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Nancy Goldstein

Nancy Goldstein

Koch Brothers v. the Left in Palm Springs

There’s a good chance that readers of this page already have some idea who David and Charles Koch are, and what’s happening this weekend, as the sugar daddies of the Tea Party throw a little party of their own in Palm Springs. Invitees include a pack of their billionaire friends, plus prominent pundits, Republican Party officials and lawmakers, a number of whom benefited from hefty Koch contributions this last campaign cycle.

Together they’ll strategize how to get rid of every regulation or politician that stands in the way of wealthy people becoming wealthier; namely, taxes, healthcare reform, environmental and financial protections, Obama and what little remains of the social safety net. Citizens United will undoubtedly energize the annual end-of-weekend ritual when all the donors—40 percent of them new—whip out their checkbooks to underwrite these adventures in subverting democracy with an eye to their bottom line.

But there will also be, for the first time in the soiree’s eight year history, media attention, including a fair number of prominent bloggers, a panel discussion including such luminaries as Robert Reich and Van Jones and a demonstration organized by Common Cause. That’s actually pretty great, as Kert Davies, Director of Research for Greenpeace, reminded me. For years one of the Koch brothers’ greatest achievements was the fact that no one knew who they were or what influence they had in DC.

Now, thanks to some fine investigative reporting, we know that the brothers—the fifth-richest folks in the United States—are radical right-wingers whose dad served on the John Birch Society’s governing body. Lee Fang of Think Progress tagged them early on as primary funders for the allegedly populist Tea Party, whose coast-to-coast “spontaneous” uprisings against Obama and taxation, were carefully orchestrated by staff. A March 2010 Greenpeace report uncloaked Koch Industries as a “financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition,” and unveiled their underwriting of organizations like the Mercatus Center, Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute, whose pseudo-academic “research” and “reports” lobby for the wealthy and powerful from behind the protection of tax-exempt, nonprofit status. Jane Mayer’s August 2010 New Yorker portrait, “Covert Operations” finished ripping the mask off of the brothers mostly known on the East Coast as generous patrons of the arts, and directly connected them to what was happening in DC. (Note: for the uninitiated, this fabulous timeline cartoon provides the least painful account of the Koch family’s political history from the ’30s through today.)

What worries me is that the left’s response in Palm Springs may still be too “insider baseball,” the kind of stuff that riles up the already converted but has no discernible effect on a public still in thrall to the simple us-versus-them mentality of the Tea Party—a dynamic in which one is always, simultaneously, right and wronged. So I turned to some of the journalists and advocates who have been covering the Kochs, energy and the Tea Party for their views.

Greenpeace’s Davies, though cautious, felt buoyed by the momentum on the left’s side: “I think it’s possible to keep drawing scrutiny to the Tea Party Congress by teaching voters to look for the corporate billionaire-backed tentacles behind the scenes. We can also put pressure on those congressmen by finding ways to ask them, very publicly, what they owe the Kochs. And I think it’s huge that Cato and other front groups are now being talked about as ‘Koch funded’ think tanks which should diminish their power in the media.” Kate Sheppard, who reports on the environment and energy issues for Mother Jones, also believes that the left has a winning issue with the Kochs: “Most Americans understand that we probably shouldn’t keep depending on oil, even if it’s just that they don’t like what they’re paying at the pump.”  

Fang shared some of my concerns, noting the Tea Party’s power as a catch-all. “In the wake of the war and the financial crisis in these last few years, people who are disillusioned by big institutions are drawn to the Tea Party as intrinsically anti-institution. Democrats and the left haven’t caught on to this psychological shift.”

But John Amato of Crooks & Liars felt less concerned about having a complete picture, or a message that could rival the Tea Party’s. “Let’s just get through the day,” he said. “Info that Supreme Court Justices Anthony Scalia and Clarence Thomas are attending meetings like this is pretty good for now in terms of challenging the impartiality of the court. Why kind of activist judges speak behind closed doors at secret political meetings? We’re raising awareness, saying billionaires are actively lobbying and pouring money in to change legislation to make money for themselves.”

