Saturday, May 30, 2009

The American Idol scandal that won't go away.

A BBC report on the American Idol voting scandal just won't die. And it seems to be bigger than AT&T first admitted. In a nutshell AT&T is the only system on which text votes may be cast. They admitted that some AT&T representatives went to fan parties for Kris Allen during the final showdown between him and Adam Lambert. The AT&T reps brought free special phones which allowed the Allen phones to text in votes ten at a time. No such phones were provided at Lambert parties.
(This video is an interview with Lambert on numerous issues including the pink elephant.)

When this was first reported AT&T issued a statement acknowledging that two reps did this. But they downplayed it as insignificant. They still are, of course. But it turns out that it the two reps brought "more than 80" such phones. Considering that each phone can cast a 10 votes in a few seconds, and that each holder of the phone can send them repeatedly, these 80 phones could produce massive votes for Allen.

Let us assume that it takes 30 to hit speed dial and send the 10 texts. In just an hour's time one fan, using the phone, could send 20 votes per minute. In one hour that one fan can send 1,200 votes. Lambert fans, by the way, were paying for each call they made while the Allen fans with the "power texting" were doing it free of charge, at AT&T's expense. Now I may well be underestimating how many votes could be cast in an hour. According to the BBC "One fan said she voted for Allen 10,840 times on one of the free phones provided...." It is not clear to me if she voted 10,840 times with ten votes each time, or 1084 times with ten votes each. But if this one fan voted 10,840 on one phone then it is clearly possible that the other 79+ could have had similar numbers.

If that were the case that would produce 847,200 votes for Allen. Remember this was only possible with the power texting phones AT&T gave and any other voters, at other parties would have to pay the cost of each call themselves.

What is making me very suspicious that this could be a real scandal is the way that AT&T and Fox Broadcasting (which airs Idols) are issuing weasel statements to "address" the scandal.

Fox said: "Fox and the producers of American Idol are absolutely certain that the results of this competition are fair, accurate and verified." Unpack that for a second. Since everyone was allowed to vote multiple times then there is no one man one vote issue. AT&T could have produced an extra three-quarters of a million votes for one contestant alone. Those extra votes would be accurately counted and verified. Accuracy and verification was not the question so why mention non-issues. Fairness was an issue. And the statement by Fox clearly shows they are morally challenged when it comes to the issue of fairness.

Is it fair to give fans of one singer a free methods to place multiple thousands of votes for their choice while fans of the other singer are paying for each text they send. Depending on the phone plan someone has with AT&T the cost per text could be as high as $0.20. If the girl who sent 10,840 votes on AT&T's bill had done her own voting at this rate it would have cost her $2,168 to cast these votes. More importantly for a Lambert fan to equal the votes this girl cast for free they would have to fork out out up to $2,168 to do so.

AT&T says "the extra votes did not hamper other finalists Adam Lambert's chances of success." Really? AT&T says, "it's quite a leap to suggest that a few individuals could have impacted the final results." Maybe, maybe not. American Idol won't release the voting results so we don't know. And AT&T is avoiding the issue that these "few individuals" each had the power to cost at least 10,840 votes, perhaps more. If this one girl were the faster texter in the bunch then 10,840 is the maximum per person. But that's still coming close to an extra million votes for Allen. And if she were merely average in her texting abilities that means the total votes cast would be close to a million. On the other hand, if she were one of the slower texters among the Allen fans the votes could easily surpass a million. We simply don't know but anyone with a sense of fairness will find this whole set up very questionable indeed.

Some Lambert fans want a revote. Actually they ought not. Lambert got the best of two worlds. He clearly was the better singer and he has a big career without being hampered by an contract with the American Idol's show. All things consider I suspect a second-place finish put him in a stronger position than a win. Kris Allen, on the other hand, probably benefits by the win.

By the way, we may have discovered why Lambert has been so cagey (and clever) about answering the question about, as he put it, "the pink elephant in the room." Lambert's mother was asked if he is gay and she said that she had to sign a contract with the show restricting her from answering any personal questions without their permission. Leila Lambert said: "We signed a contract with Idol and unless it has been set up by them, I'm not allowed to answer." I can assure you that if Lambert's mother wasn't allowed to answer that question with permission from the show, then Adam himself was strictly forbidden from doing so as well.

It appears to me that Fox intentionally fanned the flames. On one hand we had Fox commentators like O'Riley running off about Lambert's allegedly being gay and how he wasn't talking. On the other hand, Lambert appears to have be contractually silenced on the issue, thus allowing the speculation to go on for months. It is rumored that Lambert will answer the question in the affirmative shortly in Rolling Stone magazine. I don't know if the article will discuss Lambert's beau, Drake LaBry. LaBry was introduced to Lambert several months ago and sat with Lambert's parents in the audience during the competition. I wonder if Idol made him sign a contract to refuse to say who he was?

I did read an interview with Kris Allen and have to give him some credit. He was quite clear that he was disgusted that some people refused to vote for Lambert on the assumption that he was gay. Allen said he knows a lot of Christians like that, especially in the South, who would be that way and he doesn't agree with it. Allen also said he thought the vote should have been on talent alone and that Lambert is a good person whom he likes a lot. Interestingly, Allen managed to do all of this without ever using the word "gay." Perhaps he too has been forbidden from mentioning the word by the show. Odd stuff.

All this isn't hurting Lambert. I do feel sorry for Allen. He is seen by many as a pretender to the throne who was brought in my manipulating votes for him. If that isn't bad enough he has to wonder if he won simply because of bigotry against Lambert for possibly being gay. If you think that fact upset the fundamentalist imagine what they would do if they discovered he's also Jewish. (He is, but thankfully Bill O'Riley didn't do shows on whether or not a "open Jew" could win Idol.)


We are coming.

I confess, I love this show. No, it has nothing to do with politics, or at least very little. But for the pure entertainment value of it, I love it. I got hooked on Torchwood in the UK. I was on an extended visit with CL reader and political trouble-maker, Rebecca. She hs a serious scifi addiction. Well, it's her TV and she turned on Torchwood. Within the first two minutes I was on my laptop looking up information regarding the series and the stars (I'm compulsive that way, anything that strikes my interest always requires further research).

I was so hooked on the show we arranged to hook Rebecca's cable to the internet so that I could access when on in Europe (that is non-English Europe). I was back for another long visit about half a year later and bought all the first season on DVD, even at the rob-them-blind prices that the BBC charges in the UK for their material, which is quite unfair since the poor Brits have to fund the outfit with taxes to begin with. I watched Season Two on BBC America on cable and then bought it on DVD. And I've been anxiously waiting for Season Three, even if the ending of Season Two pissed me off due to plot development.

They have done some absolutely chilling material and some amazingly moving scenes as well. And there is some rather witty humor involved as well. The drama is good, the acting superb and the casting is perfect. They really go all out for this series. It is far better than Dr. Who, from which this is basically a spin-off. Since I'm on the topic of television I'll list a few shows that I will watch and do enjoy. I don't watch that many and even some of these I'll watch if its one otherwise I can go without.

1. Torchwood, described above.

2. Desperate Housewives. I love the humor in this show and enjoy the plots. It was so roundly condemned by fundamentalists that I assumed it had to be worth watching. I enjoy it.

3. Ugly Betty. When Rebecca and I had our Junk Food Fridays we would sit in front of the TV and indulge in Ugly Betty. It's fun. It's not serious drama, it doesn't have compelling story lines but it's fun and fun is good.

4. The United States of Tara. Toni Collette is brillant playing the multiple personalities of the main character: Tara. I first saw Collette in the 1994 Australian film, Muriel's Wedding. Two years later she was in the wonderful film Cosi. Both of these films are in my collection of videos. I next saw her in About a Boy, which is fine, but not spectacular, in my view. And then she played the mother in The Night Listener. I have the film, mainly because Terry Anderson, who wrote the screenplay was someone I knew. He and Armistead Maupin, who lived around the corner from me, worked on it together. But it was really this television series that showed me how good an actress she is. I enjoy this story on several levels but in the end it all rests on Collette's ability to act in five different roles.

