Our friend Michael Petrelis blogs about a Bay Area Reporter story on the plight of gay Iraqis and the responses of the United Kingdom and the United States.
Mike includes links to the referenced British and American government files obtained through FOIA requests. Thanks, Mike.
Pussy Riot expresses solidarity with Eric Garner and other victims of police brutality.
Polls are showing that Speaker John Boener's invitation to Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu to address Congress two weeks before he is up for re-election is unpopular with Americans. A recent story in Haaretz shows Boehner's dishonesty and recklessness:
House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday that he had asked Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer not to inform the Obama administration about their contact over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Congress speech so as to avoid "interference."
"I wanted to make sure there is no interference," Boehner told Fox News' Sunday morning program. "There is no secret here about the animosity that this White House has for Netanyahu and I didn’t want them getting in the way and quashing what I thought was a real opportunity,” Boehner continued.
How dreadful it would be for the president to interfere with Boehner's foreign policy. Pardon me, I seem to have fallen down a rabbit hole.
Francis DeBernardo at New Ways Ministry writes:
In what is surely the most official welcome from Church officials that New Ways Ministry has received in its 38-year history, and one of the warmest welcomes the LGBT community has received, a pilgrimage group of 48 LGBT Catholics and supporters led by our co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, received VIP seating at the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, on Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015....
Two weeks before departure on February 12th, [Gramick] received a letter from Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Prefect of the Papal Household, letting her know that he had reserved tickets for the group for the Ash Wednesday audience. She assumed that these were the general seating tickets. On the night of February 17th, when the group picked up the tickets at St. Peter’s, they learned that they were VIP seating.
It was not a private meeting, which is hard to get, but it was a gracious gesture. I note that Archbishop Ganswein is the Vatican heartthrob who became known as "Bel Georgio" when he attended Pope Benedict XVI.
I am glad for Sister Jeannine and her colleagues. What will really be telling is whether they are invited to participate in the next synod, at which a substantive discussion can occur. The Church's doctrine on gay people is wrong and harmful. We are not a threat to anyone's family. We ourselves are family. The pope's considerable pastoral gifts notwithstanding, there is no sign that he wants or intends to change this policy. Without some sign of doctrinal reform, his embraces and compassionate words are like an animal shelter volunteer petting a dog as it is being euthanized. I appreciate the compassion, but what I am looking for are understanding and affirmation. If the prime seating at a papal audience is a sign of greater welcome ahead, it will be more significant.
My latest column, now online at the Washington Blade, looks at the controversy over President Obama's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Here's an excerpt:
At its best, faith challenges us to reflect on how far our actions have strayed from the standards we profess. The Christian Right, by contrast, uses faith as a weapon against its political opponents. Its standard bearers cannot acknowledge crimes even nine centuries in the past. So forget the anti-Semitic Rhineland Massacres of 1096; the sack of Constantinople in 1204; the destruction of ancient libraries and art treasures; the hundreds of thousands who died from slaughter, famine, and disease before the Crusaders even reached the Holy Land. Do not mention the estimated 1.7 million deaths from the Crusades, or that the savagery was launched by Pope Urban II in 1095.
The denial is not only about the Middle Ages. Millions were caught up in the Middle Passage that brought slaves to the western hemisphere, and black men in America were being burned alive in public lynching festivals well into the twentieth century. People cut off parts of the victims for souvenirs. Innumerable photos of these horrors are a few clicks away.
We can talk about this. At bottom, that is the president's message. He does our country a service by raising it, though he knows his opponents are waiting to pounce on whatever he says. He can speak less guardedly with his last race and last midterm election behind him.
I have been a fan of Cuba Gooding, Jr. since his soulful performance in Boyz N the Hood. I like him even better after this bit of play with BAFTA Film Awards host Stephen Fry, a hugely popular British writer, actor, and comedian. BAFTA is the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and this year's film awards happened on the same day as the Grammys. Fry last month married his partner Elliot Spencer.