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Temporary Stay Granted on Targeted Ugandan Lesbian's Deportation

Author's note: The good news, via Melanie Nathan, is that Ugandan lesbian Brenda Namigadde has been granted a temporary last-minute reprieve, and will not be deported back to Uganda this evening, as planned. Word came down from the High Court judge as Namigadde was being escorted to the airport this evening. Her lawyer, Abdulrahman Jafar, will be filing a fresh asylum appeal using the tack that so many of us have suggested. He'll argue that Namiggade should be allowed to remain in the UK regardless of her sexuality. "The press coverage about her activities certainly expose her to a real risk if she is to be returned to Uganda," he told the BBC.

***

Two days ago David Kato, a gay Ugandan activist, was found beaten to death in his home after a tabloid flashed his picture on their cover next to a “Hang them!” banner. Now it’s Brenda Namigadde, a Ugandan lesbian who has been denied asylum in Britain, with a target on her back. She’s due to be deported from Britain tonight despite the fact that David Bahati, the Ugandan member of parliament who introduced the “Kill the Gays” bill still under consideration there, has singled her out in a chilling statement that parades as accommodation but reads as a threat.

Bahati’s idea of restraint: he said he would drop the clause making homosexuality punishable by death in the “Anti-Homosexuality” bill, and told the Guardian: "Brenda is welcome in Uganda if she will abandon or repent her behaviour. Here in Uganda, homosexuality is not a human right. It is behaviour that is learned and it can be unlearned. We wouldn't want Brenda to be painting a wrong picture of Uganda, that we are harassing homosexuals."

Consider that last sentence before you make the mistake of thinking that Kato’s murder and the attention it’s drawn to Uganda’s full-on hatred of LGBT people will stop Bahati or anyone else there from imprisoning, raping, or murdering Namigadde.  Not if the response of the Uganda police or those who helped target all of the country’s LGBT people for extermination, including Kato, is any indication. The former persist in characterizing Kato’s murder as a simple robbery. The editor of the tabloid that published Kato’s picture alongside ninety-nine other “homos” sees no connection between his actions and Kato’s murder, telling the New York Times: “There is no need for anxiety or for hype. We should not overblow the death of one.” Don Schmierer, one of the American Evangelicals who toured Uganda in 2009 on a Whip-Up-Hatred-for-Homosexuals jaunt that drew packed houses just prior to the introduction of the Kill the Gays bill, considers himself the victim here: “’I spoke to help people,’” he said, “and I’m getting bludgeoned from one end to the other.”

This is the country and these are the attitudes Namigadde will return to unless a host of international organizations, first alerted to her plight by blogger Melanie Nathan, can convince British Home Secretary Theresa May to stay Namigadde’s deportation order. 

You can help by signing All Out’s petition to May’s office—she’s already received 40,000 messages from 160 countries—and sending this message to the Twitterverse. Now. This instant. Before Brenda’s plane leaves in a few hours.

As a final irony, Namigadde’s petition for asylum was denied because British officials, for reasons that are not entirely clear, don’t think she’s a lesbian. That shouldn’t even be the point any more. As Andre Banks, the co-founder of All Out says, "Now that Bahati has singled out Brenda as a lesbian, it should be clear to anyone, including Theresa May, that following through on her deportation will place her in clear and present danger."

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Targeted Ugandan Gay Activist Murdered

Note: As of Thursday afternoon, the New York Times reports that the local police are already characterizing Kato's murder as a robbery rather than a hate crime, while Don Schmierer, one of the American evangelicals who toured Uganda in 2009 is quoted as saying “Naturally, I don’t want anyone killed but I don’t feel I had anything to do with that." He also complains of feeling "bludgeoned."

It worked. Last fall a Ugandan tabloid splashed the headline “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos” next to his picture, and called for the murder of all Ugandan queers. Yesterday David Kato was found beaten to death in his home in Mukono, Kampala.

The press statement from Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), where Kato, one of his country’s best-known human rights activists, worked as an advocacy officer, noted that “David’s death comes directly after the Supreme Court of Uganda ruled that people must stop inciting violence against homosexuals and must respect the right to privacy and human dignity” in response to Kato’s suit against the tabloid earlier this month. Which just goes to show that people who bludgeon gay men to death don’t spend a fuck of a lot of time pondering the law.

