Friday, December 24, 2010

A Radical Christmas....



They crossed the border and snuck into another country. They did this, if course, because they were fleeing the law. She was an unwed mother with a 3-year old in tow; the man accompanying her, a cradle-robber many years her senior. As could be expected, they lived under the radar in poverty.

When her son grew older, his tendency was to hang around rough-talking, hot-headed fishermen and befriend prostitutes. He walked comfortably with lepers, more interested in shooting the sh*t with them than he was afraid of catching their disease. Clearly, he was not the product of Polite Society.

He would call respected religious leaders 'vipers,' and use physical force to destroy their business. He, and his cousin, and his band of vagrants would wander, homeless, from place to place living on handouts. A political radical, he brought attention to the plight of the poor, the diseased, the homeless, the immigrant, the single parent, the fatherless child. He embarrassed good people everywhere.

The government found him to be an anarchist, a revolutionary, a subversive, a malcontent, a trouble-maker.

Proper religious leaders rallied their followers in opposition to this disturber of the status quo and of sound theology.

And so, in accordance with civil order, and national security, and common decency, and the Rule of Law, he was executed.

Nonetheless...every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, and will be fuel for the fire. For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:5, 6)

May you all have a Radical Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Open Letter to the US: Wikileaks & Free Speech



Open Letter to U.S. Government Officials Regarding Free Expression in the Wake of the Wikileaks Controversy

December 22, 2010


Dear Public Officials:

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from legal and free speech
experts about the possible application of the Espionage Act to the recent publication of secret documents by the whistle-blower website Wikileaks, as well as to traditional media outlets, Internet companies, and others who have also distributed and reported on that information. All seven witnesses cautioned against attempts to suppress free speech and criticized the overwhelming secrecy that permeates the United States government. We write to echo these concerns and applaud those who have spoken out against attempts to censor the Internet. We urge caution against any legislation that could weaken the principles of free expression vital to a democratic society or hamper online freedoms.

Unfortunately, some government officials have already attacked newspapers’ rights to
report on the releases by Wikileaks. Other government actors have made official and
unofficial statements casting doubt on the right of government employees and others to download, read, or even discuss documents published by Wikileaks or news reporting
based on those documents. Others have rashly proposed legislation that could limit the free speech of legitimate news reporting agencies well beyond Wikileaks.

These actions have created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among the general
public, leading them to question their rights with regard to the documents posted by
Wikileaks. As you continue to discuss these critically important issues, we urge you
to do so in a way that respects the constitutional rights of publishers and the public that have been recognized by the Supreme Court.

Specifically:

• Publishers have a First Amendment right to print truthful political information
free of prior restraint, as established in New York Times v. United States.

• Publishers are strongly protected by the First Amendment against liability for
publishing truthful political information that is lawfully obtained, even if the
original disclosure of that information to the publisher was unlawful, under
Bartnicki v. Vopper.

• Internet users have a First Amendment right to receive information, as repeatedly
endorsed by a series of Supreme Court cases, including Stanley v. Georgia.

• The public has a First Amendment right to voice opinions about government
activities. This is core political speech, which receives the highest protection
under the Constitution.

It will be especially critical for members of Congress to keep these rights in mind as they consider any future legislation that may impact freedom of expression. In a free country, the government cannot and does not have unlimited power to determine
what publishers can publish and what the public can read. As the robust public
debate about Wikileaks continues, please make sure that it includes the rights of all
involved.

Sincerely,

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Arizona First Amendment Coalition
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Bob Barr, Former Congressman and Chairman, Liberty Guard, Inc.
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for Digital Democracy
Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights
Communication Is Your Right!
Courage to Resist
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Feminists for Free Expression
First Amendment Coalition
Government Accountability Project
Liberty Coalition
Muslimah Writers Alliance
National Coalition Against Censorship
New America Foundation
New Media Rights
OpenTheGovernment.org
Privacy Activism
Privacy International
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Privacy Times
Progressive Librarians Guild
Sunlight Foundation
Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University

Saturday, December 18, 2010

DADT: It's Done. Vitriolic Theocrats: Exit Stage Right



Finally...after blogging about Lt. Dan Choi, Victor Fehrenbach, and dozens of other patriotic American service men and women who lost their jobs and pensions (if they didn't get killed or lose limbs first)....it's FINISHED. THANK YOU to the Democratic Leadership, and the 6 Republicans who voted to end debate and bring this to an end.

And of course, as expected, the anti-gay fund-raising letters and right-wing haters are just bubbling over with vitriol.

My favorite so far:

"...We will no longer be able to bail out these other emasculated armies because ours will now be feminized and neutered beyond repair, and there is no one left to bail us out. We have been permanently weakened as a military and as a nation by these misguided and treasonous Republican senators, and the world is now a more dangerous place for us all." - American Family Association hate group radio host Byran Fischer.

Mr. Fischer, I hope when you google your name and my blog pops up with your ignorant quote...that you take a long hard look at the accompanying picture. If these gay men are your definition of "feminized and neutered," you better take a long look in the mirror, buddy...

And oh, while you're at it...you can apologize the the thousands of women who have ably served our military and sacrificed for our nation...all without weakening our military one iota.

In fact, I'll bet any one of them could kick your ass.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

House Roll-Call on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"



Total Roll Call vote to repeal DADT: 250 Yes to 175 No, and 9 not voting.

Breakdown by Party:

Democrats: 235 Yes, 15 No, 5 Not Voting

Democrats Voting No: Boren, Bright, Childers, Critz, Davis (AL), Davis (TN), Marshall, McIntyre, Ortiz, Peterson, Rahall, Ross, Skelton, Tanner, and Taylor.

Democrats Not Voting: Baird, Berry, Cardoza, McCarthy (NY) and Woolsey.

All unnamed Democrats voted Yes.



Republicans: 15 Yes, 160 No, 4 Not Voting

Republicans Voting Yes: Biggert, Bono Mack, Campbell, Cao, Castle, Dent, Diaz-Balart, Djou, Dreier, Ehlers, Flake, Paul, Platts, Reichert, and Ros-Lehtinen.

Republicans Not Voting: Granger, Marchant, McMorris-Rodgers, Wamp

All unnamed Republicans voted No.

House approves repeal of Dont Ask Dont Tell: on to the Senate



By a vote of 250-175, The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday afternoon to approve a measure to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The House had previously approved repeal of DADT, but as part of a larger Defense Funding bill. The Funding bill is bogged down in the Senate, which by a vote of 57-40 last week was unable to cut off debate to take a vote. In a last-ditch effort, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.), re-introduced DADT Repeal as a 'stand-alone' bill yesterday, and it was approved about an hour ago.

And while gay rights has been more controversial in the African-American community than among whites, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), an African American, declared on the House floor,

“I don’t need a survey to tell me what’s right when it comes to human rights...We cannot have a first-class military with second-class soldiers...I will not ask people who are willing to die for my country to lie for my country.”

The same stand-alone bill will be debated in the Senate, where it has been introduced by Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Mark Udall (D-Colorado), and Kirsten Gillenbrand (D-NY). Supporters believe 60 votes for passage have been secured...and Dont Ask Dont Tell will come to an end.

As soon as we can verify the roll-call vote, we will post it

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Tea Party Leader: Require Property Ownership for Voting


In my blog and in message board discussions concerning the Tea Party, I have been consistent in my predictions: The Tea Party has had strength because they have been unified in what they have opposed; but, when the time comes when they are forced to agree on what they are actually in favor of…, well, it is then, I predict, that the movement will fracture. It is far easier to agree on a common bogeyman than to agree on the solution or replacement for the bogeyman.

Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips’ comments over the last two weeks on voting rights might just convince many Tea Partiers that they have signed on with a lunatic, and precipitate that fracture.

On the other hand, if the Tea Party rallies to his defence, we are in bigger trouble as a nation than I had ever dreamed.

On his Tea Party Nation internet radio program on November 17, Phillips said:

"The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn't you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you're a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you're not a property owner, you know, I'm sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners

I kid you not. His comments can be heard here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4j7yD94F9y4&feature=player_embedded#!
These comments are devoid of reason. Has he ever been to Manhattan, and seen city block upon city block of apartment buildings…places where thousands of people live in units rented from absentee landlords who live somewhere “roomier?’

Can he truly believe that these thousands of people have no interest in their communities? In their children’s schools, their garbage pickup, the traffic patterns in their neighborhoods, crime in the streets and subways they use to go to and from work, and their fire and police protection?

Who does he thinks serves on community boards and Parent-Teacher organizations and Parks Commissions? Landlords? Or the mere residents, the renters whom he feels have a lesser stake in their community?

Does he think they don’t pay sales taxes and income taxes and meals taxes every day?

