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Right Wing Propaganda and Poor Children 13 October 2007

Posted by Todd in Democracy, Inequality & Stratification, Journalism, News, Political Commentary.
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Hopefully, many of you already know that Pres. Bush vetoed the S-chip program which provides medical care to poor children through state mechanisms. The Democratic response was to deliver a plea to Pres. Bush through a 12 year old boy, Graeme Frost, and his sister, who had been severely injured in a car accident. The right-wing blogosphere got a hold of the story and began a smear campaign against the Frosts and their children, trying to discredit the Democrats. It turns out that none of the Republican claims about the Frosts is true, and yet the MSM continues to report the story as if there is doubt or the Frosts are tainted or the Democrats are bumbling idiots, even though it was the Republicans who got all the facts wrong and engaged in a smear campaign of a disabled 12 year old child.

It is amazing to me the utter lack of anything resembling ethics on the right side of the aisle over the past 20 years. The depth of Republican cynicism about democracy, truth-telling, debate, science, and let’s face it, human life is jaw-dropping. Even more distressing, however, is the utter lack of integrity in the MSM. Is journalism really dead? Can journalists not actually check the facts on the press releases coming out of party headquarters anymore? Has the function of the 4th Estate devolved into a mere delivery system for party and corporate PR?

Paul Krugman has an excellent analysis in his column today (hat tip to Salon.com’s Joan Walsh) of the whole Frost affair. Warning: read on an empty stomach.

American democracy in a state of total decay.


Virginia Tech and Ethnicity 17 April 2007

Posted by Todd in News, Race & Ethnicity.
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Update: A couple of smart commentaries have appeared about race/ethnicity and the shootings. Here are my two favorites.

Killer Reflections, on Salon.com & Virginia Tech, Day Three, on Positive Liberty.

First and foremost, my thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones to this tragedy. I don’t want to tread upon their grief.

Second, I’ve noticed an increasing trend in the news to refer to Cho, the assailant, as South Korean, and I’ve even seen a few news reports speculating on how Korean culture could have been behind this terrible event.

This begs some clarification. Cho came with his family to the United States when he was 8 years old. He was raised here, spoke English without an accent, and was a student at Virginia Tech. He wasn’t a foreign exchange student. He wasn’t an immigrant in most senses either. Research on young people who immigrate before age 10 is pretty clear: they are de facto second generation, and function in the society as Americans.

Cho was an upper-middle class, suburban AMERICAN, although his race may have played a role in his alienation, or whatever ennui it was that led to his becoming a brutal murderer. But for god’s sake people, he was a second generation American by culture, regardless of what his passport says. Get off the ethnicity angle and start asking the hard questions about why things like this happen in America.

More on Public ‘Outing’: Ted Haggard — Hypocrite, Liar, Self-hating Homophobe 3 November 2006

Posted by Todd in Christianity, Ethics, Gay and Lesbian Culture, Gay Rights, News, Political Commentary, Queer Theory, Sexuality.
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haggard.jpgUPDATE: The AP is reporting from a source inside the NAE that Haggard has confessed to at least some of the allegations.

A former hustler by the name of Mike Jones went on the air in Colorado yesterday and accused the Rev. Ted Haggard — founder of a megachurch and current president of the National Association of Evangelicals — of using his services for the past three year (that is, paying him for sex). [See this Denver Post article, which pisses me off because of its equivocating and burying the evidence nearly half-way down the article; the paper bent over backward to make Haggard look innocent and honorable.]

Another example of why I’m in favor of public outing: Individuals who actively fight against homosexual freedom and equality, or even who seek to maintain the cultural hold over homosexuality by teaching that it’s immoral, must have no expectation of privacy. This is not a question of simple hypocrisy. This is a man who uses his position of immense power and influence (he’s the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents millions of people) to work positvely for the oppression of an entire class of people. Although Barney Franks’ recent ascent to “Elder Statesmanhood” still confuses me, I have to agree with him on this issue: When you are part of an organization and/or you yourself are actively working to oppress the people who are like you, your self-hatred and your sexual behavior are public issues and reason for scorn and derision and for losing your job. I am absolutely in favor of public outing in this case, as I was in the Foley case.