They may not even read tabloids. But it’s almost certain that they pick up on the steady beat of state sanctioned full-on hatred for LGBT people that pervades Ugandan culture, where Kato was a leading voice against the country’s notorious “Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” also known as the "Kill the Gays" bill. As Nation Institute Fellow Jeff Sharlet notes, the bill’s provisions include “up to three years in prison for failing to report a homosexual; seven years for ‘promotion’; life imprisonment for a single homosexual act; and for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ (which includes gay sex while HIV-positive, gay sex with a disabled person, or, if you’re a recidivist, gay sex with anyone—marking the criminal as a ‘serial offender’), death.”

It was introduced in 2009 by a member of parliament named David Bahati, whom Sharlet identifies as a “rising star” in the powerful American evangelical movement known as The Family. And it was written, and heavily promoted, with the help of three American evangelicals who toured Uganda in March of that year. These self-described “experts,” goaded packed houses of Ugandans to persecute LGBT people by feeding them the usual garbage—no longer quite so salable in the United States—about LGBT people undermining family values, along with the usual claims about gay men preying on teenage boys.

In short, while only one person is likely to be held responsible for Kato’s murder—and only then if we are very, very, very lucky, given the foul history between Uganda’s police and its LGBT community—there’s a long line of people who helped create a climate where the act could be considered a blow for the common good. As Val Kalende, the board chair at Freedom and Roam Uganda, said: “David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by US Evangelicals in 2009. The Ugandan Government and the so-called US Evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood!”

Don’t hold your breath. 

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Frances Fox Piven Is Way Tougher Than Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck must have thought he had an easy mark when he targeted Frances Fox Piven. Let’s face it. On paper she’s a female widowed lefty academic now approaching eighty. Most of her life’s work has been focused on enfranchising the poor through welfare reform and voter registration. Surely Beck thought that nearly fifty broadcasts worth of inflammatory disinformation and hate-mongering about Piven and their inevitable result—hate mail, comments and phone calls that range from brutally nasty and paranoid to those that cross the line into the genuine death threat category—would shut her up.

But Beck was wrong. Yes, Piven finally called the New York State troopers last Friday, but that was only after a fresh wave of death threats. And some of her friends are reaching out to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the FBI to see if there’s anything they can do. (After all, those e-mailed death threats may be anonymous, but ISPs can be traced.) But she’s not shutting up or going away. And she sees right through Beck and his ilk.

“The right’s propaganda campaign continually accuses the left of conspiracy when in fact the real conspiracies are on the right,” Piven told me. (This was after she carefully parsed the distinction between genuine death threats and people who write her notes saying, “I hope you fucking die you fucking bitch.” The latter, she explained, “Are just people wishing death on me.”) “The Koch brothers have called a meeting in CA next week for their supporters. Glenn Beck has these different corporate entities that boost him.”

Beck’s biggest corporate supporter, of course, is Fox News, whose very business model relies on false, inflammatory attacks. Hell, let some lefty like Vince Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights talk about how “Fox has a moral responsibility to make sure their employees are reporting the news accurately and are not inciting violent reactions to the subjects of their commentary.” The lock-and-load-‘cause-they’re-coming-to-get-you attitude that fuels Fox’s commentators and feeds their base keeps ratings high and revenues flowing. (Full disclosure: I've done consulting work for CCR.)

And every so often someone gets killed: Fox host Bill O'Reilly popularized the inflammatory “Tiller the Baby Killer” tag and inveighed against Dr. Tiller in nearly 30 episodes before his murder. And then Fox News and the right are shocked, simply shocked, that the liberal media would be so base as to imply that people like O’Reilly and Beck help create an environment where violence against the left and government targets is acceptable.

So what happens when Beck’s repeated mischaracterizations of Piven as an “enemy of the Constitution” or “fundamentally responsible for the unsustainability and possible collapse of our economic system” get Fox’s viewers a little heated up—say to the point where they post comments like “ONE SHOT...ONE KILL!”? The Center for Constitutional Rights sends Fox CEO Roger Ailes a letter asking him to “help in stopping false accusations by Glenn Beck that are putting Professor Piven in danger.” Fox’s legal department sends back a letter that evades all responsibility for the hatred their business model incites and accuses CCR of “trying to create ill will for our company.” 

