has no actual contact with anyone in uniform. Fortunately, her performance was so over the top it had the gallery laughing. Having your opponent reveal herself to be a doofus is an advantage. But the public would see this ban as hateful (especially since 75% of the public is for lifting the ban) so it is very unlikely.

Donnelly's laughable performance is here.

A discussion of why she is unqualified to testify (which makes one wonder why she was allowed to) is here.

The press has a field day ridiculing her testimony -- perhaps the Democrats chose her as a witness?

* Keep the present DADT. The support for its repeal is there, but not the demand. The support for keeping it is much more vocal. As long as there is no vote, no one needs to go on record. Which is why DADT hasn't been voted on for 16 years. But as public opinion shifts Congressmen may find they have to take a stand.

* Repeal the ban. If there is actually a vote, it would pass with nearly all Democrats and a respectable number of GOP voting for it -- the GOP balancing their marriage ban. The problem before January is Bush's veto. Obama would sign it. McCain? Unknown.

Don't call him naive

The frequent charge against Obama is that he is naïve about foreign affairs. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek disagrees. Obama's foreign policy comments have been much more thoughtful, consistent, conservative (in the good sense of the word), and realistic than McCain's (kick Russia out of G8?). The last paragraph of the article says it well:

"In the end, the difference between Obama and McCain might come down to something beyond ideology—temperament. McCain is a pessimist about the world, seeing it as a dark, dangerous place where, without the constant and vigorous application of American force, evil will triumph. Obama sees a world that is in many ways going our way. As nations develop, they become more modern and enmeshed in the international economic and political system. To him, countries like Iran and North Korea are holdouts against the tide of history. America's job is to push these progressive forces forward, using soft power more than hard, and to try to get the world's major powers to solve the world's major problems. Call him an Optimistic Realist, or a Realistic Optimist. But don't call him naive."

Here is a link to the video and text of Obama's speech before 200,000 people in Berlin. McCain went to a German restaurant in Ohio.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Personal code of behavior

I've got a chain of ideas going here, so it is probably best I start at the beginning of the chain.

After 18 months of "retirement" it looks I'll have a part-time job in the fall! The weasel words are because hiring is "dependent on sufficient enrollment" as the institution puts it. I'll be teaching one section out of four of introductory music theory at a community college. This is more basic than the first semester of music theory at a regular college or conservatory and will get into how to read and notate music. The class is geared to this level because one group of students is education majors looking to incorporate music into their lessons as an aid to memory and understanding and other groups likely never had this in high school.

While I've stood in front of people and lectured and presented material I have not done a series of 30 classes, each 90 minutes with a grade at the end. I've been working my way through the textbook and syllabus developed by one of the other professors teaching other sections and developing lesson plans from them. I will meet with him in August to coordinate and fill in lesson plans. We'll have to wait until then because he announced the job was mine just before leaving the country for 6 weeks.

To get a little bit of an idea what I'm in for I bought and am reading the book, "Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire" by Rafe Esquith. A good deal of it is geared towards elementary age subjects (reading and writing) but some of it is good for any teacher. This includes trusting your students, making sure punishment is fair, and being a role model of a responsible adult. From what I've read so far I wish I had him for 5th grade.

The second chapter (after the one on trust and role model) was a discussion of Lawrence Kohlberg's book "Six Levels of Moral Development" (alas, I can't find it on Amazon, though lots of other Kohlberg books and others discussing his book are there). The higher the level, the more moral the situation. Alas, many situations, especially classrooms are stuck at level 1 and 2. The levels are:

1. Avoid trouble

2. Earn a reward

3. Please someone

4. Follow the rules

5. Consider others

6. Personal code of behavior

It didn't take me long to begin to compare these levels of morality to how the church usually functions, so I'll discuss these levels in that context rather than in terms of education.

Avoid trouble. Alas, many Fundamentalist churches go for the most basic and crudest way to control people -- "If you don't accept my savior you're going to hell." A lot of behavioral infractions are heaped onto that threat so that the poor person is living in constant fear that with one small slip-up he will spend eternity in hell. While the church has achieved the desired behavior change, living in fear is not a healthy life.

Earn a reward. This is usually used in tandem with level 1 in many churches. Do what we tell you and you get to spend eternity in heaven. Doing things simply because you will earn a gold star is a poor way to build a morality. It says nothing about whether the act itself was moral and says little about how to choose the right way to act if the gold star is not obvious in any of the choices.

Please someone. In the case of the church this someone is either the pastor or Jesus. I've heard sermons preached that we should do things because we are thankful of the salvation we have received and we now want to please our savior. Though the idea is a noble one, there are better ways to build a moral foundation. It can be taken to ridiculous extremes -- I tie my shoes to please Jesus. However, we are frequently faced with the question of which choice out of several will please Jesus? When it is a human we are trying to please the reaction can be immediate. With Jesus it may not be so clear and that lack of clarity leads to…

Follow the rules. I hear this a lot when what I say is viewed as too liberal. We must have standards or our faith will mean nothing. Having rules means a person can become very good at following the rules but can become lost where there are no rules to cover the situation. There is also danger that the rule may be wrong (and it doesn't necessarily come from a corrupt legislature) or the incorrect rule is applied or that rules conflict or that the rules are so restrictive that nobody can follow them. Martin Luther King didn't become famous for following the rules but for proclaiming the rules were wrong.

Consider others. A guide to morality takes a big step when it considers this concept. Jesus makes this an important part of his teaching when he talks about the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) among other places, yet a lot of theology talks about personal holiness, spiritual development, or ways to become closer to Jesus without mentioning this concept. And the concept is simple: you don't understand someone else until you "climb into their skin and walk around in it" (as Atticus Finch put it). People balk at this idea for a variety of reasons, one of which is that you may find out the rules don't fit anymore. And even now there is still something better.

Personal code of behavior. Rafe Esquith says this is difficult to teach because it won't work for him to tell students, "This is my personal code of behavior." That defeats the purpose. Each person must work out morality for themselves, and it does take work. He teaches this stage by presenting kids with several characters from literature and movies who have their own personal code. It's not every fifth grade class that talks about Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird or Will Kane of the movie High Noon. He sees evidence these kids get it and form their own code of behavior. From the Christian perspective it means we throw out the fear, the promise of angel wings, the calls to please Jesus, and we throw out the rules. We replace it with "work out your own salvation." Developing a personal code of behavior requires observing action and consequence, considering how those consequences affect ourselves and others, and thinking through to basic concepts. We should be teaching how such code of behavior can be developed through guidance of the Holy Spirit, if only we ask for it happen and trust the Holy Spirit. Please note it is important to promise angel wings, but we do that for hope, not for morality.