5. Big Love. I confess I've only seen series three but I was impressed. First, the story is far more faithful to truth than most people realize. It basically depicts the polygamous break-away branch of Mormons known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. What impressed me was that the writers really did their homework. One of the main writers is Dustin Black, who was himself raised a Mormon but has since been cured. Black also wrote the screenplay for the excellent film Milk.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Hey dude, majority rules.

Here is an amusing video that depicts the dangers of allowing individual rights to be subjected to repeal by majority vote. I find it bizarre that conservatives, who used to whine "This is a republic not a democracy" appealing to majority rule. Thomas Jefferson warned us of these dangers, unfortunately the Progressive Left in California wanted popular votes to be superior to individual liberty and this year gays were the victims of that bad idea. Here are some of Jefferson's comments on the topic.

"The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816.

"The most sacred of the duties of a government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens." --Thomas Jefferson: Note in Destutt de Tracy, "Political Economy,"

"[The] best principles [of our republic] secure to all its citizens a perfect equality of rights." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to the Citizens of Wilmington, 1809.

"What is true of every member of the society, individually, is true of them all collectively; since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789.

"Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual." --Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819.

"No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him." --Thomas Jefferson to Francis Gilmer, 1816.

"The equal rights of man, and the happiness of every individual, are now acknowledged to

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Whom are they hurting?

In a discussion on this site one of our readers, in reference to the anti-dancing church fanatics, asked: Who are they hurting? In a short reply I made a reply which I would like to expand upon.

In part I think some confusion exists because of the way some libertarians use the concept "harm" in two different ways. I "harm" you if I open I up a competiting business to your own. I may actually do things so well that I put you out of business. You are harmed but no rights have been violated. I also can harm you by stealing your property, assaulting you, or denying you freedom. In those cases my harm has violated your rights.

Much confusion began when John Stuart Mill explained his harm principle in On Liberty in 1859. Mill said, "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." My problem with the concept of harm is that it is too subjective. Without the concept of rights, the concept of harm is so elastic as to justify almost any action.

Two fundamentalist Christians wrote a book defending their "right" to pass laws that regulate the private morality of others. The book, Legislating Morality, by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler, is rather popular in fundamentalist circles. It was hailed and endorsed by prominent fundamentalists. It was a pathetically sad attempt to justify state interference in the lives of people who are not doing anything to violate the rights of others. The book was also pathetic scholarship—for instance they claimed that Roger Williams signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Consider his birth date Williams would have to have lived to 173 to sign the Declaration and 184 to sign the Constitution.

Turek and Geisler use the "harm principle" to justify state action. They believe that being gay should be a crime because gays hurt other people. For instance, good Christian parents who discover their child is gay are emotionally hurt by the experience. They said: "There is also the psychological, emotional, and moral harm that those who choose to engage in homosexual acts inflict on others. For example, parents are hurt emotionally when their children choose the homosexual lifestyle." That one statement has so many fallicies compacted into it that only a Christian fundamentalist could manufacture it.

Fundamentalist Christians are offended by the very existence of homosexuals and they argue than no one should "be allowed to bring pyschological or emotional harm against you without punishment." Of course, gay people hurt us all, they argue and allowing them their rights would "encourage such behavior among our children" and if "all of [our] children grew up and adopted the homosexual lifestyle" society would end. Of course if they all grew up and became celibate society would end too but that doesn't stop these same people from promoting celibacy.

What area of human existence would be free of state intrusion if this sort of "harm" were accepted as justifying state involvement? I am sure that some Jewish parents were emotionally hurt when their children "found Jesus," but it does not justify banning religious conversions. Clearly emotional "harm" ought not justify legal prohibitions or nothing would be legal.

It is thus possible for a libertarian to say that something is dangerous, or harmful, as I did regarding fundamentalism, without saying that it is a crime. Much of the harm inflicted on people is done to themselves. They allow fundamentalist churches to harm them. This can be done in many ways. I allowed this to happen to me. Thank myself that I had the wisdom and perserverance to get out of that cesspool of intolerance and close-mindedness. But the emotional pain I went through, at the time, was severe. The pain was quite real but the damage was done with my consent, albeit it I was young and rather naive at the time.

I believe fundamentalist Christianity is dangerous and harmful for several reasons. Part of the harm is that they tend to demand theocratic solutions to problems. Some are worse than others in this regard but you would be hard pressed to find a fundamentalist church that doesn't support censorship, laws regulating private sex acts between consenting adults, etc. Over and over I read Christians writing that gay marriage should be banned simply because these Christians believe "that God established marriage as between one man and one woman." Never mind that the God of the Bible allowed polygamy and had no problem with child brides. They argue that their private religious belief ought to serve as the foundation for the American legal system.

As far as I can tell this is true of the vast majority of born-again Christians to one degree or another. I recently made an effort to read some "Christian libertarian" sites. One so-called Christian libertarian simply avoided talking about the "culture clash" issues entirely. His libertarianism was all economic. The only references I could find to issues like same-sex marriage or homosexuality was somewhat insulting use of terms like "fairy" in his posts. Gary North calls himself a Christian libertarian yets believes that sexual sinners, like gays, should be stoned to death by their neighbors. He sees the killing as "private" and therefore not government and thus it qualifies as libertarian, in his biblically warped little mind.

North recognized that his "libertarianism" is a threat to those he calls "humanists." He wrote, "we need the noise of contemporary events to hide us from our humanist enemies who, if they full understood the long-term threat to their civilization that our ideas pose, would be wise to take steps to crush us."

I have no doubt that one could find a handful of Christian fundamentalists who are actually out and out libertarians. But what does that prove? I posted a video on this site of a hippo that adopted a family in South Africa. It would come and sleep on their porch, allow them to feed her, pet her, etc. From this experience does one conclude that hippos are not dangerous? No. The exception does not invalidate the generality. Most fundamentalists would happily strip you of freedoms given half a chance, damn few would be libertarians in the full sense of the word.

I wouldn't say this about Christians in general. While I think a certain amount of contradictory thinking is required by Christians in general, the mental gymnastics necessary for a fundamentalist to become a libertarian is such that few ever manage. And the few fundamentalists I've met who might be libertarian complain that their fellow believers find them odd and find "Christian libertarian" circles to be pretty lonely.

I've met the main leaders of the Christian Right in recent years, men like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. I've followed the careers of most of them. I've studied their theology, attended their schools, attended their seminary, and read the history of American fundamentalism. I can't think of a similar group that so uniformly opposes freedom as do fundamentalists, outside of groups that identify themselves exclusives as being anti-freedom. So I believe they are dangerous to liberty; therefore they deserve criticism. They have harmed me and you and every American, to varying degrees, by working to strip us of certain rights. They have done so, for the most part, in a non-violent way through the use of state power. In this sense they are like socialists who inflict damage on society via the coercive powers of the state.

But unlike socialists the fundamentalists often inflict heavy emotional damage to their own adherents or to those unfortunate to be reared by fundamentlist parents. Here is a stort that I read today which corresponds with this. I saw this sort of pyschological damage inflicted on many people who I knew in fundamentalist circles. Remember, I am not saying it should be banned, but it sure does deserve criticism. This is by Kelvin Lynch and recounts his own experience within fundamentalism.
I was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado--a hub of fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity. I went to private, Christian school most of my life, and was privileged to grow up in a family that resembled what so many Americans hope for. My parents were deeply concerned and loving--always acting in the best interest of their children. Always, that is, until shortly before my fourteenth birthday.

