Tuesday, April 26, 2005
by Wayne Besen
(Witchdoctor Warren Reinstated By Magellan)
If you are gay, now is time to waltz into your walk-in closet and make a choice. You can dust off your boxing gloves and prepare to fight for your rights or, you can stay silent and redecorate your closet because this is the lonely, miserable space you may inhabit in the near future. I've been fighting for equality since 1988, and this is the first time I believe we are going backwards and actually losing the battle.
The biggest mistake gay people and their allies tend to make is the naive assumption that there is a cosmic force of good moving Americans toward inevitable acceptance of homosexuality. But equality is a hopeful destination - not predestination - with history teaching us that the fist of fanaticism often stops the forces of freedom.
If the gay rights movement is crushed and active persecution of homosexuals dramatically escalates, we can look to April 2005, as the flashpoint that marked the beginning of the end.
Just last week, two companies supportive of gay rights - Microsoft and Magellan Health Services
- capitulated to demands by anti-gay agitators fearing they would unleash the wrath of "values voters".
In a stunning reversal of historic support, Microsoft abandoned the gay community at a crucial moment - when the Washington State Senate debated a bill that would have prohibited discrimination in employment. The measure failed by one vote. Microsoft's appeasement came after Dr. Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church, harassed the software company, threatening a boycott.
"I told them I was going to give them something to be afraid of Christians about," Hutcherson told the New York Times.
Trying to soft peddle its micro-brained decision, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made matters worse by explaining that he didn't want to offend Christian conservative workers at the company.
"What message does the company send to its employees who have strongly held beliefs on the opposite side of the issue?" Ballmer wrote in an E-mail to 35,000 employees.
Well, Steve, Microsoft's new message legitimizes the deplorable right wing stance that firing homosexuals is a valid viewpoint if you mask such discrimination in the guise of religious belief.
Maybe it is time for the gay community to mount a massive protest outside Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters. Gay rights groups perfected the art of rowdy street theatre. We should show the fundamentalists how it is really done and give Microsoft a reason to be afraid of homosexuals.
In an equally disturbing surrender to neo-puritan pressure groups, Magellan Health Services reinstated "reparative therapist" Warren Throckmorton to its National Professional Advisory Council. Throckmorton was initially booted from the company because of his work as an anti-gay therapist.
And, to add insult to injury, the new no-hope Pope believes homosexuality is an "intrinsic moral evil" and an "objective disorder." Unfortunately, his archaic beliefs are being celebrated by many religious zealots in the U.S. looking to justify their mean-spirited bias.
On whole, the nation is becoming more accepting, but the whole nation isn't calling the shots. Instead, a powerful clique of right wing theocrats is attacking the very institutions that hold this nation together. Sen. Bill Frist spoke on Sunday via satellite to a rally designed to end judicial independence, abolish the filibuster and breach the wall separating church and state.
It is important to note that victims of neo-puritanical supremacy are not limited to the gay community. At the Air Force Academy, 55 complaints of religious persecution have been filed in the past four years, with "Christian" cadets allegedly calling some of their Jewish counterparts "Christ killer" and " Filthy Jew".
The treacherous tide has turned, and in our sink or swim moment we are drowning - along with other minorities - in the awesome conservative wave that has consumed this fearful nation. There is no lifeguard on the way to save us. Our only life preserver is our own courageous action and it is inexplicably in short supply - like rafts on the Titanic.
We are getting shafted because we have become polite to a fault and passive to the point of pathetic. On Capitol Hill we are no longer outsiders, but outcasts. In ACT-UP founder Larry Kramer's new book, "The Tragedy of Today's Gays", he writes, "I hope we all realize that of Nov. 2, 2004, gay rights in our country are officially dead and from here on we are going to be led even closer to the guillotine."
It is easy for critics to dismiss Kramer as a Cassandra, or even crazy, because he is so often screaming and ranting. But maybe it is the rest of the gay community that is nuts for not yelling louder and fighting harder as we get steamrolled by a right wing juggernaut that relentlessly works to strip us of our legal rights and our basic humanity.