I agree with Dr. Myers on Pharyngula, however, that these are not the rationales given by either the NAE or the DNC for why either Haggard or Foley are unethical and/or corrupt men. The evangelicals, when/if they accept that Haggard is a self-hating closeted gay, will simply see this as evidence that they are right, that gayness is indeed a moral disease, that gay people are deceitful and untrustworthy, and that they are justified in their campaign of bigotry. Similarly, the Democrats and liberals are using the Foley case to say that the Republicans are corrupt because they have closeted gay men in their ranks. This is a bit more subtle, but in its subtlety, may even be worse than the rather straight-forward homophobia of the NAE. The Democrats in their approach to using the Foley scandal are perpetuating the same association of homosexuality with deceitfulness and untrustworthiness. Mr. Franks has been the only congressman I’ve heard speak about this who, for obvious reasons, gets it.

There is also a problem with the liberal critique of the outing itself, which is that Haggard’s (or Foley’s) sexuality is a “private” matter. This is, albeit probably unintentionally, a subtle reinforcing of the Closet, something we’ve been trying to destroy for years. One’s homosexuality is as much a part of oneself as another’s heterosexuality. And when one is in a position of public power, one’s sexuality may very well be of issue in one’s actions in the public sphere. To insist that (homo)sexuality is private is to miss two important points: 1) our sexuality is always intimately public in the way we regulate sexual behavior, legally, morally, and socially; and 2) forcing homosexuality into the “private” is a coded way of insisting that it be hidden from view. The effect of taking the position that homosexuality is “private” is to maintain its position of shame; it says that in the public sphere, you can be gay as long as you don’t act gay (which is called “flaunting”). This is the oppression of the closet in our world where many gay people are openly gay: Their acceptability from context to context depends on their ability to “cover” their gayness. [I’m currently reading Kenji Yoshino’s analysis of this phenomenon, of which I’ll post a review later this weekend. Here’s an article-length piece by Yoshino in the New York Times Magazine on the same topic.]

In both the Evangelical and the Democratic critique of these two men, homosexuality is the culprit, the reason for their downfall. Both critiques miss the reality that it is the hatred of homosexuality, homophobia, and the social pressures of the closet (one must pass as straight to maintain social status and power in a homophobic culture) that created the corruption, not the desire to have sex with another man nor even the sex itself. Even Haggard’s adultery must be considered and evaluated in light of the demands of homophobia and the closet. It is not the same act of adultery as a straight man, who is not penalized for merely having the desire, and even when shamed for the adultery, it’s nearly always with a wink and a grin.

Are Queers Really Just Like Everyone Else? 26 July 2006

Posted by Todd in Democracy, Gay and Lesbian Culture, Gay Rights, Inequality & Stratification, News.
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I have written before about my unease with the battle for marriage rights for gays and lesbians. On one hand, I definitely believe that any civil privileges garnered through legally recognized marriage must be equally distributed to all citizens; and as a human being, I support those of my gay brothers and sisters who want to get married.  And from what I understand from friends who have registered their domestic partnerships, it does make life easier when the government simply sanctions your relationship instead of having to draw up a seriers of legal documents just for the basic protections on property, wills, power of attorney, etc.

On the other hand, again as I’ve said before (and as Michael Warner has forcefully argued in The Trouble with Normal), I fear that this push to integrate into society or to assimilate in some regards is actually detrimental to queer culture and life. Although I don’t want to maintain blatant inequality in our democracy, I do worry that integration as a goal, as an end-in-itself, is counter-productive to queer life. One of the most amazing parts of gay and lesbian culture is the ways that we have created our relationships. Because we were excluded from normal relationship structures, we created our own; queer relationships are flexible and provisional as a rule, they are negotiated and change with the needs of partners. This pattern risks disappearing if our relationships become subject to the normative patterns of heterosexual marriages. And it is really the creation of a normative for queer relationships that worries me.

As I mentioned yesterday in my review of “A Very Natural Thing,” the problem with the gay libbers wasn’t that they were against marriage or commitment, but that they created a kind of normative: those who wanted commitment were “bad gays.” The strength of an ongoing gay community is going to be anchored in its flexible relationships. Because “marriage” is a dominant and heteronormative institution, I don’t see how becoming part of the system can occur without giving into it as a normative.

As evidence of my fear, the Los Angeles Times reported today on the shifted strategies of gay and lesbian organizations spearheaded (of course) by the HRC. Apparently the new strategy is to convince Americans that we are just like them.