It is unfathomable to me that a political leader would actually suggest this as a rational policy. This is the kind of thinking that lead to the Scottish Clearances and the Irish Famine in another century – the notion that ‘tenants’ were merely ‘problems.’

In an effort to make sense out of his statements, I thought perhaps he was simply putting himself in the place of an 18th century aristocrat, and explaining why they may have included property requirements for voting in the late 1700s.

But then, two days ago, Phillips sent out an e-mail designed to rally his supporters in response to the outcry about his comments. In it, he referred to a Property-owning requirement as a “wise idea”:

"A couple of weeks ago, on the Tea Party Nation radio show, I was talking with David DeGerolamo of NC Freedom about the Founding Fathers and the original Constitution. During the course of our discussion, I mentioned that the founding fathers limited voting rights to property owners. I commented this was a wise idea."

He made no retraction. No clarification. In fact, he confirmed his position. He then went on to criticize those who objected to his comments, saying that the “left went nuts,” “spastic” and “into hysteria.”

Not just the left, Mr. Phillips. Seniors in Nursing homes. College Students. Renters. Single parents living in shelters for the abused. Native Americans on Reservations. Grandparents living with their children. None of whom would qualify for voting rights in Mr. Phillips’ world.

Mr. Phillips seeks a wholesale evisceration of American democracy and the US Constitution, which permits no other qualifications for voting other than being a citizen 18 years of age or older.

No poll tax. No literacy test. No Property-ownership requirements.

And hopefully, no successful Tea Party efforts to change this.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Health Care: Can the GOP Prove it still has a Soul?


With Republicans poised to take control of the House of Representatives, there is little doubt that the recently-passed health care bill is up for, shall we say…”discussion.” The fact that Democrats continue to hold the Senate and White House also means that there is no run-away train here when it comes to passing – or repealing – legislation. A ‘divided’ government means that we can have two years of gridlock...or we can have statesmen from both sides of the aisle who actually work together to address the nation’s ills.

Eric Cantor, set to become the new Republican House Majority leader, has suggested in the last few days that the Republican Party, while looking to repeal “Obamacare,” may also offer revisions and additions to the bill rather than just repealing it and walking away. In this statement, there is the faintest glimmer of hope that America could actually end up with a better law.

Tea Party darling (and complete lunatic) Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has already gone on the offense, stating to the Christian News Service,

“…I think there needs to be an insurrection here in Washington, D.C., against our own [Republican] leadership, because that is the message that's come loud and clear out of this election: a full-scale repudiation and rejection of the federal government takeover of private industry…If we want to replace ["obamacare"] with Obamacare-lite where the government comes in and tries to have interventionist policies, we are going to continue to see failure…”

Bachmann represents everything that has gone wrong with the Republican Party: extremism, ignorance, mean-spiritedness, an elevation of ivory-tower theory over people and reality, and a slash-and-burn, rule-or-ruin style of governance.

For all its flaws, the Democrats got several things very right with the Health Care Bill: A new McClatchy Newspapers/Marist survey found that 68% of respondents favor allowing people under the age of 26 to be covered by their parents' plans, and 60% want to deny insurance companies the right to turn people down for coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions. Permitting insurers to refuse coverage for pre-existing conditions is a pocket-lining win for corporate insurance at the expense of struggling families.

The entire theory behind insurance is that everyone goes into the ‘pool’, and those at greater risk are subsidized by ratepayers who pay more than they take from the system.

Seven hundred years ago, ship merchants in the Baltic Sea were besieged by Vikings; they got through that period by pooling their risk and cargoes, thus creating the first known insurance pool (The “Hanseatic League”). Those merchants who were set upon by Vikings were not ‘ruined,’ but rather, participated in the profits of the ships that did successfully reach port. That is the theory behind insurance: sharing the risk increases the chances that all will survive horrible mishaps. When Insurers are permitted to cut off newborn babies born with birth defects, or refuse to cover spouses with crippling diseases, they are throwing the ‘bad risks’ overboard; it is no longer an insurance pool, but a cartel of the healthy for the profit of the insurer.

Contrary to Bachmann’s blind quasi-religious belief in the existence of perfect markets in health care, we must acknowledge that there *is* a problem in terms of affordable access to health care for many Americans. With 10% of the Labor Force out of work, an additional 10% “underemployed,” and youth, stay-at-home parents, part-time workers, the disabled, many immigrants, and the homeless not included in those figures, estimates range from 30 to 50 million Americans living without health insurance. That means somewhere between 10% and 15% of Americans living on the edge of ruin or death at the instance of a single serious mishap or disease. The compassion of a civilized society rejects, "hell, tough on them!" as an acceptable response.

Republicans must be convinced to keep these two provisions of the health care bill, as well as an end to lifetime caps, or suffer the consequences at the ballot box two years hence.

In addition, this is an opportunity to make improvements to the existing bill. Those improvements could include the following:

1) Permit non-profit regional or state groups to form for the purpose of buying health insurance. Sounds simple, isn't it? But it's illegal under IRS Rule 501(m). Individuals can *not,* under existing law, form 'groups' whose primary purpose is purchasing group health insurance. (Groups may form for business or fraternal purposes, and then choose to buy insurance as an incidental benefit, but they can not form for no other reason than to buy insurance). End this prohibition, let competition ensue, and there will be no need for the single Federal Government Insurance company the Republicans fear.

2) End State-granted Insurance Monopolies. The Federal Government has the authority to regulate Interstate Commerce, and since people may get sick *anywhere* and request their insurer to cover it, this is clearly federal jurisdiction. Blow open the lid on Insurer Competition across state lines.

3) Enact Tort and Medical Malpractice Reform. It was reported 6 years ago that an OB-GYN doctor in Massachusetts has to deliver EIGHTY-FIVE babies just to cover malpractice insurance premiums for a year. Worse, 5% of doctors are responsible for 95% of malpractice claims, raising all doctor's and hospital's premiums. Limit Malpractice Awards, raise the negligence standards (so hospitals don’t need to run costly and unnecessary tests), and relieve the 95% of decent doctors from paying the premiums of the 5% convicted of malpractice.

4) Eliminate the FDA's Efficacy test, especially for terminal patients. Currently, the FDA requires that pharmaceutical companies prove that their drugs meet two tests: they must prove safe, and they must be 'efficacious,' that is, they must be proven to cure the condition they claim to address in virtually 100% of patients. This is a costly and inconclusive standard: people react differently to different substances. The peanut butter that fed me through high school will kill someone with an allergy; let *Doctors* decide what to prescribe, with the understanding that the idiosyncrasies of individual patients means that results WILL be different with different drugs. And while we’re at it, permit the medical production, possession, and use of cannabis.

5) Engage in Multi-national agreements with other nations to accept their pharmaceuticals and increase competition. The refusal of the US FDA to permit the importation of Canadian pharmaceuticals is insane. An individual can come to the US from France, or Britain, or Mali, or India, and providing only a driver's license from their own nation, get behind the wheel of a 6,000 pound rental car and take off minutes after landing - even if they don't speak English or have never driven on the right side of the road. And yet, if a pharmaceutical company goes through hundreds of thousands of test subjects in Germany, or Britain, or Canada, the results are not considered 'valid' in the US. Now, realistically, which is more dangerous: the driver, or a drug produced in Canada?

6) Permit every American to have a Medical Savings Account. Currently, Government workers and some self-employed people can utilize a Medical Savings Account which permits them to cover medical costs using a credit-card-like card. These citizens have a certain amount of money deducted from their paychecks, and go into an account for medical expenses: prescription drugs, eyeglasses, dental work, and even over the counter remedies. These deductions are pre-tax, meaning it lowers the person's gross income, lowering their tax and even possibly dropping them into a lower tax bracket. Better yet, these workers can 'borrow' against future deductions if they incur expenses early in the year at no interest expense. If government workers are allowed these accounts, why not ALL Americans?

7) Repeal DOMA and the Internal Revenue Service Imputed Income provisions. The Internal Revenue Service requires that employers report the value of health insurance benefits provided to non-traditional partners: registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, and some marriages. The value of this 'benefit' results in greater employee taxes - often as much as $3,000 annually. This creates a disincentive for employees in the majority of states where thee benefits exist to actually cover their partners...who then go uninsured, or who qualify for taxpayer funded low-income health programs in the states. ALL of these partners can be better served, with better insurance, at no taxpayer expense, if the IRS would stop punishing otherwise economically viable households based on their formal definition of 'federal marital status.'

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The PROBLEM with the Pentagon's DADT Report...



Upon the release of the Pentagon's survey of military men and women, President Obama commented:

"...Today's report confirms that a strong majority of our military men and women and their families - more than two thirds - are prepared to serve alongside Americans who are openly gay and lesbian..."

