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August 15, 2003 PERMALINK
Is There A Backlash On Gay Rights?
(posted August 15 1:45 PM ET)

A number of polls have shown significant slippage for gay rights, following the Supreme Court sodomy ruling and the Episcopalian decision to elect an openly gay bishop.

In turn, some have speculated (most comprehensively, The Village Voice) that a backlash is afoot.

But a recent W. Post piece indicates that there isn‚t a fundamental change in opinion, but a segment of the population that is torn and wavering.

The headline feeds the backlash notion, but the report probes deeper:

In ... telephone interviews, many religious Americans acknowledged that they were torn by feelings of sympathy toward gay couples and what they understood to be the teachings of their church.

Several respondents drew a sharp distinction between giving gays equal protection under the law and authorizing the church to bless or otherwise sanction what they believe is a relationship condemned by God.

"I don't believe what the [Episcopal] bishops did is a good thing," said Sloane Whitehead, 32, an Episcopalian who lives in Lexington, S.C.

"I am a reasonably tolerant person. I guess I would be for giving same-sex couples some additional protection from the government.

"But I draw a distinction between church and state, much like the Constitution does."

It is that kind of squishy folk that helps explain the discrepancies in recent polls.

For example, on civil unions, W. Post found that only 37% supported a "law that would allow homosexual couples to legally form civil unions, giving them some of the legal rights of married couples."

But a NBC/WSJ poll found 53% favor "allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into legal agreements with each other that are not marriages, but that would give them many of the same legal and financial relationships as married couples."

The wishy-washy must be giving contradictory responses because of things like differences in wording and order of questions.

The leading gay rights group, Human Rights Campaign, also found out how wording can matter even on the more polarizing issue of marriage.

As reported in the W. Post:

33 percent supported granting civil marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples "as long as churches do not have to recognize or perform these marriages."

An additional 17 percent would accept extending those rights to gay couples but "do not support it."

So why did polls show a drop in support after the Supreme Court sodomy decision, as Gallup did, not only on civil unions, but on "homosexual relations" and whether being gay is an "acceptable alternative lifestyle"?

Probably because of trepidation of where this all going.

The squishy are likely uncomfortable about, and not ready for, a host of things: openly gay school teachers and scout leaders, church-sanctioned gay marriage, broader acceptance of gay adoptions.

(Not that much of that isn't already uneventfully present in American society.)

As such, with the sudden progress gays have made on other fronts, there seems to be a knee-jerk hesitation to express support for gay issues.

Even for what is now a basic right to have sex with whomever you want.

That progress may feel even more sudden if the courts in Massachusetts or New Jersey legalize gay marriage.

It doesn't mean that the squishy have gone all the way over to outright hostility towards gays.

Yet when top-down decisions are made -- as with the Supreme Court and the Episcopalians -- when the public is not directly consulted, knee-jerk reactions are to be expected.

That's why bottom-up, democratic decisions are best, because they are more readily accepted by the public.

That doesn't mean it was inappropriate for the Supreme Court or the Episcopalians to make their decisions. Matters of equal rights are in their own category.

Which is why our Constitution ensures equal rights protection, and doesn‚t allow the majority to squelch the minority.

Still, as a practical matter, controversial decisions imposed from above will result in, at minimum, short-term angst.

The question then becomes what happens next and how to handle it.

If people see that the decisions have no adverse consequences, people will accept and move on.

The Village Voice article seems dismissive of the notion that, "once people absorb change, they relax."

But that is essentially true, so long as the change doesn't directly hurt anyone.

The Right is trying to whip up fear, saying that gay unions will damage the "institution of family."

Of course, that‚s ridiculous. A heterosexual married couple is not impacted at all if next door resides a committed gay-led family.

In the long-term, as more and more gays make partnership commitments, more and more straights will see how empty the Right's fear-mongering is.

And straight concern about things like gay adoptions, teachers and scout leaders will also lessen.

In the short-term, the key thing is not to spike the ball and be sore winners when gay rights victories occur, because that rattles the squishy.

And the squishy are not the enemy.

They are potential, and eventual, supporters. They need to be reached out to, not maligned and alienated.

Otherwise, they will be more susceptible to the Right's smear campaign.

