Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Hate the sinner . . ."

You know how the extreme Right likes to talk about Islam, and how Islam doesn't fit into western society because its particular brand of theocracy is incompatible with the respect for pluralism and human rights we observe here?

Hold onto your hats, but it turns out that Islam may not be the only religion that puts a low price on individual rights.

For instance, here's what happened at a Catholic funeral the other day.

The guy also refused to stay on the altar while she gave the eulogy. Or to go to the burial.

I guess he didn't tell her "Who gives a rat's ass that your mother's dead?" but he really didn't have to, did he?

Even the diocese said it was against "policy", but it appears that their objection had to do with the public nature of what he did, rather than the substance of it.

It's their club, they get to make their own rules. Still, I know that when I used to be a Catholic I was taught to judge people by their actions.

I think I've seen enough.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Santorum: Making it easy

Deep down, I still don't really believe that Rick Santorum (please follow the link!) is going to be the Republican nominee. I really don't.

Still, you have to admit that he's making it easy for us.

Take the last couple of days.

On Saturday Santorum told a crowd of supporters that President Obama's religious beliefs are a "phony ideology" "not based in the bible". Naturally Obama's people jumped all over that, saying that the remarks were over the line. Even though we're electing a president and not a religious leader, it's hard to deny that, especially in light of years of racist attacks claiming that President Obama is a Muslim.

It was so bad that Santorum had to do damage control and claim that he was not attacking Obama's religion.

So that's all behind us, right?

Umm, except for what Santorum's spokesperson said today.

He was talking about the president's "radical Islamic policies".

No attack on President Obama's religion there, eh?

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Philip Hoff: How Red Turned Blue in the Green Mountain State by Samuel B. Hand, Anthony Marro, Stephen C. Terry

We may not know a giant among us. I certainly didn't know it when I moved to Vermont just twenty years after Phil Hoff took office as the first Democratic governor in over a century, and I still didn't realize it in the mid-1980's when I was lobbying and he was in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but now, at a remove of half a century, there can be no mistaking the fact that Hoff was a giant of Vermont politics, the most important figure in the second half of the twentieth century.

When Phil Hoff took office Vermont's governorship was a sleepy, caretaker institution, Vermont was the most reliable of Republican states, and the town of Averill, 2000 population 8, had the same one representative in the House of Representatives as Burlington, 2000 population 39,000. By the time he left we had had legislative reapportionment (in response to a mandate from the Supreme Court), Vermont had a modern executive and administration, and the state had irreversibly learned that government can facilitate and advance progressive change.

As the authors note, "No individual deserves more credit (or in the view of political rivals more blame) for the transformation of Vermont than Philip Hoff." Those of us who did not grow up in Vermont can scarcely imagine the changes since his time. I think back to life in northern New Jersey fifty years ago and, while things have changed dramatically, the people, places, and institutions of that time are all recognizable today.

The opposite is true of Vermont. In Philip Hoff, the authors, a history professor and two veteran journalists, vividly portray the Vermont of the 1950's and 60's, illustrating the political life a young, energetic, politically ambitious lawyer found when he arrived, his early life among the "Young Turks" (mostly Republicans) in the Legislature, and the campaign and interpersonal strategies that brought him to the governor's mansion in 1962. (Okay, the truth is we don't have a governor's mansion, but you get the idea.)

Once in office, learning that his tax department couldn't give him a ten-, five-, or even a one-year projection of tax revenues, Hoff took the bold step of asking the legislature to essentially do nothing for the first year of his administration to give him a chance to understand the structure and the problems facing him and come up with a plan to make things work. A less gifted politician could never have pulled it off, but that first year of temporizing and planning was what set him on course to his later successes, accomplished without ever having a Democratic legislative majority to work with.

Phil Hoff really was to Vermont what people think JFK was for the country. The authors of this short biography put his life in perspective and, with their journalistic approach, bring the events to life. Although they clearly admire him they never descend to hagiography, and provide a balanced treatment of his failings as well as his successes.

