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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A contentious proposition

So Warren Jeffs is apparently in a coma. After receiving a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage FLDS followers, he has refused to eat or drink in prison and now, three weeks into that sentence, is in "critical but stable" condition.

I reiterate my belief that criminals sentenced to life in prison should be able to opt for death instead. The article says that it is unknown why Jeffs stopped eating, but that he has fasted to the point of needing medical intervention in prison before.

Let the man die, if he wants to. Do whatever is necessary to bring him out of the coma, and ask him if he's trying to kill himself and would prefer death to spending the rest of his life in prison. If he says yes, then put him out of his misery.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dan Savage on the evolution of straight gaydar

Salon has an interview with Dan Savage titled "The evolution of Dan Savage" which is a pretty good read if you're not very familiar with the progression of his career, and includes an interesting (to me) bit about his motivation for starting the It Gets Better Project:
One of the things that was a wake-up call for me last year before the "It Gets Better" campaign -- why we launched it, my husband and I -- was when I was sort of unaware how bad it was getting out there. You know, in the Greensburg, Indianas, and the Topachakees, Californias, where Constance McMillen was. What I didn't realize before those suicides opened my eyes, was that as it was getting better in New York or San Francisco or Seattle, it was getting worse out in the sticks, out in mega-church land. Because those of us who are out and urban and fully integrated into our work lives and families, our existence has made it impossible for queer 14-year-olds to fly under the radar in a Greensburg. 
When I was a kid, and I was odd, the default assumption was that I was odd, not that I was gay. Now when a kid is odd in a Greensburg, gay or straight, the default assumption is gay. Because my job requires me to be in constant communication with people all over the country who are writing in to "Savage Love," calling the podcast, I think I'm a little more conscious of what's going on out there in the boonies -- but even I didn't see that. And that's a bitter pill for those of us my age to swallow. Us out there leading our lives and being successful have actually kind of made it worse for 14-year-old gay kids in Greensburg, Ind. 
Well, made it worse, but that's part of progress, right? 
Absolutely. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't have lived this way, or we shouldn't have come out. And the people who are most responsible for making it worse are of course anti-gay politicians and anti-gay preachers, and parents, teachers and peers who are persecuting these kids. But we've created a kind of hyper-awareness about sexuality and sexual orientation that has let to hyper-scrutiny about those things, in places where people weren't on the lookout for it before. Everybody's on the lookout for it now.
Savage has also referred to this increased awareness of homosexuality on his podcast, to explain why people are not only willing to claim that Marcus Bachmann is a closeted gay but condemn him for not being un-closeted. He (Savage) says that our cultural attitude has changed-- that back when most gays were closeted of necessity, it was so much easier and more likely that straight people would ignore their own gaydar through ignorance or consideration or both. But now that being gay is semi-culturally acceptable, people both notice who seems gay more readily and often and expect that people who are gay should come out. So they feel more comfortable with and entitled to judge closeted gays for not coming out. Basically, that straight people used to prefer to be lied to, but not anymore. For some reason the "permalink" option on the Savage Love podcast does not lead to any such thing, but you can hear him explaining this (much better) at the beginning of episode 249 here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Another take on Ron Paul in the media

