Co-opted by the gay agenda

While out in Denver this week I read that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was so concerned about gay marriage, that he made the Senate debate a constitutional amendment that would prohibit states from legalizing gay marriages. Naturally, our extremely moral president also petitioned for the amendment to “protect marriage“. Yet for some inexplicable reason, the bill failed in the Senate 49-48. It could not even attract a majority, let alone the two-thirds majority needed for approval as a constitutional amendment.

This suggests that our Congress, rather than being the upstandingly moral human beings are instead a nest of brooding vipers. Okay, you knew that. However, politicians also know what side of their bread is buttered. Therefore, it is surprising the Senate could not find much enthusiasm for this amendment. Could it be that Senators judged correctly that most Americans just do not care that much about gay marriage?

Because I live in the great homophobic state of Virginia, I should be less worried. The law protects my God-fearing heterosexual marriage. However, Massachusetts, where gay marriage is already legal, is only a few hundred miles away. Virginia law and our soon to be approved state constitutional amendment permanently banning gay marriage should make me feel less concerned. Yet who knows? Maybe, as our Congressional leaders see it, gay marriage is like the bird flu so a mass inoculation is in order. One state like Massachusetts catches it and before you know it, even Baptist ministers are performing gay marriages. Such wide scale sin and debauchery would simply be more proof that the end of times is almost here. Perhaps because I am in a traditional marriage I am one of the elect without knowing it. Perhaps as a result on Judgment Day (which should be any day now) I will sail into heaven because of my heterosexual marriage. (Presumably, my many wife beatings will be excused.)

With encroaching gay marriage, and particularly since social conservatives assure me that our sexual orientation is a choice, how long before I try out the gay lifestyle? Massachusetts allows gay marriage, Vermont permits civil unions and now Washington State may allow gay marriage too, even for couples coming from out of state! Oh, the horrors! While I was in my hotel room the other night, I caught Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and I confess I enjoyed the show. I was impressed by how well groomed and articulate the gay men were. Perhaps, this is the first step toward my future homosexual lifestyle. Although I cannot recall any sexual feelings for my gender in my 49 years of life, I have been known to look at pornography now and then. I have noticed that male genitalia figures prominently in it. Moreover, I do not necessarily find the presence of male genitalia in heterosexual pornography disgusting; in fact, it can even be a turn on. What does this mean? Is there an inner homosexual in me yearning to get out?

And what about my wife? She is into homoerotic fan fiction, also known as slash. She spends much of her free time reading and even writing the stuff. Many of her friends now come from the slash community and most of them are gay. Maybe she has been faking it with me all these years. If she is heterosexual as she claims, how long before she succumbs to the temptation of her own gender, divorces me and takes a wife in Massachusetts?

We must be close to faltering. After all, homosexuality is a choice. Seemingly normal heterosexuals wake up every day and decide, “Hey, I want to try out this gay thing today. In fact, I want to be gay the rest of my life.” Maybe that is me. After all, my marriage is a bit stale after twenty years. You only live once. It is probably watching that episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that will do me in. It probably starts innocuously, like that first puff of a joint. You find yourself laughing along with Ellen DeGeneres. You start to admire gays. Before you know it, you are hooked. Perhaps I will start by reading motorcycle magazines. Then I will want a motorcycle and a fancy leather-riding outfit. Soon I am spending my weekends with the Hells Angels. Then I am spending them with one of the many gay motorcycle clubs out there. Yes, homosexuality is a choice, social conservatives tell us. Since it is a choice and because I can choose to switch on that side of my personality whenever I want (although it has lain strangely dormant all my life) I am vulnerable. My wife is vulnerable too. In fact, we are close to slipping. Sin is a slippery slope, and Satan will use all his wiles to get me. Extreme vigilance is required. I need to keep reading General J.C. Christian’s blog. Just as importantly, I need the state to keep me from falling by protecting my marriage from all threats, foreign and domestic.

Then thank goodness, I live in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It has a no tolerance policy for gay marriage. No gay marriage ever. Because of our zero tolerance policy for gays, I feel more secure in my heterosexuality. If I have the stray thought to try out the homosexual lifestyle, well, just knowing that the state will not allow me to have a gay marriage means I am less likely to try it out. Don’t you see? I say hooray for that. I feel protected by the wise citizens of my state. My wife should too. Since my marriage is so well protected, I should never, ever let my lurking homosexual side out of its closet.

Yet in truth, there is one wee little problem with this logic: I have never felt the least bit inclined to try homosexuality. I cannot speak for my wife, but I trust her enough to take her at her word that although she has many gay and bisexual friends, she too is not attracted to her gender. Therefore, what I am thinking is that for heterosexuals like my wife and I, you know, us moral Americans, heterosexuality is not really a choice. We are hardwired this way.

