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It Gets Better, When Other People Do the Work.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was spotted wearing bright purple as visible show of support for LGBTQ youth on Spirit Day. On Tuesday, she released a video as part of the It Gets Better Project (associated with the The Trevor Project), aimed at helping LGBTQ youth to see that suicide isn’t the answer.

While the video probably isn’t the most moving of all of the IGB videos I’ve watched (and if you do take an hour to do a google search, make sure to have some Kleenex handy), but coming from someone straight who is in such a position of power, it blew my mind. And yet, I wasn’t surprised. Hillary has always stood against injustice and for human dignity, making her a natural and profound ally of the LGBTQ community.

Today, President Obama released an It Gets Better Video:

On the surface, I have to say that Obama’s video is better executed. It’s been lightly edited, and the speech seems more off-the-cuff and personable (and I’ve never been one of those “great orator” Obama worshippers). And, an unfair advantage, it comes from the President. That’s potentially pretty impressive. To give credit where credit is due, pretty solid thanks are owed to Obama for his willingness to attach his face and name to this project. He stepped up on this one.

Unless it’s pure calculated political opportunism. After all, Obama is the man who refused to speak to the queer media. The man who refused to have his picture taken with Mayor Gavin Newsom. The man who pandered to homophobes during the campaign. The man who pandered to homophobes during his inauguration. The man who proclaimed himself a “fierce advocate” for the Queer community, before doing worse than nothing for us for the last two years.

I’m always extremely wary of politicians who claim to be LGBT supporters, mostly because we as a community have an unfortunate history of being seduced during the campaign and screwed afterwards. I’ve seen some of the predictable reactions to these videos. Calling them political opportunism, blaming Hillary for DOMA and DADT (don’t even get me Started), and lauding Obama for his courageous stance. But I’ve also seen a few people waking up to the fact that Hillary got there first, that Obama needs queer voters this November, that Obama is all hat and no cattle on queer issues, etc.

This is what we need to keep hammering on folks, it’s exactly what we understood in 2008 that set us apart: Look to the actions, not to the words. And even when people look like they’re saying the same thing, sometimes it’s the subtle differences that matter.

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Friday Night Cookout Open Thread


Even political junkies need to eat once in a while. This is an open thread for people to share their favorite recipes.

If y’all like it maybe we can do this every week. (hint, hint)


Does fear equal bigotry?


In the “post-racial” Age of Obama we hear a lot of accusations of racism and bigotry being thrown around, without much discussion of what those words really mean. I want to discuss the term “bigotry.”

Over at Salon, Joan Walsh had this to say in discussing the firing of Juan Williams:

Let’s be clear: Williams regularly comes to O’Reilly’s rescue, and the words that got him in trouble this time were telling O’Reilly he was “right” about his anti-Muslim views — even though he later challenged him. Williams starts out: “Well, actually, I hate to say this to you because I don’t want to get your ego going. But I think you’re right. I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.”

He then goes on to express fear when he sees Muslims on an airplane, especially those “who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.” That’s bigotry, pure and simple.


First of all, this is not a discussion about whether or not Juan Williams should have been fired, nor is about anything else he or anyone else may have said. I want to focus solely on that second paragraph and the idea that fear of some racial or religious group equals bigotry.

Merriam-Webster dictionary:

big·ot·ry
noun \ňąbi-g…ô-trńď\
plural big·ot·ries
Definition of BIGOTRY
1
: the state of mind of a bigot
2
: acts or beliefs characteristic of a bigot


Okay, well that didn’t help much. Let’s try again:


big·ot
noun \ňąbi-g…ôt\
Definition of BIGOT
: a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance
‚ÄĒ big¬∑ot¬∑ed\-g…ô-t…ôd\ adjective


I am going to assume, arguendo, that Williams was speaking honestly. He said he experienced fear, which is a involuntary physiological reaction. We don’t choose to be afraid. You can say his fear is irrational, but even if that were true it would make it a phobia, not bigotry.

Fear is one of the most basic human emotions. It is hardwired into our brains, like an instinct. When our primal brain senses danger it triggers a “flight or fight” reaction. This involves three parts of our brain – the thalamus, the amygdala and the hypothalamus. Sometimes it involves the hippocamus and the sensory cortex too.

Those of you who have taken an anatomy class know that none of those five parts of the brain are where we do our heavy thinking. The primal part of our brain is kinda like BIOS is to your computer. But just like you can “flash” a BIOS chip we can do some reprogramming to our primal brain.

The problem is that part of or brain will reprogram itself. In fact, it’s supposed to if it’s working correctly. It’s actually pretty adaptable in some ways.

Let’s go back in time to when one of our primitive ancestors (Oog) sees his cousin (Og) get killed and eaten by a cave bear. Now Oog never saw a cave bear before, but his amygdala has now listed cave bears on Oog’s flight or fight trigger list.

From now on, whenever Oog sees a cave bear he will be afraid. Not only that, but his primitive brain will tell him to be afraid of things that look similar to cave bears, like saber tooth tigers. Oog doesn’t have to think about any of this, his primal brain does it all on it’s own.

So jump forward a million years or so to today. Oog (who now has a good job doing commercials for GEICO insurance) turns on his television and sees a couple jumbo jets hitting the Twin Towers. He sees Muslims chanting “death to America” and all kinds of violence associated with Muslims.

His primal brain sees all that stuff too, and lists “Muslims” on Oog’s flight or fight trigger list. But Oog doesn’t just watch the news, he watches television and movies. When he does he often sees fictional depictions of violent scary Muslims.

While Oog’s higher brain recognizes these depictions as fiction, his primal brain sees them as real. So when Oog encounters a Muslim in real life his primal brain is telling him to be afraid, no matter what his higher brain might be saying.