One aspect of most religions is the teaching of some sort of morality code. Various religions (including various branches of Christianity) go about it in different ways, some getting stuck at level 1, most saying a great deal about level 4, and a few providing a way to level 6. Much to the dismay of some Christians (the ones that seem stuck at the lower levels) it is also possible to develop a level 6 code of behavior as an atheist.

For the elementary to high school teacher a lot of what Esquith says ("Testing is not the end of your life.") makes a lot of sense. Some of it may even inspire this budding college professor.

Related to this discussion of moral development is some good news in a column in the Associated Baptist Press by David Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University. He says the church needs to rethink its stance on homosexuality. Here are some of the ideas he suggests:

The church's stance on gays has become so well known that the true mission of the church to lead people to Christ is badly damaged. The church should be known for being for Christ, not for being against gays.

A feeling of "don't ask, don't tell" pervades many churches, mostly because gays, pastors, and laity don't want to make a scene over an explosive issue. Even so, activists (sometimes quietly, sometimes noisily) are asking for an alternative to the closet, lifetime celibacy, change therapy, and rejection.

Churches and their leaders are not prepared to offer a serious discussion of sexuality, not to mention homosexuality. Some of the dumbest and meanest things are said in the church.

The traditional teaching by the church on sexuality in general has essentially collapsed with a high divorce rate only one result. The church has lost its moral credibility. In that situation changing the prohibitions against gays is seen as one more surrender to culture. A church that seriously wrestles with the question will be seen as losing even more of its low moral credibility. The church can only regain that credibility if it teaches sexual morality and holds gays to those same moral standards.

I’m pretty sure my music classes won't be this controversial. Laurie Lebo is a journalist in Dover, PA so saw the Intelligent Design debate up close with townspeople she knows well and loves on both sides of the debate. She was featured in the PBS Nova program on the trial. Now she has written a book, The Devil in Dover. It is much more than a report of the trial because she delves into the lives of the people on both sides and shows those in favor of ID are not simple Fundies. For the most part they actually live out the love of Jesus the proclaim. I'm mentioning the book (and this particular review) not only for its content but also for her own assessment of her goals. As one who has complained about "balance" in an article (when it seems the writer does not challenge stupid comments of our opponents) I appreciate what she says.

I've thought of this notion of "fair and balanced" journalism and of how, somewhere along the line, we as journalists have gotten confused by a misguided notion of objectivity. It is our job to inform readers of the truth, not just regurgitate lies, even if it means the stories are no longer "balanced." page 158

Sunday, July 20, 2008

No big deal if gay kids are bullied

The school anti-bullying bill failed in North Carolina last week. This was even after the bill was stripped of the enumerated classes section so that it didn't specifically mention gay kids. The reason for failure is that seven Democratic senators supporting the bill purposefully failed to show up for the vote, even though 75% of the state's voters want it. Which means we're back to the issue of why Democrats are so scared of Fundies.

In hopes of getting the bill passed, Jim Neal told this story of his kids being bullied. Neal is a single father who is gay. He has some access to the legislators because he made a run for the US Senate (which implies he has served in gov't in some capacity). When Neal announced there were no other Dem candidates to face Liddy Dole but once he said he was gay the Dems found several other candidates to run against him in the primary and he lost. The winner was one of those who didn't show up for this vote.

Neal's two sons were bullied because he is gay. The boys soon learned that telling teachers and guidance counselors didn't help. The older one, 11 years old, was caught with an unloaded pellet gun. That means the system failed the boy quite thoroughly.

The bill had been stripped of enumerated classes and still failed. However, GLSEN reports that an anti-bullying law without enumerated classes is the same as no law at all. Enumerations are there to force bigoted teachers to protect all kids, not just the white Christian ones. Without the force of law will teachers and administrators be able to stand against the Fundies any better than the lawmakers could? A superintendent has even publicly stated he won't add enumerations to the local policy until forced by the state and a school board member has said it is no big deal if gay kids are bullied because they are sinners (though in the case of Jim Neal's son's it was because their father is a sinner).

Maybe Jack Sparrow really was gay

I've read several "historical" gay novels in which a gay couple is put in some historic setting, such as pre-Saxon England or joining King Richard on the last Crusade. This usually beats yet another coming of age/coming out angst laden book. But I just finished one that has a lot more historical accuracy -- it is a rare novel that has a bibliography. The book is "Brethren: Raised by Wolves, book 1" by W.A. Hoffman (I wish I knew the gender of the author because there is a tantalizing dedication to "my husband"). An English nobleman's gay son concludes he has no place in England, so in 1666 he agrees to go to Jamaica to nominally oversee his father's sugar cane plantation there. Once there he encounters the buccaneer way of life. These men and ships are "licensed" by the English to harass Spanish ships. The buccaneer ships are societies of only men. While some of them "favor women" and are willing, due to the lack of women, to have relations with men for release, a good number of them "favor men" and are quite happy with an all male society. Depicting Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean as gay may be historically accurate. The ship isn't a large orgy, however. Most men pair up in a relationship that gives them more respect, rights, and responsibilities than a straight marriage of the time and done with a lot less official bureaucracy. That implies it usually is done for love rather than politics. Some of the unattached men are counseled to establish a partnership, even if it is only of convenience, so that other men won't fight over them.

The subtitle "Raised by Wolves" is from a theory of class distinction the nobleman's son came up with. Nobles and wolves and peasants are sheep. The mindsets are quite different. A sheep thinks nothing of being herded. A wolf would never allow that. The differences are explored throughout the book. About halfway through the gay son decides that though he was raised by wolves, he really isn't one, though he isn't a sheep either.

I enjoyed the book enough that I'll probably get books 2 and 3 eventually, even though each book is 500-600 pages.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Drained of the Social Gospel

Back at the beginning of this month I wondered why Senate Democrats, especially in the case of the FISA bill, have been unwilling or unable to stand up against Bush. I think I found an answer.

Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 partly through his ability to proclaim a new way through politics, a centrist approach that avoided the "extreme" liberal approach of the party. This effort was backed by the Democratic Leadership Council that had formed in 1985. It was the DLC that helped get the welfare reform of 1996 passed. You can learn more about the DLC here, though you'll see Wikipedia has banners all across this page warning that it isn't neutral, doesn't conform to quality standards, and uses too many weasel words.