Philip Hoff is essential reading for anyone interested in how Vermont politics evolved from the conservatism of the 1950's to the dynamism of the present.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

In case you were wondering

Breast feeding and lactation have nothing to do with pregnancy.

At least that's what a federal judge in Houston says. In a discrimination case filed by the EEOC, Judge Lynn N. Hughes ruled that a discharge of a breast-feeding new mother is not pregnancy discrimination because "lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition."

The judge also ruled that discrimination on the basis of breastfeeding or pumping is not discrimination on the basis of sex.

Did the defendant corporation assure the court that it would have been just as likely to fire a man who engaged in breastfeeding or pumping of breast milk?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Obama's pious falsehood

From his statement yesterday announcing the deal on contraception:

This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been sorted through some very complicated questions to find a solution that works for everyone.

I suppose he had to say it, but I have to say this: it's just false. There are no people of good will on the other side of this debate. If you are in favor of denying women access to contraception, even if it's because an imaginary man in the sky told you to do it, you are not a person of good will.

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This is a fucking surprise.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced President Barack Obama's compromise over whether to require religiously affiliated institutions to provide contraception to female employees, saying the proposal raises "serious moral concerns," according to a statement posted on its website late Friday.

First off, we all knew that the bishops wouldn't go for this, right? Contraception is inimical to the central value at the heart of the Catholic Church: the oppression of women.

The statement released by the Catholic Bishops conference said the proposal requires "careful moral analysis,"

CAREFUL MORAL ANALYSIS??????? Excuse me, but I'm not much interested in being schooled in moral analysis by a group that asserts a scruple against contraception but doesn't hesitate to transfer known child rapists around the country for fresh meat.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Nothing political here

Just a brief commentary on the state of track in the United States.

For almost a century one of the highlights of the indoor track season has been the Millrose Games. Held in the various versions of Madison Square Garden, the Millrose Games has always been an important meet, and is home to one of the premier indoor events anywhere, the Wanamaker Mile, which over the years has attracted legendary middle distance runners from Ireland, Kenya, and across the United States. I've been to the Millrose Games, and there is no question that it's a great event.

The Garden's seating capacity is about 20,000.

When I was in high school I used to run at a place we just called The Armory, which really was an armory for the 103rd Engineers. It had a flat 220-yard wooden track and if you fell you could pick up a splinter a foot long, generated from the actual army jeeps and trucks that were often parked on the floor. Its seating capacity is numbered in the hundreds.

This year the people who run the Millrose Games announced that this year's meet is going to be held at the Armory, and not the Garden.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Armory and it's now a great place to see a meet, mainly because every seat is close to the track. They have a beautiful new banked track and it's the site of the National Track & Field Hall of Fame. In the last year of my father's life we went to the Indoor Nationals together and saw the greatest sprint finish I've ever seen.

Still, if they could attract thousands the meet would still be at the Garden,and not the Armory. It's probably an inevitable demotion, but it's still kind of sad to see it.

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This is great!

Or maybe I should say this is refreshing.

Usually when you get one of these scandals and they start throwing guys in suits off the cliff, they have the good taste to say they're going to spend more time with their families or something.

Not Karen Handel, though. Her letter of "resignation" embodies the nasty, snarling tone that we've also gotten from the boss. "I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it."

In addition, rather than stick to the story that the defunding of Planned Parenthood was based on their concern for organizations that are under investigation, the letter also confirms what activists and analysts have been saying: that the decision was politically motivated to distance Komen from Planned Parenthood.

At the November Board meeting, the Board received a detailed review of the new model and related criteria. As you will recall, the Board specifically discussed various issues, including the need to protect our mission by ensuring we were not distracted or negatively affected by any other organization’s real or perceived challenges. No objections were made to moving forward.

"Well, I think one of the benefits that has come from this saga is now the broad majority of Americans realize the Komen connection to the world's foremost abortion provider," Brian Harris, the director of Tennessee Right to Life, told The Christian Post. "Millions of pro-life Americans – who have momentum now – will know to avoid any involvement with Komen until they become consistently committed to protecting all human life."