This was just a bit of foolery at a glitzy awards ceremony, but it says so much about how far we have come. Gooding has aged quite well, and is getting meaty parts these days on television, in addition to playing civil rights attorney Fred Gray in the movie Selma. His last-minute turn to kiss Fry on the lips was quite charming. Made me a little jealous of Stephen.
Alexander Stevenson at NewNowNext reports:
Saturday was the eighth annual Mumbai Pride parade, when more than 5,000 celebrants marched from August Kranti Maidan down Grant Road and Nana Chowk.
According to DNA India, parents and family members comprised a sizable contingent of Queer Azaadi Mumbai, as the event is officially known. That’s a stark contrast from only a few years ago, when most paradegoers wore masks to hide their identities (some still do).
The American Family Association has written to the Southern Poverty Law Center repudiating certain statements by its longtime spokesman and talk show host Bryan Fischer, demanding that SPLC stop attributing those statements to AFA.
In the Jan. 28 letter to the SPLC, AFA general counsel Patrick Vaughn listed a series of offensive comments from Fischer and said the organization “has never held these views and wishes to clarify that it still rejects such sentiments.”
Vaughn also wrote that Fischer would no longer serve as an AFA spokesperson or its director of issue analysis. However, Fischer will continue to host his two-hour, daily Focal Point radio show and write blog posts. Vaughn wrote that the AFA’s radio network provides a “diversity” of viewpoints but that Fischer’s statements do not represent the views of the AFA.
In response, Cohen wrote, “The fact that the AFA is continuing to allow Mr. Fischer to host a daily radio show and blog on its website also makes us question the AFA’s sincerity. Sponsoring Mr. Fischer’s racism, anti-Semitism, and hatred of the Muslim and the LGBT communities in the name of ‘diversity’ says as much about the AFA as it does about Mr. Fischer....
“Without ending Mr. Fischer’s talk show, without apologizing for the bigoted statements that he, Mr. Wildmon, and others associated with the AFA have made, and without making it crystal clear that the AFA will not tolerate any such statements in the future, the AFA’s 11th-hour disavowal of Mr. Fischer appears to serve only one purpose: to give the AFA a degree of plausible deniability while it continues to spew hateful rhetoric,” Cohen wrote. “It’s a shell game and a transparent one at that.”
Bryan Fischer kicked off his radio program today by refuting reports that he had been fired by the American Family Association, explaining that he has simply given up his role as an official AFA spokesman while retaining his role as a daily radio host for AFA's radio outlet, American Family Radio.
Fischer said that his designation as an AFA spokesman while he also served as a radio host was creating confusion and resulting in the personal opinions he expressed on the radio being unfairly attributed to the AFA. As such, Fischer will no longer serve as an official voice for AFA but will continue to spew his bigotry from the AFA's radio stations.
So apparently Rachel Maddow was misled.
Mediaite reports. It involves RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and a bunch of RNC folk heading to Israel on a trip paid for by American Family Association, whose longtime spokesman Bryan Fischer has said that Jews have no right to practice their religion in America. Below is the video from the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.
My column for this week's Blade is now online. Here is an excerpt:
Back home at the Iowa Freedom Summit, Dr. Ben Carson joked to reporters about a baker putting poison in a gay couple's wedding cake. (Is the GOP running a contest to find the most deranged person who thinks he or she can be president?) In related news, a man filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division last year against the Azucar Bakery in Denver for refusing to write "God hates gays" on a cake. This is the new religious freedom: muddling the difference between denying service to a minority and refusing to assist expressions of intolerance. Perhaps we should train shop owners to distinguish real customers from trolls.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, whose demotion by Pope Francis has not shut him up, recently discussed what he called the Church's "man crisis" and blamed "radical feminists" for priests raping boys. Seriously. Eminence, if we get you another fabulous set of embroidered vestments, could you stuff an altar cloth in your mouth for the rest of the year?