And Piven? “They’re trying to shut the left up and make them hide,” she says, “So I think that every bit of public outrage we can muster against them is useful.” When I press her to explain, she mentions that she appreciates the protests against Fox and Beck, but quickly moves from there to the bigger picture. “I’d like more and more re-assertion of the politics being attacked—more focus on the economic and political rights of working and poor people, such as welfare rights and voter registration. These are the victories that have suffered the biggest reversals. We need to stop letting the right peel us off.”

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The Big Picture on Healthcare Reform for LGBT People

Yes, I’m yet another citizen unhappy with the downscaling of healthcare reform. Sure, it stinks that the public option died, and that the drug industry escaped having to negotiate cheaper prices, in the final legislation. But I’ve been surprised to learn of its unintended queer upside through my talks with advocates and activists this past week.

Even in downscaled form, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may transform the Big Picture for LGBT people more radically than any other federal legislation in this last decade. I say this with no disrespect to the marriage equality movement and the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell." But not all LGBT people are ready, willing or able to enlist in marriage or the military, whereas everyone needs medical care.

The ACA’s queer potential isn’t obvious at first glance. As Kellan Baker of the National Coalition for LGBT Health puts it, “The ACA is just the CliffsNotes of healthcare reform.” The regulations written to provide the actual underpinnings of the new healthcare policy are being hammered out right now by a roundtable of agencies, under the watchful eye of various advocacy groups.

And that’s where the door could open for us. Because large swaths of the ACA’s rhetoric and funding are devoted to addressing how discrimination, ignorance and underreporting of distinct groups impede delivery of healthcare—and to turning things around. Yes, the federal government is about to spend big bucks on data collection that will help it understand which groups have, for example, higher rates of strokes or obesity, or a greater incidence of HIV or addiction, and why. Ditto for improving providers’ “cultural competency”—their ability to interact effectively with the many soon-to-be-insured patients who don’t fit the white/straight/middle-class norm.

If the healthcare needs of LGBT people are to be known and addressed, questions about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression need to be included whenever "counting" happens—the census, epidemiological studies, needs assessment for cultural competency training, etc.—alongside the already recognized categories of race, ethnicity, and primary language. That’s what will open the door to our being researched in terms of those health issues that appear to affect us disparately, and included in widespread cultural competency initiatives. Both of which will give us a better shot at having our needs addressed—respectfully, well and across the board. And that’s the argument that queer health advocates seated at that regulations roundtable are making.

It’s vital that LGBT people be counted and treated: info gathered from a patchwork of available data from smaller studies suggests that health disparities in our communities are real, and deadly. We smoke at rates up to 200 percent of the general population. Gay and bisexual men comprise more than half of new HIV infections in the United States each year, with HIV prevalence among transgender women exceeding 25 percent nationwide. Black and Latina lesbian and bisexual women are much more likely to be overweight than their heterosexual peers. Thirty percent of LGBT youth report having been physically abused by family members because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

You’re disappointed by healthcare reform? Aren’t we all. Take a number. Want to push the federal government to enact it in the most radical way possible? Take a stand.

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The Best Healthcare News You Didn't Hear This Week

How is it that one of the most incredibly important and far-reaching new health policies of the twenty-first century went into effect this past week, and you probably haven't heard of it? I'm referring to the new guidelines that protect the rights of all patients at more than 6,000 hospitals participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs to put anyone they choose on their visitation list. Despite the fact that this policy has implications for everyone in the United States, it's been underreported overall and misreported by straight mainstream media as a same-sex partners story.

This is real, people. Bravo if you've been lucky enough to be spared the experience that many of us have had, queer or not, of being barred from a loved one's hospital bedside because you're not "family," or tossed out when family visiting hours are over. But it's unforgettable, demoralizing, infuriating. Not being there for the person you love when they're sick, vulnerable, or just plain lonely makes you feel like you've failed them in the worst way possible. You just want to pick up the nurse's station and heave it.