The article that prompted my discussion proposed another purpose for the DLC -- a front for The Family, a secret powerful fundamentalist organization that has been influencing American politics for over 7 decades. I first encountered this group a couple months ago on reading a review of a new book about them.

I won't repeat a discussion of The Family here except to note it is very anti-democracy, non-partisan, and so powerful that Democrats (not just GOP) who want to get anywhere in Washington must at least acknowledge The Family and a few have even become Friends. Buckets of cash, access to power, and a sense that a Congressman got where he is through a combination of being better than the riff-raff and the modern equivalent of the Divine Right of Kings don’t entice just the GOP.

Whether the DLC is an official secular partner to The Family doesn't matter because DLC position papers are so similar to Family goals. The effect is to pull the party rightwards and sow so much dissent and contrary purposes in the party that the Dems can no longer get anything done. It is the members of the DLC who have been accused of being "Republican lite" or "wafflers without strong conviction."

One could look at the FISA vote as way of determining which senators are willing to support any legislation that is anti-democracy, whether or not it tramples the Constitution.

This describes DLC members and The Family:

"They share opposition to the New Deal rooted in a slavishly pro-business and radically free-market approach, a strident anti-Communism which has morphed into a pro-war jingoism driven by the needs of the military-industrial complex, antagonism to church-state separation based in a sense that an alleged decline in public morality stems from a lack of American civic religion and, underneath it all - as suggested by my statistical breakdown of Family/DLC votes on FISA, the DLC may even share to some degree the Family's political ethic holding ruling elites to be both superior to common folk and also above normal moral conventions and strictures. The Family promotes an ethos of hostility towards, or contempt for, democracy, populism and government transparency.

Association with The Family brings access to The Family's influence, to [Family leader] Doug Coe's database of Family members and friends, in the US but also around the globe, willing to pray together and help each other out in quiet, informal ways that rarely get noticed of publicized. It's an old-boys' network, under a denatured Jesus drained of the Social Gospel and refilled with an ideology maximally friendly and supportive of the status quo and the prerogatives of wealth and power.

More than that, the Family is an influence and an ideological ergot that poisons the bond between America's elected representatives and their constituents, because it tells the Washington politicians in the Family's prayer circles that they are the elite, the chosen, singled out by God, favored by God, above the rules and mores of the common folk. The Family is, in a sense, recreating a contemporary version of the Pre-Enlightenment Era Divine Right of Kings, and the recent U.S. Senate vote in favor of the new FISA bill, which grants American presidents yet greater authority under which to order the secret surveillance of American citizens, may well be, in part, a manifestation of that tendency. If many Americans wonder about a breakdown in the basic nature of American Democracy they should look to The Family."

The comment of a "denatured Jesus" sums it up quite well. They may call what they want a theocracy, but what they want is an oligarchy, rule by the elite.

A couple wins against ID

A friend, who has a background in the ACLU, frequently said that the proper response to free speech one doesn't like is more free speech. Here is an example of that in action. William Dembski, author of many books on ID, came to University of Oklahoma to do a presentation on Intelligent Design. Daniel Disckson-LaPrade, a technical writing instructor learned about the visit and had only a short time to alert the zoology and Botany/Microbiology departments and request funding and signatures for an ad in the school newspaper (he exceeded his goals) and got some editorials written for the paper. Those professors and their students were also well prepared when they attended the actual presentation. Dembski seemed to stumble through his presentation and was quite effectively demolished during two hours of Q&A. They also got editorials into the school paper afterwards that discussed Dembski's misrepresentation of data. If all ID presentations met with that amount of preparation, the effort would evaporate.

Alas, a commeter from a much more conservative school shows why ID still gets exposure. The professors don't seem interested in challenging the ID speakers, the students aren't majors in microbiology or are otherwise ill-equipped to take on people like Dembski, and the school newspaper is sympathetic to ID so doesn't run the editorials.

I was so busy checking up on what the United Methodist Church General Conference did to gays I didn't hear about other good things they did. They passed a resolution opposing adding creationism and ID to science curriculums of public schools. Another resolution supported describing scientific truth as being of a different kind than religious truth. Dan Dick, of the General Board of Discipleship for the church said, "The church has the responsibility to teach theology and raise these questions. Secular culture has the responsibility to teach science, and we don’t believe creationism and intelligent design qualify as science.”

A hole in the proposal

Here is an example of the holes in the Faith-Based initiative that Obama supports. A lesbian was working at a group home run by Baptists and funded with public money. When her employer found she was lesbian she was fired. The case was dismissed from a district court

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Truth, Reconciliation, and Torture

What is more important -- find out how torture has become a standard American practice and prevent it from happening in the future or to punish those that perpetrated it? Which of those options will more effectively deter presidents from choosing torture in the future? Which is better for the country? Which more closely follows Christian principles?

In an opinion piece in Newsweek Stuart Taylor says we can't get both. We probably can't get the second. Disclosure time: only that first question is discussed in Taylor's article. The rest are mine.

Pushing for war crimes convictions on any of those involved (including Cheney and Bush) will (1) make them clam up, (2) start a huge legal battle that will last years and will include the Supreme Court with the desired result not guaranteed, (3) ruin the lives of people who were advised what they were doing is legal and necessary to combat terrorists, and (4) perpetuate and compound the partisan divide. In addition, such investigations and trials will probably fail due to the way the War Crimes Act was recently amended (the article does not provide details), even though the Supremes said prosecutions could proceed. The fourth point would be especially important to President Obama (should he get the job) who is running on his ability to end the bickering.

If we give pardons to the various participants (including the next president pardoning Cheney and Bush) we would be able to (1) uncover all important facts, (2) identify innocent victims and compensate them, (3) foster a serious national discussion about how the USA should interrogate those it holds, (4) recommend legal reforms, and (5) make way for appropriate apologies and restore America's good name.

Before I got halfway through this article I knew I needed to discuss it, mostly because it raises personal moral issues on both sides.

I want Bush and Cheney outta there! I want to change the way America works so that it becomes extremely difficult for another president to do what these two have done to rip and trample the Constitution. Impeachment and removal from office seems the best way but we have a bunch of wimpy Democrats in Congress right now. In light of discussion below I note that impeachment and removal carries no additional penalties. But with that route closed, what's left? More laws and procedures? Laws haven't stopped Bush. He's done quite well in getting Congress to declare what he's done to be legal and he's ignored the rest. Even if he's pardoned, will he spill? Nope. He's the most secretive prez. we've had and it's a habit with him. Will stories of what really happened (the what and, more importantly, the why) deter future presidents? How do we say No More! and mean it? Can we?