Monday, April 18, 2005
by Wayne Besen
(Will Frist Choose Unifying The Right Over American Unity?)
The tolls coming into New York City from the Newark airport are absolutely, over-the-top outrageous. Anything over $15, in my opinion, is no longer a toll - it's a cover charge that requires two free drinks upon entering the city. Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg has yet to get back to me on my idea.
Once home, my boyfriend Ben and I went for a walk in our Park Slope, Brooklyn neighborhood, which is really Chelsea for lesbians. In Park Slope, there are straight people too, of course. But it is very difficult to tell who's heterosexual, since the straight women have lesbian chic L Word haircuts and the men are Metrosexuals who comfortably discuss art exhibits, architecture and fashion. The one group that seems underrepresented in Park Slope is gay men.
The interesting thing about being gay in certain evolved parts of America is how uninteresting and unremarkable it is. A person declaring he or she is gay in Park Slope is no more eyebrow raising than a person declaring that he or she likes bialy bagels instead of poppy seed.
During our walk, which took us through Prospect Park, Ben and I noticed great respect for tolerance and diversity. The sunny day was bursting with effervescent springtime blooms, while people from every imaginable background walked happily side-by-side. A heterosexual couple with a baby carriage smiled at lesbian moms with their infant. Jews and Christians pleasantly nodded at Muslims and Buddhists as they strolled by. And young and old, black and white, and everyone else went about their business without any perceptible ill will.
Here, there was no culture war, just the warmth of cultures mixing. This scene represents the best of America and symbolizes the reason so many immigrants risked their lives to escape entrenched persecution in their native countries. Like their forefathers, most Americans just want to be left alone, walk in the park on a luxuriant Sunday afternoon with their families and respectfully acknowledge neighbors, even those who share different beliefs or divergent views.
Yet, there are some powerful politicians with a very different and dangerous agenda that threatens this unspoken contract of social harmony. This fanatical faction is led by Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who is willing to undermine national unity in an effort to unify social conservatives behind his 2008 presidential bid.
In the next couple of weeks, Frist may decide to take the so-called "nuclear option" and eliminate the Democratic minority's ability to filibuster President Bush's extreme judicial nominees. This radical move would amount to a government shutdown. The Democrats are unlikely to collaborate in such a puppet government, where the marginalized minority's only role is to help legitimize banana republic Republicanism.
In a metastasizing move, Frist also plans to headline "Justice Sunday" on April 24. This puritanical powwow, hosted by the ultra-right Family Research Council, is a telecast where a million fundamentalists will watch purportedly respected leaders like Frist undermine the concept of an independent judiciary.
In ads for the event, a young man is depicted holding a gavel in one hand and a Bible in the other under the headline: "The filibuster against people of faith." The toxic text reads: "The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith."
Not to be outdone by Frist, corrupt House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, spoke at a Washington conference, "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" fronted by "The Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration". Or is it Constitutional desecration?
For people who are so religious, why do they often appear so angry? Far from at peace, they are always at war and want to tear opponents or the Constitution to pieces.
I don't think that most Americans realize that these coordinated, unrelenting assaults on our beloved system by Frist and DeLay are not simply business as usual, but unusual business of the most odious sort. While we enjoy the park and amble in nature, these men abuse the good, trusting nature of Americans and secretly work to dismantle our free society. They cloak their dagger in religion. However, this is not about the pious, but raw political power.
Frist's dubious actions have already made him a divisive figure who has forfeited his claim to be our future president. Instead of playing to our greater angels, he panders to petty preachers who beckon our darkest demons. His potential candidacy is short on excitement and long on incitement of disgruntled, right wing agitators.
Frist may soon put our nation on a perilous collision course if he acts on his threat to squelch minority dissent by abolishing the filibuster. This move will either swell or sink his presidential chances. However, if Frist wins power by dismantling the institutions that make our nation great, what, exactly, will he be the president of? The states won't be united and America as we now know it will no longer exist.