We're not just talking about LGBT people or partners here, though the hospital visitation issue allegedly first came to President Obama's attention via the horrifying story of Janice Langbehn and her partner, Lisa Pond. Unlike most Americans, they had actually taken the important step of signing an Advanced Healthcare Directive; theirs designated Janice as Lisa's legal representative. It didn't matter. During a Florida vacation, Lisa collapsed from an aneurysm: she died while Janice and her children begged in vain to be allowed to see her—because they weren't "family." And we're not just talking about Southern states. In hipster Seattle, hospital staff barred Charlene Strong from the bedside of her partner of ten years, Kate Fleming, claiming that she was not immediate family. By the time another relative of Fleming's gave permission by phone for Charlene to visit, Kate had only hours left to live.

Thanks in large part to the comments submitted by the National Coalition for LGBT Health (which also include the two prior stories: read them), this new rule opens the door to all visitors the patient considers important. It's a radical step toward embracing an approach to "family" that breaks us out of the Dad, Mom, Bud and Sis configuration that still looms so large in the American imagination and in its laws despite the fact that fewer and fewer of us live in those family units. Now you can be by your best friend's side whether you're Carmelite nuns or used to play soccer together, or work together or look alike or not. It doesn't matter whether your aunt approves of you and your "shiksa whore" girlfriend or your transgender spouse, so long as your cousin wants you there.

Of course policy is only as good as we are when it comes to enforcement: people should know about the new visitation rules and ask for them when they're not offered—and they won't always be, for a lot of reasons, ranging from administrators' lack of knowledge to prejudice.

But what a joy to know that the option now exists: that we no longer need to be afraid of letting down the people we love when they need us most.

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Easy as ABC? Tracking the 'Inescapable' Racial Angle in the MLK Parade Bomb Story

Author's note: Sixteen hours after their initial report, ABC is now running a story that calls the race connection regarding the bomb found along Spokane's MLK Day Parade route "inescapable," per the estimate of the local FBI agent investigating the case, and acknowledges that it's an incidence of domestic terrorism. As my piece notes, that certainly wasn't their initial reaction, as evidenced by yesterday's piece, which included none of these details despite their widespread availability.

ABC, the same major media outlet that leaped on the Sarah-Palin-is-receiving-death threats story based solely on the say-so of a Palin aide, has now chosen an odd moment to show professional restraint. The station's initial reportage of Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day bomb threat in Spokane mentions not a single detail that could imply a connection between the bomb and the purpose of the parade.

That's pretty remarkable given that the primary source for ABC's story, FBI special agent Frank Harrill, did link the two. Spokane's local paper ran a story hours before ABC's that quotes him saying, "Clearly, the timing and placement of a device—secreted in a backpack—with the Martin Luther King parade is not coincidental." Harrill describes the link between the bomb and the MLK Day celebration and march as "inescapable," adding that "at that point the incident falls directly in the realm and sphere of domestic terrorism. Clearly, there was some political or social agenda here."

How could ABC's own interview with Harrill settle merely for his description of the bomb as "a viable device" with "potential for lethality"? Well, heck, maybe they were just being cautious about jumping to conclusions. After all, what's a backpack filled with shrapnel aimed at an MLK Day crowd and confirmed by an FBI agent as an instance of domestic terrorism, compared to a Palin aide's hearsay?

Bad enough that the Tucson rampage spawned a Republican and right-wing campaign to brand it as an "isolated incident"; if ABC's curiously un-investigative take on the Spokane incident is any indication, that campaign is working well. So, for journalism that connects the dots between Spokane, Tucson, the rise of an extremist American Right and, yes, the uptick in violent rhetoric that feeds it, go to David Neiwert. He's an award-winning writer and former MSNBC producer who's been writing about the growing trend in homegrown terrorism for years. Long before Sarah Palin was even popular enough to go around putting up gunsight-decorated electoral maps, Neiwert, an Idaho native and longtime Pacific Northwest resident, was monitoring the existence and roots of violent right-wing activity.

In the wake of Tucson, Neiwert has led a virtual master class in how to respond to far-right aggression, denial and evasion. Day after day he's exposed their lies, from the myth that Loughner was a "far-left loony" to the reality-free claim that the left is responsible for more—and more violent—rhetoric than the right. As an added bonus, he's offered insight into the culpability of "extraordinarily heated and hateful rhetoric" and examined the victim mentality favored by lock-and-load folks, which turns victims into perpetrators and perpetrators into victims, as right-wing apologists whip up their base by assuring them that they are utterly right and thoroughly wronged.