This attempt to discover truth and not to place blame reminds me of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa at the end of the Apartheid era. It chose the route of truth over trials, letting both victims and perpetrators tell their stories and that the perpetrators would get amnesty. The general consensus seems to be that it worked well (though I'm basing that claim on my own memory of the time) and was an integral part of reducing tensions between the races and paving the way for a workable democracy. However, there are criticisms of the commission with many blacks saying reconciliation without justice was impossible. The whole process was weighted in favor of the abusers. The Commission's report showed that atrocities were committed by both sides. Is that knowledge enough to ease relations? Is South Africa free of its racial tensions? I can only report there is very little in American news, which isn't saying much.

I try to follow the teachings of Christianity in spite of many Christians seeing me, a gay man, as a Christian impossibility. Naturally, I don't understand those teachings in the same way that the Fundies do. For example, I don't buy into the idea that Jesus will return and do some righteous butt-kicking -- the good people will vanquish the bad. In my view, the goal isn't to kick butt, but to work for reconciliation.

And here is where Taylor's proposal gets messy. I understand we may not gain a lot by prosecuting the grunts who carried out the torture and tossing them in jail, however that might please our sense of justice, though there is a lot to be said for subordinates disobeying and even resigning over commands they know to be wrong and we should encourage that attitude.

Which brings us back to South Africa commission. Is reconciliation possible without justice? In this case, what is justice? Does justice require throwing perpetrators in jail? Or is it enough for abusers to say the understand what they did is wrong and they won't do it again and perhaps even work to make sure it doesn't happen again? When does justice cross the line to vindictiveness and vengeance? What is suitable justice for Bush and Cheney?

This Newsweek article claims pardons and the accompanying search for truth will foster a national discussion about torture. Will this really happen? I doubt it. There has been a lot of talk of Obama's presidential run fostering a national discussion on race. I've even read a lot of pundits and bloggers calling for such a discussion. But all the actual discussing I've read is either more racial garbage or claims that race problems are so yesterday, we've seen the light and we're post-racial now. I doubt we will be any more adult in our discussions about torture.

So will Stuart Taylor's proposal work? First note that I raised a whole lot more questions than I answered. Second, this is one posting in particular I would appreciate your opinion.

I have my doubts. I agree that it is important to get to the truth and lots of people involved in torture will invoke the Fifth Amendment without a pardon. It is also important to get the cooperation of the underlings to find out how things went wrong at the top. I might even concede that prosecuting those at the bottom of the chain of command won't buy us much and that America's image abroad would be strengthened.

However, Giving Bush a pardon won't get him to talk. Somehow, compensation for victims will get lost in Congressional business, especially since most (all?) of them are not Americans and most are Muslim. The national discussion on torture won't be any more adult that what we get right now on race. And considering what Bush has done to the Constitution and the nation I don't see how new or revised laws will stop some future president from doing the same.

And the one remedy that I see as effective -- impeachment -- has been dismissed.

Update: It was only after I had written this that I read some of the comments left with the Newsweek article (and the one of interest wasn't posted until after the writing was done). One of them says that Stuart Taylor was a crony of Ken Starr and was quite gung-ho about prosecuting Bill Clinton. One of Taylor's articles on Bill is here.

So while I stand by my meandering analysis of the original proposal I see the proposal was highly biased.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Changing their tune

Sheesh, I hadn't posted since Saturday? I'll make up for it now.

Two views of the abortion issue today.

The Fundies have successfully created and sold the political term "partial-birth abortion." But a person who worked at a hospital specializing in late abortions (the medical term) has a better name: Mercy Abortion.

One might wonder how it is a woman can't manage to have an abortion within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. There are several reasons. They tend to be younger, poor, and live in an area where health care in general is hard to get. First she must get over the denial. Then she must raise the money (frequently a trip to the pawn shop is required). This can take a while.

But there is one more reason why a mercy abortion may be necessary. It is only late in the pregnancy that some devastating birth defects come to light. Some are so extreme the baby will not live. If carried to term (perhaps for more than 2 months) the mother is faced with giving birth only to watch the baby die while running the risk of damaging her fertility (I'll let you read the article for details). And even families who are strongly anti-abortion change their tune when faced with this situation.

I don't remember if many of the late abortion laws are written to allow for the exception of the mother's health or whether it must be her life that's at stake. Risking fertility sounds to me like a health issue. If so (and a big if) it makes me wonder if the Fundies want to make sure a woman keeps her fertility (marriage is about babies, isn't it?) or if they take the opposite view that if you can't carry a baby to term you don't deserve to be fertile.

But the Fundies aren't done yet.

Several people, most notably Dan Savage (alas, these links are general, not to the specific comments of interest), has warned that the Fundies are not only interested in banning gay sex. They want to ban all sex that does not conform to their standards.

An example of this is a proposal from the Health and Human Services Department, in league with the Fundies, to redefine many forms of contraception as abortion. In particular they want to ban those kinds of contraceptives that work by preventing a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall. This is the kind used 40% of the time. The result would be that government medical plans would no longer pay for these contraceptives.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Translation without bias

A man in Michigan has brought a $60 million lawsuit against Zondervan Publishing and a $10 million suit against Thomas Nelson Publishing. Both publish Bibles. His claim is the Bibles produced by these companies mistakenly translates some obscure Greek words into "homosexual" and those translations were used to make him an outcast from his family and his church. While I have my doubts such a lawsuit is the best way to go (damn activist judges persecuting Christians again), especially for those amounts, I agree with the underlying claim and see this is at least a way to highlight the issue.

Through a few clicks I came to a site that traces the translation of "malakoi," one of those obscure Greek words. The first in recognizable English was the Tyndale Bible of 1526 when the word was translated as "weakling" (perhaps referring to moral weakness), which is about as close as one can get. For about 400 years it was also translated as "effeminate." It isn't until 1933 is it translated as "men who lie down with males" and 1958 before "homosexuality" appears. It is only then the meaning could be applied to lesbians. This change in translation did not come about through new linguistic evidence of the original word, but is the result of cultural influence on modern translators, leading them to add bias to the English. This article goes on to spell out how the word has been translated in the handful of other places it appears in the Bible and then looks at how other Greek writers, such as Plato, Aristotle, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus used the term. None of them refer to "men lying with men."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Weep for the Constitution

This one is deeply disappointing.