I had known from an early age that I like other boys, but it wasn't till I hit 11 or 12 that I realized that this fact made me different from the other kids I grew up with. At the time, I belonged to a religious denomination that harshly condemned homosexuality, and for the next several years I struggled in the fear that I was an evil person because I was attracted to other boys, and that I would burn in Hell because of this. It was a very difficult time in my life, and unfortunately, things got progressively worse.

Shortly before I turned 14, my parents discovered my journal, and some pictures I had downloaded from the Internet (God Bless AOL). In my journal, I had finally come out to myself, using the word "gay" for the first time to describe myself. Knowing this about myself and that I would be rejected by my community, I had been living in utter terror. Needless to say, girls were mighty scarce in the pictures my parents found. What followed next was beyond the worst of the worst scenarios I had envisioned.

Overnight, my parents ceased to be the loving, supportive people they had been, and instead became extremely emotionally, verbally, and at times, physically, abusive. My family disintegrated before me, and I lost most of my friends. During the next several years, I went from one horror to another, all of them damaging. I was shuttled from one therapist to the next, eventually winding up at an organization called the National Association for Reparative Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH - - they have since changed Reparative Therapy to Research and Therapy). Here, I was to be taught how to "suppress" my "homosexual tendencies" so that I could be normal. My parents were told that I would never be genuinely attracted to women, but that I could force myself into a heterosexual lifestyle. Suppression is unbelievably damaging, and adds to the pain suffered by many GLBT youth.

I found myself at the young age of 15 having to choose between extensive, willful psychological damage, or being who I was. I had long ago realized that being gay was a fundamental part of who I am, like my height or skin tone, and not a changeable aspect. I had been suffering in a horrifically abusive environment (trust me, having your very Christian mother declare that she wishes she had aborted you, among other things, does some irrevocable harm to a kid). I also came to terms with how I felt about my homosexuality. Misunderstood by many, being gay isn't about sex or choice, it's about who you are attracted to, physically, emotionally, romantically, and spiritually. We all seek out love-relationships, because, "loving deeply in one direction, allows us to love more deeply in all directions". In this quest for Love, the most noble of all human acts, I understood that if God would condemn two people for loving each other, than I would willfully disobey Him. A God who condemns love, however it is found, is not a God that I will serve. I hold Love (God is Love) above any human idea of what God is.

I chose Love--to be who I am and to stand for my Right to Freedom. What followed next were traumatizing periods in my life: drawn out legal battles, homelessness, drug addiction, struggling, major depression, suicidal thoughts, and pain upon pain. Little by little, over the next 12 years, I picked up the pieces of Ryan, melted them down, and forged a new self. This experience was by far the most trying I expect to personally live through, but it has had a permanent, lasting impact in every area of my life. I survived because of sheer determination, luck, friends, and God's protection. The Ryan you know now could easily have died many times in many ways in the past decade, and it is a testament to the miraculous nature of God that I'm still alive, let alone somewhat functional.

Mary Griffith's book, Prayers for Bobby, recounts how she used her fundamentalist faith to torment her gay teenage son. She and her church wanted him to change and she never let up pushing her "gospel" message at him because of his "sinful lifestyle." Bobby's diary was filled with passages describing the torment he felt. One day this young boy wrote:

I can't ever let anyone find out that I'm not straight. It would be so humiliating. My friends would hate me. They might even want to beat me up. And my family? I've overheard them....They've said they hate gays, and even God hates gays, too. Gays are bad, and God sends bad people to hell. It really scares me when they talk that way because now they are talking about me.
Bobby Griffith ended the torment by killing himself. Who are they hurting?

Does their preaching violate rights? No. It doesn't. I didn't say it did. Does their preaching hurt people? Yes. I stand by that. And I could fill many columns with proof but these two should be enough.


Through no fault of his own?? I doubt it.

The welfare state is usually justified by some sob sister pointing to a truly indigent person who was a victim of circumstance. It is accompanied with the claim that we must help people "who through no fault of their own" are in dire needs. But politicized charity doesn't that way. There is a Gresham's law of welfare.

In Gresham's law, when you have legal tender laws, bad money chases good money out of circulation. In a Gresham's law of welfare, when you have political control of welfare then bad welfare cases tend to drive out good ones. What I mean is that resources which get set aside for the "truly needed" ends up going to people who are the "truly irresponsible." Worse yet, over time the irresponsible consume greater percentages of the welfare budget. The net result is that the "truly needed" that we all wanted to help end up getting less help than they otherwise would have because the irresponsible get the lion's share of the budget.

As the numbers of irresponsible parasites increase they become an important voting block who can be purchased by politicians offering them more goodies. Question the antics of these politicians and they will point their boney fingers at you and screech: "You heartless, greedy libertarian. You want people who are in need, through no fault of their own, to starve. Don't you?"

As hardcore a libertarian as I consider myself I'd be damn pleased if we reached the stage where the recipients of welfare are merely those in need through no fault of their own. Instead, I find that we spend a huge amount of tax resources cleaning up the mess of irresponsible individuals like Desmond Hatchett and the women, who are either really stupid or really slutty, who conceive children with him. Note that at least one of the mothers in this story is said to have two children by Hatchett. Really now, if she didn't learn the first time around then why is the state helping her out? Let us assume that the first such child was a woman making an innocent error. But when it becomes a habit exactly why should other families, who are struggling, and yet responsible, be forced to finance this woman's irresponsibility?


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Did AT&T cheat?

I don' t pay much attention to American Idols. The show has long had a tendency to pick second-best when it comes to talent. Certainly this year was no exception. I don't think there was much debate about whether Adam Lambert was better than Kris Allen.

And some social conservatives, like Bill O'Reilly were trying to turn the vote into a "culture war" battle. O'Reilly harped on whether speculation that Adam Lambert might be gay would hurt his chances. The media, with whatever biases they have, loves to fan the flames of such debates because it gets them ratings. So the mass media pushed that story over and over. Certainly some Christian groups and high profile evangelicals, like the discredited Ted Haggard, urged people to vote for Allen. Apparently talent took place to politics. I had tended to avoid the debate because while, I think Lambert was the most talented of the bunch, I saw no way in that debate to make that point without appearing to be turning this into a culture war issue myself.

Since I strongly think the question is one of talent I wanted to avoid the appearance of seeing this as part of the battle to bring libertarian values to our culture.

The real problem with faux contests like Idol is that the system doesn't measure public support but the fanaticism of supporters, or opponents. The contest is rigged since you can vote as many times as you want. The reason is that this is a money maker for AT&T, a company I don't use. In fact, people like myself were excluded from voting since only AT&T users were allowed to vote by text message. And the reason you can vote as much as you like was to increase AT&T revenue. Each vote costs money and 10 votes produce ten times the revenue that one vote does.

Opposition to Lambert, because of his perceived sexuality, was strong among Christians, particularly in the South, the last bastion of bigotry against just about everyone that bigots are bigoted about. It was widely believed that this dislike of Lambert cost him the win. Whether this is true or not I don't know. Nor do I think it matters for Lambert.

I can assume right now that Lambert will have a very successful career while winner Kris Allen will have a mediocre one at best. Lambert will sell out concerts, Allen will sell out church halls. Lambert will have a worldwide following, Allen will play middle America and no where else. My guess is that over their lifetime, Lambert's earning power will outshine Allen's by a 100 to 1. It appears Lambert has already been offered the role of front man for Queen — a worthy successor to Freddie Mercury indeed.

But now it was revealed that AT&T bent the rules to support Allen. Actually it appears they cheated. AT&T representatives went to parties in Arkansas that were created to support Allen only. Only these Allen supporters were given phones to use for free text voting. Not only that but the AT&T representatives showed the Allen supporters how they could send multiple votes each time they voted. So where a Lambert voter could send one vote when they sent their text, Allen supporters at these parties were shown how to send 10 votes each time they texted their message. And the Allen voters got the texting provided for free.