Anyone who still needs convincing that we are in the midst of what Neiwert calls "a gradually mounting litany of violence directed against ‘liberal' and government targets" should read Neiwert's devastating list of twenty such "isolated incidents" over the past two and a half years. It begins in July 2008. That's when a gunman named Jim David Adkisson, agitated at how "liberals" are "destroying America," walks into a Unitarian Church and opens fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others. It ends—for now—with the MLK Day bomb threat in Spokane.

But really, who still needs convincing? Oh, right. ABC.

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Healthcare Reform's Unintended Queer Upside

Here's a talking point Democrats probably won't be using to defend healthcare reform this week: it's a game-changer for the LGBT community.

In part this is because healthcare reform extends health insurance to 32 million mostly low-income people, thereby covering thousands of the LGBT poor. True, we don't know precisely how many LGBT people have been affected by the law, because we don't know how many of us there are in this country, period. As you may recall from this past summer's brush with the census folks, there's no nationwide standard for data collection on sexual orientation or gender identity. But we do know from the Williams Institute's study and others that lesbians and gay men are twice as likely as heterosexuals to be uninsured (rates for bisexual and transgender people are likely as bad or worse). 

Homophobia and transphobia have their costs—literally. There's the difficulty of finding and keeping employment that includes health insurance, especially in a country where anti-LGBT discrimination, including policies around hiring and firing, is still legal in over half the states. Then there's our exclusion from marriage and its benefits. And it's no coincidence, given our higher incidence of being alienated from our biological families, that over 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT.

Healthcare reform addresses a surprising number of these inequities. By redefining poverty, and by creating alternatives for those who fall outside of that new definition, it has extended insurance coverage to 32 million low-income people, including LGBT people. Of those, some 16 million are now eligible for federal public health programs like Medicaid and Medicare. That's because a new single national standard says that an individual or family can earn up to 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and still qualify for those programs. Previously, states determined eligibility, which was all over the map and frequently draconian. Texas, for example, tossed a single parent raising two kids off of Medicaid if s/he made more than $396 per month. By 2014 Texas will need to conform to the new national standard of $2,029 per month, minimum—still not great for a family of three, but literally five times better than before.

Still another 16 million more citizens can now buy private coverage, sold through state-operated healthcare exchanges that provide sliding-scale premium subsidies based on income. Finally, and perhaps most helpfully for many lower-income LGBT adults, healthcare reform requires that all states allow childless adults with incomes up to 133 percent of FPL ($14,403 a year) to apply for Medicaid coverage. Previously, only seven states allowed this; others forbade it, no matter how low the individual's income.

While this is all great news, it's just a happy accident of unhappy circumstance: LGBT people inadvertently benefit because we're a subset of a larger group of low-income, uninsured people. The greater challenge, which I'll address in tomorrow's post, concerns the current struggle by advocacy groups, coordinated in large part by the National Coalition for LGBT Health, to argue that LGBT people are specifically protected or included under certain provisions of the act that address discrimination, data collection, disparity and the definition of family itself.

 
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Obama's DOJ Continues Battle Against Same-Sex Marriage

Yes, it’s 2011, but Obama’s Department of Justice is still fighting to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that defines marriage as being the legal union of a man and a woman. Yesterday, per Chris Geidner’s piece in Metro Weekly, the DOJ filed its latest defense of DOMA in the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit after losing the first round of the fight back in July.

DOMA has very real and dire consequences for legally married same-sex couples. On its basis, the federal government denies us the 1,138 federal protections and benefits it extends to all other married couples. Consequently, a March 2009 study from UCLA found, same-sex partners are more likely to be poor than our heterosexual counterparts—in large part because of our lack of access to supposedly universal safety nets, such as a spouse's health insurance coverage and Social Security survivor benefits.

Opposing the DOJ in this fight is Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the Boston-based legal rights organization that made history in 2003 by winning same-sex couples the right to marry in Massachusetts. The case GLAD filed last year, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, specifically challenges Section 3 of DOMA—the section that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman for all federal purposes—on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional.