Fortunately, the Human Rights Campaign does a great job at speaking to the squishy and putting an innocuous, calm face on gay rights.

(For example, see spokesman David Smith's recent Crossfire appearance.)

So stay positive. It may be a somewhat bumpy road, but we‚re still on a good track.

Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox.

August 14, 2003 PERMALINK
As Gray Goes, So Does Dubya
(posted August 14 12 AM ET)

Regardless of Schwarzenegger's fortunes, odds are Gov. Gray Davis will go down in the recall for one paramount reason: the California economy blows.

Bill Clinton seems to think that Gray can beat the recall by following a similar script that he used to beat impeachment.

But Clinton had a good economy to take credit for, which made the public resent the effort to sack him over petty charges.

Gray presides over badness, so it's far harder to foster the same kind of backlash.

But before GOPers across America get too giddy, listen to the talking points that Schwarzenegger's team is using.

Yesterday, on CNN‚s Crossfire, campaign co-chair and state Assemblyman Abel Maldonado said:

Let's talk about who made this mess.

Five and a half years ago I came to Sacramento. We had a $12 billion surplus.

Today we have a $38 billion [deficit].

Sound familiar?

Similarly, on Sunday's Face The Nation, campaign co-chair, and Gray‚s predecessor, Pete Wilson said:

What [Gray Davis] has done is not deal with an irresponsible Legislature that has engaged in limitless spending.

They spent through the surplus that we left them. They then spent themselves into a hole, $38 billion.

(For the record, the specific charge is a false one.

Gray just signed a budget that closes up what was a projected $38B shortfall, though it would likely create an $8B deficit in the next fiscal year.

Yet many in the media and the punditocracy continue to wrongly use the out-of-date $38B figure.)

Pesky facts aside, Schwarzenegger‚s people know a good talking point when they see one.

When the economy is bad, people naturally sense governmental mismanagement.

And a skyrocketing budget deficit is evidence of mismanagement.

Fairly or not, it's the quickest, easiest case to make. Just one stat does the job.

And if it works in California on Gray Davis, as is probable, watch out Dubya.

Yesterday at the ranch, Bush was asked about his $400B-plus deficit. As part of his response, Bush said:

I look forward to taking this debate on. I really do.

Sure you do.

Handlers often feed their bosses that kind of line specifically for unpleasant questions, so no fear or defensiveness is shown.

There's a chance that Bush Inc. may well be cocky enough to think their stock answer can defy political gravity:

The deficit was caused by a recession, which we inherited and did something about.

The deficit was caused because we spent more money on fighting a war, and the American people expect a President to do what is necessary to win a war...

...We did the right thing when it came to tax relief. We inherited a tough situation...

...and I made tough decisions when it comes to making sure our economy grows.

Save for actually admitting error and modifying policy, this probably the best argument they can make.

But rest assured, they don't "look forward" to making this case.

They'd much rather have a significantly improving economy that would relegate the deficit debate to the wonk crowd.

Which is why we're getting the happy talk from Dubya, that he is "upbeat" about people being able to find work.

This is the desperation move: the presidential psychological boost.

After going out of their way to talk down the economy, and lower expectations, as they came into to office in late 2000, they think they can talk it back up just in time for '04.

But it's much easier to tear down than to build up.

And the public won't take kindly to too much happy talk if they don‚t see their own situations improve.

Until Americans feel the economy improving, the deficit argument will be potent.

The GOPers in California know it, and they're gonna use it.

You can bet the Bushies aren't looking forward to it.

QUICK HIT

Running for Veep?

This isn't exactly a typical stump speech.

Here's Wesley Clark, last night, on CNN's Newsnight:

There's a tremendous groundswell of support...for candidates who can offer the promise of leadership.

And I see it every day in the mail and phone calls that are coming to me.

And it's reflected...in the groundswell of support for Howard Dean.

It's reflected in the...mainstream Democratic Party politicians for John Kerry.

Maybe Clark is going to jump in the race.

Whether or not he does, it looks like he's trying to get in good with the two most likely nominees.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox.

August 13, 2003 PERMALINK
Abolish the US Institute of Peace
Pipes Proves It's a Joke
(posted August 13 12:45 AM ET)

George "Uniter, Not A Divider" Bush continues his stellar record of dividing.