Where Lambert's supporters had to be AT&T customers the Allen supporters were handed the phones by AT&T to use and didn't need to be customers. Lambert's supporters had to pay normal rates for each message they sent. Allen's supporters at the parties were allowed to send in votes for free. Lambert's supporters were restricted to one vote per text message while the Allen voters at the parties could send multiple votes with each text. And AT&T never provided the same service to Lambert voters.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Left/Right assault on individual rights moves ahead.

No doubt conservatives are applauding the decision of the California Supreme Court. And while I don’t think that decision will mean the demise of equal marriage rights in California, I don’t think the decision is a good one. And, surely any conservative that believes in individual rights (and there must be a couple such creatures left in existence) shouldn’t applaud the decision.

There is much in this decision that ought to scare the shit out of anyone who believes in rights. Let’s look at just a couple of points.

The court said that the Attorney General, who supported the overturning of Prop 8, “characterizes certain rights as ‘inalienable’.” The court responds that, “the ‘inalienable nature of a constitutional right never has been understood to preclude the adoption of a constitutional amendment that limits or restricts the scope or application of such a right.”

The term “inalienable” means: incapable of being alienated, surrendered, or transferred. But not in California. All inalienable rights in California apparently are alienable after all. A right that cannot be transferred is one that no one can transfer, including a vote of the majority of the voters. What the California court seems to be saying is that the very concept of “rights” is non-existent and all that anyone enjoys are legal privileges, which may be repealed anytime the dominant power in the state wishes to do so.

Of course the initiative process was pushed through in California in 1911, during the heyday of the Progressive movement there. It was a Left-wing “reform” which basically enshrined majority rule as the dominant principle. I don’t mean majority rule in the sense of the majority being able to elect officials. I mean that the majority can decide what rights the minorities have. That idea would horrify the Founders but the Progressives liked it.

What the Progressives liked about popular referendums was that they felt they could around Constitutional restraints on government power that way. Constitutions tended to limit state power and Progressives wanted big government with expansive powers. They argued that “the people” had unlimited powers and could do virtually anything they wished. Therefore “the people” could give the state such powers. Our Founders, of course, argued that while government comes from the people that there are rights, which precede, and are superior, to all government.

These rights, said the Founders, were inherent in human nature. The term “natural rights” was often used to explain them. They argued that since rights precede government that the purpose of government is protect such rights and that no government, not even one supported by the majority, could properly trespass on those rights. “Not so,” screamed the Progressives. And joining them in that chorus are the modern day conservatives.

The court actually noted that the Attorney General “cites selected excerpts from a number of mid-19th-century opinions that gave voice to the natural-rights jurisprudence that was common in that era.” To be fair, this “natural-rights jurisprudence” was also common to the Founding Fathers and inspired such things as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. But, don’t worry say the Republican justices in California: “As pointed out in the response filed by interveners, however, the expansive natural-rights jurisprudence of that time long has been discredited….”

The “interveners” were those individuals who supported Prop 8. At least one of them, if not all of them, were thus arguing in the Supreme Court that there are no such things as rights, just legal privileges which the state, in the form of the majority, may take away whenever they feel like it. That is what conservatives were arguing in order to indulge their antigay passions. In a second passage the court says: “The natural-law jurisprudence reflected in passages from the few early judicial opinions relied upon by the Attorney General has been discredited for many years….”

The justices said that while Constitutions often, I would say normally, restrict the power of majorities to strip minorities of their rights, “the California Constitution contains no such restraints” which “place some subjects or portions of the constitution off-limits to the amending process…”

The concept of rights is not just a limitation on the powers of the state but also limitations on the powers that one person may exert over another person. Rights mark boundaries where no one, not even majorities are allowed to trespass. When conservatives are arguing that this doctrine is “discredited” and that majorities may do whatever damn well they please, then conservatives have joined the most radical wings of the Progressive movement.

In many ways this ruling had the world upside-down. Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat, was appealing to natural rights and limitations on the power of majorities, while the conservatives were arguing for expansive powers for the state and claiming that natural rights are discredited and may be ignored. In the long run I suspect the conservative/Progressive theory will continue to dominate the courts since so many judges, as political appointees, are beholden to the powers that be. Since the Progressive/conservative alliance against individual rights loosens the reins of government power the political elites will tend to be drawn to this theory. After all, this theory says they may pretty much do what they wish since rights are a quant fiction from the 19th century.

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Punishing decent parenting in the name of prohibition.

I consider it a tragedy when any young person dies. And the death of 16-year-old Joseph Loudon, in Orinda, CA, is no exception. The facts are that Loudon attended a house party with other teens. There was drinking, as there often is at such things. He allegedly drank too much and collapsed unconscious. He died in hospital.

We do not yet know that alcohol played a part in his death. It may well have. But until autopsy results are released it is all conjecture. But, for the sake of this argument, let us assume that Loudon was drinking.

Police, of course, want to arrest someone for supplying alcohol. So the 18-year-old who threw the party was arrested. The local news report called Loudon a “victim” implying someone else was the victimizer. If alcohol had a role to play then Loudon died at his own hand. Apparently in cases like this everyone wants someone other than the person who chose to drink to be responsible.

If there were a roof party, say three floors up. And someone provided tablecloths that some moron used to form a parachute, and that someone then jumped off the roof, dying as a result, would we arrest the provider of tablecloths? Would we consider making tablecloths a crime because someone used them in an irresponsible way? Loudon chose to drink, and he chose to drink irresponsibly. He did not think he was choosing to die but he chose to drink in a manner that likely caused his death.

Some might ask where the parents of the party host were. That is a valid question. Perhaps they didn’t know a party was happening. Perhaps they did. And if they did then they had no choose but to disappear irresponsibly. The law punishes responsible parents who monitor drinking for teens. Our neo-prohibitionist view of alcohol basically says that no one under the age of 21 is legally allowed to drink, with or without parental supervision. This makes the United States relatively unique.

As I have mentioned before I attended a Beer Festival (even though I don’t drink) at a high school overseas. All the students were drinking and were drinking with their parents and teachers. The very idea of making that a crime was ludicrous to these people. But America, with its moralistic Puritanism, bans such activity. Of course, like all prohibitionist policies it doesn’t work. It doesn’t prevent drinking it just turns teens into criminals for doing so.

Worse, it turns adults who supervise such activity into criminals as well.

Consider something that happened a few days ago in Cornwall, Connecticut. Ralph Dzenutis. As the father of a high school student he wanted a small party for friends of his son after the prom. He didn’t realize that word would spread and some 200 students showed up. He tried to keep control. Some students showed up drunk. Dzenutis did his best to make sure anyone driving wasn’t drunk. But three students passed out and Dzenutis was arrested because he was an adult on the premises.

Dzenutis is considered a model parent. He is a volunteer in the local fire department. He is a Little League coach. Dzenutis said: “I am a parent who was trying to do the right thing. I don’t condone the drinking at these parties, and I didn’t buy alcohol for these kids. But I knew the kids would be drinking, so I wanted them in a safe, supervised place. ‘Just Say No’ isn’t a position, a responsible place to be. It’s just negativity and ignorance. The kids were entitled to a party in a protected place.”

Of course the local police turned this into a major police exercise. At first they seemed reasonable. They allowed Dzenutis to walk around his property telling everyone to leave. Those who had too much to drink were given phones to call their parents to come pick them up. A few who had drunk too much Dzenutis would lead up to the police who offered to help them. (When police go to help, duck and cover.)

Next thing you know bands of cops with barking, snarling sniffer dogs appear on the scene. Terrified teens ran into the woods afraid of the police—which is a wise first reaction these days. One report says that the parents of these kids “complain that the barking dogs and the beeping thermal-imaging equipment frightened many of the teenagers, causing them to run deeper into the woods, crashing into trees and knocking their knees against stone walls.”