As for those homosexuals (not to mention the bisexuals, polysexuals or the whole polyamorous community), well, things must be different for them. Maybe they did not get enough attention from Mom and Dad growing up, or skipped too many Sunday school lessons. For some bizarre reason these folks though claim that their sexual orientation is hardwired too. Moreover, they want equivalent rights because, get this, it is the fair thing to do! Somewhere in their American history lessons, they learned that all citizens in this country have equal rights and responsibilities under the law. They missed the asterisk that certain rights only applied to heterosexual couples only.

Anyhow, perhaps I am delusional but I have given their perspective considerable thought. So I would like to inform any social conservative out there reading this that I am confident that even if gay marriage were to be legal in the Commonwealth of Virginia (perish the thought!) that my marriage would not be endangered. In fact, there is simply no chance that I will ever choose the homosexual lifestyle. If my wife and I are to end up divorced some day, I am afraid it will be for more prosaic reasons, like we fell out of love with each other. That apparently still qualifies as grounds for divorce.

If protecting my marriage is truly this important to the commonwealth, perhaps our legislature should outlaw divorce. Yet for reasons I do not wholly fathom, they are much more concerned about keeping homosexuals from getting married than making sure I stay permanently married to my wife.

In addition, neither am I offended by gays getting married. Back in the 1980s, we lived in a townhouse community. We had two guys up the street who were openly gay and kept a townhouse together. Their townhouse was the most well kept unit in the complex. I found them to be warm and interesting people. I know I should have been afraid of them. The state and many ministers tell me so. I know they must be living the immoral lifestyle. Yet still, I never felt the least bit threatened by them, or worried that my community was on the road to hell, even though they probably practiced regular oral and anal sodomy. In fact, I thought they were terrific neighbors. Not having them as neighbors was one of the downsides of buying our single-family house.

Here is the most amazing part: despite this gay couple living in our townhouse community full of children, not once did they molest any of the children on the playground. We sure were lucky!

I must be one of the fallen though. I must have been co-opted by the gay agenda. Really, I just do not care about gays getting married. Shoot me, but I agree with them: I think there is nothing more American than for everyone to have equal rights and responsibilities. If gays want to get married, I say more power to them. In addition, as long as the government requires that my marriage be legal, I cannot see why gays should not be able to have their unions legally sanctioned too.

Signs of Human Progress

Reading history can be enlightening and nauseating. The latest insight into history comes courtesy of Chapter 19 of the book Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King:

The Roman Carnival that took place in February of 1510 was even more jubilant and unruly than usual. All of the familiar entertainments were on show. Bulls were released into the streets and slain by men on horseback armed with lances. Convicted criminals were executed in the Piazza del Popolo by a hangman dressed as a harlequin. South of the piazza, races along the Via del Corso included a competition between prostitutes. An even more popular attraction was the “racing of the Jews”, a contest in which Jews of all ages were forced to don bizarre costumes and then sprint down the street to insults from the crowd and sharp prods and spears of the soldiers galloping behind. Cruelty and bad taste knew no bounds. There were even races between hunchbacks and cripples.

This was Rome nearly five hundred years ago. It was in the midst of this environment that sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti frescoed the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. A native of the Republic of Florence, he was arm twisted by Pope Julius II into the Herculean task. This book provides fascinating insight into how the temperamental and reclusive Michelangelo accomplished his four-year long endeavor. That the final product is so magnificent is even more amazing considering he hated the complexity of doing frescos. Michelangelo excelled at sculpture.

The book also provides eye-opening background, like the quotes from Ross King’s work above. Rome in 1510 was a nasty and barbarous place. However, it was not that much different from the rest of Europe. Given the fetid conditions of the city, it was amazing anyone there lived to an old age. It was governed by the temperamental and headstrong Pope Julius II who, incidentally, was married with children. (Presumably priestly celibacy was not a requirement back then.) Moreover, the College of Cardinals was stacked with many of his relatives. Higher clerical positions were routinely given to those with wealth. From reading the book, it is obvious why seven years later Martin Luther nailed those ninety-five theses to the door of the Whittenberg Church. It is a wonder it took so long.

Perhaps I should not be surprised that five hundred years later Christians are still doing evil things. Still, when I look back five hundred years I now realize that I should not to be too hard on modern day Christians because they have come a long way. At least they do not usually go around spearing Jews for sport anymore. Occasionally in places like Kosovo, some purported Christians will engage in ethnic cleansing. Unfortunately, Catholics and Protestants still kill each other from time to time. Yet overall Christians of all types seem to behave in far more of a Christ-like fashion today than they did 500 years ago, or even 100 years ago.

Fortunately, it is not just the Christians that are becoming enlightened, but also much of humanity. Clearly, there is still a long way to go. Yet maybe, in the last five hundred years, humanity has developed something of the soul we assumed we had all along. Granted we sadly remain too skilled in the business of wholesale human slaughtering. Nevertheless, the general trend suggests that this part of our nature is increasingly going deeply into the closet where it belongs. There have been mass murderers since Stalin and Hitler. Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein comes immediately to my mind. However, there are less of these incidents than there were since World War II. In addition, the rest of the civilized world is less likely to tolerate such acts. These are hopeful signs for our species. It may be that only in the last fifty years or so that humanity has largely pulled itself out of its bestial state and into something that suggests our full potential.