On a human level, yes, we love and hurt, feel joy and pain, have relationships, fuck, go to work, watch tv, etc. Fine.

But on an experiential level, loving and desiring someone of the same sex is NOT the same as loving someone or desiring someone of a different sex. Even in a world without homophobia, the experiences would be different. And that experience has produced throughout history very different meanings for the men and women who experience them. The greatest tragedy of gaining equality in the democracy would be to lose the power to define the meanings of our lives and loves for ourselves, instead of having them defined by the majority culture.

On the civic level, again, I completely support full equality under the law. What I fear and, frankly, loathe is the abdication of our power to have meaning-making interactions with each other as gay men and women, giving it back to the dominant culture. We fought four nearly 50 years after WWII to wrest back from religion, psychiatry, medicine, and the law the right to define our own lives. Arguing that we are “Normal” and “just like everyone else” is a betrayal of what we have fought for.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars: New Judge Jones Interview 21 July 2006

Posted by Todd in Democracy, Evolution, News.
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Dispatches from the Culture Wars: New Judge Jones Interview

This is an excellent recap of an interview (not available online) with the judge who presided over the Dover, Pennsylvania, “intelligent design” case last year. At the end is his response to the absurd idea that he is an “activist judge.”

Lebanon’s Obliteration 21 July 2006

Posted by Todd in Democracy, News, War & Terrorism.
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I’ve been struggling for the past week with Israel’s destruction of Lebanon, a country on the verge of forming a multicultural democracy, since the so-called “Cedar Revolution.” While I understand the threat of Hezbolla, which operates in Lebanon as if there were no Lebanese government, to the security of the State of Israel, I cannot wrap my mind around this out-of-proportion and unnecessary onslaught, destroying yet again an entire people caught in the middle. I can think of no possible political or moral justification for the actions of the State of Israel in this case. (I rarely find that I agree with the incredibly imbalanced response on the part of the Israeli government; a full-fledged democracy with, I assume, nuclear capabilities, owes more to the world than a non-stop bloodbath in the region.) In yesterday’s Salon.com, Juan Cole, professor of mideast studies at University of Michigan, examined the renewed war on Lebanon. I often find Dr. Cole’s analyses to be refreshing in their candor and rationality.

Cole believes that Israel’s plan is similar to their 1970 success in creating a refugee crisis in Jordan, which resulted in the massacre of thousands of Palestinian-Jordanians and ultimately the squelching of the PLO in Jordan. Laying aside the moral implications of a such an end, Cole argues that Lebanon is far different from Jordan–rather than a stable kingdom with a loyal army, Lebanon is a multi-cultural society and a fragile new democracy only recently freed from Syrian occupation. As reformers within the fledgling democracy were pushing to disarm Hezbollah, the growing conflict with Israel served Hezbollah’s political ends by justitfying their militia. Cole takes Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah to task for his delusions and outright lies and for his acts of violence, which are not in dispute here. Hezbollah has never disarmed after the end of the civil war and they use Israel’s might to their south as justification for their continued violence and, frankly, as a means to continually garner support from the Shi’ite population of southern Lebanon. Although it doesn’t excuse its paramilitary actions, in recent years, Hezbollah has also morphed into a political party, it has been quite successful in bringing much needed social services to the poor shiites of the region.

And so what of Israel and its response to the most recent Hezbollah violence? Cole explains:

What of Israel? There is no question that Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks, and to respond appropriately to Hezbollah’s illegal and immoral abduction of two soldiers and killing of others. A “proportional” response by Israel to Hezbollah’s initial attack, of the sort demanded by international human rights lawyers, would have involved killing three Hezbollah fighters and capturing two down at the border between the two countries — and a heavier response directly specifically at Hezbollah could also have been justified. Instead, Israel has bombed, blockaded, isolated and crippled the entire country. Why? In preparation for what?

Cole describes the Israeli plan, the hope that with an incursion into Southern Lebanon, they can turn the majority of lebanese against Hezbollah, so that the Sunni, Druze and Maronites will unite and use the army to disarm the paramilitary party. With already nearly 500,000 refugees (according to the U.N.) and already hundreds of civilian deaths in the bombing, Israel hopes that the civilians will leave the south of Lebanon so that the 5,000 or so Hezbollah militia can be more easily targeted; and they hope that a refugee crisis in Beirut will force the government to send in the army against Hezbollah.