Got that? The anti-choicers were agitating to cut off Planned Parenthood, they were happy when the Komen group went along with their demands, and they got pissed off when Komen changed their minds.

In addition, Handel has now confirmed that the investigation excuse was bogus, and that their decision was political.

Maybe they should have given Handel a better severance package, huh?

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Monday, February 06, 2012

The haters behind the Susan G. Komen Foundation

It's less than a week after the giant Komen fiasco and people are still asking what seems like an obvious question: How could such a principled, benevolent organization get so badly led astray?

If you look at the people at the top, the people making the decisions and pulling the strings, not only is the answer obvious, but the question is seen as badly misguided.

We'll touch lightly on the big boss, who went on MSNBC in the midst of the controversy to lie about their decision, and has so far paid no price for her actions.

Let's just take one step down the corporate ladder, though, and see who's running the organization.

First in this rogues' gallery must be Karen Handel, a right wing former Georgia Secretary of State who was endorsed by Sarah Palin to "fight what the federal government will want to do to our states" when she ran for governor. Even before she was hired by Komen,, Handel was saying "since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood."

Another key player, an outside consultant rooted in the extreme right, is the odious Ari Fleischer, whose prior job was telling lies for George W. Bush. When Komen was looking for a new Senior Vice President for Communications and External Relations they called on Fleischer to run the search. According to a source with first-hand knowledge, Fleischer drilled prospective candidates during their interviews on how they would handle the controversy about Komen’s relationship with Planned Parenthood. You might consider that a pretty normal question, except that Fleischer was already on record as an enemy of Planned Parenthood. In his book, Taking Heat, Fleischer criticized Planned Parenthood as a partisan, ideological organization that receives undeserved positive coverage in the press. In 2001, Fleischer said that the Clinton administration verged too far to the left on family planning efforts because “if Planned Parenthood wanted it, the previous administration favored it.”

Finally, from the outside the anti-woman, anti-choice forces were supported by Charmaine Yoest, who runs Americans United for Life, who has been attacking Planned Parenthood for years. Americans United for Life has, for the past year, aggressively pushed Congress to end Planned Parenthood’s federal funding. It has also drafted model legislation that states can use to bar abortion providers from receiving federal funds. Nine states have passed such laws, although the Obama administration has blocked their implementation. If you think this is the end of her war against Planned Parenthood, think again. Ezra Klein reports that she darkly warns that she will be "be looking at their other supporters". It was her work that got the bogus Congressional witch hunt against Planned Parenthood started.

So there you have it. The Komen organization is closely tied to a variety of anti-woman hate groups, and there isn't any sign that's going to change anytime soon.

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Catholic Diocese: Give us our freedom!

Freedom of religion is an important value in American society, right?

This week, if you're the Catholic Diocese of Burlington, apparently freedom of religion means the freedom to rape little boys with impunity.

It's hard to believe, but that's exactly what they're arguing. According to the Burlington Free Press, in a brief filed in the United States District Court this week, here's what they say: “The State cannot infringe on a protected freedom by imposing damages and penalties that the church cannot pay,” . . .

“If the protections of the First Amendment are to mean anything, the government should not be allowed to shut the doors of a church and put it up for sale,” church lawyers Kaveh Shahi and Tom McCormick wrote.

Yes, you read that right: if they are required to pay damages to the victims of their criminal conspiracy to cover up rapes by their employees, and to move their employees around to where they could rape more victims, that would be a violation of their freedom of religion.

In the view of their lawyers, making the church pay damages is taking away the right of Catholics to practice their religion.

Is it just me, or does this seem to put the Catholic seal of approval on child rape to an unprecedented degree?

Color me unsympathetic.

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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Y.A. fiction.

Seriously, as I cruised through the superficial, sentimental writing, populated with evil or heartwarming characters, I kept wondering what age group this was intended for.