I often rail about the many injustices by men against men that are still occur regularly. However, snippets of history like this provide some needed context. Five hundred years is after all but a flash in the pan of the history of our species. Until recently, our history has been a history full of barbarity. Now barbarity, while it still occurs, is more the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps we deserve to give ourselves a round of applause. For while our bestial side always seems to lurk immediately below the surface, we have truly have made enormous strides toward becoming a compassionate race in the last five hundred years.

Perhaps our true age of enlightenment is just beginning to dawn. Perhaps finally we are starting to model the Kingdom of God here on earth. If so, let us keep up the good work.

Virginia to gays: share our values or get the hell out

Today’s Washington Post brings more sad news that I am living in the wrong state. If it were not for this wonderful job three miles from my house and twenty years vested as a civil servant I would probably be living across the Potomac River, or heading to any place where the good citizens have some sense of justice and proportion. I will likely get there soon after I retire.

Because it looks like Virginia voters (courtesy of our legislature) will have an opportunity to enshrine in the state constitution once and for all that, you guessed it, marriage is between one man and one woman only. Knowing my fellow citizens as I unfortunately do, I am afraid this is a slam-dunk. For I live in the great homophobic state of Virginia.

I have written about gay marriage before. I have no illusions that, barring a U.S. Supreme Court decision, it will happen in Virginia during my lifetime. Naturally, I feel that laws discriminating against homosexuals like this are deeply wrong, hurtful and anti-American. But what really pains me today is I know that, just like the Jim Crow laws so plentiful throughout the South at one time, this constitutional amendment will someday either be stricken down by the U.S. Supreme Court or simply excised altogether by some future generation of ashamed Virginia voters. If Virginians are unwise enough to vote in this proposed constitutional amendment, they or their children will rue the day it passed. It is simply mean spirited. It is sadly just another big f— you to those citizens of the Commonwealth who happen to be attracted to their own gender.

As reprehensible as this amendment is, I already know that Virginia has a sad history of showing contempt for homosexuals. Entries like this one will refresh your memory. The Washington Post Magazine also reported sad stories like this. Make no mistake: in Virginia, homosexuals have under the law essentially become second-class citizens. Unable to legally discriminate against the people we used to hate, like Jews and African Americans, my fellow citizens deeply repressed feelings of rage must be channeled somewhere. So now it is chic to make life increasingly miserable for those who don’t happen to share our heterosexual values. The message is simply: emulate our values or get the hell out.

Therefore, as The Washington Post Magazine article sadly points out, gay couples increasingly simply get out. They know they are not wanted. For Virginia law will not allow gay couples to pass to each other even a nickel of their inheritance to each other. Should they want to be there for their spouse when they are in the hospital, they can be refused. For gays and lesbians, their partners are not legal relatives, and consequently not next of kin. It is the equivalent of spitting in their faces. It is simply mean.

Who are the people who are passing these laws? Mostly they claim to be Christians. It is a good thing Jesus does not live here. If he is the man depicted in the New Testament, it is clear he would be choking on his matzah right now. Jesus was after all someone who spoke of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Negroes of Palestine at the time. He hung out with the lepers and the prostitutes. He avoided the moneychangers in the temple. Jesus was not about exclusivity. He was about inclusiveness. He told us to do to others, as we want them to do to us. If the homosexuals were running the world, would good heterosexual couples want them to void all their marriage contracts? Would they want to be stripped of their simple human right to pass on their inheritance to the person they love, or to be prohibited from giving their beloved comfort in a time of great stress?

It is not likely that they would. Nevertheless, modern Christianity, at least as practiced here in Virginia, has become so twisted and perverted that it has become 100% righteousness and 0% compassion, unless, of course, you model a life very, very close to their lives. Then they can identify with you. Then you become a member of the club. As for the rest of you: go to the back of the bus or better yet, just get the hell out of the commonwealth. If this cannot be done legally because of those darned liberal judges, well, find any legal way you can to turn the screws on those whose values and morals you personally do not agree with.

In addition to causing needless hurt and distress in the lives of good American people, such attitudes only serve to divide us more as a nation. Therefore, at least for a while, the citizens of Virginia are likely to get their wish. The bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender community will increasingly cross the Potomac River to live in Washington D.C. or Maryland or any place where the people have some compassion in their hearts for those with different values. The sad result: red states will get redder and blue states will get bluer. The culture wars will grow. Rather than trying to become a more inclusive nation, these misguided laws will simply drive us into increasingly hateful and xenophobic behavior.