Those who have supported the repeal of the "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell" rule have pointed to this study as some sort of Holy Grail, proof that our enlisted men and women themselves are in support, by a wide margin, of ending the policy. And, I suppose, those who have always opposed ending DADT will argue that the survey was not worded correctly, that one-third opposition is still an enormous number of people, that things should not change until after "the war." (Which war? Iraq? Afghanistan? The war Against Terror? the War against Drugs? The brewing one in Korea? A strike against Iran's nuclear reactor?)

But all of this media spin and cheering and questioning of the Pentagon Report seems to ignore one central, critical fact:

Since when are civil and human rights in the United States determined by popular vote?

In the 1940s, President Harry S. Truman, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, ended racial segregation in the military with a single pen stroke (not an act of Congress, not a public debate, not a Special Study by the Pentagon) - but in his Constitutional capacity as Commander-in-Chief. And this, during a time when housing, and restaurants, and hotels, and even public schools, in both the south AND the north - were still racially segregated.

Imagine if he had waited for a Popularity Poll to come out of the Pentagon before acting. I expect he could have made an Obama-like announcement:

"Today's report confirms that a strong majority of our military men and women and their families - more than two thirds - are not prepared to serve alongside Americans who are Black or Latino. Therefore, we will keep segregated barracks and bases as they are."

At least one Federal Court has already ruled that DADT is clearly Unconstitutional.

The act discriminates based on the content of the speech being regulated...It distinguishes between speech regarding sexual orientation, and inevitably, family relationships and daily activities, by and about gay and lesbian service members, which is banned, and speech on those subjects by and about heterosexual service members, which is permitted,” wrote Justice Virginia A. Phillips, in an 85 page ruling in a case that took six years just to be heard.

Well, dammit, if it's Unconstitutional, I really don't care about popular opinions or Pentagon Polls.

We didn't poll white water-fountain patrons before deciding that separate Water Fountains for Whites and Colored was unconstitutional.

We don't poll pacifists to find out how they would 'feel' if someone in their neighborhood wants to own a rifle.

We don't ask permission from a largely Christian community to build a synagogue in their town.

We don't seek majority approval before agreeing to give an accused rapist the right to take the 5th Amendment.

Ahhhh, you say..."but the military is different!"

No, it's NOT.

In the Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers carefully set out their grievances with the British Crown. One of the prominent complaints they had against King George was this:

"...He has affected to render the military independent of, and superior to, the civil power."

In other words, our founders were clear in their desire that the Military not be independent of, nor superior to, civil authority...something we have routinely ignored in the name of "national defense," and something which has enabled us to send our young men and women around the world in a fools errand at policing and empire building.

I really don't care what the Pentagon survey said. It is immaterial. Constitutional Rights in this country are based in Law for the purpose of securing Liberty, and NOT in popular opinion or mob rule.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

Judge: American GIs should "convert" Lesbians


I've heard the hate spewing from the megaphones of NOM and off of the fundraising letters of "Focus on the Family." And just when I thought I couldn't possibly read or hear anything worse than I've already heard...along comes part-time Hamilton County (TN) magistrate Joseph Rehyansky. Writing in a column for the "Daily Caller" titled, "Don't hint, Don't wink: An Immodest Proposal," Rehyansky argued for the inclusion of lesbians in the military, but the exclusion of gay men. His 'reasoning' (I shudder to even use that word) sets a new low in the conversation on Don't Ask Don't Tell...and is nothing short of horrifying coming from the pen (it wasn't even a verbal slip) of a man who is a Judge.

Regarding lesbians in military service, Rehyansky wrote, "...it is an open secret that they [lesbians] do well in the calling, especially in medical and administrative specialties. I am certain that I knew some during my 20 years in the Army, although I didn’t ask and they didn’t tell..." But then he offered his final solution to the 'problem' of having these positive public servants: "...My solution would get the distaff part of our homosexual population off our collective ‘Broke Back,’ thus giving straight male GIs a fair shot at converting lesbians and bringing them into the mainstream.”

In other words, if we can stop all those gay men from whining about equality, we can let our red-blooded straight American Soldiers screw all those confused lesbians straight.

Corrective rape. How utterly....18th Century. If that.

On the other hand, Mr. Rehyansky sees no hope for Gay Men at all:.

He writes, "...gays spread disease at a rate out of all proportion to their numbers in our population and should be excluded from the military..."

Ummm...Did Mr. Rehyansky forget about what actually went on the medics office during the decades he himself served in the military? Did he forget the warnings and 'protection packs' offered to military members before going on leave? Is he unaware that syphilis, followed by other STDs, is the number one 'condition' treated by Navy Medics? And that vasectomies are the number one outpatient operation performed at military hospitals? And that these, generally, all involve those red-blooded, straight American soldiers (the same ones he wants to go rape the lesbians into submission and straightness?)

Not willing to deal with military heroes like Col. Victor Fehrenbach and Lt. Dan Choi who stand to lose their pensions and careers, Rehyansky then goes on to attack gay mens' contributions in the military.

"Kinsey’s notorious World War II-era study concluded," he writes, "that about 10% of adult males in the United States were homosexual. Never considered in his study was the fact that most able-bodied American male heterosexuals were elsewhere, serving as part of The Greatest Generation...

Ah. Straight Warriors. Gay Pansies. Straight men go to war and gay men stay home. If that's the case, why are 'gays in the military' any issue at all? There wouldn't be any, would there?

Finally, he brings up the locker room.

"It’s been a long time since I was required to shower among 40 or so friends, acquaintances, and virtual strangers...Forty-two years after the fact, I no longer have a clear recollection of the experience, so it must not have made much of an impression on me. I’m certain I would have vivid memories of the experience if my shower-mates had been potential sexual partners....shouldn’t the overwhelmingly straight warriors who answer their county’s call be spared the indignity of showering with other men who achieve lascivious enjoyment from the sight of those lithe naked bodies...?"

The point, Mr. Rehyansky, is NOT that there were no gay men in your locker room. The point is that there most likely were, and it was no big deal - not then, not now.

And let's face it, Judge...some of those very straight men engage in some very lascivious conduct in those very locker rooms. Perhaps that's why "Dont Tell.." is such a threat to so many....

This "Judge" can't figure out whether gay men in the military are few and far between (because they are not inclined to military service), or whether they are so numerous that they may spread a health risk throughout the service (because they are having sex with ....who?)

He can't explain why stating one is gay makes one more likely to spread disease while keeping it hidden will also keep the STD hidden.

He can't explain the logical inconsistency of an article where he writes for three paragraphs about gay mens' promiscuity, while at the same time concluding that straight GIs be promiscuous with lesbians to 'correct' them.

This man represents Blind Justice? This man delivers judicial decisions from the Bench?

God help the citizens of Hamilton County, Tennessee...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Annual Thanksgiving Post





A brief video clip of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving story...and an absolute MUST for anyone who has adopted children from abroad, anyone who immigrated to America, anyone whose ancestors immigrated to America...and anyone conscious of the current immigration controversies in American politics. This is a short video, but the entire book is readily available in stores and online, and is titled, "How Many Days to America: A Thanksgiving Story," by Eve Bunting.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!!!


The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Monday, November 22, 2010

3 Lessons from the TSA Horror Stories



The stories have gone viral, and we hardly have to repeat what has been covered by every major news channel: The pleas of Thomas Sawyer, a 61-year old Bladder Cancer survivor with a Urostomy (an external bag collecting urine), are ignored by TSA agents who break his bag and leave him in tears and covered in his own urine. Cathy Bossy, a 32-year old Breast Cancer survivor, is forced to remove her prosthetic breast. A three year old is subjected to a full-body pat down because she cried when Agents attempted to take her teddy bear away from her to go through the metal detector. Gurdeep Bawa, a religious Sikh, is forced to remove his turban and watch it manhandled, even though he had passed both a metal detector and a detectives trace detection test.

In an effort to prevent terrorism on the airlines, the 'experience' of airline travel has clearly changed in the last decade...and the public debate between those who would preserve privacy, and those who would insist on security, is at fever pitch. Now, to be 100% honest, I have a perverse desire to wear some type of leather-and-metal masochistic contraption on my 'junk' just to watch some TSA agent have to deal with it. But many Americans (more Normal than me) have called for a massive protest on Wednesday ("National Opt-Out Day"), to overwhelm the government security operations on one of the busiest travel days of the year. As expected, the TSA, and some news commentators, are warning against such an action.

We draw 3 conclusions from this entire episode:

1) American officials need a lesson in Marginal Analysis (Microeconomics 101).