He couldn't get the Senate to confirm his nomination of Daniel Pipes to the U.S. Institute of Peace.

So he's shoving Pipes down our collective throats, using the „recess appointmentš loophole, which allows for one-year appointments when Congress is out of session.

Why is Pipes controversial?

For one, he is anathema to USIP's mission: supporting the "development, transmission, and use of knowledge to promote peace and curb violent international conflict."

How? Consider this recent Pipes statement:

What war had achieved for Israel, diplomacy has undone.

John Lennon, he ain't.

But perhaps more importantly, his anti-Muslim bigotry is so well-documented, that even the pro-war editorial page of the W. Post is opposed to his nomination.

While Dubya has repeatedly called Islam a "religion of peace," Pipes speaks of a "sustained pattern of political violence by American Muslims."

In fact, Pipes has some choice words on that topic for the guy who is now sticking his neck out for him.

From an interview with The Harvard Salient:

SALIENT: What were your thoughts when President Bush and others said, after September 11, that Islam was a "religion of peace"?

PIPES: Who are U.S. politicians to talk about Islam? They know too little and regularly get it wrong...

...When bombs go off in Northern Ireland, the president does not respond by declaring Catholicism a "religion of peace."

(Good background check, Mr. Rove.)

One could say that the Pipes nomination will turn the U.S Institute of Peace into a joke.

But then one would have to believe that the U.S. Institute of Peace actually does anything of significant value.

It's been almost 20 years since President Reagan (not a typo) signed the bill that created USIP.

And we haven't exactly had a hot streak of peace since then.

That's why liberals should exploit the appalling Pipes nomination to take a bold stand.

Abolish the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Railing against bureaucratic waste may be perceived as a conservative issue, but it shouldn't be.

Liberals strongly support government spending that actually solves problems, stimulates the economy and creates jobs, but not spending that goes down a hole.

And the USIP is one big hole.

Some recent USIP projects:

-- The National Peace Essay Contest
-- The speech by Pakistan's loveable dictator Pervez Musharraf
-- The Dec. '02 Iraq symposium

To be fair, more of that money ($16.2M this year), goes to grants that research things like conflict resolution.

Nevertheless, none of USIP's activities is having much positive impact on U.S. foreign policy.

USIP should be a reminder that it takes more that creating a building and spending money to achieve social progress.

It takes people that give a damn.

If an Administration isn't staffed with people willing to find ways to solve conflicts without killing people, even a billion-dollar Institute wouldn‚t stop unnecessary wars.

So why jump up and down and say Pipes is sullying USIP, when USIP doesn‚t do anything of import?

And why keep USIP going, when it‚s main function seems to be giving right-wingers, with no interest in peace, the chance to burnish their resumes?

Why not take this opportunity to show that liberals are not knee-jerk tax-and-spenders?

That we want sensible government spending that will make a real difference in people's lives.

$16.2M a year might not be much in the big scheme of things.

But with so many starving programs, and so many people hurting, it won't be hard to find a lot of folks who could use it.

QUICK HIT

After yesterday's column noting how much of the media have overlooked recent bombshells about Dubya‚s Iraq and Iran policy, a reader wrote in to point out an exception.

One of Minnesota's major dailies, the Star Tribune, ran an editorial yesterday, summarizing Sunday's big W. Post piece chronicling the trumped up Iraqi nuke threat, ending with:

In the antiwar camp, one of the most popular sayings is, "Bush lied, soldiers died."

That's strong stuff, but there's more than a suggestion that it's true.

Cheers to the Star Tribune for calling it like it is.

Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox.

August 12, 2003 PERMALINK
Media Amnesia
(posted August 12 12 AM ET)

If two giant bombshells about Dubya's foreign policy team are launched, but Schwarzenegger is in view of a camera, do the bombshells detonate?

For now, the answer is no.

For a few weeks, much of the media finally got hooked on a story of substance about possible deception by the White House.

They pushed and pushed to figure out how false information was used to sell the war, and if it was done knowingly.

Obviously, all that pushing got boring.

The main exception: the Washington Post.

The Post, which can take much of the credit for driving the IntelliGate story, capped its series of reports on Sunday with a definitive piece about how the Bushies trumped up the nuke threat.