I wish that the citizens of my state could find some compassion in their hearts for those unlike them. Instead we have this constant stream of mean spirited laws and now this reprehensible constitutional amendment. Yet the time of their repeal will come eventually. It may take 50 years. It may take a hundred years. Yet it will happen in time, yes even here in Virginia. Just as we once hung our heads in shame for tolerating evils like slavery, just as we flagrantly hung on to white and black only schools as recently as 1964, the time will come when we will look back on these sad modern times wholly aghast that we could have ever been so shallow, intolerant and mean spirited.

The Meaning of the Law

Back in May, I asked the question “Why do we have governments?” As I said back then, the answer was not rocket science. After disclosures this week that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless electronic eavesdropping on American citizens, not just once, but apparently thirty times since 9/11, I have to wonder if President Bush missed some fundamental lectures on government too. Could Mr. Bush accurately answer the question, “Why do we have laws?” I doubt it.

Maybe he would answer something like, “Laws are rules that people must follow, except presidents, particularly when it comes to the nation’s national security.” The disclosure this week by The New York Times of these illegal wiretaps and Bush’s subsequent bizarre rationalization suggests that it will take a new administration to remove this terminal case of cognitive dissonance from the White House.

His “logic” seems to go something like this. Despite this FISA statute that explicitly prohibits eavesdropping on American citizen’s telephone calls without approval from the special secret FISA court, FISA was countermanded by the joint resolution passed by Congress on September 14th, 2001. It gave me carte blanc powers for anything I think might even be remotely related to 9/11.

Of course, the resolution says nothing about authorizing wiretapping against American citizens without a warrant. You would think it would be clear from the title of the resolution, which is “Authorization for the Use of Military Force”. Moreover, it authorized the use of our armed forces “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

Thus far, Jose Padilla is the only United States citizen charged in the United States with helping the Al Qaeda terrorists. (He was finally charged years after he was first detained.) He has had a tough time getting a trial for his alleged crime, because Bush declared him an enemy combatant. Padilla has been languishing in a military brig for three and a half years, stripped of the rights we assume all Americans have, including the right to a fair trial. Even so, this joint resolution sounds like it does authorize the president to send the military against any American who might have colluded with the enemy. Unless these few errant citizens are engaged against our forces in combat, you would think it would be much simpler to send the FBI and charge them with treason.

In this case, we are talking about the National Security Agency. The last I checked the NSA was not part of the military. In addition, it cannot exert any military force. The guards at the front desk at the NSA may have a pair of revolvers, but it is unlikely that we will see brigades of NSA eavesdroppers ever going into battle. Of course, the NSA likely does fine intelligence work, but they simply are not a military force. If you polled members of the 107th Congress, I bet you would be hard pressed to find any member who thought that in passing Joint Resolution 23 they were invalidating part of the FISA law.

Even Bush seems to acknowledge his actions broke the FISA law.

QUESTION: Why did you skip the basic safeguards of asking courts for permission for the intercepts?

BUSH: First of all, right after September the 11th, I knew we were fighting a different kind of war. And so I asked people in my administration to analyze how best for me and our government to do the job people expect us to do, which is to detect and prevent a possible attack. That’s what the American people want.

There is only one wee problem to his logic. It is this minor thing called the Oath of Office. Bush solemnly swore to:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Of course, the U.S. Constitution sets a framework for laws that Congress may pass. To protect the constitution a president must necessarily enforce the laws passed by Congress. In fact, that is the whole point of being president: to faithfully execute our laws. (Commander in Chief is a separate duty which applies only to leading our armed forces.) The president does not make any laws. However, whether he agrees with them or not it is his solemn duty to do his best to uphold our laws. All of them.

However, Bush apparently thinks he can ignore laws when he does not agree with them. That this is wholly inconsistent with his oath of office does not bother him in the least.

Nevertheless, it should bother you. It should bother you a lot. The law may be smart or it may be stupid. Clearly, Bush thought the FISA law was stupid and dated after 9/11. Instead of doing what he should have done, which is to petition the Congress to change the statute, he flagrantly and repeatedly violated the law. Why did he do this? Most likely, because he knew that Congress would not change the law. So he invented the world’s most dubious excuse to circumvent it. It is as if he dropped his pants and mooned both Congress and the American people. You can almost hear him taunting, “I know what must be done and you are too stupid to do it. You are a bunch of morons. So I’ll do it anyhow.”

Consulting with a few members of Congress about his decision does not change the law. It does not make it okay. Even if it did, the information was classified. No one who knew about it could disclose their knowledge of it without breaking the law. That is why some of the few in Congress who did know what was going on, people like Senator Jay Rockefeller and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, chose to say nothing. If they had, they would have broken the law. They could have gone to prison. They respected the law, even though in this case they were clearly troubled by Bush’s apparently illegal acts.