While you can find the best of America in Park Slope, you certainly won't find it in Frist and DeLay's culture war obsessed, religiously exploitative slippery slope on Capitol Hill.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
by Wayne Besen
(Tom DeLay's "Worldview" was Funded by Slippery Lobbyist)
In sixth grade, I used to play pick-up basketball against a neighborhood bully and spoil sport nicknamed Major Pick. He was called Major Pick because he barked orders like a soldier and constantly picked his butt. His team would always win because the overpowering brute would either break the rules or change them.
For example, in our game, the team that first reached 15 points always won. Unless, of course, the Major Pick's team came up short, prompting him to spontaneously change the magic number to 20 points. He would continue this charade until his team was eventually "victorious" or it got so late that angry mothers would drag their sons home to do homework.
I haven't thought of Major Pick in almost two decades, but he naturally came to mind after watching recent conservative attempts to undermine America's independent judiciary. Like Major Pick, these right wing bullies are sore losers who use thuggery, intimidation and capricious rule changes to ensure an outcome to their liking. Unfortunately, the game they are trying to rig is the American system of justice, and if these bullies get their way, America will cease to be a free nation.
At first, it seemed reactions by right wing reactionaries to the Terri Schiavo case had at least a modicum of sincerity. But it has become clear that Schiavo was just a pawn in a larger, more diabolical scheme to fundamentally emasculate the judiciary and mold them into "yes men" for an out of control Congress.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, personified this shameless effort, by suggesting that the decisions of judges that don't rule in favor of his pet issues could lead some people to "engage in violence." House Majority Leader Tom DeLay threatened retribution for judges in the Schiavo case by saying "the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."
One has to look no further than a nutty conference hosted last week by the Judeo-Christian Council for Restoration to see that the attempt to weaken and subjugate the judiciary is a coordinated effort. This meeting was a bizarre orgy of judge bashing with seminars with titles such as "Remedies to Judicial Tyranny."
What were the remedies?
Special guest speaker Edwin Vieira, author of "How to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary", said that Joseph Stalin had the right idea. "He had a slogan. And it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: 'no man, no problem.'"
According to the Washington Post, his musing was taken from the full Stalin quote, "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem."
At the conference, right wing matriarch Phyllis Schlafly said Congress should pass bills that would remove the court's jurisdiction to review same-sex marriage, cases involving religious displays, The Pledge of Allegiance and the Boy Scouts.
Schlafly and others of her ilk can't stand that their theocratic agenda is unconstitutional, so they increasingly see their only options as dismantling the Constitution or dismembering those who uphold it.
We've come to expect such extreme behavior from right wing agitators. However, it is reckless for "leaders" like DeLay and Cornyn to seemingly encourage retribution against the judiciary at a time when judges are seeking $12 million to protect them from violent attacks.
Fortunately, the arrogance and corruption of DeLay is finally coming to light. Even his trip to Rome to attend the Pope's funeral couldn't bury the news about his mounting ethics problems. For years, DeLay has boasted that his fundamentalist "worldview" guides his record in Congress. What he didn't say, was that his worldview included trips to Britain, Moscow, and the Pacific Mariana Islands, paid for by slippery lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
At least DeLay is sincere about upholding family values. In fact, The New York Times reported he is such a good family man that he funneled $500,000 to his wife and daughter for supposed consulting fees.
How has the GOP reacted to Mr. DeLay's scumbaggery? They gutted the ethics committee to make it nearly impossible to hold DeLay accountable. And so-called family groups, such as the Family Research Council, are circling the wagons vowing to protect DeLay, while not stopping to even consider that he might be guilty. Good thing FRC is protecting our nation's morals or we'd really be in trouble.
Giving new meaning to the term delaying tactic, the Congressman's only defense is accusing his accusers of being liberal partisans. Even if this were true, which it is not considering many of his critics are Republicans, how does this absolve DeLay from his despicable behavior?
Instead of the majority political party, the GOP is fast becoming the Major Pick party. But in their quest to rig the game, polls show that Bush and Congress are beginning to lose in the court of public opinion.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
by Wayne Besen
It's dawn in the largest city of the most powerful nation in earth's history. I pick up the remote control and surf through an endless array of digital cable channels looking for real news, and it is simply nowhere to be found. Sadly, America's news stations have given up hard news about distant lands for fluff that is hardly news about fantasyland. Or is it Michael Jackson's Neverland? Am I the only person mourning the evaporation of real TV news in the morning?