Normally, this kind of story would have the chattering class in full chatter, with its wink-wink, cloak-and-dagger, naming of anonymous sources, such as:

Two senior policymakers, who supported the war, said in unauthorized interviews that the administration greatly overstated Iraq's near-term nuclear potential.

"I never cared about the 'imminent threat,'" said one of the policymakers, with directly relevant responsibilities.

But there has been no chatter. A fading actor is running for governor. Chatter has priorities.

(Yes. Fading. T3 will earn less domestically than it cost to make. An opportune time for a career change, no?)

Outside of some mentions from better blogs, the allegations from the W. Post have faded into the background.

But that's not the only huge story that's fallen by the wayside.

Iran-Contra: The Sequel still lurks.

In case you missed it, the scrappy Newsday broke the story on Friday that rogue Pentagon officials met with an Iranian arms dealer from the Iran-Contra days.

And the story broke because Administration officials, most likely in the State Department, were clearly freaked out:

The administration officials who disclosed the secret meetings to Newsday said the talks with Manucher Ghorbanifar were not authorized by the White House and appeared to be aimed at undercutting current sensitive back channel negotiations with the Iranian regime...

...The senior administration official said he was puzzled by the resurfacing of Ghorbanifar after all these years.

"It would be amazing if anybody in government hadn't learned the lessons of last time around," he said. "These guys...should have learned it, 'cause they lived it."

If that wasn't enough, what should have made the story explode was Defense Secretary Rumsfeld‚s weak attempt to downplay the story during a presidential news briefing.

On Saturday, the W. Post front-paged the following, restraining to be polite:

[Rumsfeld's] aides scrambled during the day to piece together more details amid other reports that [his] account may have been incomplete.

With all of the allegations of Administration deception still floating, this kind of story normally would be gas on the fire.

But again the rest of the media effectively said:

Step aside, unpleasant, complicated, unpatriotic story. Intersection of celebrity and politics here. Bring on the wacky summer story!

(One exception: Newsweek did run a small item following the Post story).

But are these Iraq/Iran stories dead forever? Probably not.

They made it into the press at all because people on the inside wanted them to.

Intelligence officials angry about White House manipulation. State Dept. officials trying to reign in an out-of-control Pentagon.

The Arnold hoopla will eventually die down. This internal anger and strife in Washington will not.

Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox.

August 11, 2003 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted August 11 12:30 AM ET)

Sunday was all about Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger slept in.

His first round of TV interviews we‚re laden with blatant dodges such as "I don't want to get into that right now."

That wasn't going to fly on Sunday, so he ducked the day altogether.

While America missed the chance to watch Arnold waffle again, audiences did get to see almost every other major candidate make their pitch.

The most pressing issue for the candidates is how to get the state‚s budget back into balance.

(After a standoff with the Legislature, Gov. Gray Davis reluctantly signed a budget last week that closed a potential $38B deficit for this fiscal year, though it set the stage for an $8B deficit the following year.)

The lone major Dem, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, on ABC's This Week, chose to level with the public:

I think everything has to be on the table. I think borrowing, I think cutting, I think raising, I think everything has to be on the table...

...We're going to have to take bold, decisive action. [The deficit is] too big.

And the one thing that you can make sure about is that we‚re going to find a way...to do it in a fair way.

It's not your happy, feel-good message. It's just reality, and whoever becomes governor is going to have to deal with it.

Of course, nobody else did.

The two right-wing GOPers, state Sen. Tom McClintock and ő02 gubernatorial loser Bill Simon, insisted the entire problem could be solved by slashing spending (and cutting some taxes too).

McClintock, also on This Week, said:

This state is not suffering from a revenue problem.

We have seen a 25 percent increase in state revenues over the last four years, with only a 21 percent increase in inflation and population combined.

Our problem is on the spending side, a 40 percent increase in spending [over] the same period.

A convenient slicing of the numbers. But objective observers paint a different picture.

The California Budget Project notes that not only has spending growth been historically slow in recent years.

But the spending growth has been in sensitive, and popular, areas.

-- K-12 education as mandated by a voter-approved ballot initiative

-- Health care due in large part to a growing elderly population and attempts to cover uninsured kids

-- Prisons because of "growth in California's prison population"

Do McClintock, or Simon, really want to tell the voters that‚s what they want to go after?