Clearly, Bush had no qualms though. Therefore, the American public need to send him a clear message. No one person is above the law, and that includes the President of the United States. We need to bring this out in hearings. Then, if our Congress had any backbone, the House would impeach him and the Senate would remove him from office for flagrantly and repeatedly violating the law of the land.

This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of law. The law is meaningless unless it is enforced. The citizens of the former Soviet Union had rights. It included:

In accordance with the interests of the people and in order to strengthen and develop the socialist system, citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly, meetings, street processions and demonstrations.

Did they have these rights? Sure, but only if they toed the line of the Communist Party. The reality was that the Soviet Union did not support these rights. Consequently, they became meaningless. By circumventing the FISA law, Bush used the law like toilet paper, and essentially canceled a right to privacy for hundreds of millions of Americans. In addition, he cheapened the rights and liberties of all American citizens.

In reality, he is destroying our way of life. We fought against the British because we wanted a government that represented our interests. Our constitution and laws define our liberties and rules of conduct. They apply equally to everyone.

Yet Bush thinks he is an exception. In reality, Bush is nothing but a bully. Bush is trying to win through intimidation. However, bullies have only as much power as we let them get away with. It is time for citizens to demand that our Congress hold Bush accountable for his law breaking. Let me be clear: your freedom and the freedom of your children depend on it. Otherwise, our future is going to start looking a lot like the Soviet Union’s.

The Gitmo Scapegoats

At Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, we have been housing “detainees”, most of who were captured in Iraq or Afghanistan, for as much as three and a half years. Most were caught in a battle area without a uniform so they were not granted prisoner of war status. Instead, they have been shuffled into a legal limbo for which there appears to be no exit.

Some of these detainees may very well be terrorists. Many claim not to be. However, it does not seem to matter to our government. They have become persona non grata devoid of any rights or privileges, with no right to a trial or even (some allege) a fair hearing. (If it were not bad enough to do this to non-citizens, a court recently affirmed the president’s right to do it to an American citizen during a time of war too.) Since the War on Terrorism promises to last longer than the War on Drugs, these detainees could well spend the rest of their lives in the cells at Gitmo.

Some have reached the breaking point. At least 128 of them are on a hunger strike, and more seem to be joining the ranks every day. Some have been forcibly removed to the infirmary where they are being kept alive through forced feedings. The hunger strike is now on its fifth week. If not for the forced feedings, it is likely that some of these detainees would now be dead.

I do not know how any American, no matter how patriotic, can read these stories and not feel unsettled and deeply disturbed. These detentions may be legal under our bizarrely interpreted rules of engagement, but they are unquestionably inhuman and immoral. The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, is very clear:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment… Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law… Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Those guilty of crimes deserve to be punished. Those innocent deserve to be free. Nevertheless, no one, not even someone we suspect to be our worst enemy, deserves to be held in prison forever with their ultimate fate unknown. Basic human decency tells us this is true, and the United Nations, which speaks for all humanity, calls us to account.

Perhaps I would be more accommodating to our president if I had some indication that these men were truly dangerous and bent on destroying America. Who can say? No one seems to be in any rush to bring forth evidence against these men. And naturally our president is wholly indifferent to their fate. He says he is protecting America. If in the process he spoils a few perfectly good apples, well that’s the breaks. Nevertheless, when you read stories like this, then even the most rabidly patriotic among us must have some doubts.

A masked teenager in an Iraqi army uniform walked slowly through a crowd of 400 detainees captured Monday, studying each face and rendering his verdict with a simple hand gesture, like a Roman emperor deciding the fate of gladiators.

A thumb pointed down meant the suspect was not thought to be an insurgent and would be released by U.S. soldiers. A thumb pointed up meant a man would be removed from the concertina wire-encased pen, handcuffed with tape or plastic ties and taken by truck to a military base to be interrogated.

Feeling the heat, the military has decided that some of the detainees can go back to their country, provided their host countries put them in local prisons. Perhaps this is an improvement. The medical care at Gitmo may be better but friends and relatives may come by the prison to say hello. Now these detainees live thousands of miles from what they know as home, cut off from their culture, in a foreign climate, caged, controlled, ceaselessly monitored and conveniently out of the public eye.

About a fourth of the prisoners at Guantanamo have said, “Enough.” Give them a fair hearing or they will choose death. Others allege brutality by the guards and interrogators. Some claim that prisoners are segregated based on how well they cooperate with interrogators. Those in orange jumpsuits are considered uncooperative and they claim are singled out for discipline tantamount to torture.

However, apparently we cannot even give them the dignity of choosing their own permanent exit from their hellish imprisonment. So that we will not bear the stain of their deaths, we will keep them force fed against their will. In their case, we will not even recognize their human right to have control over their own body. In effect, these detainees have been relegated to a legal status of something less than human.

What a sorry and sick situation. I doubt more than a handful of these people are true terrorists. They may have been part of the Taliban and were fighting what they saw as the illegal occupation of their country. That by itself does not mean they terrorized other people. Perhaps some were even affiliated with al Qaeda, but it is unlikely that any one of them directly helped in the attacks on September 11th.