On the first day of Micro class, I ask my students if they think that protecting children is important. Of course, they respond in the affirmative. Then I ask them if ski slopes that permit children to ski should be forced to bubble-wrap all the trees on the slope...after all, if children's lives are important, shouldn't we do everything in our power to make it safer...even just a little bit? Eventually, students come around to reconciling their concern for children with their recognition of the innate, if unstated, concept of Marginal Analysis: the question is NOT "Don't you want children to be safe?," but rather, "What are the costs and benefits of the next proposed action?"

This applies to *every* public policy debate. Yes, children's education is important...that doesn't mean every school should have a 1:1 teacher-student ratio. Yes, fire protection is important...that doesn't mean there should be a firehouse on every block. Yes, rescuing fishermen whose boats have gone down is important...that doesn't mean the Coast Guard should be searching 6 months later.

And the same reasoning applies to Airline Security. The question is NOT, "Is airline security important?" (Of course it is). The question is, "What are the costs and benefits associated with this additional step." People who defend the TSA's actions based on the broad concept of "the importance of security" are simply not thinking this through.

According to the TSA, only 3% of airline passengers are subjected to "enhanced" security searches. How much additional safety do we all experience as a result of a process that is only used on 3% of passengers?! The fact is, the additional benefits are dwarfed by the additional costs associated by this procedure: costs in equipment, personnel, delays, and public outrage. Standard Marginal Analysis would suggest that the TSA's efforts are a sure loser (and while children are being stripped at the gates, al qaeda is circumventing this process entirely by planting bombs in cargo holds).

2) The Terrorists have Won. Beginning with waterboarding and continuing through Guantanamo Bay, the suspending of habaeus corpus, and the Patriot Act, from Bush through Obama, constitutional guarantees have been shredded.

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution reads as follows:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Patting down a 3-year old is now "reasonable?" Removing a prosthetic breast is "reasonable?" Breaking an American's Urostomy bag is consistent with being "secure in their persons?"

In the name of Security, the Fourth Amendment has been rendered 'voidable' by our federal government. The Terrorists, who have a deep-seated hatred for American civil liberties, have succeeded in eliminating one of our most important rights...and sadly, many Americans go along in the name of 'security.'

3) Obama is Clueless. President Obama's detached, passionless leadership style has hurt both his Presidency and the Democratic Party. The high-falutin,' tortured, bureaucratic gobbledy-gook emanating from the White House in response to the public outcry is remarkable for its total lack of any hint of empathy. The President should have immediately joined in the outrage over the abuse to cancer survivors and children named above, and declared that he was ordering changes to TSA policy...instead, what we received was an into-the-air comment about 'evolving policy.'

Sigh.....Where is the sign up sheet for "Hillary in 2012?" A

And in the meantime, dammit - if you're flying on Wednesday - get there early, stand up for reason and for your rights as an American, and join the National Opt-Out Day

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Icon of St. Columba



This is my first attempt at painting a religious Icon. St. Columba (or "Colmcille," in Gaelic) lived from 521-597 AD and founded the monestaries at Kells, Ireland, and on the Island of Iona off of the western coast of Scotland. Both monestaries were known for their production and protection of early Christian illustrated manuscripts, including the Book of Kells which is currently housed at Trinity College in Dublin.

This icon was initally fashioned after an original prototype by Maria Elchaninov-Struve. I began it in March of 2010 under the tutelage of Iconographer Kerry Wiederspahn, and finished it today. It is painted using egg tempera on a gesso-covered board, and the water used throughout was water I had collected from St. Columba's well in Kells, Ireland about six years ago.

The entire process was an incredible moving, spiritual experience. The Saint "emerged" as Icon transitioned from a'blank slate,' to pigments floating on water ("the Spirit of God hovered over the waters...") , to the initial shapes, final colors, and addition of "light" emanating from the rocks and Saint himself. This was only the first Icon of what I hope will be a life-long endeavor.

I did feel led to make some changes to the initial prototype:

Columba's staff has been made into a rustic crozier, symbolic of his status of Abbot;

He is holding an illustrated manuscript under his arm;

The traditional Greek letters "IX CX" (Jesus Christ) have been replaced with Gaelic "T I C" (Tighearna Iosa Criosd, or "Lord Jesus Christ");

Visible Celtic knots have been 'carved' into the Standing Cross;

I have added the name "Naomh Colmcille" at the top (Gaelic for "Saint Columba");

I have kept 'pock-marks' in the gesso surface, representative of the rocky ground and rock structures on the Island of Iona; and

The entire icon is framed in green, the traditional iconographic color for nature and growth.

While deeply appreciative of the eastern orthodox spiritual exercise of 'writing' icons, I am a western Christian, and feel a bit less contrained by Byzantine, Greek, and Russian rules. My apologies to those who may find offense in this.

Prayer of Saint Columba

Let me bless almighty God,
whose power extends over sea and land,
whose angels watch over all.

Let me study sacred books to calm my soul:
I pray for peace,
kneeling at heaven's gates.

Let me do my daily work,
gathering seaweed, catching fish,
giving food to the poor.

Let me say my daily prayers,
sometimes chanting, sometimes quiet,
always thanking God.

Delightful it is to live
on a peaceful isle, in a quiet cell,
serving the King of kings.

Friday, November 19, 2010

James Carville on DADT...


Sometimes I have to have my Cajun husband translate what Carville says, but I needed no help with this one!:

"If Hillary gave up one of her balls and gave it to Obama, he'd have two." - Democratic strategist James Carville, speaking about the president's commitment to the repeal of DADT. After Carville's comment was widely criticized, he fired back: "If I offended anybody, I am not sorry and I do not apologize."

GO JAMES!!!!

via WickedGayBlog, via JMG

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Debt Reduction Commission, Part 2: Social Security



In a previous post, we addressed this commission's proposals for changes to the federal income tax. We generally agreed with them, and suggested they should even a bit bolder. In this post, we will revisit a topic I have blogged on at least twice before...the "social security" system.

Facing the prospect of a bubble of "baby-boomer" retirees, longer life expectancies (with higher medical costs), and fewer young workers paying taxes to support them...addressing this looming crisis is long overdue. The Obama Commission, in it's preliminary stages, has suggested the following:

1) Cost-of-living increases would be reduced for seniors (these increases are currently tied to the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation. This year seniors received a big fat zero.)

2) Social Security benefits would be adjusted based on recipients’ incomes. Most retirees would receive less, but those with lower overall incomes would receive more.

3) Gradually raising the retirement age for full benefits from 67 to 69 — though not until 2075 (It would appear that this element is drawing the most fire so far)

4) More of workers’ incomes would be subject to Social Security taxes. Currently, workers are only taxed (at 7.65%) on their first $106,000 of income. In order to close the funding ga, the Commission is likely to propose raising this to $190,000. While this might seem prudent at first glance, many forget that businesses must match their employees social security contributions...and in the current economy (hell, ANY economy), this is a price too high for many businesses to absorb.

On this set of recommendations, we must disagree with the Commission's suggestions. To be fair, they deserve applause for tackling perhaps the most sacred of all sacred cows in the US. However, their approach still amounts to treating a compound fracture by wrapping it up in gauze.And so once again, we are lead to ask:

"If the Social Security System is such a good deal, why are thousands of federal and state government employees exempt from being involved in it? Why have they chosen federal and state pension systems, and private retirement options instead?"

And why haven’t the rest of America’s workers had that right? If we can cut through the political rhetoric, we might just be able to give our kids and grandkids better choices than we have had.

Social Security is a financial time bomb as a natural result of changing demographics. And the single biggest problem is how it is funded: current workers pay for current retirees. When today’s worker pays social security tax, it does not go into a ‘safe place’ to be held for his future retirement; rather, it is used to fund the checks of current retirees. As the Social Security system currently operates, that means that today’s workers will have to rely on their grandchildren’s taxes for retirement income.

When this system was devised more than eighty years ago, there were forty working people for each retiree. Today, as family size shrinks, that ratio is approaching only two young workers for every retiree. In the 1930s, the average life expectancy was only sixty-five; today, we have two generations of retirees living into the eighties and nineties. That means that as originally conceived, forty young people supported one senior for a relatively short period of time. It was seen as a caring social responsibility. But in today’s world, that means two young workers will need to support themselves, their family, and a retiree for almost twenty years. That’s neither ‘caring’ nor ‘socially responsible.’

In fact, it is the opposite: it is socially irresponsible because we are turning our grandchildren into indentured servants with a tax burden that can not be sustained, while asking our seniors to work longer and live on less.

In addition, one of the most distressing trends in America is the growing wealth disparity between the wealthy and poor. The Federal Reserve has found that the difference in median net wealth between the richest and poorest jumped 20% between 1998 and 2001 alone...and that was before the current unemployment mess.