Now obviously, feeling fear is not the same thing as burning a cross on somebody’s lawn. We need to judge people on what they do and say, and not on their involuntary physiological reactions.

I’m not defending Juan Williams. With a fat new $2 million contract in his pocket he doesn’t need my assistance anyway. But calling him a bigot because he honestly admitted to feeling “nervous” doesn’t help anything.

Remember Obama’s Greatestest Speech on Race EVAH? It was supposed to start a national conversation on race but I don’t see a whole lot of dialoging going on.

Instead I see a whole lot of yelling, with accusations of racism and bigotry being used as a weapon, mostly by one side.


There is nothing more painful to me … than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved. — the Reverend Jesse Jackson



Liberals open minds, brains fall out over Juan Willams’ firing.

I shouldn’t be surprised over the lefty reaction to Juan Williams’ firing. ¬†Ok, I’m not surprised. ¬†Some people seem to think this is a free speech issue. ¬†It’s not. ¬†Allow me to insert my humble opinion as a former dedicated NPR listener.

Juan Williams parked himself on NPR during the Bush years. ¬†That’s when I really started to notice him on NPR. ¬†It was about that time that Congress appointed some Republican operative to the head of the corporation for public broadcasting and severely cut the budgets of CPB programming. ¬†Eventually, NPR was pretty much on its own, getting underwriting from companies that specialize in ‘Wealth Management”. ¬†The tenor of the reporting changed and Juan Williams was one of the leaders of that change.

In order to not offend the Republicans who might be listening in, the reports became more “on the one hand, on the other hand”. ¬†Both sides were presented equally as if there was nothing at all wrong with any batshit crazy thing a movement conservative might say. ¬†Mara Liasson and Steve Inskeep joined in. ¬†Some of the interviews of Democrats became downright hostile. ¬†I can remember one that Inskeep did with Rahm Emannuel that was inexplicably aggressive and nasty and I don’t even like Rahm. ¬†In other words, NPR became just like every other media outlet: afraid to tell the truth without couching it in terms that conservatives wouldn’t find offensive.

Over time, instead of getting a quality news program that I had listened to for over 20 years, NPR became dependent on its donors – those wealth management people. ¬†The reporting definitely suffered. ¬†I used to write NPR diaries at DailyKos documenting the sad demise of NPR. ¬†Juan, Mara and Steve lead the way, along with a generous dollop of Cokie “Tokyo Rose” Roberts. ¬†The Village had gotten a grip on Morning Edition and All things Considered and it began to specialize in High Broderism.

Fast forward to 2010. ¬†Now we are in the midst of a fall fund raiser and maybe the corporate donations aren’t as abundant as they used to be. ¬†And maybe listeners aren’t ponying up either. ¬†Then Juan Williams agrees with O’Reilly that muslims going all jihad is the greatest threat to this country. ¬†Are you going to donate to NPR after you hear that? ¬†Because O’Reilly is clearly looney toons and if Juan is agreeing with him, that means that Williams might also bring that perspective to NPR. ¬†Listeners can come to two possible explanations for Wiliiams’ statements: 1.) he shares some of conservative O’Reilly’s bigoted beliefs about muslims or 2.) he has no problem pandering to the viewers’ base emotional responses for money. ¬†If I am a listener of NPR, I pride myself that I am also NOT a listener of Bill O’Reilly, no matter how soft and squishy the reporting has become. ¬†I start to make calls to the NPR member station and threaten to withhold my contribution. ¬†(Actually, I’ve done this in the past over Mara and Steve).

The head of NPR, Vivian Whatshername, has had enough. ¬†Juan is hurting the NPR brand name and threatening the credibility of the station. Is he a secret conservative shill who lets his sympathies for Fox viewers cloud his reporting on NPR? ¬†If he isn’t fired, would any listener contributors believe anything Williams has to say after this point? ¬† He was warned several times before about this. ¬†He crossed the line. ¬†He has to go.

Here’s my take on this: no matter how far NPR has fallen from its zenith in the nineties, it still has a reputation to maintain as a genuine news organization. ¬†Journalism is what it does. ¬†Once that mission is threatened by the possibility that some of your staff are not above demogoguery and pandering, the whole enterprise is threatened. ¬†Money and budgets disappear as do the rest of your staff. ¬†Juan undermines NPR’s news credibility.

Now, some of you may argue, unsuccessfully IMHO, that NPR violated Williams’ free speech when it terminated his contract. ¬†That’s nonsense. ¬†Williams can say anything he damn well pleases. ¬†He landed on his feet and will get 2 million bucks for selling his soul hook, line and sinker to Fox. ¬†He will now become just another emasculated “liberal” on Fox. ¬†What NPR did was protect itself from accusations of extremist conservative bias.

Yep, there’s still a lot of cleaning up to do on aisle nine at NPR. ¬†Their journalistic standards have fallen significantly since they decided to throw away excellence in reporting in order to make the conservatives comfy. ¬†But that’s not the mission of a news organization. ¬†They are supposed to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. ¬†It wasn’t NPR’s liberal reporters that gave them the reputation of being liberal in its heyday. ¬†It was that NPR was so effective at reporting the truth with high standards and integrity. ¬†And as we all know from Stephen Colbert, “the truth as a strong liberal bias”. ¬†That is why Republicans tried so hard to bring CPB down during the Bush era. ¬†When you hear the truth, extremist conservatism ala Fox starts to sound really stupid. ¬†So, I applaud NPR for taking this step. ¬†They did the right thing in order to start on the long road to recovery.

If Juan were working for any other outfit other than a news organization, I’d probably agree with the people who felt he was being singled out for sharing unpopular views. ¬†This is not the case here. ¬†The guy just has no integrity when it came to journalism and it was going to reflect badly on NPR. ¬†He had to go.