I used to watch CNN Headline News and in thirty minutes I was updated on the day's incipient events. Today, the morning show is nearly devoid of substance and has devolved into the Cackling Nonsense Network. The consequential decisions of world leaders have taken a back seat to what or who Britney Spears does in the backseat. Headlines have been replaced by punch lines and serious business has been supplanted by lightweight banter. By the end of a half hour show, the chances are you have laughed more than you have learned.
This is okay if you want to start your day with Comedy Central. But there is something dangerously amiss in a culture where the most powerful medium offers almost nothing serious and nearly everything silly. Escapism is meant to be a break from realism, not a replacement. Yet, cable "news" networks like CNN and MSNBC look more like Entertainment Tonight than World News Tonight.
Having worked in the television and radio news business, I know there is an ongoing effort to dumb down the product to attract the highest numbers of viewers and increase profit margins. Highly paid consultants are retained to teach serious newscasters to act seriously stupid. Sophisticated men and women are encouraged to come off as down home simpletons, even if their home is a snazzy New York loft or a sleek Georgetown colonial.
In a subconscious way, our news culture is unwittingly emulating President Bush. While Bush grew up a rich, patrician Ivy Leaguer, he has somehow managed to convince people that he is a tire changing, Waffle House eating, plaid shirt wearing regular guy. News anchors are working to capture the same image and be seen as guys and gals that one would want to be friends with and share a drink.
Are Americans really so lonely and friendless that they need to elect a president or choose an anchor based on an imaginary friendship and a beer?
When the television news industry finally covers a genuine story, they still often miss the real news. For example, Douglas Sovereign Smith Jr., anti-gay moralist and chairman of the Boy Scouts of America's Youth Protection Task Force, was busted for distributing child pornography on the Internet. This was news because of the stomach-turning hypocrisy.
However, the larger story is that he was caught in "Operation Predator", a program run by the Department of Homeland Security "to protect children from pornographers, child prostitution rings, Internet predators, alien smugglers, human traffickers and other criminals."
Thank God that Smith was exposed and children will now be protected. But why isn't the news media alarmed that the Department of Homeland Security was used to investigate cases that have nothing to do with protecting America from Osama bin Laden's next big strike?
Until every nuclear and chemical power plant is safe from attack; until we have enough Arabic interpreters to decipher threatening Internet chatter; until our ports and railroads are secure; and until Osama is a cellmate of Saddam's, it is scandalous that Homeland Security is surfing porn sites or chasing down Democratic legislators in Texas at the request of Republicans.
Has homeland security become a secret conservative security force to investigative political opponents and sexual deviants? The questions are there but don't look to TV news for answers. Unfortunately, it is much easier for them to report on titillating and lurid sex scandals or simply repeat ad nauseam unimportant stories made pseudo-significant by the deluge of coverage.
The television news culture has become ancient Rome. The whole point is to attract photogenic freaks into our personal, HDTV Coliseums to sate our cynical viewing amusement. When Osama strikes and New York is burning or Washington is radiated from the dirty bomb because Homeland Security is monitoring dirty web sites, TV executives still won't get it. The clueless media will throw up their hands and ask, ‘What happened?' And the pretty faced news "botoxracy" will deadpan interviews with "unqualified experts", quite possibly on the administration's payroll, who will tell Americans that there is no way that Homeland Security could have known such an attack was coming. Oh, and by the way, the Department needs more power and financial resources.
In lieu of news we get uninformed views, with whining and endless opining. It is the era where the story has been replaced by the sensationalistic soap opera, like the overplayed Terri Schiavo made-for TV drama or the oversaturated Pope coverage.
The hazy sun rises over Manhattan, but the cable networks have shed no light on the day's news. It's ironic that as I click through countless stations in the "information age", I can't get any useful information. Oh wait, I take that back. The snickering CNN anchor is updating me on Britney Spears latest escapade.