Lassana Bathily, a Malian Muslim immigrant who saved several lives from terrorist Amedy Coulibaly earlier this month at a kosher supermarket, has been granted French citizenship. He had applied for it last summer. Congrats to him. When we overgeneralize about Islam, and talk as if we are in a religious war, we play into the hands of people like Coulibaly and hurt people like Bathily. That makes no sense.
Jamie Kirchick at The Daily Beast has an interesting piece on the recent execution of gay men by ISIS by throwing them off a building ledge.
I have never understood how any god who demands such barbarity could possibly deserve anything but curses. Incidentally, if you think your god is any better, go back and re-read your holy book.
Incidentally, Kirchick is talking about radical Islam, not Islam in general. Just as social conservatives cherry-pick scriptural passages that suit them, those who prefer a less barbaric faith can do the same. This cafeteria approach to Holy Writ is done by everyone, but few admit it. The point is that you can believe what you want. You do not have to believe in a god that commands savagery.
@Pontifex If the people you are winning back to the Church find the same old policies regarding women and gay people, they won't stay.— Richard Rosendall (@RickRosendall) January 20, 2015
I figure someone at the Vatican reads the papal Twitter feed. So I offer my two cents.
@Pontifex You have brought people hope. But Catholic schools fire gay teachers and you say gay marriage is threat to family. That's no help.— Richard Rosendall (@RickRosendall) January 20, 2015
Here's an excerpt from my latest column, concerning the deadly terrorist attacks last week in Paris at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket:
Conservative pundits indignantly asked why there were no condemnations by Muslim leaders of the attacks, when in fact there was a flood of them. On the other hand, it was jarring when several despotic regimes sent representatives to a massive Paris march for the murdered cartoonists despite their own repression of journalists.
Any facile sorting of friend from foe was refuted by news reports. The last victim in the Charlie Hebdo attack was Muslim police officer Ahmed Merabet. During the kosher market incident, Muslim employee Lassana Bathily saved several hostages from terrorist Amedy Coulibaly by hiding them in a walk-in freezer.
A news report referred to Coulibaly's "fluent French and broken Arabic." Having come home to roost, the West's imperialist chickens are less likely to fit the profile. Only cooperation across faiths and cultures can save us from endless retributive justice. Defending secular freedoms against racism and sectarianism is the best response to Marine Le Pen.
Read Blade editor Kevin Naff's bracing editorial here.
@Pontifex reacts to the Charlie Hebdo murders by reminding us that Holy Mother the Church, Inc. is not a democracy. There are limits to freedom of expression, he says, and he doesn't mean things like falsely crying "Fire!" in a crowded theater. He means offending someone's religion. Well I am sorry, Your Holiness, but you are wrong. Put me on the rack if you don't like it. Oh, that's right, you don't have the power to do that any more. Well that's a relief.
I warned everyone a year ago not to commit the sin of wishful thinking with this charming pope. He is not quite the liberal some people were hoping for.
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League offers another display of his Christlike forgiveness of those who give him offense.
(Hat tip: Right Wing Watch)
The Independent reports:
France’s President Francois Hollande asked Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu not to attend Paris’s phenomenal march against hatred on Sunday, claiming that his presence would be divisive, it has been reported.
The unity rally in Paris was fronted by more than 50 world leaders, who all linked arms as they led the march from the Place de la République in eastern Paris, where 1.5 million people gathered to honour the 17 victims of last week’s bloody massacre that left the country reeling.
In an unprecedented show of solidarity, the Israeli Prime Minister was seen marching just four people apart from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, while Prime Minister David Cameron’s appearance marked his first ever street march. Demonstrators carried placards brandishing the phrases “I am Charlie” and “I am Jewish”.
Well there's a shot you don't see every day. British PM David Cameron is out of frame to the left.
Notably absent from the massive rally, which was attended by some three million people, was any representative from the Obama administration. This report from WSJ is an example of the coverage. Of course the right wing would have attacked the President whether he attended or not. Had he been there, "Obama marches with Abbas" would have been one of the headlines. I thought he should have gone. I am sure we will hear more on this, since endless attacks on this president are what some people seem to live for.