Worse is the dirty little social security 'secret': The gap between whites and blacks has grown 21% , and the social security system has played a significant role in that widening gap. 52% of Americans invest privately, but the poorest, after paying for clothing, housing, food, transportation and medical care, have little or nothing left to invest. Yet, they are forced to pay 7.65% of their income as a social security tax. This worker may pay this tax for 40 years, but if he dies without minor children or a spouse over 65, none of that money passes to his heirs.

In essence, the current system robs the poor of their ability to get ahead. One in three African-American men will die without ever collecting a cent of social security, and with no investment inheritance to pass along, in spite of paying a compulsory retirement tax his entire life.

Personal Lifelong Investment Accounts are the answer to these inequities.

Workers should have the right to invest their own money, long-term, in their own accounts, so they may collect interest and bequeath their funds should they predecease their spouse. Retirement should be something that people work for and save for throughout their lifetime...not a tax on the next generation.

We are not suggesting that people place all their retirement funds in a single gamble (the “Enron” scare tactic.) Rather, investments should be placed in a highly-diverse, long-term, broad basket of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds that easily survive even should one company have trouble – precisely the plan that I, as a State employee, have the right to do.

Yes, the market has ups and downs. But no one planning to retire in 2010 begins by starting to invest in 2005. Long-term investments in the market have always yielded significant results, and retirement is a long-term process. Just as workers currently must pay a tax today to fund a check tomorrow, so may they be required to save today in an IRA that will garner growth, interest, and dividends over the course of the next 30 years. And yes, the federal government could and should continue to provide a safety net to guarantee a minimum income for ALL seniors.

Those who would seek to ‘save’ the current social security system always choose to accomplish that task through using coercion: they would tell you when you may retire, what your benefits would be, how much you would pay in taxes, and how much you would receive and on what schedule when you retire. It presupposes that government can somehow decide what is best for you. In a nation like Chile, workers decide how much they will put aside, when they will retire, where and how their money is invested, and what payment schedule they would prefer upon retirement. If they should pre-decease their retirement, their account still belongs to their estate, and their family is not left at the mercy of government payments. Returns on Chilean workers’ money has averaged 13%, far more than Americans can ever hope to make back on their social security contributions.

No wonder US government workers have permitted themselves to opt out of Social Security. It's time that right was given to the rest of America as well.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Obama's Debt-Reduction Commission: Income Tax & the Mortgage Interest Deduction



This week, leaders of a special bi-partisan White House Commission on Deficit Reduction released some of its preliminary recommendations. The recommendations, to be finalized next month, touch on hot-button issues such as the federal tax code (particularly the mortgage interest deduction and tax brackets), military spending, the corporate income tax, and social security. Interest groups on both the Left and Right immediately criticized those areas where their particular ox was gored.

But frankly, we think the Obama Commission is on the right track, and the suggestions deserve support. In fact, if anything, we think the proposal can be made even bolder than it is (My friends who are anti-tax advocates, real estate agents, and home-owners are screaming, "What?!?!?") We will attempt to address these in a series of separate posts. Today, we tackle the mortgage interest deduction and tax brackets.

Here are the Facts: The federal government's financial state has never been worse. EVER.

The current National Debt - the amount our expenses have exceeded our tax revenues - is at 13.7 trillion dollars. To put that in perspective, the total value of all the goods and services created in the United States over the course a year (our GDP)...is between 13 and 14 Trillion....which means our debt is as great as everything we are capable of producing. Or, put another way, the debt is $42,000 per man, woman, and child in the US.

And that is just the current debt. Since the US actually borrows money to engage in deficit spending, interest is continually added to this figure. Currently, almost 25 cents of every tax dollar goes simply to pay the interest on this debt. That's 25 cents that could otherwise be used for actual productive purposes...instead, that interest is paid to institutions enormous enough to be able to lend money to the US government to fund its deficit spending: The government of China, Goldman-Sachs, Lloyds of London, Credit-Suisse, the House of Saud, Morgan Stanley, and Citibank.

As long as we continue to pay interest like this, we are institutionalizing a situation where wealth leaves the hands of the general citizenry and is concentrated in the hands of those who already have enormous wealth. In other words: The rich get richer, while the poor - and the middle class, and our children - get poorer.

NEVER have we been this close to a financial catastrophe. And the time for playing politics is over.

According to the Wall Street Journal, "...The preliminary plan in its current form would end or cap a wide range of breaks relied on by the middle class—including the deduction for home-mortgage interest....To compensate, one version of the plan would dramatically lower and simplify individual rates, to 9%, 15% and 24%.."

Let's take these one at a time.

Home Mortgage Interest Deduction:
This is one of the favorite income tax deductions used by middle class, home-owning Americans. (I wonder how many homeowners who are worried about the federal deficit will be willing to support changes in their personal sacred cow?)

The Federal Income Tax is, supposedly, a "Progressive Tax," meaning that the more money you make, a higher percentage of that income is paid in income tax. Of course, that's the theory...in reality, the use of deductions like the Home mortgage interest deduction actually reverses this, and places a higher tax burden on those with less wealth.

When a new mortgage is made for a home, the homeowner pays mostly interest in the earliest years. A new mortgage that runs $1500/month, for instance, might be as much as $1,400 interest and $100 in principle each month. The portion that represents interest is deducted from the homeowners gross income before the tax rate is applied. In the above example, a family earning $50,000/year could have an annual deduction of $16,800, reducing their taxable income to $33,200. The same family, if they were renting their home for $1,500 month, would have a deduction of ZERO. The Home Mortgage interest deduction results in penalizing those with fewer assets and rewarding those who already have wealth in the form of real estate assets. Rather then being a "progressive" tax, this deduction creates the opposite result.

In addition to these two families having different "taxable income," the renter may actually have to pay a larger tax rate because of the Federal Income Tax "Brackets:" A family making over $68,000 is taxed at 25%, while a family making $67,000 is only taxed at 15%. As a result, the mortgage interest deduction has become an almost necessary deduction used by American families to push them down into lower tax brackets to avoid punitively high taxes...again, at the expense of those who rent, or who bought their homes years ago, and have no such deductions, who must pick up the slack.

Bottom line: if Americans are to 'get on board' with the elimination of the mortgage interest deduction, they must first be convinced that it is part of a comprehensive tax reform package that is not going to drown them in taxes.


Tax Brackets: The Federal tax code currently utilizes six tax brackets: 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%. The commission is proposing reducing this to only three tax brackets: 9%, 15%, and 24%. This still leaves the problem that taxpayers will seek deductions to 'push' them down into lower tax brackets. The time has come for a long-discussed, long-overdue idea: a simple Flat Tax. The commission (and more importantly, Congress) should be convinced to eliminate tax brackets altogether, and use a simple percent applied to income, with no 'deductions' for special vested interests.

A legitimate argument against a Flat Tax is that those at the very lowest end of the income earning spectrum are hurt. Not only are they unable to meet basic needs of shelter, heat, clothing, food, transportation, and health care...now they would need to pay 10% of what little they make to the government, further impoverishing them.

This could actually be addressed with one simple adjustment to the Flat Tax.

Each year, the Federal Government determines the 'poverty' level; in 2010, for a family of 4, that figure is $22,050. If one agrees that no family should be pushed into poverty because of taxes, then A Flat Tax could be applied to Gross Income less the poverty level income amount for that year. In other words, our family of 4 above, making $50,000, would subtract $22,050 from their gross income, and be taxed on the remaining $27,950. If the tax rate was a flat 15%, that family would pay 4,192 in taxes, regardless of whether they owned or rented. A family earning less than $22,050 would pay nothing; a family earning $200,000 would pay $30,000.

Simplification of the tax code by enacting a single Flat Tax rate, applied only to earnings above the poverty level, would eliminate the need for taxpayers to seek out special deductions, make the federal income tax far more equitable than it currently is, and help move us back on a track towards fiscal sanity.

Of course, now that we have hopefully calmed some of the real estate agents fears, the accountants who thrive on the Byzantine tax code will be up in arms....

Monday, November 08, 2010

Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund: for Veterans Day, Act to repeal DADT now...



What do the following people have in common:

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates;
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen;
Gen. Raymond Odierno;
Gen. David Petraeus;
Vice President Richard Cheney;
President Bill Clinton;
Secretary of Defense William Cohen;
Ret. Marine Corps Gen. James Jones;
General John Shalikashvili;
General Colin Powell;
104 other Generals and Admirals

ALL are calling for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." NOW. Before the end of the year and changes in the Senate.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund (SLDF) has released the following 'campaign,' and have given us permission to reprint it for our readers immediate action:

"The next 12 to 36 hours are critical to repeal of "DADT;" important conversations on moving the defense bill are happening now." –Army veteran Aubrey Sarvis.