In effect, the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have become our country’s scapegoats. Unable or unwilling to capture Osama bin Laden, we pick people who may be vaguely associated with him instead. I am reminded of William James’s book, The Moral Philosopher where he envisioned:

Millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torment, what except a specified and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?

That is how the situation at Gitmo feels to me. It preys on my conscience. What we are doing there feels deeply evil and wrong, as evil as anything these people would do to us. I wish we had leaders who felt similarly. However, apparently I must be in the minority. Our president does not care. In fact, he feels great about what he is doing, although the evidence suggests it is just encouraging more terrorists to lash out against us. My two Republican senators and my Republican congressional representative do not seem to care. Moreover, for many Americans, anyone in Gitmo is by inference guilty of hating America anyhow, and we are being oh so humane just by keeping them alive.

What this repugnant situation needs is prompt resolution. Military tribunals strike me as reprehensible, but at least it might amount to some sense of closure for these detainees. Being left for forgotten and perpetually in legal limbo is perhaps the cruelest fate we can inflict on anyone. Better to be dead than to be alive but not to live.

I am afraid it will take a new administration and a new congress to change the situation. I hope that when resolution finally arrives there is something resembling human beings left in the inhabitants of these cells at Gitmo. In addition, I hope that whether they are innocent or guilty, when it is all over these detainees will have the strength to forgive us.

Anger on Herndon response to day labor problem is misplaced

My little town of Herndon, Virginia has been in the news lately. Okay, technically I do not live in Herndon. I am a couple miles outside its corporate limits. However, most of my mail is addressed to a Herndon, Virginia post office. I do not pay taxes to the Town of Herndon. Nevertheless, like it or not I get its newspaper delivered in my mailbox. In addition, since it is only a few miles away I do a fair amount of shopping inside the town. Since I have lived here 12 years, I feel something of a Herndonite.

I was sitting in our hotel room in Columbus, Ohio a few weeks ago and turned on CNN. I was surprised to find that the day laborer controversy in the town had escalated to national news. The Town of Herndon has a problem. Day laborers congregate around a 7-Eleven store at the corner of Alabama Drive and Elden Street in Herndon. Employers drive by every day and hire some of them. Most of the day laborers are Hispanic. Likely many of them are in this country illegally. You would think then that the Bureau of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (formally INS) might target the site. However, you would be wrong. ICE apparently has bigger fish to fry, or simply does not give a damn.

So every day for more than a decade 60-70 day laborers, the majority of whom are likely here illegally, congregate around the 7-Eleven and the nearby McDonalds and the Amoco gas station across the street hoping for day work. Many of them get work and others are disappointed. Some who get work are subsequently angry when the employers who hire them do not pay them agreed upon wages, or refused to pay them at all. Knowing that many are illegal, some employers figure they can get away with it.

For day laborers are considered independent contractors, not employees. They agree to do a day’s work for a given amount of money, and federal wage and hour laws do not necessarily apply. Just as I do not have to worry whether the firm that cuts my grass hires illegal workers, these employers do not have to burden themselves with checking for green cards. After all, at the end of the day these workers are history. In general, there is no paperwork to fill out. Day laborers jump into the employer’s truck or van and are off to a site for the day. Generally, they are returned to the same place in the evening. Wages are paid in cash at the end of the day. For workers here illegally, it is a great system. Moreover, if you are an employer who needs a few guys to pull weeds or to dig a trench you can get them locally for a song and at your convenience.

You would think that the Herndon police department would be rounding up these scofflaws and turning them over to ICE. You would be wrong. The Herndon police department has no such authority. The ICE will not give the town the authority, because their rules specify special training with ICE that involves at least twenty police officers. I doubt the Town of Herndon has that may police. In any event, apparently only two states, Alabama and Florida, are authorized to arrest illegal aliens on behalf of the ICE. So that’s out.

The presence of these people and particularly those wanting to hire them tends to slow the traffic on Elden Street, the town’s major thoroughfare. A police officer is stationed there during business hours to try to keep the traffic moving. Local charities also provide people to monitor the situation. The town never decided to set up this as a place for day laborers to congregate. It evolved over time because it was a convenient location. However, after more than ten years of dealing with the situation the town decided it had endured enough hassle and proposed an offsite day laborer center.

That was when the controversy started. A local conservative radio talk show host urged his listeners to call the Town of Herndon to complain about the idea. The town was subsequently inundated with calls, so much so that they had to disable their switchboard. Their web site also came careening to its knees. No less than the Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore railed against the idea of using public money to facilitate connecting some illegal immigrants with day jobs.

Amazingly, despite all this publicity, public officials in Herndon went ahead and voted for the day labor site anyhow. On August 17th, the Herndon Town Council by a 5-2 vote decided to go ahead with funding a new day laborer site behind an old police station. They will use $175,000 in town money to fund the site.