Cole argues that the plan will not work because of Lebanon’s history, because the Lebanese are so deeply scarred by their civil war, which only ended barely a decade ago. He also argues that the Lebanese army is small and green, as yet untrained; and that thousands of the soldiers are sympathetic shi’ites. [Since Cole wrote his op-ed a few days ago, Israel has continued it’s bombing and issued orders for the total evacuation of southern Lebanon.] Cole also predicts that the shi’ites in Iraq are watching the situation carefully and that the already restive shi’ite population (anti-Israel demonstrations already took place earlier this week) will begin to fight against American occupiers as supporters of Israel.

Of course Israel has the right to defend its citizens against missile attacks and its soldiers against being attacked. But Israel’s disproportionate response and its overreaching plan to cleanse the entire south of Lebanon of Shiites will at best buy a temporary respite. If Israel could not destroy Hezbollah during 20 years of actual Israeli military occupation of the south, it cannot do so with intensive bombing raids and some ground incursions. […] The Israelis have responded the same way to military threats for decades — with overwhelming force. This is perhaps understandable, but each time they overreact they create future catastrophes for themselves. Just as their 1982 invasion of Lebanon and occupation of the south haunted them for a generation, they will be living with the blowback of their ill-considered war on hapless little Lebanon for decades to come. Tragically, the United States, as Israel’s closest ally, will also have to suffer for its actions.

In pop psychology, there’s an idea of “compassion overload,” when a friend just can’t muster the emotional strength to feel sorry for someone anymore, and may even turn critical or mean, to protect themselves emotionally from the person who is hurting. But what’s the term for watching someone you care about make repeatedly bad choices and then finally not caring anymore if they succede, and indeed, because their choices are unethical (or immoral) they are hurting other people, so you actually hope they “get caught” and someone puts a stop to it?

Israel has demonstrated in the past their ability to produce lightening speed, targeted and comensurate responses to terrorist acts. But over the past 15 years, it’s as if they have forgotten how, and now all that they can see is massive, widespread violence, and that’s all that will satisfy their needs. Such bloodlust must not be tolerated by the world community. If Israel was on the outs with the international community before, surely it will loose all credibility now. Eqbal Ahmad, a Pakistani philosopher, argued that terrorism comes in five forms: State, Religious, Criminal, Pathological, Oppositional. Israel’s actions are clearly state sponsored terrorism perpetrated against an entire ethnicity of a sovereign nation. But, as Ahamad notes, a state will refuse to give an accurate and empirical definition of terrorism, because then in doing so it loses the ability to control its own population with fear of the terrorist, and it further loses the ability to act with violence in the world.

To underscore my point that Israel has perpetrated an act of state-sponsored terrorism, the San Francisco Chronicle today reports that (like the U.S. invasion of Iraq) plans for the invasion of Lebanon were put in place over a year ago. The recent kidnapping just provided a convenient excuse to set it in motion, as if anyone could possibly believe that the displacement of more than a million people and the manipulation of a sovereign government at gun point could possibly be justified in the present circumstances.

Ken Lay, Christian Extraordinaire! 14 July 2006

Posted by Todd in Capitalism & Economy, Christianity, Ethics, Inequality & Stratification, News.
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Apparently, Ken Lay’s memorial serivce included the incredibly hyperbolic (not to mention offensive) comparison of Lay with Martin Luther King Jr. and (I’m not kidding) Jesus Christjesusthumbs.jpg himself. Family and friends wept on … I can’t believe that no one laughed out loud. This is the man who stole the retirement funds or hundreds of employees, defrauded rate payers around the nation, and used his ill-gotten gains to buy mansions and private jets. I guess American Christianity has always had the loop-hole that if you’re doing it to make money, it’s okay with Jesus!

Funeral attendees were a who’s who of the actual American elite [as opposed to the “liberal elite”], that is, the wealthy ruling class, including of course George H.W. and Barbara-let-them-eat-cake Bush. I’m sure the people who loved Ken Lay (I just threw up in my mouth a little) are grief-stricken. But for the rest of us, one corrupt extravagantly overpaid, thinks-he’s-above-the-law CEO down, several hundred to go.