I came across a commentary by Brian Montopoli at the CBS blog Political Hotsheet which makes some interesting points. He notes that his own coverage of the Iowa straw polls has been criticized by Paul supporters who objected to the candidate not getting enough space, accompanied by the inevitable "RON PAUL 2012!" sign-off. Many commentators would and have stopped there, as if Ron Paul having a following with a large share of verbose and vehement supporters somehow makes up for the media ignoring him. But Montopoli goes on to consider things a little more carefully:
Critics of the media coverage of Paul have a point. Because many reporters see the Texas congressman as having little chance of winning the nomination, he is often left out of the discussion - even as an establishment figure like Jon Huntsman, who badly trails Paul in the polls, is included.  
Here's how political reporters see it: Paul is the only prominent candidate articulating a strong libertarian position. Though he is fairly well known, his support appears to top out at less than 20 percent. Ultimately, Republicans will likely coalesce around one of the other candidates, whose largely-similar positions represent more mainstream Republicanism. Paul's relatively strong standing in early polls, this argument goes, will fade as the field narrows around one or two more mainstream candidates.  
That's almost certainly true. But here's the problem: Most reporters also don't expect Bachmann to win the nomination, either. Bachmann cannot compete with Romney or Perry in terms of fundraising, and she is widely seen as too far to the right to get nominated by a party where most voters' primary concern is finding someone who can beat President Obama. Yet while Paul was shut out of the Sunday news shows after his near-straw poll victory, Bachmann was invited into almost all of them - and is now being treated by the media as one of the three frontrunners for the nomination.   
Why? For starters, Bachmann has a better - though still slim - chance to take the nomination. But also, she's simply a better story - controversial, telegenic, and relatively new to the national scene. Paul, meanwhile, is on his third presidential run, and he's saying the same things he's been saying for decades - which is admirable, but not ideal in a media landscape where freshness is what gets attention.
Poor Ron Paul. He's been known as a libertarian nutter for so long, and now he's not crazy enough!  Because his particular brand of controversial viewpoints is not fresh-- it's the same standard he's been bearing for years. His consistency works against him rather than for him. As for being telegenic....yeah, I suppose not.  Paul is looking pretty decrepit these days and he has never been the best speaker. But I thought these reports were supposed to be about who the front-runners are; not who is prettiest. Is Montopoli saying otherwise? Not quite:
Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton, who described the coverage in the wake of the straw poll as "very disappointing," told CBS News that the national media "have an obligation to present Dr. Paul fairly and robustly to the American people."  
"I realize that he has been saying the same things to the inner circle of the journalist elite, that's not new, but it's very, very new to the American people," said Benton. While Paul has high name identification, he continued, "A lot of people still have not heard his message." 
There's an irony here: Paul may not be offering up new ideas, but he is the only mainstream candidate articulating significantly different policy positions than his rivals. Paul's opposition to U.S. military intervention abroad has significant support within the GOP, and his live-and-let-live philosophy is the animating idea behind the Tea Party. Don't those ideas deserve to be part of the discussion? The media's focus on Bachmann and dismissal of Paul is a demoralizing illustration of the fact that members of the media - who, it should be noted, often make their coverage decisions based on audience demand - are often more interested in stylistic differences than substantive ones. 
All this doesn't change the fact that Ron Paul is very unlikely to be the next president of the United States. Or that the straw poll itself is nearly meaningless - it's an Iowa Republican party fundraiser in which the candidates, Paul included, essentially buy their votes. But if reporters are going to focus so aggressively on Bachmann - and treat her straw poll win as meaningful - then Paul deserves, at the very least, not to be ignored.
I understand that Michele Bachmann is interesting because she's so.....bizarre. I do, really. But when bizarre people get attention on TV, it should be simply because of that. Hey, here's this new crazy evangelical lady who doesn't know what she's talking about, running for president!  You can give bizarre people media attention without pretending that they're more electable-- look what happened to Howard Dean. Did anyone declare him a "front-runner" while incessantly playing clips his ill-chosen battle cry? Did they do so in the process of obscuring actual front-runners?  Not from what I recall.

So what's different?  Has the media just become so thoroughly jaded about this particular election, so sure that the Republican race doesn't matter, that they're just no longer interested in portraying the facts when they could report on the crazy?  It's looking like it.

Jon Stewart wonders how Ron Paul became the 13th floor in the media's hotel


We do live in a bizarre political universe, don't we?

Ron Paul being ignored isn't new-- this is, basically, the same thing that happened in 2008's presidential election. There's just something extra creepy and ironic about it given that, as Stewart mentions, Paul was the seed of the grassroots movement known as the Tea Party....that is, in the roughly two seconds before it was co-opted by conservatives who were simply bitter that a Democrat became president. Though they yell about small government and wave copies of the Constitution, these have not been Ron Paul's people for a very long time. They are Sarah Palin's people, Michele Bachmann's people, Rick Perry's people....Fox News' people.

Remember the last election when Paul got up on stage in the Republican debates and gobsmacked Romney, McCain, and Giuliani by frankly declaring that the U.S. had no business invading the Middle East and that the entire military enterprise over there is a waste of lives and trillions of dollars that the country can't afford?  He's still doing it, and it still makes his competitors look bad because it draws direct attention to the fact that the military industrial complex is the single biggest waste of government funding and no one who can supports it can pretend to support small government, let alone decreasing the national debt.  That remains true today, only it's doubly odd given that Paul's competitors are people who claim to belong to the ideological movement he founded. The crazy, kooky, small-government-at-any-cost folks whom people like Bachmann now claim to represent.