Dzenutis says that the police “came on like storm troopers, and the dogs are really vicious until their handlers quiet them down.” He said, “a lot of kids were scared, and we were worried some would get hurt. The police rounded the kids up with their dogs.” Even teens that were not drinking were forbidden by the police to drive home. They were forced to call their parents for a ride.

The local school, a creature of the state, threatened students who attended the party with suspension from all sporting activities. One parent told the local paper something sensible—far too sensible for politicians to listen to:

"I've known Ralph Dzenutis for 13 years, and I know exactly why he held that party. He knew what he was like at the age, what I was like at that age, he knew the kids would drink, so he held the party at his house to protect them. "When I was that age and a party got out of hand, the police came and they were your friends. 'OK, kids, the party's over. Go home.' They cleared the place and everybody was happy. The cops were our friends. But now we've got state police trolling the hallways at the high school, searching for whatever. Showing up at parties with police dogs. We've completely lost the sense of allowing kids to learn by making their own mistakes. And we've made the kids afraid of the cops. Kids don't consider the police their friends anymore."

Cornwall Selectman K.C. Baird defended Dzenutis as well and said the police overreacted. “I’ve always told my kids that I know you’re going to drink, just don’t mix it with driving. Just call me any time of night, and I’ll come get you. That’s all that Ralph was trying to do at his party, and bringing the law down on him, or on the kids, isn’t going to curtail drinking.”

No, it won’t curtail drinking. What it will do is punish parents who do try to supervise and protect teens who are drinking. It pushes them away. If they can’t stop the drinking entirely their only option is to get in the car and leave the teens unsupervised, with no adult there to restrain what is happening, with no adult their to teach responsibility. And when no adults are there things get worse, as the situation with Joseph Loudon demonstrates.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Why they do the "I do" that they do.

If you are married here’s an experiment you can try. Start introducing your wife by saying: “This is my girlfriend….” Assuming you are a woman try: “This is my boyfriend…” Or, perhaps, you can introduce your spouse as your “roommate.”

How do you think that would change your relationship? I suspect several of the male readers would find their wives pulling out scissors and eyeing their scrotum while mentioning how she recently became pen pals with Lorena Bobbitt. Supposing you live to make this introduction more than once, precisely how do you think it will change how others perceive your relationship? Could it change the way your perceive your own relationship?

Words do matter and they do change how people perceive you and your relationship. When you say: “This is my wife,” it has far, far more meaning than calling the same woman, your “roommate” or “girlfriend.” Your wife would understand this immediately—hence the scissors and homage to Bobbitt. Had you referred to her (or him as the case may be) in this lesser term, and done so for years, do you think others would treat your relationship differently? Of course they would.

I would bet that if your relationship were described with entirely different terms how you, your spouse. and your relationship, are perceived and treated by others, would change in hundreds of small ways. Perhaps none of them, by themselves would be significant. But pile hundreds of small cuts together and you can bleed a patient to death. I would also suspect that such a steady drip of changed perceptions could even change how seriously you take your own relationship. How easy is it for you to leave your roommate? Your girlfriend? Your wife?

Many people argue that the issue of marriage equality is merely semantics. But words do matter. And sometimes they matter a great deal.

It is then interesting to see what happened in Massachusetts to those same-sex couples that married. How did this new description of their relationship change their lives? What did they get out of this change? Why did they do it?

It’s been five years since marriage equality became a reality in Massachusetts. Since then some 12,000 same-sex couples married. Recently a study was done of 558 men and women in same-sex marriages. And what the study shows is that words do matter.

One of the dumbest things I have heard come from conservatives is the absurd claim that the only reason gay couples wish to marry is because they want some unspecified “benefits.” I know two couples that married and benefits were not involved with either. In following the campaign for marriage rights I’ve seen very little discussion of financial benefits that might be gained. Certainly there would be some, but none of them seemed to be a major reason that couples marry.

This study of married same-sex couples, from the University of California, Los Angeles, confirms that benefits were a very minor issue for most couples. The number one reason given by gay couples, for their marriage, was “love and commitment.” That does not shock me. I am shocked that others seem surprised. I am shocked that others assumed that love and commitment weren’t the prime reason for such gay marriage. I guess I shouldn’t be, I’ve run across many people who really do believe that gay couples are somehow different from other couples.

Back in my university days I was taking a course on human sexuality that met three times a week. For whatever reason my professor asked me to guest lecture, or to led the sessions for one week. I don’t remember what two of the sessions were about, but the third session I do remember very well. Perhaps I shouldn’t confess this but I showed a 1977 German film, Die Konsequenz. This film, from director Wolfgang Petersen, starred Jürgen Prochnow and Ernst Hannawald. Due to absurd demands from various German trade unions the film was not available on video (it is now on DVD by the way). So I rented a commercial version of the film and then videotaped the screen while recording sound in another room (to avoid the sound of the massive film projector I had to rent to show the film).

I had seen the film a few years earlier at the Chicago International Film Festival, which was founded by a friend of mine . I remember watching The Consequence in a packed theater, every seat taken. When the film ended it was absolutely silent. No one spoke. The film had a strong emotional impact on everyone. The film depicted a relationship between an older man and a younger man where everyone, and everything, tried to rip them apart. Yet they fought to be together.

The reason that I so clearly remember showing the film in the university classroom is because the impact on the students was the same as it was in that theater. There was silence. I had to prod the students to speak. And the comment from one young man is something I’d never forget. He said, with a sense of bewilderment, “Who ever thought that gay couples could love each other that much?”

It was then that I realized that many people simply couldn’t comprehend that gay couples actually love one another. They can understand the sex part. But the idea of love seems alien to them. I suspect some things haven’t changed and that many people still can’t believe that love may be the basis of a same-sex relationship. Yet I know gay men who would die for their partner and some who willingly put their own life at risk to protect their partner.

This inability to recognize that gay people can love is partially behind the absurd idea that the only reason gay marriage is an issue is because homosexuals want benefits.

The second main reason for marriage, given by the couples themselves, was legal recognition of the relationship. A fifth said the reason was related to children that they had, 18% said it was because of inheritance issues, 14% said it was related to property issues and 13% said health benefits were involved. Inheritance and property issues are not “benefits” in the sense that the critics mean. At best, health insurance, might qualify as a “benefit” except it is a benefit paid for by the employee out of their wages. (Even when the employer “matches” this is recouped long-term by a decrease in wages.) None of the people listed “benefits,” as in money from the government, as a reason for marriage. The main reason gay couples marry is precisely the same reason straight couples marry: they love each other and are committed to each other. That some people find that surprising says much about them.

What the couples got out of their marriage is also interesting. Seventy-two percent said they are more committed to their partner because of the marriage. But they also found themselves closer to their families and to others as a result: 62% said their families were more accepting of their partner, 69% said they found greater acceptance from the community around them, and 42% said their own families were more accepting of them.

What I see here is a strengthening of social bonds. Two individuals, once alone in the world, are now committed to one another. They sustain each other and make each other stronger. As a result there is less likelihood that either will become a burden to others. They are stronger emotionally and better off financially. Their marriage also binds them closer to their families and to the community as a whole. All these are values that conservatives claim to embrace.

What is the cost? Conservatives, while they talk a lot about it, say very little of substance. There is supposed to be some unspecified threat to marriage caused by people getting married. What it is, however, never seems to be specified. They tend to repeat their premises in several different ways, as if restating it enough times will make it true. But for firm evidence—they isn’t any. As far as I can tell, they are basically arguing that if gay couples are allowed to marry then straight people will act badly as a result. I suspect that argument ought to insult straight people more than gay people.