This has not sat well with those with an axe to grind. I get the feeling that most of the citizens of Herndon are for the site. The existing site has been a public nuisance for years. With local police’s hands tied, a new site away from traffic seemed to be a far better solution than allowing the problem to continue to fester. However, conservative commentators and politicians have pilloried Town of Herndon officials for their decision, saying they should be rounding up these illegal aliens instead. Even a lawsuit is now pending to stop construction.

The town is not authorized to be in the immigration enforcement business. Nor are any trespassing or loitering laws being violated. The town has documented clearly why its hands were tied. However, these commentators and politicians are more in favor of scoring political points than actually solving the problem. After all, this is not something occurring in their back yard.

If there is a problem in Herndon, it is not with town officials. It is with the ICE that cannot be bothered to arrest these people. In addition, the problem is exacerbated by regulations that tie the hands of local police departments. The problem also lies with the Congress and state officials, which allow employers to hire day laborers without requiring them to ensure they are hiring people legally. Instead, opponents would rather rail against elected leaders in Herndon, who are simply trying to solve a local problem. Their anger is misplaced.

The leaders of Herndon are to be commended for their pragmatic decision. It is not that I am in favor of day laborer sites in general, but they competently addressed a real problem to the community with the means they had available. Soon the traffic will flow more freely on Elden Streets and Alabama Drive. Should the ICE ever decide to crack down on illegal immigrants in Herndon, they should be easy to find at the new center. Meanwhile the people of Herndon get part of their community back again.

Virginia is for Haters

What is it about my state? Why does our legislature go out of its way, not just to merely be conservative but to craft laws that actively find ways to stick it to those it doesn’t like? Lately I’ve been feeling like the Christian Taliban has taken over my state government. We had Operation Iraqi Freedom. When do the Marines come in to liberate the citizens of Virginia? What a sad irony: the state that set the standard for freedom in America and gave innovative statesmen like Thomas Jefferson and George Mason now gleefully enacts more and more laws that restrict social and economic freedoms for those it doesn’t like.

The latest outrage totally escaped me until I read about it yesterday. Yes, I knew that our legislature had passed yet another defense of marriage act law. But I thought it was symbolic because Virginia already has many statutes on the book that outlawed gay marriage. Another one seemed like it hardly could make things worse. But I was wrong.

How did Virginia go the extra mile to stick it to gays? On April 21st the Virginia legislature banned all contracts between partners in homosexual marriage-like relationships. Here it is, H.R. 751, in its entirety: one short paragraph:

A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited. Any such civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created thereby shall be void and unenforceable.

Think about what this means. This means that a gay person who has lived his life with his spouse cannot legally pass on any of his or her assets to his or her partner. It means a gay’s life partner cannot have Power of Attorney privileges. He or she cannot be a beneficiary of their partner’s will. At the end of life a gay’s life partner cannot decide their partner’s end of life care.

This is truly bizarre. In Virginia as a married man I can name my sister as my beneficiary, give power of attorney over to my business partner and write a will that leaves my wife with nothing but my debts. And it’s all perfectly legal if a bit despicable. But if I happened to be gay and have a life partner then under Virginia law I can’t leave him a penny in my will. He could have spent decades loving me and nurturing me. Even though I may have millions of dollars of my own assets I am prohibited from giving even a penny of it to my life partner.

But it appears to be more than that. What sort of other financial things do married people usually do together? Buying property is one. This statute appears to prohibit two gay people from buying shared housing together. Presumably joint bank accounts are not allowed either. Any loans for which both parties are responsible appear to unlawful. Potentially a gay person could adopt a child but certainly not both a gay person and his spouse.

Even more discouraging is that the bill was passed with veto proof majorities. This bill is now the law of the State of Virginia, effective July 1st. This means it will be almost impossible to overturn.

Who was responsible for this monstrosity? Sadly, it was not some down state representative representing Jerry Falwell’s oxymoric Liberty University. No, it was Robert G. Marshall, who represents the nearby city of Manassas. This is the same guy who pushed a law barring access to contraceptives at Virginia colleges and universities.

There are a number of groups here in Virginia who are working to change this law. But make no mistake. We live in a state that even though the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the sodomy laws refuses to take them off its books. Changing this law will be a tough, uphill fight. One way is through a boycott of Virginia businesses. This group for example is maintaining a Virginia business boycott list and only those businesses that certify they are pro-tolerance will be exempted. (Of course it will be hard to call attention to the boycott, so it depends on word of mouth. So trackback this blog entry and forward it to all your progressive friends!) The group is also working on a counterpoint to the Yes Virginia campaign. That effort is trying to convince businesses is other states to relocate to Virginia. But if your business is progressive enough to realize that sexual orientation has no bearing on competency in the workplace you should locate your business elsewhere. Virginia is actively making it more difficult for your business to attract and maintain a quality workforce through blatantly discriminatory laws against homosexuals.