First, a correction to an earlier post: The Senate didn't pass the FISA renewal bill until this past Tuesday. I got my signals crossed on the earlier post.

The disappointment is that Obama voted for the bloody thing. This posting contains an appropriate image: Bush with a thumbs-up saying, "Thanks Barack" and the Obama logo with his circular sunrise replaced with the AT&T globe. The vote (which Bush quickly praised and will hastily sign) raises some questions:

Why did the Democratic House and Senate cave into Mr. 23% approval? Did Obama vote for it because he wants the same powers to order the private sector to spy on us without accountability once he is in office? If the justification is "We need to win the election," how does this promote his claim to change? Why would we want to give immunity to Telecoms even before we find out what the immunity is for? Can Obama seriously claim that we can still go after the Telecoms in criminal court when Bush can grant them last day pardons?

Obama gathered crowds because he projected himself as a leader who had principles and courage, who would put our freedoms first. Suddenly, he is playing not to lose. He got spooked by Dukakis in the tank, Kerry on the surfboard. He's afraid of the ads that say he refuses to listen in on terrorists and wants to shut down churches because people think he's a Muslim. But he set himself up for the charge of flip-flopping that helped destroy Kerry.

Bush has been able to hold our troops and our country hostage. Don't give him money for Iraq and he'll let the troops go hungry in the field. Don't give him Telecom immunity and he won't do any terrorist surveillance and blame it on the Dems. And the reason he can is because Pelosi took impeachment off the table.

Here's a final twist Bush could give the Dems as he walks out the door: They approved a Constitutional breach back in 2002 (this was an early FISA vote). This recent vote was to cover their exposure. Bush could grant pardons to his GOP buddies and any criminal offenses the Telecoms did -- and that leaves only Democrat leadership to take any legal responsibility for spying on Americans.

Makes me wish Hillary was still around so I could vote for her. She voted against this disaster. She was hoodwinked into voting for Iraq. Obama appears to know exactly what he was doing in this case and voted for it anyway. It makes one weep for the Constitution. Even with this blemish on his record, Obama is still way better than McCain.

But the gap between them just got narrower.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Not Holy v. Profane

This image is of Hollywood United Methodist Church. That 20 foot AIDS ribbon went up 15 years ago in the height of the AIDS crisis. Some congregations actually believe the denomination's slogan of "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors." In June, both the California-Pacific and California-Nevada Annual Conferences adopted some measures supporting same-sex marriage, such as offering the names of retired pastors willing to conduct such marriages. The Cal-Pac conference also went on record opposing the anti-gay marriage amendment. This helps shift the debate away from being Holy v. Profane.

Integrity, trust, and unit cohesion

Four high-ranking military officers issued a report detailing how the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy hurts the military and offers recommendations.

The findings:

* The law does not trust the Pentagon to adapt policy to changing circumstances.

* Existing military law provides sufficient means to discipline inappropriate conduct.

* The law forces commanders to choose between breaking the law and undermining unit cohesion.

* The law prevents gay service members from getting psychological and medical care and religious counseling.

* The law has caused the military to lose talented service members and has tended to recruit those needing "moral waivers" instead.

* The law requires gays to lie and that undermines personal integrity, honor, and trust. The soldier is seen as a liar, which means he is a coward. It is integrity and trust that are at the heart of unit cohesion.

* Many gays are already serving openly.

* Military attitudes towards gays are changing -- only 37% of returning veterans think the ban should be continued.

* Evidence shows allowing gays to serve openly is unlikely to risk morale, good order, discipline, or cohesion. So much of the claims of the law's supporters.

The recommendations:

* Repeal the Don't Ask law.

* Maintain the ability to discipline soldiers for misconduct that interferes with good order, discipline, and cohesion.

* Change conduct codes so they are orientation neutral while maintaining prohibitions against inappropriate bodily contact for the purpose of satisfying sexual desires.

* Reinforce safeguards of confidentiality between soldiers and chaplains, doctors, and mental health professionals.

There is one important fact from how the group's research was conducted: all of those who oppose gays in the military refused to take part. And the team offered all kinds of ways to make that participation easy. Perhaps they don't want the issue discussed rationally.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The best stand to take

Here is a long, rambling, interesting essay on the issue of gays and the Anglican Church by an "indigenous" pastor (one local to a small church who hasn't attended seminary). Here are some ideas from it.

The Anglican Lambeth Conference, coming up this month, does not set policy, like the United Methodist General Conference last April. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the nominal head, is not a pope, able to issue decrees. However, they can pass resolutions and one resolution passed in 1998 was that homosexual practice was contrary to the teaching of Scripture. It was done through careful diplomacy leading up to that conference. Resolutions cannot be enforced.

So, when Gene Robinson was ordained 5 years later (in 2003) it was seen as those Americans going it alone against a world-wide understanding. Actually, Canada provided a little fuel for the fire is 2002 by adopting blessings for same-sex ceremonies. But Americans rubbed others noses in it when electing a woman as their head in 2006.

The rift comes down to three questions: (1) Is Jesus who he said he is, providing only one way to salvation? (2) Can the authority of scripture be trusted? (3) Are there moral absolutes or merely suggestions on how we are to act?

All that means the rift goes back to the "Elizabethan Settlement" of the 16th century after Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church. What is the source of authority -- Scripture or the pope? Anglicans settled on Scripture, tradition, and reason (later John Wesley would add experience). While the "Settlement" put an end to beheadings, nothing was settled. England went through its own civil wars, regicide, several religious movements and a population that ends to avoid churches.

What is now different is the global scale of the split. In 1960 there were only 50 million Christians (of all denominations) in Africa, now there are over 300 million. In that time most African countries became independent and are now eager to impose their clout on their former colonial masters.

Another way to look at it is marginalized people aligning and converging (a messy process) and the "straight, white, male, clerical, overly educated, financially secure, English-speaking, well-pensioned, professionally established" are being moved to the margins as the formerly marginalized move to the center. In this thinking, fundamentalism is a vestige of a binary view of us and them, orthodox and heretic.

But what good is that binary if Christianity is implicated in militarism, usury, sweatshop labor, and environmental rape? Why is the split over gays? As Gene Robinson puts it:

“I don’t believe there is any topic addressed more often and more deeply in Scripture than our treatment of the poor, the distribution of wealth, of resources, and the danger of wealth to our souls. One third of all the parables and one sixth of all the words Jesus is recorded to have uttered have to do with this topic, and yet we don’t hear the biblical literalists making arguments about that.”