WHAT'S HAPPENING:

The House has passed legislation repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as part of a Military Funding Bill, but it has not yet seen a vote in the full Senate, where Democrats don't have the votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Democratic leaders says they are trying to reach a deal across the aisle now that Election Day has passed.

The Senate has not yet acted on the bill. Discussions are happening right now between Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin and Ranking Member Sen. John McCain. McCain wants repeal of DADT stripped out so he is not forced to take an on-the-record vote against funding the troops.

McCain wants the Democrats to cave; WE CANNOT LET THAT HAPPEN

Advocates need to show their support for repeal NOW. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and President Obama need to come together to push back aggressively on Sen. John McCain's threat to filibuster the comprehensive defense bill.

Obama, Levin, and Reid need to be convinced to call the defense bill up in a bipartisan way to bring on a handful of Republicans who we will need to pass the bill. Every day that goes by with silence from the President and Majority Leader Harry Reid makes repeal tougher. The Senate must call up the defense bill as reported out of committee and pass it before it goes home for the year. If the President, Majority Leader Reid, Secretary Gates, and a handful of Republican senators are committed to passing the comprehensive defense bill, there is ample time to do so.

"The Senate should call up the defense bill reported out of committee and pass it before it goes home for the year," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "If the president, Majority Leader Reid, Secretary Gates and a handful of Republican senators are committed to passing the comprehensive defense bill, there is ample time to do so."

UPDATED LIST: KEY SENATORS WHO NEED TO HEAR FROM REPEAL SUPPORTERS NOW (critical Republican Senators in New England are in boldfaced type):

Harry Reid (D-NV); Carl Levin (D-MI); Susan Collins (R-ME); Olympia Snowe (R-ME); Mark Pryor (D-Ark.); Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark); Richard Lugar (R-IN); Judd Gregg (R-NH); Scott Brown (R-MA); George Voinovich (R-OH); Kit Bond (R-MO); Joe Manchin (D-WV); Lisa Murkowski (R-AK); Mark Kirk (R-IL)

CHECK OUT THE LIST ABOVE AND TAKE ACTION NOW:
http://bit.ly/dBKRcd

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Bishop Gene Robinson to retire


Sad news that brought me to tears this evening.

It is not hyperbole to say that the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson will go down in history alongside Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And I have been blessed to have lived and worshipped during this time, in the state of New Hampshire, in the Episcopal Church while he has been our shepherd.

Bishop Robinson has stood in the face of criticism and hate and death threats in order to proclaim a greater truth, and to offer a gospel message of hope and love and humanity for all at a time when many have confused the Gospel of Jesus with an ignorant, fundamentalist "churchianity." He has sacrificed his personal privacy and safety in a never-compromising outreach to Gay and Lesbian men and women...and at a time when the Ugandan Church is calling for the execution of gays and conservatives in the Anglican Communion threaten to tear the church apart over the acceptance of gay and lesbian parishioners - - Bishop Robinson has stood and spoken with a blinding truth and honesty that is painful.

Indeed, he has been"...a stone to make men stumble..." (1 Peter 2:8)

My husband-to-be and I were with him in the gallery of the New Hampshire Statehouse when Marriage Equality was finally approved. And he personally gave his blessing to clear the way for our wedding, and promised us personally that he would provide clergy to perform our ceremony.

Coming less than a week after a political tidal wave of change in our nation and in our state legislature, rendering all of our marriages "at risk," this is doubly distressing. But we take heart, knowing that

"...the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice." - Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Time for the rest of us to step up our vigilence.

I have included his the Bishop's entire statement, released today the Episcopal Diocesean Convention.

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

Bishop of New Hampshire Calls for Election of Successor

Convention of the Diocese of New Hampshire

November 6, 2010


I am using this time for closing remarks to announce to you an important decision I have made regarding our common life. On January 5, 2013, I will retire as your Bishop. To that end, I am hereby calling for the election of a Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese of New Hampshire, who will succeed me in 2013. While this is an excruciatingly long period of time – two years and two months – from now, this period of time is essential for a smooth and unhurried process of transition, for the diocese and for me.

Let me share with you the reasons for announcing my retirement at this time:

I wanted to make this announcement to you in person. While I might have delayed this announcement a few more months, I could not imagine doing so by letter. I have been in the Diocese of New Hampshire 35 years, the last 24 of which have been in a diocesan position. Our time together has always focused on “relationship,” and I could not imagine changing this relationship without telling you so personally.

By January, 2013, I will be approaching my 66th birthday. (This is where you say, “But bishop, you look so young!”) I will have been a bishop over nine years, a reasonable and typical tenure for a bishop my age in the Episcopal Church, in what I consider to be one of the great and healthy dioceses of The Episcopal Church. Since the very beginning, I have attempted to discern God’s will for me and for you, and this decision comes after much prayer and discernment about what God wants for us at this time. I received the diocese under my pastoral care in good shape, thanks to Bishops Phil Smith and Doug Theuner, and believe that I will be passing it along to my successor ALSO in good shape. I have tried to be a faithful steward of the trust and responsibility you placed in me. Only you can be the judge of that.


The fact is, the last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family, and YOU. Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as Bishop, have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark, who has faithfully stood with me every minute of the last seven years, and in some ways, YOU. While I believe that these attitudes, mostly outside the Diocese, have not distracted me from my service to you, I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that they have certainly added a burden and certain anxiety to my episcopate. While my resignation may not stop such pressures completely, it does seem to be the right time for me to initiate the nearly-two-year process for your election of a new bishop. A three-month overlap will allow for a smooth and appropriate transition.

There are still things left for me to do. First and foremost, there is continuing to be a good bishop for you during the next two years. I don’t intend to be a “lame duck,” as you deserve a bishop during this interim that is “on all burners” for the remaining two years. I intend to continue to be fully engaged as your Bishop in the remaining time we lead the diocese together. You can do YOUR part by not sweeping me aside, either literally or emotionally, over the next two years, while I lead as your Bishop Diocesan.

Let me assure you that I am in good health – having lost 25 pounds put on over the last seven years in part by eating all your good food!! Especially that coconut cream pie in Colebrook! I continue in my fifth year of sobriety, which has been a total blessing to me. I continue to treasure my work and ministry with you, and it is a total joy and privilege to serve you and to serve God in this holy collaboration with you. After two more final, vigorous years with you, there are other things that I hope to do, in a new chapter in my life and ministry.

In the meantime, there is mission and ministry to be done. I have been on retreat with the senior staff, and we have set priorities for the next two years. My first priority during these two years will be to continue to support, nurture and pastor our clergy, lay leaders and congregations. Our School for Vestries, under the able leadership of our new Canon for Lay Leadership, Judith Esmay, is the fulfillment of one of my dreams for us. We will continue our focus on stewardship, vitality and leadership development in congregations. We will continue to be responsible stewards of our finances. We will continue to work with congregations in finding the best clergy available for ministry here in New Hampshire. Our fantastic diocesan staff will continue to see, as their primary mission, serving you, the people of the diocese. The Diocesan Council will shepherd us through a new and exciting accountability process for Fair Share giving. Our Mission Resources Committee, under the leadership of Benge Ambrogi, will be freed to focus on new and creative ministry projects in small and large congregations alike. It is such an exciting time in the life of our diocese, and I intend to jump into it with both feet!

For my own ministry as your bishop, both within and beyond the diocese, I will continue my work of evangelizing the unchurched and the “de-churched.” I get to talk to probably more unchurched people than any other bishop in The Episcopal Church. On college campuses, speaking to various public forums, and also in my work with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, I get the opportunity to make the case for God and for God’s Church – either to those who have never known God’s unimaginable love, or to those who have been ill-treated, in the name of a judgmental God, and who have left the Church. Recent news brings us the tragic stories of teenagers who have taken their own lives because religion tells them they are an abomination before God and who believe that their lives are doomed to despair and unhappiness. I get to tell them a different story. By all accounts, I have had the privilege of bringing many people into the Church for the first time, or convincing them that the Church is becoming a safe place to which they can return with a reasonable expectation of welcome. This is EVANGELISM, for me, pure and simple. This is my attempt at fulfilling “the Great Commission” to go forth into the world, baptizing in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a calling not just for a bishop, but for each one of us.