Lest you think that I’m now being hyperbolic, read what Ben Stein, conservative (i.e., neo-liberal) economist and game show host had to say about CEOs in America recently. If Ben Stein and Todd Ormsbee agree on an economic issue, you know that something is wrong!

[Thanks be to Mike the Mad Biologist for the Lay and Stein links.]

Anti-Semitism in Delaware 8 July 2006

Posted by Todd in Christianity, Democracy, Democratic Theory, Judaism, News, Politics, Race & Ethnicity.
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In the newly inaugurated “What the Fuck?” category, I just learned of the experiences of a Jewish family in Delaware who, along with another anonymous family, have sued the Indian River school district for relief from state-sponsored religion in their vehemently Christian public school. The family had to move to Willmington to escape retribution and ongoing harassment from the Christians. The story is apparently a couple years old, and I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of it, but I’m frankly so flaberghasted at the moment that all I can do is pass along this link to a run-down of events. [Edited to correct the link.]

Look at Street Prophets for a great commentary on recent developments.  It appears that Stop ACLU (a fascist group who have no clue what a civil right is (see my commentary about related issues here)) published the name of the other family, who were subsequently harassed. [Thanks Belaja for the heads up!]

BYU Professor Speaks Out 5 June 2006

Posted by Todd in Academia & Education, Gay Rights, Mormonism/LDS Church, News.
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As I wrote last week, the Mormon church has urged its members to lobby congress about the upcoming Senate vote about the marriage amendment, which would enshrine discrimination in our Constitution for the first time since the original document differentiated between Americans and “slaves” (i.e., “other persons”) and Native Americans.

A part-time philosophy professor at Brigham Young University has published a response to the First Presidency’s problematic call to action in the Salt Lake Tribune, LDS Authority and Gay Marriage. In some ways, Prof. Jeffrey Nielson is having an “insider” argument with fellow believing Mormons, an argument I can simply no longer have. But the arguments are interesting and will definitely push some buttons. The mormon apologist forums at Nauvoo-L are hopping this morning with responses. (I won’t link to them because the moderators over there are notorious for spamming people they don’t like.)

Regardless, I have to give Nielson his due for speaking out. Since 1992, the administration at BYU has been enforcing an anti-intellectual gag on its professors, firing any who speak out against what the university considers to be sacred cows, who offer alternative interpretations of LDS scripture, tradition, history, or culture. The American Association of University Professors has had BYU on its shit list of universities who regularly violate academic freedom for over 10 years now. For example, they have dismissed feminist scholars, scholars studying LDS missionaries, a creative writing professor whose fiction was deemed dark and violent, and scholars criticizing the church’s historical and current racism. [At this point, attending BYU is my biggest regret in life, to the extent that I harbor regrets.]

So a respectful hats off to Prof. Nielson for taking this stand at this time.

Continued here.

[posted with ecto]

Mormon Church Backs Anti-Gay Amendment 1 June 2006

Posted by Todd in Gay Rights, Homosexuality, Mormonism/LDS Church, News, Politics.
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Well, I suppose this was to be expected, but it is irritating nonetheless, as the church sending out a letter to its U.S. membership instructing them to contact their senators to tell them to vote in favor of the constitutional amendment that would make all non-heterosexual relationships unconstitutional in the United States.

I'm beyond getting angry, at this point. Since the 1990s, when Hawaii and Alaska had pending court decisions and when Oregon and Colorado had ballot measures and constitutional amendments on the table, the Mormon church has dumped millions of dollars into anti-gay political campaigns and has repeatedly instructed its members how to vote. It was also during this period when the church's anti-woman, anti-gay Proclamation to the World was distributed. (See my response to the Proclamation here.) This is all especially irritating given the church's own history of alternative marriages (I myself am descended from two different “plural marriages”) and the church's 150 year old stance against imposing its beliefs on others in the public sphere. But since it has become the modus operandi of the church to perpetuate its homophobia and spread it around, joining ranks with conservative Catholics and right-wing evangelicals, I've ceased having the emotional response.

Even though I'm beyond anger at this point, I would like to channel some anger about the issue into the universe. Please see my cyber-friend Liseysmom's fabulous Post-Mormon Rant. And a fantastically sarcastic and thought provoking post from my cyber-crush, Equality,So Very Grateful.

[posted withecto