One of the African Anglican bishops complains of Robinson's ordination by saying the Episcopal Church has violated that 1998 understanding but also the faith their own fathers taught in Africa as missionaries. "We stand where their ancestors stood." Put another way, the African bishop is saying that he gave up his gods, his family structure (polygamy was normal), and his language, even risking being accused of encouraging Western encroachment for the gift of the Christian faith. Now Americans are changing the faith he changed his life to receive.

Lots of people have said and say now that communication is the key. But the "Listening Process" the Anglicans have been trying to practice over homosexuality hasn't gotten very far. The communion bread can only communicate when we stop talking. Communication carries risks: It leaves little room for the ambivalent -- he isn't likely to post on blogs as the two sides bash each other. When we spend so much time "communicating" we are spending less time actually doing -- we are being asked to "take a stand" when the best stand to take is with an actual person in an actual place, such as standing with the gay man whose partner just died of AIDS.

Back to Robinson's issue of the church and the poor: The churches with the most need, such as in Appalachia, should get the priests with the greatest skills. Alas, priest allocation in the Episcopal Church is based on free-market principles. The priests with the greatest skills go to the churches with the greatest resources.


British news media are reporting there has been a secret meeting between the conservative Anglican bishops, the ones boycotting the Lambeth Conference, and advisors of Pope Benedict. The issue is primarily the inroads gay clergy have made in America and Britain, though women bishops were also discussed. The disgruntled Anglicans are discussing greater unity with the Vatican. Whether that means healing the centuries old split between the conservative Anglican and Catholic churches at the expense of the world-wide Anglican Communion remains to be seen.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

This one is for you, sister

My sister wrote an email this morning showing how much she has learned how to swear. Alas, I think she has good reason. So I wrote this letter. You may copy it (changing details as appropriate) and send it to the prez. candidates and your own senators (I didn't bother with my representative because he is very much a Bush lapdog).

Dear Sen. Barack Obama,

Dear Sen. John McCain,

Dear Sen. Debbie Stabenow,

Dear Sen. Carl Levin,

My sister had a stroke last February 1st at the young age of 50. Though it appears she will make a reasonable physical recovery, it will not be complete. However, various government agencies have figuratively beaten her, leaving her on the floor for the count. She will emerge from this experience a pauper, relying on the fickle graces of the government for her existence.

Before the stroke, she had her own modest business and, like many in Michigan these days, it didn't provide enough to live on. The first expense to go was comprehensive health care. She was able to get a basic plan from the state to cover her diabetes medication and little else.

When the stroke hit she had no insurance to pay for emergency room, a week at the hospital with a flurry of tests, and two weeks at a rehabilitation center. The physical therapy she received was not nearly enough for her to recover the use of her left hand but continued therapy requires proof of insurance. Thus, she has been declared disabled and unable to hold a job. She had to close her business.

This is where the story turns from unfortunate to tragic. Before she started her business five years ago she had managed to accumulate a modest $20,000 IRA, something that would last a year or less for most Americans, something that would allow her to be only slightly less of a burden to family, friends, or the government during her senior years. Yet because of that IRA, what little health insurance she had has been cancelled and her application to Medicaid has been denied. There is no way now to get the therapy she needs for recovery and her diabetes medication has just gotten significantly more expensive. The IRA will vanish in an instant to pay the early withdrawal penalty, the emergency room, the hospital, and the rehab center. She feels well and truly screwed by The System. Every government agency has closed its doors to her.

Please, I urge you, make it go away.

By that I mean do all you can to make universal health care a reality. It is long past time for a nation as rich as ours to have such a shoddily funded health system when countries much smaller have managed it quite well at a much lower per-person cost.

It is ironic to me that we already have the makings of a world-class health system -- one good enough for Taiwan to copy -- if we would only expand it's availability. The best way to get what America needs can easily be summed up as "Medicare for All."

I am annoyed that a great deal of money for health in this country goes into the pockets of the for-profit health insurance industry, where it does little to actually improve anyone's health. The goal of those companies is to make money, not keep anyone healthy. Implementing Medicare for All has the advantage of side-stepping the health-insurance industry.

I am enough of a pragmatist and sufficiently outraged by my sister's plight that I'm willing to praise any method that will restore health care for my sister while we also work towards the goal of Medicare for All.


The Crow

I sent this letter through the following websites (using my real name):

Barack Obama

John McCain

Carl Levin

Debbie Stabenow

Stabenow's site has a blog with an announcement of a Healthy American's Act (alas, the link to the single blog post points to a post about fair trade, though the press release can be found here). She claims it would be budget neutral in 2014 and have a surplus after that. The announcement doesn't say how it would work but does say it has bipartisan support.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Shared vision and mission

As expected, the Religious Right is not happy with Obama's recently announced faith-based charity plan. Oh, they like the money just fine. And, at the moment, they are saying nothing about the requirement to not discriminate against clients. It's the employee non-discrimination thing that sticks in their throats. Richard Land, chief lobbyist for the Southern Baptist Convention put it this way:

"If you can’t hire people within your faith community, then you’ve lost the distinctive that is the reason why faith-based programs exist in the first place.”

Jim Towey, who was director of Bush's faith office declared Obama's plan, "unmanageable — and besides those folks want to hire people who share their vision and mission.” But what difference does the faith (or it's lack) of an employee make if he ascribes to the mission -- to feed the hungry and house the homeless? And if you can't keep proselytizing out of your service, there is always private money.

Country v. Govenrment

Mark Twain has some nice things to say about patriotism in 1901, things the GOP should pay attention to a hundred years later.

I looked up the references to the Philippines and learned that The Unites States took control of the Philippines in 1898 from Spain as part of the Spanish American War that began in 1896 (we also got Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba). Almost immediately thereafter the Filipinos tried to gain independence from America, which they had been trying to get from the Spanish before that war. The Philippine-American war had started and would last officially until 1902. This discussion of patriotism comes during that war.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Reap what you sow

The main article of this blog entry isn't interesting enough for a post, but one of the comments changed my mind.

A conservative senator (doesn't matter which one) ranted about the importance of the Real ID law and the Patriot Act, citing the Book "America Alone" by Mark Steyn. The book claims Europeans have become so decadent they've stopped having enough children. They needed to invite Muslims in to work their factories (yes, Turks worked in the Ford factory in Cologne when I lived there) and those dratted Muslims bred like rabbits. That led to the 2006 riots in France by Muslim youth who couldn't get work (those riots happened) and within a couple decades (say 2020) there were enough Muslims that they voted in Islamic governments across the continent, leaving America alone to fight the Islamist menace. Ho, hum. Another racist diatribe.