The so-called “social costs” seem non-existent. Numerous studies show gay marriages would bring in millions in revenue in the form of wedding expenditures. Local government would receive license fees, whether we like it or not. There would be a reduction in some taxes where couples are allowed to file jointly, but so far that won’t apply to the federal income tax. I suspect that married couples are more stable financially and less likely to collect welfare and other benefits. They are more likely to save and plan for their future. I would even guess that married people are less likely to take “sick days” from work. Stable relationships basically are good for the economy. I’m not saying that this is why people ought to marry, but I am saying there is a public good that results from it.

The new chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, wanted to come up with a reason to deny equal rights to gay couples, yet not sound religiously bigoted. The best he could do was argue that if gays get married it will be unfair to small business since they suddenly may find they have workers with spouses and that drives up insurance costs. That is just absurd on several levels.

First, as I’ve already mentioned, all “fringe benefits” that one derives at work, even those ostensibly paid by the employer, actually comes out of wages. A benefit that is mandated by government policy merely displaces future wages. There may be a lag period for it to catch up but it does catch up. If it couldn’t come out of reduced future wages then it comes through reduced employment. These costs are borne by the workers no matter how government disguises the fact. This is pretty simply free market economics but then free markets are not something Republicans understand lately.

In addition, if Mr. Steele’s remarks were correct he just implied that businesses, in states where gay marriage is not legal, would be financially better off by firing straight workers and hiring gay workers instead. I can’t imagine he actually wanted that. He was just searching for a new rationale to deny gays equal rights. He said he wanted something that he thought the young would buy into since they weren’t buying into the older religious arguments.

Steele’s remarks, if properly understood, were actually a claim that marriage is bad for the economy. That is far more “anti-marriage” than allowing gay couples to get hitched. I suspect that even Steele knows his argument is absurd, he just hopes that young people don’t know it.

The reality is that allowing committed same-sex couples to marry is good for them. It is good for their families and for their communities. It is good for economy in general and good for business in particular. It doesn’t add burdens to anyone but reduces the likelihood of individuals needing assistance—all marriages do that. It doesn’t cost anything, on net, from the treasury. It is consistent with our libertarian ideals of equality of rights before the law. It doesn’t diminish the marriages of others, in spite of the blustering from the religious fanatics. All in all, marriage is a good thing and there is no downside in allowing loving couples to marry.

Note: On Tuesday the California Supreme Court will rule concerning the validity of Proposition 8. I’m not the least bit concerned about how it goes. If the court rules Prop 8 invalid, I would be pleased. Prop 8 is a disgusting, immoral piece of legislation that violates the fundamental principles of a free society. Those who voted for it should be ashamed; those who campaigned for it are disgusting. I will rejoice if it is stricken down. If it is not, which is also very possible, it won’t matter one bit. Prop 8 is a bump in the road; it is not the end of the road.

Petitions are ready to propose a new ballot initiative that would repeal Prop 8. I don’t see it having much problem collecting the required signatures. One petitioning expert I know said this would be a walk in the park to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. If the proponents are smart they will have it on the ballot in 2010 and their repeal will pass. Prop 8 barely won. Even since its passage there has been a shift in views and many people realize they made a mistake supporting it. The measure will be overturned. At that point you can bet the Religious Right won’t be appealing to the “will of the people.”


Sunday, May 24, 2009

There WILL be dancing!

Here is a news story which illustrates the sort of fundamentalist mentality that I've often discussed. This Baptist minister is absolutely serious.

I remember the first time I heard a fundamentalist Baptist preach about the sin of "mixed bathing." I was baffled. All I could think of was these Japanese baths where members of both sexes are in the waters naked. But, as far as I knew, that tradition was not found in the old US of A. It was only later that I discovered that "bathing" meant a swimming pool or beach.

They always preached against the sin of movies and weren't so fond of television either. Owning a deck of cards, even for solitaire, was considered sinful. In our church one married couple asked the minister if they were allowed to dance together in the privacy of their home only to be told they weren't since that would lead others into sin. There was one joke going around about how fundamentalist Christians want to ban premarital sex because they were afraid it would lead to dancing.

These people are really a joke. Actually I shouldn't say they are joke, they are far, far worse. They literally screw up the lives and minds of millions of people. They inflict pain and suffering on others, they are small-minded, bigoted, vicious and cruel. And they all have the delusion that they are speaking for a deity. That makes them dangerous.


Said, and said well.

Cokie and Steven Roberts wrote the following. This is excerpted from a longer column.

Why minds are changing on same-sex marriage

A young gay couple we know desperately wants a child of their own, so they are scrimping and saving to pay for a surrogate mother. They figure the process will take five years and many thousands of dollars, but they are committed to parenthood.

A lesbian acquaintance is preparing to marry her longtime partner back home in Massachusetts, which has sanctioned gay marriage for years. Her talk about dresses and honeymoons sounds just as excited, and apprehensive, as any other bride we've ever met.

As a dear friend lay dying, her son's boyfriend took on the task of changing her IV tubes. At our grandson's Little League games, one teammate's "two dads" show up regularly and cheer him on. A colleague retired recently to Seattle, where she could baby-sit for her only grandchild, the biological son of her daughter's partner.

Are these families threatening the moral order? Are they diminishing the sanctity of marriage? Are saving money and buying wedding dresses and cheering at Little League games acts of rebellion against established social norms?

Of course not. In fact, they are exactly the opposite. These same-sex couples are sharing and strengthening the "family values" that conservatives profess to defend when they oppose gay marriage - constancy, stability and a belief in the promises they make to each other and their children.


Condemned to eternity together.

All you guys and gals with blogs out there, here is challenge for you to take up. If you were a supreme being, with the powers of life and death over all of existence, which pairs of individuals would you condemn to spend eternity together? As a god you get to pick two people and assign them to isolation from everyone and everything except each other, forever. Here are the pairs that I would condemn.

Couple #1: Michael Moore and Ann Coulter, the Laurel and Hardy of politics.

Couple # 2 Robert Mugabe and David Duke

Couple #3 Rev. Fred Phelps and Sasha Baron Cohen as Bruno.

Couple #4 - Hillary Clinton and Phyllis Schlafly

Couple #5 - George Bush and Al Gore


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Conservative loud-mouth admits torture

Conservative talk-show host, Erich "Mancow Muller has long defended the practice of waterboarding claiming that it is not torture. He finally subjected himself to the practice. See the results below:

Christopher Hitchens tried the same thing. I personally like Hitchens. When we met last year he was personable and I appreciate the inscribe copy of his book, God is Not Great. But Hitchens bought into the war and as such felt obliged to defend the Bush administration from charges of torture. Hitchens changed his mind after he endured it. After experiencing it himself Hitchens wrote, "if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."

Below is a video of Hitchens discussing the experience along with footage of him experiencing the waterboarding. The Bush leadership truly does deserve to be put on trial for war crimes.

David Beito, at Liberty & Power, wrote:
Apparently, this is the only way to convince pro-war conservatives, or their fellow travelers, that waterboarding is torture. Another strategy is to recommend that advocates of torture devote an hour this week to reading what Lord Acton said about power instead of watching the next episode of "24."

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Friday, May 22, 2009

The scum seeking the Libertarian Party nomination.

If you think Bob Barr was a disaster, his con man second in command, Wayne Root is even worse. This man is NO libertarian, never has been, and I suspect, never will be. Root is merely a self-promoter with no self worth promoting. He thinks he deserves the LP's nomination. He deserves a kick in the ass but little else.

Radley Balko, an editor at Reason, recently spoke to the Nevada LP convention. For some reason the Nevada LP decided to scrap the bottom of the barrel and have Root as a speaker. Here is Balko's report and his views on Root.
At both events, my own speech was preceded by a speech from Wayne Allyn Root, the party’s candidate for vice president in 2008, and who has apparently already made himself a candidate for the 2012 nomination.