NYT describes the above video:
Explosions and gunfire were heard at a printing plant outside Paris where the two brothers suspected in the Charlie Hebdo attacks were killed.
As people across Europe gathered to express their outrage at the military-style execution of a dozen people at the satirical Paris weekly, Charlie Hebdo, Catholic League troll Bill Donohue blamed the victims for bringing it on themselves.
Below, a massive rally at the Place Royale in Nantes, France was one of many across Europe in solidarity with those murdered at the satirical Paris weekly, Charlie Hebdo.
My column looking at the year ahead appears in this week's Blade, revised a bit. Here's an excerpt:
2015 promises continued fights against right-wing aggressions that include vagina policing and other gender-based discrimination; attacks on church-state separation; xenophobia; quackery disguised as science; biased profiling and excessive force by police; and criminalization of healthcare issues.
None of these will be resolved by the likely nationwide victory for marriage equality in the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, in the words of Ella Baker, "We who believe in freedom cannot rest." Here are some thoughts for the work ahead.
Curb the language cops. We will win the marriage fight even if some use the misleading phrase "gay marriage." If people who are not belligerent use the wrong pronouns or otherwise display their ignorance, be like my amazingly patient transgender friends and politely clue them in. Creating change requires the politics of addition; we must always seek new ways to connect with people.
Dinesh D'Souza accuses liberals of coddling radical Islamists.
But he himself has actually made common cause with conservative Islamists, as I discussed in a book review in 2007:
His latest book’s provocation starts with the title: The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. But he goes beyond Jerry Falwell’s notorious blaming of feminists, gays and lesbians, the ACLU and People for the American Way. D’Souza actually makes common cause with “traditional Muslims,” who he claims hate America not for our presence in the Middle East but for our decadent culture. Minimizing the vast differences between Western traditions and Islamic and Middle Eastern ones, he calls for making America more tolerable to Islamic obscurantists whose tradition includes no Reformation, no Enlightenment, and no commitment to the personal freedom that has been the engine of the West’s economic success.
Charging the left with a “campaign of cultural imperialism,” D’Souza shows no grasp of free markets. If the success of capitalism and global communication has enabled many young Iranians, for example, to embrace American popular culture, that hardly constitutes a leftist conspiracy.
D’Souza equates licentiousness with leftism, which does not explain why so many otherwise liberal social movements had strong conservative elements: suffragists who were anti-abortion; communists who were homophobic; feminists who advocated censorship; and ministers in the civil rights movement who objected to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s association with Bayard Rustin, a leading organizer and strategist who was gay.
NYT reports on today's attack in Paris by masked gunmen at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 and wounded 10. Condolences to the families of the victims.
Some in the West say that people have no right to offend other people's religions. Some assert that Christians would never tolerate blasphemy against their own religion. Both assertions are wrong. Freedom of speech means nothing if not the right to offend.
Some of our most honored literature contains blasphemies. For example, Nobel winner Günter Grass in his greatest novel, The Tin Drum, has his lead character pray to Jesus (quoting from memory), "Athlete of Athletes ... world's champion hanger on the cross by regulation nails, who lasted the longest time and earned the highest possible number of points...." He describes seagulls descending on a horse's head that had been used to fish for eels on the Baltic Sea as "the Holy Ghost descending to feast the Pentacost."
Grass has lived to a ripe old age. 26 years ago, he led a consortium of writers in guaranteeing publication of the German translation of The Satanic Verses (which btw I read and enjoyed in its English original, as I have several of Salman Rushdie's novels, one of which, The Moor's Last Sigh, has Hindu blasphemies). Whether it's serious lit or South Park, irreverence is essential to our freedoms and must be defended.
From the International Space Station.
My year-in-review is now up at the Washington Blade. Here is an excerpt:
Military and international. The transition to openly gay military service has gone so smoothly it has generated little news. The fight to end discrimination against transgender service members continues; two dozen have been discharged in the past two years. The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lawsuit by Sexual Minorities Uganda against Scott Lively for crimes against humanity can proceed. In diplomatic news, Ted Osius III joined a growing list of openly gay envoys when he was sworn in as ambassador to Vietnam.