Here is where it gets interesting. Before the push for an American Theocracy (about 20 years ago) we had a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that people believed in and America was rather tolerant of different religions (though I suppose I had better add as long as they allowed conservative Christians to maintain a comfortable majority) and there was an understanding of the dangers of tyranny of the majority, even if nobody knew that phrase. But in a time when those documents are being dismantled to give way to a Christian theocracy those that now push for tyranny of the majority are afraid that the wrong group will become the majority and take over and punish them.

Sheesh. Guys, this is getting old

The American Family Association (whose branch in Michigan causes so much mischief has issued a boycott of McDonalds. This doesn't look to be any more successful then their boycotts of Ford and Disney. The crime? Supporting the Homosexual Agenda. Follow the link for a great comeback line.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Something for Independence Day: When it isn't free speech

A pastor in Minnesota declared from the pulpit that a vote for Obama or Hillary (when she was still running) was a sin. When reported to the IRS he claimed it was a free speech right. Nope. The courts have already ruled on this one.

Enjoying tax-exempt benefits carries conditions. Churches can enjoy this status. Political parties cannot. If you don't like the conditions, give up your tax-exempt status. This isn't a ban on free speech, but a way to maintain the integrity of tax-exempt institutions.

The Alliance Defense Fund (a Fundie funded group) is urging churches to violate the politicking ban on Sept. 28. But ADF won't take the fall, its tax-exempt status won't be at risk. But the churches could be hit hard.

Monopoly on Biblican truth

There was a meeting of 300 conservative Anglican bishops in Jerusalem recently. They plan to boycott the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference later this month and want the whole Anglican Communion top stop reinterpreting the bible to suite modern trends and to return to more traditional roots -- such as, they claim, was practiced at the time of Jesus. Though the group is united in opposition to homosexuality, they are not in agreement on other conservative issues, such as letting women be bishops.

They now declare that the current Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the whole Anglican Communion, unfit for the job because he isn't able to discipline wayward groups and they call on him to resign. They talked about forming their own world-wide organization, but stopped short of an actual split.

An English Bishop responds:

"[T]o be told that I now need to be authorised or validated by a group of primates somewhere else who come in and tell me which doctrines I should sign up to is not only ridiculous it's deeply offensive.

"The idea that they have a monopoly on Biblical truth simply won't do and we must stand up to this, it's a kind of bullying. 'We're the true gospel people, therefore you must listen to us'." …

"When one finds people coming high-handedly, who don't actually know what's going on, and say, 'We've now drawn up this list of 14 points and you've got to sign up to them and then we'll authorise you and you can be part of our club, and if you don't then we're going to sweep you aside'... anyone has a right to feel angry when faced with that kind of thing."

Idealistic or pragmatic?

Though Obama supports a single-payer health system, he appears to understand getting there will take a long time. Should we work to get insurance for the poor now or must that wait until we have the ideal medical system?

In the same way, government agencies at all levels simply can't deal with homeless, AIDS patients, elderly, troubled youth, and released felons. There is no substitute for faith-based groups. These are primarily urban problems and urban progressives will look at Obama's proposals differently than academic progressives who tend to worry about irrational religion.

This urban/academic divide also appears in such issues as school vouchers where urban progressives will take a chance on anything that might work to fix horrible schools. So far, Obama has laid out a plan that doesn't use vouchers, but he insists on not dismissing them.

Another issue is Affirmative Action in which academics want to preserve it by expanding it to consider class. In this (and other) urban/academic splits conservatives are looking for ways to jam a wedge into the crack.

On these and other issues Obama refuses to toe the progressive line if he can pragmatically get some of his solution now.

I just gave them a zero

Another (lengthy) opinion on Obama's funding of faith-based programs. The first part discusses how Bush's program got written into laws (and just not one law, but lots of favoritism snuck into lots of different laws), and then a peek into a federal bureaucracy that gave out the grants. An example of the latter is the story of a woman who scored the applications for worthiness. "'But,' she said with a giggle, 'when I saw one of those non-Christian groups in the set I was reviewing. I just stopped looking at them and gave them a zero.'"

What to do? Of Obama wants to keep faith-based programs, this is how he must separate church from state:

Fund organizations with religious ties (Lutheran Social Services) but not pervasively religious groups, such as actual churches.

Taxpayer money does not fund proselytizing nor discrimination in who is served or hired (even so, as I mentioned in that previous post, it is still legal to discriminate against gays).

Secular alternatives are readily available and religious services must tell clients about them.

Proper firewalls between secular and sectarian parts requires a separate corporate structure to handle the government funded programs.

To put it another way.. Obama needs to go back to the rules in place before 1996.

If you don't like these rules there is always private funding. But that is harder to raise and usually comes with a lot more oversight -- donors want to know how effective you are with their money.

Of course, Bush's pals are going to fight the change in rules. And even progressive pastors have their own agendas.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Inadvertently endorsing discrimination

At a time when Newsweek says Evangelicals are no longer crucial to winning elections -- the firebrands of the last election are in their 70s or have died and younger leaders are wary of politics -- we find Obama appearing to pander to them.

Obama has announced plans to continue and expand Bush's efforts to steer dollars to faith based social services. He wants to elevate it to a "moral center" of his administration.

Obama dismisses claims that this is bridging the separation of church and state because the money can't be used to discriminate or proselytize.

Sorry, buddy, even if it is in their bylaws such charities (or at least their workers) do discriminate against obvious non-Christians (Wiccans, lesbians) and dollars given to them also suck up private sources leave secular charities without funding.

A lot of gays (frequently the target of discrimination in services or hiring by such faith-based groups) are feeling sold out. This first reaction is of that type.

Another reaction, starting with the premise no matter how big Obama's faults, McCain's are worse. So, Barack, old buddy, if you're going to fund discriminatory charities, here's some questions for you to answer:

You are a constitutional scholar. How does funding such programs not contradict the First Amendment?

You have recently said that religious views of laws and proposed laws should be translated into universal, rather than religion-specific language. How does this proposal translate into non-religious values?

Since funding is appropriated by Congress will you obey their funding guidelines and will you allow these programs to come under court scrutiny?

How will you, and the subordinates running the program, avoid religious discrimination, since you have said that "religious" does not necessarily mean "Christian"?