I must admit to some anxiety about this change, but I’ve got plenty of time to deal with that. Since I was ordained at the ripe old age of 26, the Church has been my whole life. I love getting up at 4:30 in the morning to pray and to begin work answering your emails and questions and to respond to the needs of our clergy and congregations. Sundays continue with my weekly, official visitations in congregations which have enlivened, nourished and excited me for much of the last decade. I look forward to continuing in being intimately connected with you and your ministries. But as we are told in Ecclesiastes: “to everything there is a season.” And now it seems to be the season to continue that ministry among you over the next two years, as you carefully choose your next bishop. He or she has no idea what a joy and what a privilege it will be to serve you, the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire

I have talked with the Standing Committee about my decision and they will meet on December 9th with Bishop Matthews of the House of Bishops Pastoral Development Office. The Standing Committee will begin the process of choosing both an Episcopal Search Committee and an Episcopal Transition Committee, which will begin their work in the new year. About a year later, in early 2012, nominees will be announced, with an election in the late spring of 2012. Allowing for the necessary consent process at General Convention, we will consecrate our new Bishop on (tentatively, subject to consent) Saturday, September 15, 2012. As with my own election, there will be a few months of overlap for the new bishop to get acclimated and for a smooth transition to occur. On Saturday, January 5, 2013, I will pass over my authority, and the Bishop’s Staff which symbolizes it, to our new bishop, with joy and thanksgiving for what has gone before and for what is to come under new leadership.

I make this announcement with nothing but praise and thanksgiving to God for having the privilege of serving you. While I know that I have not been God’s perfect servant during this time, I will leave in early 2013 knowing that I have given this ministry my best efforts. YOU are, and will continue to be, the reason I have not only survived, but thrived, during this tumultuous time in the wider Church. New Hampshire is always the place I remain, simply, “the Bishop.” This is the one place on earth where I am not “the gay Bishop.” I believe that you elected me because you believed me to be the right person to lead you at this time. The world has sometimes questioned that, but I hope you never did. You always treat me as a human being, a beloved child of God, and an eager servant of Our Lord. That is what I have tried to be, all along the way – and with every ounce of my being, I will continue. And God willing, I will leave this office in 2013 with even more love, more affection and more gratitude for you than when I assumed this role.

I know that this will have come as a shock to many of you, especially given how much I love being your Bishop and love the work we have undertaken together. I even hope that my energy and enthusiasm for being your Bishop has caused you to forget that I am approaching retirement age. But there it is!

There will be plenty of time in the future for remembrances, thanksgivings and reflection on our time together. For now, though, there is important work to be done. We need to let our fine Standing Committee and the future Search Committee do their jobs, and in the meantime, get on with being the Church and preaching the Gospel in this part of God’s vineyard. New Hampshire has made a name for itself in the last few years, and although unwittingly, we have been on the national and international stage. It has given us the opportunity to proclaim God’s love for ALL of God’s children in profound ways. I do not expect that to be diminished in any way as we move through the next two years of transition and as you move into a new partnership with your new bishop! All I can say is that it is the most profound, blessed and exciting honor to continue as your bishop. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for loving me and working alongside me in bringing the Church in New Hampshire and the world ever closer to the Reign of God.

It’s been a great, collaborative ride, and it will continue to be. All in the name of God, who loves us beyond our wildest imagining, and who will continue to lead us into the future as surely and as faithfully as in the past. Thanks be to God.

And now, I will ask our outgoing Standing Committee President to lead us in prayer, sending us into the world, to care for the People of God, preach the Good News, and continue as faithful witnesses to the Gospel.


The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, IX Bishop of New Hampshire

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Generation of Functional and Cultural Illiterates...and a brief quiz...

About 7 years ago, I was a teaching economics to a class of 100 at Keene State College. In order to make a point about ratios, I asked the class, "for instance, how many states are there in the United States?," expecting this would be an easy example that the students could follow. To my utter disbelief, I could not elicit a single correct answer.

"48!....51!....52!" they alternatively called out. When one student answered, "48...no, wait, 49 since they added Puerto Rico!" I gave up.

Had this been an isolated case of weirdness, I could deal with it. But later, at a class at Greenfield Community College, I performed a simple long division problem on the board to explain per capita GDP. After some silence, a student asked, "what's that?" When I explained I was doing long division, she looked perplexed. I explained it further, and she said, "Oh. I've never seen that before." Others had not heard of the words 'litigation' or 'borne.' The majority of each class is unable to calculate the percent change in a statistic. Meanwhile, the overwhelming number of teachers at all levels in Massachusetts complain about the state-administered MCAS exams.

Leading me to wonder..."What in HELL are they doing in public schools these days?"

These kinds of interactions with my college students encouraged me to give a cultural literacy exam to every one of my macroeconomics classes (This is not just some morbid investigation of mine, but an appropriate part of our studies once we start looking at the educational reform movements of the 80s and 90s.) The inability of students to perform basic math without a calculator, or to recall basic historic facts, or to apply well-known literature metaphors to every-day situations, is both terrifying and astounding. In years of giving a 100+ question exam...no one has ever gotten more than one-third correct.

And these are today's voters...and the future leaders of our businesses, technology, and government agencies.

And so, I present below an excerpt of 20 of the questions on that exam. I invite you to try your own hand at them...the answers are all at the end of this post. They range from music and the arts to sports, literature, history, math and science.

In the meantime, I would be remiss if I didn't thank my parents, who highly valued education; the Baldwin (NY) School District where I was educated; and the NY State Regents exams, which help to ensure that we were functionally and culturally literate before we graduated.

====================

1) In music, what does the notation fortissimo mean?

2) At a corporate board meeting, someone says, "well, we've crossed the Rubicon." What does that mean?

3) What is 30% of 90?

4) What is the origin of the phrase, "the handwriting on the wall?"

5) How many years is the term of a United States Congressman?

6) Where is Prague?

7) Who were the Boers?

8) What is Wounded Knee noted for?

9) What was the Balfour Declaration?

10) Define Xylem and Phloem.

11) Who is Bob Fossey?

12) What are the three 'jewels' of the Triple Crown?

13) What European nation founded the first colony in present-day New York City?

14) The US Constitution states that no one may "be deprived of life, liberty, or..." WHAT? without "due process of law."

15) Who wrote, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."

16) What characterizes an "Isosceles Triangle?"

17) How many regular-season games does a major league baseball team play?

18) What was the Maginot Line?

19) What is the opposite side of a ship from 'portside?'

20) What is the chemical symbol for Iron?

---------------------

1) Loudest
2) We can't go back (or, we've burned our bridges)
3) 27
4) The Book of Daniel in the Bible
5) 2 years
6) Czech Republic
7) The Dutch settlers of South Africa who instituted the apartheid system
8) The Massacre of unarmed Sioux (Lakota) Indian men, women, and children by the U.S. Calvary, which effectively ended the Plains Indian Wars.
9) The British Declaration establishing and carving the State of Israel out of the British Protectorate of Trans-Jordan in 1948.
10)The structures that transport nutrients and water throughout plants
11) America's most successful choreographer of musical theater
12) The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.
13) The Netherlands (Holland)
14) Property (NOT 'the pursuit of happiness.' That's in the Declaration of Independence)
15) Robert Frost
16) It has two sides of equal length
17) 162
18) A military line of forts with fixed cannons, built to protect France from Germany. During WWII, Germany simply went around them.
19) Starboard
20) Fe

So...How did you do? ;-)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hoy, todos somos Chilenos!



An incredible testament to the resiliency and faith of the human spirit.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Carl Paladino, New Yorks Clown Candidate



Once upon a time, New York State elected some of the most well-known Republicans in the country: Theodore Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, and in NYC, Mayors John Lindsay and Fiorello Laguardia. Love 'em or hate 'em, it was a competitive party. Today, of New York's 11.6 million registered voters, only 25% remain as registered Republicans. In the September 14 primary, Carl Paladino took won the Republican primary for Governor...more an indication of the nutjobs that are left in what remains of the NY Republican Party than any indication of actual statewide support.

Mr. Paladino has been running a campaign hot on anger and rhetoric, touring the state with his pitbull to show how 'tough' he is. And recently, he opened his mouth and showed yet again what a lunatic he is.

Pandering to a group of Orthodox Hassidim, he read from a prepared statement and stated that children should not be made to think that being gay is a "valid or successful option." He reiterated that he didn't want children exposed to gays. He opposed the 'gay agenda' (What would that be? Paying their mortgage? Shopping for groceries? Getting their kids to school on time?)

This, from a man who seeks to be Governor of a State where a young gay man just jumped off the George Washington Bridge to escape humiliation as a gay man. This, from a man who seeks to be the Governor of a state where a man was just brutally beaten, cut, whipped, burned on his nipples and genitals, and sodomized with a baseball bat by a gang of 8 in an abandoned building in the Bronx.

This, from the man who would seek to govern a state that is home to Broadway and Musical Theater. Nope, no successful homosexuals in these parts. Nope. No success at all evidenced by Ed Koch, Anderson Cooper, Montgomery Clift, Sam Shepard, Ellen DeGeneres, Eton John, Ian McKellan, Nathan Lane, Barry Manilow, Sir Cameron MacKintosh, or a cavalcade of gay powerhouses in the Arts.