Health. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led 80 senators and House members in urging an end to the lifetime ban on blood donations by men who have had sex with men, calling for science to replace stereotypes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for wider use of Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention, despite strong opposition by Michael Weinstein of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. There have been no new HIV infections among more than 500 Kaiser Permanente customers using PrEP. New York and the District of Columbia adopted rules forbidding health insurers from denying medically necessary treatment to transgender people. D.C. joined California and New Jersey in passing legislation banning "ex-gay" conversion therapy for minors.
Media. Schadenfreude was rampant after Sean Eldridge failed in his bid to buy a congressional seat and husband Chris Hughes provoked a mass walkout at The New Republic by sacking top editors. Hughes was faulted for wrecking a century-old magazine in his effort to create a "vertically integrated digital media company," that is, a word salad. Former TNR writer Jamie Kirchick at The Daily Beast dubbed them "America's worst gay power couple," but their youthful hubris and confusion of wealth for wisdom transcend sexual orientation.
A Christmas thought: many of my friends have beliefs that I do not share. Yet none of them has tried to coerce me into adopting or conforming to them. Indeed, some have worked to help protect us from their more belligerent and bullying co-religionists. As a Catholic who left the church 44 years ago, I like many others have been impressed and moved by the Christlike behavior of the first Jesuit Pope, though I remain skeptical that we share the same policy goals.
Which brings us back to our diversity of beliefs and mutual tolerance. We don't have to be the same to give each other credit and respect. And we don't have to get bossy to teach. Blessings to all who have enriched my life with their humor, passion, insights and perspectives, and who have taught by their example. The most awesome examples of courage, generosity, caring and resilience I saw this year were from persecuted LGBT Ugandans. You have given me more than you know. Here is to finding new and fruitful connections in the year ahead, and learning to our benefit that it is not always about us.
National Geographic explains:
Using footage from NASA's Johnson Space Center, filmmaker Fede Castro creates a captivating time-lapse video of Earth from space. In a little over four minutes, "Nuestra Tierra—Our Earth" takes us around the world, sighting major cities and even catching the breathtaking aurora borealis.
At the darkest time of year, it is good to see how magnificent our planet is despite all our efforts to wreck it. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all on the good Earth.
President Obama, in an interview with CNN's Candy Crowley, makes short work of Russia's Vladimir Putin and Republicans who call him weak on national security.
(Hat tip: Occupy Democrats)
I agree with The New York Times.
For years I've thought that we cannot be like countries where leaders of the outgoing regime are jailed by the incoming one. The resulting political turmoil would not be worth it. But I am changing my mind. Dick Cheney's brazen, no-apologies trash talk has helped me reconsider. If he had the sense to choose a quiet retirement it might be one thing; but he continues his provocations and his aggressive contempt for international norms to which America is a signatory, and for simple decency. So we got the turmoil anyway. Meanwhile, the lack of justice looms larger. Indict him or give him a one-way ticket to The Hague.
Winter begins in the northern hemisphere. Sun, come back.
In a victory for gay rights advocates in China, a Beijing court ruled on Friday that a Chinese clinic must pay compensation to a gay man who sued it for giving him electric shocks intended to change his sexual orientation.
Stating that homosexuality is not a mental illness, the Haidian District People’s Court ordered the Xinyupiaoxiang Counseling Center in the southwestern city of Chongqing to pay 3,400 renminbi, or $560, for costs incurred by the plaintiff, Yang Teng. It also ordered Baidu, China’s leading search engine, which was also named in the lawsuit, to remove the advertisement that Mr. Yang said led him to the clinic.
China bears watching. Now the world's largest economy, it has been a friendlier place for gay activists than one might have expected from a totalitarian state. Congrats to Yang and best of luck to his comrades for continued progress.