I won’t comment on the bulk of Root’s speeches, because I was invited to both events as a speaker, not as a journalist or a blogger. But I will comment on one thing Root mentioned in both speeches, because it’s essentially public information. In touting his ability to win high-profile media coverage, Root mentioned in both speeches that he is now a weekly commentator on Michael Savage’s weekly radio show.

I’m not a member of the Libertarian Party, so perhaps my advice doesn’t mean much to them. But I’m going to give it, anyway:

Stop this, now. Either persuade Root to stop going on Savage’s show, or show Root the door. I’m all about building coalitions where appropriate. But there’s nothing remotely appropriate about Michael Savage.

Michael Savage is a raving bigot. He regularly uses phrases like “turd-world countries” and “ghetto slime.” He once wished rape on a group of high school girls who make trips into San Francisco to feed the homeless. He’s a blood-thirsty warmonger, and a feverish culture warrior. He once said on the air that, “”When I hear someone’s in the civil rights business, I oil up my AR-15!” On social issues, he’s far to the right of just about every elected Republican official I can think of. He has wished AIDS and death on homosexuals. He regularly denigrates drug users. He is virulently anti-immigration. In short, there’s nothing remotely libertarian about him.

If Root’s aim is to take the LP in the direction of Michael Savage, the LP should distance themselves from Root right now.

There’s nothing honorable to be gained from this.

MORE: It’s worth noting that Root features his Savage commentaries at the very top of his website. I don’t really care how many listeners Savage has. He’s vile, and hostile to any reasonable conception of libertarianism.
For some more background go here. We should be clear, Mr. Root is not remotely libertarian. He is a far right conservative who opposes libertarianism. He was brought into the party by a handful of cockroaches at the LP national office and National Committee. What stars they are for stabbing libertarianism in the back. I personally believe the LP is not just worthless it is now destructive to libertarian ideas. That a bigoted bullshitter like Root can run around LP circles says enough. Per my previous article on regrets --- I deeply, deeply regret ever contributing a dime to the LP, I deeply regret having ever been an LP candidate. I deeply regret helping petition to put LP candidates on the ballot. I deeply regret ever voting for the party. None of this will ever happen again.

I urge you to let your local Libertarian Party know that if they support Root that you will oppose the party with all your might. The LP is a fucking embarrassment.

For the record. Our state LP needs voter registrations to retain ballot status. Even though I had the registration card in front of me I refused to do it. If you are registered to vote as a Libertarian you can change to independent, and let the LP know why. The LP needs to lose ballot status is as many states as possible. Maybe they'll wake up. My guess is that bigots like Root, however, will keep trying to use the party for self-promotion. One thing about losing so many elections is you end up attracting losers.

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Sin, regrets and public policy

There is an argument that crops up in political circles now and then, which I’ve never quite understood. I call it the “repentance” argument.

Generally what happens is that the lobbying group in question, often conservatives, drags forth some “sinner” who confesses their errant ways and tells the world that they regret their previous decisions and wish they could have avoided the “sin” into which they previously fell. This is usually accompanied with a call for legislation to outlaw the “sin” in question.

The assumption is that the confession from this repentant sinner is sufficient argument to justify the heavy hand of government stepping in and saving others from their sins as well.

Back when Ed Meese was trying hard to ban erotica there was something of a growth industry in repentant porn stars hitting the political sawdust trail and confessing their sins. Of course, instead of seeking absolution from some deity they were asking Big Brother to be their savior. I’ve always fond this tendency from Christians to be a rather odd one. They will argue that “Jesus has the power to save you from your sin” but when it comes down to it they lobby for Big Brother to save you from your sins instead. Apparently they have more faith in the heavy hand of the State than in any deity.

I’ve known lots of radically different people from very different walks of life, people who’ve made many different choices. I remember being amused that one adult film that hit the circuit featured three people I knew. Quite honestly it was god-awful and I couldn’t force myself to watch it. One of the performers told me of regrets for having made this decision. Another, apparently never had a single regret except perhaps on aesthetic grounds. The third, I’m not sure about, but I understand she still making a living in what we might call the sexual services industry. Even the one who expressed some regrets didn’t seem more than mildly displeased about the previous choices.

Women who had abortions, and later wished they hadn’t, are trotted forth by the Religious Right all the time. We are supposed to assume that the regrets expressed by this woman are justification for banning all choice in the matter for all other women. I can understand this sort of scenario having appeal to those who buy into the sinner/salvation theory of life. But precisely why they think this argument has any currency in the real world is beyond me.

Regrets are pretty much the norm for human beings. We all have them. But they aren’t proof of anything. I know that I’ve got some regrets but I doubt the Religious Right would appreciate them. I regret wasting years inside a fundamentalist Christian sect. I really, really regret that. I won’t say I didn’t learn anything, I did. I learned exactly how dangerous and deranged these people really are and why we should not let them set public policy. But I could have learned that lesson in far less painful ways.

I regret that I delayed having sex for the first time. I’m not sure if I delayed due to the negative influence of religion or because I was just terrified. Either way it is a regret I have. Others, no doubt, would regret not waiting. And the reason for this is obvious—people aren’t created with cookie cutters. We are individuals and each individual is genuinely different from each other individual.

Consider the following comments from someone I know fairly well who posed for some rather erotic images. “I did it because I needed to earn some money and this was quick and easy. At the time I didn’t give it much thought. Later I came to wonder if I had done the right thing and wished I hadn’t. But then even later I realized I was glad I did. Where I used to worry about the photos popping up at the most inconvenient time now I’d pay to have a set for myself, just because I think I looked damn good in them and would like to relive my youth. I’ve got only one of the photos and I’m glad I have it and glad I did it.”

So this person went from having no regrets, to having some regrets, to finally having no regrets, but actually appreciating it. This is why regrets don’t actually tell us anything about whether something should be legal or illegal. All my biggest regrets in life were about entirely legal choices I made which I now believe were the wrong ones. No one that I know of would make any of those choices illegal.

This is not to say that some regrets are not well earned. There are things that people do that ought to regret doing. But we can’t legislate on the basis of regrets. Regretting that you stole from an old woman, for instance, ought to be legislated against whether you regret it or not. Your regrets don’t matter, her rights do. It is legislated against because it violates the life, liberty or property of another person.

But when it is your life, your liberty and your property on the line, it is your decision. And no matter what your decision, or your regrets; it simply is no one else’s business.

Sinners walking down the aisle to find salvation may have some dramatic appeal to those inclined toward that sort of theatrics. But it really ought not have any place in the world of policy making.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Never jump to conclusions, wait for all the evidence.

Warning: The easily offended may well be offended, if they weren't I'd be offended. But then the easily offended don't hang around here for long. This is rather amusing and nicely illustrates the warning about not jumping to conclusions until you have all the evidence.


This report says all that needs to be said.

This is a policy that Ron Paul called "decent." This is a policy Obama said he would end. Guess what? Obama lied, again.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How the Religious Right guaranteed marriage equality.

I was reading a US News and World Report article today when I had a light-bulb moment. I have argued, for some time now, that the Religious Right has lost the battle on gay marriage. All we have left is the charade of going through the motions in state after state. I even suspect that, after enough states have seen fit to grant legal equality to same-sex couples, that the Supreme Court might even get up the courage to enter the fray — much as they did with the Lawrence v. Texas decision on sodomy, where the court only found such laws unconstitutional long after most states had abolished them.

My light-bulb moment wasn’t the recognition that marriage equality is inevitable, that I’ve known for some time now. What I realized was the precise point that the Religious Right lost their crusade. And I know whom they can blame for it.

The key turning point for the Religious Right’s antigay campaign was Proposition 8. While I have long thought Prop 8 to be a Pyrrhic victory for social conservatives, due to many factors, it was in Prop 8 that the Religious Right floated the strategy that, while it helped them win one battle, will ultimately mean they will lose the war.