Of course, today Paladino is backtracking a little, saying that he would be willing to hire gays. How benevolent. I guess he has to say that, because Art Finkelstein, who was the polling and strategic mastermind behind Republican Al D'Amato's successful Senate campaign and a host of Nassau County Republican campaigns, and who continues to work for GOP candidates around the country - is gay.

I have watched in amazement as I have followed Paldino's eccentric, anger-filled campaign...until I found out who one of his key strategists is.

Roger Stone. Ah. Or should I say, "Jason Ranier."

I was personally acquainted with Roger. He ran for President of the Young Republican National Federation in the late 70's, when I was intimately involved in that organization. Roger was a pro-Nixon fanatic, who took on the alias "Jason Ranier" to conduct his filthy campaign maneuvers. To stop a primary victory against Nixon by Rep Peter McCloskey (R-CA), he went to New Hampshire, created a fake organization called the "Young Socialist Alliance," and then donated money to McCloskey from the organization. He then turned around and wrote a letter to the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader describing the contribution, enclosing a receipt from the McCloskey campaign. The publication of the "Socialist-McCloskey" alliance effectively ended McCloskey's chances in New Hampshire.

Thus began a life of political operations that used lies, mud-slinging, spying, hate, and division to win elections at any cost. And here he turns up again, as Paladino's puppeteer.

In the meantime, Paladino bounces erratically from tirade to tirade, lashing out at all enemies real and imagined, and gays are his latest target. Never mind that people are committing suicide, and being killed and tortured in his own state because of inflammatory rhetoric and ferment whipped up by ravings such as his (Early in the campaign he promised to 'bring a baseball bat to Albany,' and he didn't mean he wanted to play ball....)

In an election year when Republicans expect to make gains in many places, New York Republicans had better take a long hard look at who they are. They once were a competitive party in a diverse, strong Empire State.

They are now a vestige and a laughingstock, and have left millions of ex-Republicans with no place to go.

Want to help respond to Paladino's nonsense? Contact Freedom To Marry, and help them purchase ad time with the NY media: Click on the title of this post, or go to:

http://freedomtomarry.org/StopPaladino

Friday, October 08, 2010

In Remembrance: Matthew Shepard, 1976-1998



12 years ago this weekend Matthew Shepard was laying in a hospital, hooked onto life support after being tied to a fence.

He had been beaten, pistol whipped and lit on fire. His skull was fractured and his brain stem crushed. There were a dozen lacerations on his face. He was singled out for being gay, by two men who followed him from a gay bar.

He was murdered for being gay.

Matthew was left, tied to the fence post for 18 hours in near freezing weather before being discovered.


The bicyclist that found him thought that he was actually a scarecrow.

At his funeral, the Westboro Baptist Church protested, carrying signs that read "Matt Shepard Rots in Hell."


Video: "Scarecrow"

"Scarecrow", by Melissa Etheridge

Showers of your crimson blood
Seep into a nation calling up a flood
Of narrow minds who legislate
Thinly veiled intolerance
Bigotry and hate

But they tortured and burned you
They beat you and they tied you
They left you cold and breathing
For love they crucified you

I can't forget hard as I try
This silhouette against the sky

Scarecrow crying
Waiting to die wondering why
Scarecrow trying
Angels will hold carry your soul away

This was our brother
This was our son
This shepherd young and mild
This unassuming one
We all gasp this can't happen here
We're all much too civilized
Where can these monsters hide

But they are knocking on our front door
They're rocking in our cradles
They're preaching in our churches
And eating at our tables

I search my soul
My heart and in my mind
To try and find forgiveness
This is someone child
With pain unreconciled
Filled up with father's hate
Mother's neglect
I can forgive But I will not forget

Scarecrow crying
Waiting to die wondering why
Scarecrow trying
Rising above all in the name of love












Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Friday, October 01, 2010

10 Dead Gay Teens: Bullying is a symptom; the Problem is Hate.



In the spring of 1972, I was a gawky twelve year old with big hair and polyester flood pants in eighth grade. I can remember sitting in the front row in English class, waiting for class to start. A few seats behind me sat a popular but sharp-tongued classmate I'll call "Jane," who had just taken up knitting (which was actually rather out of character for her, because it really wasn't considered "cool.") Jane was knitting on her desk in plain view of the rambunctious class.

A few rows away sat Jane's best friend, "Alice," who was watching curiously as Jane maneuvered the needles. Suddenly, loud enough for everyone in the class to stop and notice, Alice yelled out,

"Jane, you're knitting?! You're a bigger fag than Simmons!"

In mock horror, Jane retorted,

"I am NOT!!!"

The class broke into uproarious laughter. I sat still, turning red, staring at my desk. Again.

Even my teacher laughed.

Ah, school memories. I'd like to say that this was a one-time event, and an aberration in an otherwise warm, safe environment. But it wasn't. Two years earlier the school Principal had called half a dozen kids on the carpet for chasing me home after school every day, and waiting outside the school doors for the chance to beat me up. I was called "faggot" more than a hundred times before I ever knew what it even meant.

But once I found out what that meant, I 'knew' that I couldn't be one of those people. Those people were weird. Sinful abominations. Perverts. Unworthy of mention in polite society. Disease-Carriers. Pedophiles. At least that was the message that came through loud and clear.

I learned new routes home from school to avoid getting roughed up. Eventually I headed out on my own and got married as I was supposed to. But in spite of living an apparently straight adult life, I never stopped struggling and wondering, and dealing with my personal, ill defined frustrations. It took me until I reached my 40's to come to terms with myself.

But I was one of the lucky ones. I was blessed with an ornery fighting spirit, like my dad, that wouldn't let me throw in the towel. Recently, we have learned of others not so fortunate:

Asher Brown, 13, of Cypress, Texas, who shot himself in the head after being constantly bullied, accused of being gay, and on whom mock sex acts were performed in gym class.

Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, California, who hanged himself after repeated taunts for being gay.

Justin Aaberg, 15, of Anoka, Minnesota, who tried unsuccessfully to kill himself in January, but succeeded in June, after constant anti-gay harassment at school. School officials had decided not to intervene in the bullying because they were wary of 'conservative protests.'

Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, Indiana, who hung himself after enduring sexuality-based taunts for years.

Tyler Clementi, 18, of Ridgewood, New Jersey, who threw himself off the George Washington Bridge after being outed on the web after being secretly videotaped engaged in sex with another male.

Raymond Chase, 19, of Monticello, New York, who hung himself in his dorm room at Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island, where a majority of gay students have reported harassment.

Caleb Nolt, 14, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, who died yesterday after taking his own life. Schoolmates claim there is a long history of his being bullied for being gay at high school.

Eric Mohat, 17, of Mentor, Ohio, who was involved in theater and music, and was called "gay," "fag," "queer" and "homo" often in front of his class and teachers in class. When one bully said publicly in class, "Why don't you go home and shoot yourself, no one will miss you" - - he did.

Carl Walker-Hoover, 11 (YES, read that again - ELEVEN), of Springfield, Massachusetts, who hung himself after repeated gay taunting.

Cody Barker, 17, of Shiocton, WI, who had just started advocating for himself with the schools LGBT community.

How can anyone read this list of young people and not want to scream, or cry, or pound one's fist in anger? This is INTOLERABLE.

No doubt, there will be calls for anti-bullying programs. And let me be clear, I support anti-bullying programs.

But bullying is not the core cause of this rash of suicides among young gay men. Hatred is.

When Bishop Eddie "On The Down-Low" Long calls for Homosexuals to be executed, as he did in the 1990s (it's on tape, folks), he sends a message to society that gays are worthless criminals (who are only good enough to be 'used' on the side).

When "ex-gay" ministries and pseudo-psychologists insist that if you pray and try hard enough, you can 'change,' they send the message that gays are simply lost or damned or lazy.

When neither our Democratic Commander-in-Chief nor Senate Republicans have the collective cojones to suspend the Military's Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy, they send a message that gays are expendable.

When the so-called National Association for Marriage, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Association insist that Marriage Equality will lead to legal incest and bestiality, they send a message that being gay is a dirty, scandalous, perverted existence.

When Politicians pander to social conservatives and use gays as a 'wedge issue' at the ballot box; when elected officials like Eugene Delgaudio of Virginia claims that wounded soldiers will come down with AIDS if they are in contact with gay soldiers, they send the message that gays are to be loathed, feared, and quarantined.

And when young people in our society hear adults repeating over and over that gays are worthless, expendable, dirty, scandalous, perverted and loathsome...they bully them.

And when young gays hear those same things, and struggle with taunts and hatred every day....

They kill themselves.

Yes, bullying must stop.

But more importantly, the hatred from Pulpits, and Government offices, and self-serving hate-mongering organizations MUST STOP.

And it WILL stop - but ONLY when ALL Americans join and DEMAND that it stop.