If an organization proselytizes and discriminates as part of their programs how do you insure that the addition of federal dollars doesn't support those problems?

If the challenges are too big for government to solve alone (as you have said), how does diverting money to faith based groups accomplish the same goal?

If you are taking money from me (reportedly funding these programs with a half billion dollars a year) and giving it to groups with whom I have religious disagreements how is this not religious discrimination?

A much more reasoned look, not at the program itself, but at reactions to it.

Bush's precedent has poisoned the waters, making rational discussion difficult. His administration has consistently politicized and destroyed a lot of what we hold dear and that colors our view. This really isn't a church/state issue, but one of competence -- church organizations were much better at responding to Katrina than federal agencies. But we don't know -- there was no oversight -- how many of those church organizations included preaching with their hammering. (When I was in Biloxi in March of 2007 to replace a roof the other organization that shared our campground definitely did that.)

Obama's intent, whether political, altruistic, both, or neither, is unknown. But with the Bush disaster and destruction it is easy to assume that Obama is succumbing to encroaching theocracy. But there are a lot of faith-based organizations willing and able to run secular programs. Since Obama has already talked at length about his faith and about his time as a constitutional scholar an announcement like this shouldn't be a big surprise. But it does have other Democrats worried.

Obama has been courting gays and religious blacks, which means he has to deal with groups with opposite goals. He has to say both "Marriage is for one man and one woman," and "Gays deserve equal rights." With this kind of balancing act, he will step on land mines.

The reason to partner with local agencies (secular or faith-based) rather than doing it all from Washington is that local agencies know their communities and its problems and they are more willing and able to offer innovative solutions.

Now to the issue of discrimination. Though Obama insists that his programs must comply with state and local non-discrimination laws even though he is offering federal dollars, the big problem is there is no federal discrimination protection for gays. In addition, many states have not enacted such protections. And it is faith-based programs that are most likely to discriminate against gays. Big problem.

But balance that against the sheer numbers -- millions -- of those that could be helped by this proposal. Should the plan be scuttled because a few gays might be excluded? Is the definition of "greater good" dependent on where your blind spot is? And for progressives, there is still a blind spot for gay rights. However, it probably isn't a "few" gays: they are one of the most at-risk populations for addiction, depression, homelessness, and suicide and yet they face significant deterrents to seeking help from faith-based programs.

There is a way out of that bind: along with this proposal announce support for the Employment Non Discrimination Act, which has gotten stuck in Congress.

There is probably merit in this kind of program. Obama will do better at it than Bush but it is unknown if he can pull it off.

There was no way the Obama campaign could have announced this program without causing dissent in the base because current federal means through this program Obama endorses discrimination without a plan to counter it.

Here is Obama's actual report. I've read some and skimmed through the rest. He doesn't say why he feels the government must outsource this much needed work for the poor, but he does list the failings of the program under Bush and does list guiding principles.

Bush's failures: The initiative was underfunded. It was used for partisan purposes. Smaller organizations were ignored.

Guiding principles: Can't use the money for religious efforts, use the money only for secular programs. Can't discriminate against employees or recipients. Must show effectiveness.

Arizona amendment circus

Here is an insider account of the chaos around how the Arizona Senate passed their Marriage Protection Amendment. It sounds like a few senators ended their careers with this vote.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

But what *is* the dark side?

For good or ill, here are today’s practical definitions:

A Democrat not attracted to the dark side is called an idealist.
A Republican not enticed by the dark side is called a Democrat.

Rex est Lex

What's with Congressional Democrats when faced with a Bush tirade? Bush's approval is at an historic 17%. Democrats -- the ones actually making laws, not campaigning for Bush's job (uh, sorry, no difference there) -- are being reviled in public opinion polls for their refusal to stand up to Bush. Why?

Case in point, is the new FISA bill approved by the House and Senate (alass Russ Feingold couldn't pull off a filibuster). It has some big anti-democracy flaws in it:

* Telecom companies are given immunity for committing crimes on Bush's behalf. Congress need not have acted on this matter. The courts could easily sort out if a crime had actually been committed.

* The old law allowed wiretapping for three days while getting approval from the FISA court. The new law extends it to seven days, allows wiretapping to continue through the appeals process, and allows the gov't to keep whatever it collects even if FISA doesn't grant approval.

* Blanket approval is given for data mining of email and phone calls. No court required.

The second and third items mean the executive branch no longer needs judicial oversight for spying. That has left it in the hands of congressional oversight, and this is evidence they have effectively punted on the issue. That is why the public is upset with Democrats.

We got into this mess because "Democracy will subsist only when the people value freedom and understand the properties that constitute it. When the people submit to superstition, ignorance, and the lies and distortions that inevitably accompany war, then freedom and its logic are ever at bay." The people have woken up. Why not Democrats?

Alas, the reason seems to be simple: Telecom companies were very generous to Democrats with their campaign contributions. The Dem level of corruption is approaching GOP levels. Democracy has been sold out.

Another opinion about the FISA bill. Most lawmakers haven't read the actual bill because the language is so opaque, with even a spokesperson from the Justice Department saying it is so intricate the guys who must apply it will be stumped. That sounds like the standard Bush operating procedure: since nobody will be able to figure out what the thing actually means he can do whatever he wants and claim the law gives him permission. But the opacity gives rise to myths:

* "It's a compromise," says Steny Hoyer, one of the authors. Russ Feingold responds "It's a capitulation." Feingold is right. Why else would Bush agree to it so quickly after spending a year threatening a veto if it wasn't exactly what he wanted?

* We need it to intercept enemies abroad. Nope, the old law would allow wiretaps if just cause can be shown. What this bill does is abolish warrants, a key instrument of the founders to preserve liberty.

* Telecom companies still must go before the courts. Well, yeah, but their defense need be nothing more than "Bush told us to."

* Democrats folded to avoid being tarred with standing with the ACLU and trial lawyers against security as the election approaches. Standing with Bush and AT&T is better?

* The new law is the "exclusive means" of surveillance. Dems are patting themselves on the back for making sure the law includes the language of the old law that Bush has ignored since 2001.

Bush has effectively kept a review of his illegal actions out of the courts by simply saying this stuff is so classified we can't let it appear in court for litigation. And now they get a retroactive blessing of their crimes.

No judge can make an assessment of what Bush has done, cannot declare willful violation a crime, cannot produce a landmark ruling as a warning to future presidents about government excess. Instead, we have the precedent of a president setting aside a law he doesn't like. Rex est Lex. The king is the law.