So it's no wonder that people are ignoring Paul, as they did before. It sure isn't because he's crazy-- not with people like Bachmann, Santorum, and Perry on the stage. And it sure isn't because he's comparatively marginal, given his performance in the straw polls. It's because he's an embarrassment to people who pretend to subscribe to the ideals to which he actually subscribes.  He is, for the most part, bullshit-free....whereas everyone else is full of it.

Am I a Ron Paul supporter? Nope. Being a non-bullshitter doesn't mean that you're consistent, let alone about principles that are worth having. Paul is not even a consistent states' rights advocate, and I would not support a states' rights advocate. He claims to want to leave things up to the states, but has tried repeatedly to get abortion banned at a national level and has supported DOMA. The best things about him are his stalwart condemnation of the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq and all of the civil liberties violations that followed 9/11 in the name of security, and his firm belief that the federal war on drugs is a mistake which should be brought to an end as soon as possible. I will cheer for those causes regardless of who will carry their banners, and Paul has carried them dedicatedly for a very long time. But if you're going to run on principle and ask people to trust your consistency, by golly you had better live up to those...and Paul doesn't.

Still, Jon Stewart is absolutely right-- this pretending that Paul doesn't exist is simultaneously laughable and abhorrent, and is a shocking display of bias on the part of all media involved.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Update

...on the April 18th beating of a trans woman at McDonald's in Maryland:

From dallasvoice:
Teona Brown, 19, has pled guilty Thursday, Aug. 4, to first degree assault charges and a hate crime charge in connection with the beating of transgender woman Chrissy Polis last April in Towson, Md.  
The attack was captured on video by a McDonald’s employee — who filmed the assault rather than step in and try to stop it — last April. The video went viral online and was used, along with new footage from a surveillance camera, in court hearings this week. CBS Baltimore has this report on the plea.  
Conviction on a first degree assault charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 years, and a hate crime conviction could add another 10 years. Because Brown pled guilty to the attack, prosecutors are recommending that the judge sentence her to five years in prison. A sentencing hearing has been set for next month.  
Polis was present in court on Thursday, but told reporters she was nervous about being there and had no comment. “I just want to lay low and keep my life as normal as possible,” she said. 
A second person charged in the attack was 14 at the time and has been charged with assault as a juvenile. Because she is a minor, her identity has not been released.

The perils of confusing libertarians and right-wingers

Exhibit A: You might make as big a fool of yourself as Lawrence O'Donnell did.