But, sadly, the right-wing candidates do not hold the monopoly on simplistic, feel-good ideas.

Arianna Huffington, running from the left as an independent, argued on This Week, as she does on her website, that the main problem is tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthy.

As lovely as it would be if that could solve the whole problem, and while any such loopholes should be closed, there‚s no evidence that would single-handedly do the job.

Nor does she try to provide any such evidence.

That's just one indicator that Huffington's candidacy is not a serious attempt to help California, but a selfish attempt at self-promotion.

Two weeks ago, when the Dems weren't planning on running a replacement candidate, Huffington justified her candidacy to the SF Chronicle:

I oppose the recall. . . . I feel it's a real power grab and a very bad precedent.

But at the same time, I think the decision of the Democrats (to stay on the sidelines) is very irresponsible. It could mean handing the state to the Republicans, which at this time is particularly dangerous.

Now, Bustamante's off the sidelines. By Huffington's own logic, she should now be on them.

She‚s polling at 4% in a race that could be extremely close.

But instead she's staying in. And selling feel-good snake oil, a tactic she surely honed during her time by Newt's side.

Having said that, Arianna is doing one thing right that the Dems should co-opt.

Linking Schwarzenegger, and California's economic problems, to Bush. From This Week:

Schwarzenegger...is a Bush Republican.

And my campaign is going to connect the dots between the disastrous economic policies of the Bush Administration and the plight of California.

That is smart strategy. Bush is not terribly popular in California, particularly among the state's Dem majority.

So to ensure Dems don't tip the election to Schwarzenegger, as polls now indicate is possible, they need to be explicitly warned about what damage he could cause.

Speaking of Schwarzenegger, he was represented on Sunday, while he snoozed, by his campaign chairman, former Gov. Pete Wilson.

Wilson was asked what Arnold would do about the budget, on CBS‚ Face The Nation. Wilson's response?

You will not be surprised to know that as the, not the candidate, but simply as a friend, I'm not in any position to give you the detailed statement that you can expect from him.

But you would be surprised that the chairman of the campaign, a campaign staffed with Wilson‚s own peeps, would have nothing to say on the biggest issue facing the state.

But any answer is either phony posturing, like the rightists and Arianna (or Arnold earlier, when he argued that bringing in new biz, in some unspecified way, would fix everything), or cold reality, like Bustamante.

Schwarzenegger and his team clearly embrace phony posturing, but prefer it with an extra dollop of emptiness, to try to appeal to everyone and alienate no one.

It hard to see how that can hold up.

The other candidates will be speaking to base constituencies motivated to vote in a special election.

If Schwarzenegger sticks to this empty strategy, he risks speaking to everyone and no one at the same time, and becoming just another flash-in-the-pan political has-been.

Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox.

The Sandbox
Humor by John Cougarstein

Have You Forgotten?
(Reality Remix)
Sung to Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten?"

VERSE 1
I hear Bushies saying
That was one cool war

But what was it again
That we were fighting for?

What about those weapons?
The W-M-D?

Think I was more threatened
by Avril Lavigne

They say we‚ve made Iraq
safe for democracy

While we wait for that election
Let me ask you just one thing

CHORUS 1
Have you forgotten
What they used to say

Like the day when Iraq had nukes
Was just six months away

Have you forgotten
About that Osama guy

Bush don't say his name no more
Hmm, I wonder why

On that carrier you said "Mission Accomplished"

Have you forgotten?

VERSE 2
Who cares about weapons?
Iraqis are now free!

We now return you
To who killed Laci

And those free Iraqis
Their memories do seem short

They keep killing our troops
The ones that we support

Some say we won
since Saddam‚s no longer a threat

But Osama Bin Laden
don‚t seem all that upset

CHORUS 2
Have you forgotten
What they used to say

We‚d be greeted with flowers
Then we‚d all be home by May

Have you forgotten
Who attacked us that day

Not Saddam, or Scott Peterson
Or even Natalie Maines

We once vowed to get the ones behind Bin Laden

Have you forgotten?

For more Cougarstein, check out The Cougarstein Ramble and download Cougarstein songs at Iuma.com

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

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