The Yes on 8 campaign resorted to some intentional distortions of facts to win. They openly lied to the voters about how marriage equality will harm religious freedom. That has been their mantra since Prop 8. We need to realize why this is the case.

First, they resort to this argument because they know their other arguments hold little sway with most voters. The real reasons they wish to deny gay couples equal rights are two-fold. One is the religious doctrines they hold. The second is pure prejudice. Typically, someone who holds the first view also holds the second, while it is not automatically true that those who are prejudiced are also religious. But religious arguments against gay couples are almost always coupled with bigoted attitudes toward gay people in general.

However, it would be difficult to sell either of those two positions to people outside Religious Right circles. Worse yet, if the Religious Right tried to do so they would stampede independent voters toward marriage equality. If the Religious Right honestly told the American public what it believes they would lose the battle almost instantly. Most Americans want separation of church and state, and even people who are uncomfortable with homosexuals are more uncomfortable with openly expressed bigotry. There was a time when the Right could have gone with their gut emotions and won, but times have changed. Something subtler needed to be invented.

So the Yes on 8 campaign, a coalition of fundamentalists, orthodox Catholics and Mormons, funded mostly by Mormons, went with the alleged assault on religious liberty instead. To do so, however, required they falsify the facts.

They claimed that Catholic Charities in Massachusetts had to shut down adoptions because they were being forced to recognize gay marriages when it came to adoption. The truth was far more complex. Actually the charity itself was happy with gay adoptions but the church leadership forced them to stop that. And the only reason this ran into problems was because the charity “acted as a state contractor, receiving state and federal money to find homes for special-needs children who were wards of the state….” Had the charity operated with church money alone it would still be open. The Mormon adoption service in Massachusetts operates to this day because it was privately funded. What it came down to was that Catholic Charities wanted tax money from gay couples while also wanting to discriminate against them. Given the option of discriminating with their own money they chose to close down instead.

Similarly the other major case the Prop 8 campaign pointed to, which dealt with a church-owned pavilion in New Jersey, was also falsely presented. The church that owned the pavilion had petitioned for tax-exemption on this property, which was not used for church services. They did so claiming that use of the pavilion was “open to the public,” thus it was a public facility and should be tax-exempt. When they found out that “open to the public” actually meant open to the public, they had a choice. They could keep the tax-exemption and actually be open to everyone, or they could discriminate without the exemption. As the Los Angeles Times explained: “The court ruled against the non-profit, not because gay rights trump religious rights, but because public land has to be open to everyone or it’s not public.”

The simplest way to understand the extent of the exemptions that exist in US law, when it comes to discrimination, is to think about heterosexual marriage. Anti-discrimination laws say we can’t discriminate against people due to their religion. We can’t refuse to serve Baptists in our business, no matter how much we might wish to do so. Yet no Catholic priest has ever been forced to perform a marriage for a Baptist. The Mormons have never been required to admit a Jew, or any non-Mormon, to one of their secret rituals in their temples. Yet a Mormon, who fires someone merely because he is a Jew, is asking for legal trouble.

The First Amendment, which the Right tends to despise, protects religious institutions from the consequences of anti-discrimination laws, provided the religious institution has kept itself separate from state funding. If they are funded by the state they will lose this protection.

Consider two rulings by the California Supreme Court. This court ruled that laws against same-sex couples violated the equal protection clause of the state constitution. The court was raked over the coals by the Religious Right because of that ruling. They were accused of being pawns of “the gay agenda.”

But consider what happened at California Lutheran High School. The school claimed that two female students had formed “a bond” that was “typical” of a lesbian relationship. They didn’t even claim that the students were actually lesbian, or in a relationship; they said it merely looked that way to them. The school, in a fit of Christian charity and compassion, expelled the two students.

Now, allow me to quote, from a Religious Right website, what the California Supreme Court ruled. The comments I quote are from the religious nuts, not from the Supreme Court:
The California Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling Wednesday protecting the religious freedom of a Christian private school that expelled two female students for having a lesbian relationship… … in January, the 4th District Court of Appeal found that a religious private school is not a business, but a social organization that exists primarily to instill its values in students, and therefore is not subject to the civil rights laws that force California businesses to cater to the homosexual movement.

In letting the appeal court’s ruling stand, Casey Mattox, litigation counsel for the Virginia-based Center for Law and Religious Freedom, said Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar's of the state’s supreme court made "the correct decision." 

"We think it preserves religious freedom," he said.

The very same group of justices, who supported gay marriage, also made it clear that religious institutions are free to be bigoted. Religion enjoys exceptions that other institutions don’t enjoy. There is plenty of legal precedent for this, and a strong Constitutional protection in the First Amendment.

What this means is that religious freedom was NEVER under threat from gay marriage. The whole argument is as fake as a one dollar bill (you’d understand if you know my thoughts on fiat currency).

Now, go forward a bit to the recent debate on marriage equality in New Hampshire. Governor John Lynch said he would sign the recent legislation allowing gay couples to marry provided that “religious freedom” is explicitly protected in the law itself. Of course, such a protection is not necessary. Adding such a clause will do nothing more to protect religious freedom than is already the case.

More importantly, such clauses don’t take anything away from the legal rights that accompany marriage either

Once Governor Lynch made his announcement about protecting religious freedom the sponsors of the marriage equality bill said they had no problems with his requirements. The primary sponsor of the bill Rep. James Splaine said: “We can find a way to do that in the next week or two, and then we’ll have marriage equality.”

The New Hampshire situation illustrates why the Religious Right will lose this battle. They framed the debate around marriage equality as being one of religious freedom. They were able to win support, albeit dishonestly, by using this fake threat to religious freedom as the center of their advertising campaign. But, since religious freedom was never under threat, their opponents can easily concede religious “protections” which already exist. In other words, the advocates of marriage equality can give in to the Religious Right without actually having to give anything away. Of course, the fundamentalist types aren’t going to support gay marriage no matter what concessions are made; this were never the reason they opposed marriage equality to begin with. But, in this political battle, the fundamentalists don’t matter, neither does the gay community and their friends. In politics what matters is the large group of people in the middle.

Independent voters tend not to be bigoted against gays but also tend to support religious freedom. It is to these voters that both sides must appeal. The fundies appealed to them with concerns about religious freedom. Gays appealed to them on equality of rights. Enough middle voters bought into the Right’s concerns to give a victory to Prop 8, even though religious freedom was never under assault. When it comes to attracting this group of voters, the only arrow in the quiver of the Right was religious freedom.

When proponents of marriage equality explicitly protect religious freedom, which is unnecessary and which doesn’t actually concede anything, they tip the balance in their favor. What can the Right do in return? All they can do is try to shift their argument elsewhere. From the perspective of informed middle voters the proponents of marriage equality compromised to satisfy the Religious Right and freedom of religion is deemed protected.

If you wish to go into battle with a group or someone, and you have no desire to reach a compromise that will make everyone happy, you must demand something which you know will never be surrendered. When the Right made religious freedom the center of their antigay campaign they inadvertently made the key issue one which their opponents could quite easily and openly concede. This was precisely the loophole that Governor Lynch needed in order to abandon his opposition to marriage equality. It is also the loophole that many independent voters will need as well.

I predict that as marriage equality proponents discover the value of this loophole, one drawn up and provided to them by the Religious Right, that more and more marriage legislation will include precisely this sort of religious exemption—an exemption that existed in US law anyway. By providing those exemptions, at no cost to themselves, proponents of marriage equality, will move a large number of independent voters into their camp. In other words, the Religious Right inadvertently gave marriage equality a boost by providing it with a tool it can use to placate the concerns of independent voters but without actually having to surrender anything. It is a cost-free strategy that can shift the debate and it will be more difficult for the fundamentalists to oppose such legislation in the future. Of course, they will oppose it anyway, but in the process they will look more like bigots and less like defenders of religious freedom.

And in that strategic blunder the Religious Right lost the war.

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