The DOJ’s case for defending DOMA, which it essentially recaps in yesterday’s filing, insists that DOMA simply "maintains the status quo" of heterosexual marriages. Not so. As Mary L. Bonauto, GLAD’s Civil Rights Project Director, pointed out to me earlier on the phone today:

"It's not enough to say, as DOMA's supporters do, that Congress was simply defining a term for federal programs. Of course Congress can define its terms. But it must comply with the equal protection guarantee in doing so. The government needs to justify why it is singling out only the marriages of same-sex couples for disrespect under federal law. If Congress defined 'person' to mean only 'Caucasian' or 'female,' we'd all see that this is different treatment that the government needs to justify."

In short, DOMA interrupted the status quo by inserting a first-ever federal definition of marriage in federal law. Prior to its passage in 1996, Congress has never ever interfered with the states when it came to how they wanted to treat marriage: who was eligible for it, how old they had to be, the couple’s racial makeup—nada. All up to the states. But 1996 rolls around, Hawaii looks like it’s dangerously close to legalizing same-sex marriage and boom, all of a sudden Congress gets very interested in defining who can get married and how and when—and insists that their definition apply to all the states regardless of the wishes of the states themselves. 

DOMA’s passage in 1996 marked a moment of bona fide regime change—and for all the wrong reasons. The smart money says it cannot withstand GLAD’s challenge in 2011—for all the right ones.


 
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On Sarah Palin's Death Threat Claims

Author’s note: In an earlier version of this story, I erroneously stated that at 3:16pm on Thursday, ABC finally added a line to their coverage acknowledging that "The aide did not provide details concerning the volume of threats, how much have they increased or whether they are being referred to the authorities." In fact, as an eagle-eyed reader pointed out, the link I included led to a CBS story that includes this sentence. In short, CBS repeats the death-threat meme via a USA Today story, but at least has the sense to point out that it's all hearsay and detail-free--as ABC never does. Finally, this version includes mention of three other outlets that have picked up on ABC’s coverage, again sans evidence or analysis.

ABC's decision, yesterday, to run a piece titled "Death Threats Against Sarah Palin at 'Unprecedented Level,' Aides Say," based on hearsay from Palin's aides without any corroborating evidence, is irresponsible at best. Worse yet, U.S. News & World Report picked up on the story today—again, without once questioning the information itself or its source. (ditto for the UPI and the Toronto Star, among others).

 If Palin is receiving death threats, especially at allegedly "unprecedented levels," all of us should be concerned. But Palin should be calling the police or the FBI, not mere "security experts," as reported. To neglect engaging law enforcement is a disservice to her own safety and the safety of her staff and family. Yet neither Palin's staff nor the news outlets elaborate on this point, except to admit that the former has not signed off on changing Palin's security arrangements. The media, however, has clearly been alerted. (Note: at least CBS, when it repeated the death threat meme via a USA Today story this afternoon, added the sentence, "The aide did not provide details concerning the volume of threats, how much have they increased or whether they are being referred to the authorities.")

By repeating the Sarah Palin death-threat meme sans evidence, these major news outlets mislead the public, continue to lower journalistic standards, divert the country from more pressing issues related to the attempted Giffords assassination (gun control, violent rhetoric and its consequences; mental illness) and reward the right-wing bloggers who have been trying nonstop to legitimate this meme, sans evidence, all week long—again, with zero corroborating evidence.

This past week has been one long, painful reminder that bullies always make the biggest whiners when the time comes to own up to the consequences of their actions. So here's an important distinction for you folks. If people are wishing Palin would die of cancer, as The Daily Caller claims (their "evidence," a YouTube video, has been removed for violating YouTube's terms of service), that's pretty sick. If there are people making genuine death threats, you would do us all a real service by providing evidence and urging Palin to involve law enforcement.

But Matt Yglesias (who appears as an example in an earlier baseless inflammatory piece) tweeting, "A reminder that gun imagery and electoral politics don't mix that well," and attaching an image of Palin's infamous cross-hairs political map, which includes Giffords's district, in the hours after news broke of the attempted assassination? That's not the same thing as calling for people to kill Palin, or even insinuating that they need to keep a gun around to defend themselves from her: it's a pointed political criticism with which you are free to disagree.

Conflating criticism, even harsh criticism, with genuine calls for violence or elimination is more than merely dishonest and offensive. It's also (dare I say it in this climate?) dangerous. Why perpetuate the we're-under-attack-so-let's-lock-and-load nonsense that's already done so much harm?

 
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