The story, of a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl brought together by chance and then separated first by his father's animosity to all things Japanese and then by World War II internment, has the elements of a good story and an interesting historical setting. Nevertheless, the characters are too simple and one-dimensional, and I mean all of them, to pass as adult fiction. The young lovers, Henry and Keiko (yes, Romeo and Juliet in this version of the story)and their pure love; the contrast between Henry's narrowminded father and Keiko's openhanded, welcoming one; Sheldon, an older black saxophone player who serves as Henry's protector; and Chaz, emblematic of the bullies who tormented Henry and Keiko at school: each of these characters and more embody traits or values rather than living.

It is impossible not to be touched by Henry and Keiko's love, to see that they love each other before Henry, at least, realizes it, and to feel Henry's pain at their separation. Similarly, the novel makes palpable the injustice and outrage of the internment of American citizens in concentration camps.

Everything, from the difficulties thrown in Henry's path to their resolution, is predictable. In addition, in the scenes set in the present (1985) Henry seems like an old, old man; if you do the math he is 56 but seems much older.

If you tell me this is intended for adults I'll believe you, with some reluctance. If so, however, it left this adult reader wishing for more.

View all my reviews

More Hate in America

I don't know if you've heard of them, I never had until today, but there's a new hate group to pay attention to on the American scene.

It's called One Million Moms (you can pretty much always tell the hate groups by their wholesome names, eh?) and they seem to be a subsidiary of the American Family Association.

But it's a group of mothers, right, so they must be agitating for beneficial, motherly values, right? Like nutrition programs in the schools, or free health care for low-income women, or early education programs?

Afraid not. Apparently what One Million Moms want is for J.C. Penney to fire Ellen DeGeneres as their spokesperson.

OMM began contacting JC Penney after the store announced that comedian Ellen Degeneres would become the company's new spokesperson. Funny that JC Penney thinks hiring an open homosexual spokesperson will help their business when most of its customers are traditional families. As consumers, what we find tragic is a corporate office and customer service department that not only transfers customers to voicemail, but even hangs up on them rather than verses hearing their concerns.

It is absurd to think that a company would find treating customers in this fashion an acceptable behavior. Our members stated their concerns in a kind, professional manner. Insulting customers by ignoring us will not be tolerated. OMM members can shop elsewhere if JC Penney does not appreciate our business. Unless JC Penney decides to be neutral in the culture war and listen to customers in a considerate fashion, their brand transformation will be unsuccessful.

Degeneres is not a true representation of the type of families who shop at the retailer. The small percentage of customers they are attempting to satisfy will not offset their loss in sales by offending the majority.

Since JC Penney won't listen to us nationally, it is time we let them hear from us locally!

J.C. Penney says no, they're sticking with Ellen.

A spokeswoman for the retailer declined further comment on the issue but did say in an e-mail to Reuters, "jcpenney stands behind its partnership with Ellen DeGeneres" and added that its announcement of the agreement last week sums up the company's view of the popular TV personality

What's most striking to me about this call to action is the way they phrase it. In their eyes, lining up with the intolerant bigots is "decid[ing] to be neutral in the culture war"!

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm going to take their advice. I will contact J.C. Penney, and I'll tell them that as a longtime customer I'm glad that they're not caving in to pressure and discriminating against Ellen DeGeneres for her sexual orientation.

Maybe you want to do the same.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Great news from The Donald

Bet you never thought you'd hear me say that, huh?

I started hearing last night that Donald Trump was about to make a major announcement, and speculation raged about whether he was going to finally set that mangy weasel on his head free or something to do with getting all the Republican candidates to go on Celebrity Apprentice to decide who's going to be the nominee, but the actual news is almost as good.

According to Political, Trump is endorsing Newt Gingrich!

Yes, just when you thought Gingrich's candidacy was dead another billionaire comes through to revive it. Or at least to keep it on life support until the convention.

Obviously a Gingrich presidency would be an unprecedented disaster, so like Robert Reich I wouldn't even want to risk him being the Republican nominee. On the other hand, an evil alliance of the two biggest fatheads in American politics (pace, Chris Christie; your time will come)to beat up on the inevitable nominee is too much fun to pass up.

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