For 35 years Virginia has claimed it was the state for lovers. What a joke. Well, it’s certainly not the state for homosexual lovers. Fornication is unlawful so it’s certainly not the state for unmarried lovers. Adultery is also illegal so it’s not the state for hanky panky. It’s certainly not the state for unmarried couples of the opposite sex who don’t want to get married. Shared cohabitation between unrelated people of the opposite sex is against the law. And until the Supreme Court abolished sodomy laws (including Virginia’s) it wasn’t the state for committed married couples who liked to engage in oral or anal sex. I guess there needs to be an asterisk next to the state slogan: applies to married, heterosexual couples who copulate using the missionary position only.

To all those who are homosexual, bisexual or anyone with any sense of decency and fairness: I am sorry we have a state run by anal retentive knee jerk conservative wackos. I am sorry my state legislature consists of a veto proof majority of twits who have apparently zero sense of compassion or empathy in their tiny little hearts. The Grinch’s heart was two sizes too small. I’m not sure you could find the heart of Rep. Robert G. Marshall. Like Dick Cheney, he must have ice water running through his veins.

Aghast but not surprised by abuse of Iraqi detainees

It’s okay to feel disgusted about the abuse our forces clearly inflicted on Iraqi prisoners and detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. However it should not come as a surprise. Our intelligence agencies have been engaging in what amounts to torture since at least 9/11, despite the United States having signed international conventions saying we would never do such things. The rules of interrogation have changed. Tactics that at one time were considered out of bounds — like chronic sleep deprivation, and loud and random noises at all hours — are now standard interrogation procedures. It appears that in at least Iraq we don’t think twice about hooding suspects for days at a time, burying them in the sand up to their necks or expecting them to survive in a desert country on one bottle of water a day.

If there is anything good about this horrible situation it is that it occurred in Iraq. Why? Because Iraq is reasonably accessible to the press. There such information could at least get out. But these sorts of tactics, while egregious, are likely the tip of a much larger iceberg of more ordinary torture we inflict on our enemies. Most of us would not inflict these on our worst enemies. But they now seem to be part of the military intelligence officer’s handbook.

Some will accuse organizations like Amnesty International of being shrill. Shrill perhaps, but at least they are impartial. They call a spade a spade. When they find out governments are oppressing humans about it they will publicize it. And unfortunately the United States, in their view, has been engaged in torture for many years now.

It appears that we have adopted tactics used by one of our best friends: Israel. Their tactics, reported years ago on 60 Minutes still appear to be going on today, despite prohibitions by the Israeli Supreme Court. There is compelling evidence that the United States is emulating our friend Israel’s successful interrogation techniques. While most of the world has called these tactics torture, Israel continues to insists they are not torture. As there have been cases of Israeli agents unintentionally torturing suspects to death, there are at least two confirmed cases in Iraq where our forces have done the same. One case occurred in the Abu Ghraib prison.

Where we might leave physical marks but need the information anyhow we often find a legal way to clearly skirt the bounds of international law by farming our suspects out to countries without any scruples. There are documented cases of the United States transferring suspects to Egypt, where our own State Department says electric shocks are routinely administered, or to Syria, where ripping fingernails off is a standard method of torture. “We don’t kick the [expletive] out of them,” one official told the Washington Post. “We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them.” Many of our suspects are officially in Pakistani custody where our laws do not apply but where torture is routine.

Some would argue that indefinite detention is in itself a form of torture. See it in places like Guantanamo Bay, where suspects have no rights, no access to lawyers or family and will likely be subject to trial by military tribunal “justice”. But we have many places where our suspects cannot be seen. They are in places like Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, or in Pakistani military facilities where the press cannot visit.

It seems like we have embraced the notion that the end justifies the means. This must stop. We cannot claim to be for peace, human rights and democracy while engaging in the tactics of brutality and fascism.

There is a way out. We must open it all up. Neutral third parties like the Red Cross and Amnesty International must regularly inspect our detention facilities and prisons. We must repeal those portions of the Patriot Act that allowed these abuses to occur. We must explicitly curb the power of the president to indefinitely detain anyone. For a war sold on good vs. evil, we must show that we live the values of a state that believes human rights, freedom and civil liberties are good for all.

But now we must go the extra mile. President Bush must personally apologize to those we have injured and the families of those we have unlawfully murdered, and to the people of Iraq. He must state clearly what we will do to make sure these events never occur again and he must follow through with concrete actions verified by nonbiased third parties.

I am afraid we have irretrievably lost the respect of the Iraqi people. But it is never too late to learn from our mistakes. These events horrid as they are should be a wake up call to America. We have slid too far down the slippery slope. We should feel ashamed and we should make sincere and meaningful contrition. We should vow that no matter how bad our war on terrorism becomes, we will not throw away our most cherished values in the process. We must not lose our national soul in order to win a larger war.

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