See, there is this video making the rounds of a reporter from Reason magazine talking to Matt Damon (the actor) about incentives to perform one's job, comparing actors to teachers. But much more important than this exchange was O'Donnell's reaction to it:
After casually labeling the Reason Foundation as a right wing Republican group he says: 
The right-wing attackers of teachers have never even shown the slightest curiosity about the job performance of another group of government workers who have very, very high job security, police officers. And police officers carry guns instead of textbooks. And as we`ve seen in New Orleans after Katrina and in countless other cases around the country, police officers have sometimes used those guns to shoot and kill innocent people.
Reason's editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie fired back:
Reason.tv's video featuring Matt Damon from Saturday's "Save Our Schools" rally is making the rounds. In the vid, Matt Damon tees off on the "shitty" salaries that teachers make and argues that teachers do what they do out of love, so that structural arrangement such as early-and-easy-to-get tenure have no impact on what sort of job educators may do in the classroom. 
As a point of fact, Damon's understanding of teacher compensation relative other professionals is wrong. It turns out that when you control for education level and hours worked, public school teachers do quite well (especially compared to private school teachers, who on average make $13,000 a year less). And that's before fringe benefits, such as employer-paid health care and retirement packages are tossed in to the mix. Or job security. 
But we were talking about Lawrence O'Donnell, host of MSNBC's Last Word, who used his "Rewrite" segment to question not simply whether public-school teachers should be scrutinized but whether Reason is anything more than a Republicanoid hack factory that would never dare question, say, the police. 
After showing a part of the Reason.tv video in which host Michelle Fields questions Damon about whether the relative insecurity of acting jobs pushes him to a higher level of performance, the wise and all-knowing - and, according to his Wikipedia page, exclusively privately educated - O'Donnell delivers the following screed
[This is] how crazy the attack on teachers has become. Comparing public school teachers work incentives to the work incentives of movie stars. It has never occurred to the teacher haters that teachers want to be teachers for any reason other than job security. It has never occurred to them that teachers might want to be teachers because they like teaching, because they love teaching, and because they care about their students. 
The right-wing attackers of teachers have never even shown the slightest curiosity about the job performance of another group of government workers who have very, very high job security, police officers. And police officers carry guns instead of textbooks. And as we`ve seen in New Orleans after Katrina and in countless other cases around the country, police officers have sometimes used those guns to shoot and kill innocent people. 
They have done so accidentally, which is in some cases understandable and forgivable. And some of the them -- statistically very few to be sure -- have done so deliberately, maliciously, with full criminal intent. They have summarily executed people. 
The worst teacher in America could never do as much damage as the worst police officer in America. But the right wing has never even been slightly curious about evaluating the job performance of police officers. Never once has Republican world said hey, maybe we should look into how police officers are carrying out their solemn public responsibility to serve and protect. 
No -- no right wing website in America is investigating or will ever investigate how well police officers do their jobs. The targeting of teachers has been a vicious and politically deliberate action. And it has been so successful that many of its fundamental falsehoods are accepted as true by both Republicans and Democrats in our ongoing dialogue about public Education. 
 . . .while I realize that being Lawrence O'Donnell means never having to say you're sorry, let me add some emphasis to the plain truth:
Because Reason magazine, Reason.com, Reason.tv and Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes all these things, including this blog) are not right-wing or Republican, I can't speak for those groups or folks inclined those ways.
However, I can and will gently direct O'Donnell to have at least some goddamn inkling of what he's talking about:
Reason has been all over issues of police abuse like those Fullerton, California cops were all over the homeless man they beat to death.
Or the other California cops who killed Allen Klephart following a traffic stop.
Or who illegally detained DC-area journalist Justin Vorus because he snapped photos of cops at work.
Or all the other law enforcement types who are waging a War on Cameras because it makes them have to respect civil liberties.
And while I'm sure that O'Donnell has guests up the ying-yang for his show, he might want to think about asking Cory Maye, the Mississippi man who was first taken off death row and then released from prison altogether in large part due to the efforts of Reason journalist Radley Balko, along with Reason.tv's Drew Carey and Paul Feine, whose "Mississippi Drug War Blues" documentary is a must-watch to any American interested in how the criminal justice system has major problems. Balko, now with the Huffington Post, was even named "Journalist of the Year" this year by the Los Angeles Press Club due to his Reason work on the Cory Maye and other cases.
And when O'Donnell is done digesting all that, he can relax with Reason magazine's July issue, which was dedicated to what we called Criminal Injustice: Inside America's National Disgrace. It's online right now. For free. He just has to click the link.
Or maybe, like Matt Damon, a truly gifted actor who is totally untroubled by the basic facts when it comes to questions of teacher compensation, O'Donnell will elect to live exclusively in a world of his own making.
Make no mistake: Reason in all its iterations supports and applauds the work that the law enforcement system - from the U.S. Supreme Court down to the most local of meter maids and the least-honored of rent-a-cops - does to help keep the country and its citizens safe. Like good teachers, good cops have a tough-as-hell job that is made immeasurably harder by all the bad ones out there. And make no mistake, too, that Reason has been and will continue to look at ways to identify and call out bad actors in public and private life. And suggest ways in which education and law enforcement can be improved to better serve the citizens who pay for both.
Radley Balko writes on his own blog:
Of course, I’m not the only one who writes about this stuff. Maybe O’Donnell has had other people on. So I did a search of O’Donnell’s archives to see how many times he has addressed police abuses. I found one instance, and even that one had a partisan angle. O’Donnell actually acknowledged on Twitter yesterday that he could only think of a single story about police abuse he has addressed since he started hosting the show. (Though he did write a book several years ago about a police abuse case his father handled as an attorney.) Reason has run dozens of articles, videos, and blog posts over that period. 
So what sorts of important issues does O’Donnell think are more deserving than police abuse? Sarah Palin, apparently. He has discussed her more than 50 times. She even gets her own topic tag. 
And O’Donnell isn’t just wrong about Reason. The conservative-learning libertarian Glenn Reynolds have been outspoken and critical of police on issues like no-knock raids, citizens’ right to record police officers, and even ending qualified immunity for cops, a pretty radical (though in my opinion correct) position that I doubt you could find ten members of Congress to support. Sites like Lew Rockwell also run pieces by adamant police critics like William Grigg
So not only did O’Donnell deliver an ad hominem attack, it was an attack that was also embarrassingly wrong on the facts, which he’d have discovered had he done 20 seconds of research. And it doesn’t look like he’ll be issuing a correction. His only response yesterday was the Tweet linked above and to re-Tweet others’ weak defenses of him. 
If O’Donnell really gave damn about police abuse, he’d be looking to forge alliances across partisan and ideological lines to build support for reform. Meaning he’d be reaching out to places like Reason. Instead, in just the second time he has mentioned police abuse in his eight months of hosting a national TV show, it was to use the issue as an ideological cudgel to smack around people with whom he disagrees . . . on a completely unrelated issue.
Ed Brayton agrees:
Balko is absolutely right, progressives should be building alliances with groups like Reason on the issues where we agree. And there are lots of such issues beyond criminal justice, including executive power (which real progressives agree should be limited and subject to checks and balances, while the president and the Democratic leadership only thinks those things matter when a Republican is in the White House), torture and extraordinary rendition, opposition to constant military interventions abroad, the need to cut defense spending, warrantless wiretaps, opposition to the Patriot Act and other constitutional overreaches, and much more. 
Disagreeing with the libertarian positions on environmental regulation and similar issues is just fine; I’ll gladly join you in arguing against them. But casually lumping all libertarians — and this group in particular — in with the “right wing” and pretending that they all take the same position on every other issue is shallow and sloppy thinking.
I used to listen to Penn Jillette's radio show daily. If you've heard Jillette opine on politics for more than a few minutes or watch a single episode of Bullshit, it becomes obvious that his is vehement libertarian of the first order. Lawrence O'Donnell is a good friend of Jillette, and was a guest on that show....maybe five times? Possibly more? He really should know better.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

This just in: free birth control will bring about the apocalypse

GOP congressman says free birth control will end the human race, said a headline that I was very reluctant to believe. Someone claims that? Seriously?

But I was pretty much wrong:
GOP Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) suggested that providing free birth control would lead to the end of the entire human race. "If you applied that preventative medicine universally what you end up with is you've prevented a generation. Preventing babies from being born is not medicine. That's not -- that's not constructive to our culture and our civilization. If we let our birth rate get down below replacement rate we're a dying civilization," King said on the House floor on Monday night. 
Before King gets too concerned, it might behoove him to check some recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The United States population is expected to increase 44 percent from its current 305 million to 439 million in 2050. Addressing the fact that 50 percent of pregnancies in this country are unintended, therefore, might not bring about the apocalypse King foresees.
Lessons in totalitarian thinking: That which is not forbidden is compulsory. If birth control is not just legal but government funded, that means all women must use it, all of the time! No more babies, ever! We're going to die out as a species! Aaaaaaaaah!

On Tuesday (as Think Progress noted) on Fox News' "America's Newsroom," Sandy Rios, the Family PAC Federal Vice President, compared the coverage of birth control, breast feeding aides and abuse counseling to covering beauty treatments: 
"We’re $14 trillion in debt and now we’re going to cover birth control, breast pumps, counseling for abuse? Are we going to do pedicures and manicures as well?” 
Rios also suggested that young women are better off just having babies than having safe sex: "Having a baby is not the worst thing. I think having multiple sex partners without any kind of restraint or responsibility is much more damning."
Interesting choice of words...."damning." Not less healthy, not less safe, not less happy. Damned.

Memo to Sandy Rios: Men and women who use birth control are not nymphomaniacs. We may be sinners, but that's our business. And some of us believe that using birth control is being responsible, if you're not interested in creating a pregnancy just now. Crazy concept, I know.