Don't Stop the ACLU

Friday, March 31, 2006

Communists and the ACLU: An "exposé"

The anti-ACLU blogging community is rather fond of attempting to discredit the ACLU by highlighting the organization's communist roots. For a couple of good examples, check out WorldNetDaily and an ongoing series (part two here) at Stop the ACLU. I won't dispute the facts or quotes they provide, because yes, the founders of the ACLU were Communists. What I will take umbrage at is the general tone that these pieces take and what they are implying by mentioning these facts (while omitting several others, I might add) in this context:

1. First there's the attempt to channel Upton Sinclair or Woodward and Bernstein. The authors of these anti-ACLU pieces act as if they're digging up previously unknown facts and bringing to light a major scandal, thus adding a shock value to their attacks. But the information they provide is hardly new, and it happens to be available to the Internet-using public at a certain free online encyclopedia.

2. Didn't this fervently anti-communist mentality die out after Joe McCarthy was neutered and disgraced? As much as many Americans would like to believe, Communists are not the be-all, end-all of evil. In fact, there are still many Americans who are Communists, and they even have their own party, the Communist Party of the United States of America. But they're not the shadowy underground organization they once were. They have a lovely website, located at cpusa.org, where you can read all about their political views and find contact information, including an e-mail address, a mailing address, and a phone number. They're not hiding anymore, so if you really want to find them, there you go. If you take the time to read what they have to say, you'll see that they're patriotic, democracy-loving, socially progressive peaceniks. They just happen to dislike capitalism. Communism should never be confused with totalitarianism, but unfortunately, ACLU haters make this mistake quite often. So go ahead and call the ACLU a bunch of Commies, and call me a Commie if you'd like (even though, FYI, I'm not a Communist). At worst you're calling us idealists.

3. Let's assume that Communists are purely evil and that the ACLU is nothing but a front for just a second. Biased histories of the ACLU will fail to mention that founder Roger Baldwin renounced communism in 1940, and subsequently the ACLU banned all Communists from its leadership. Personally I find this purge far more upsetting and offensive than the fact that the ACLU was founded by Communists in the first place. Fortunately, the organization realized that that policy ran counter to their own ideals, and they abandoned it in 1960. And calling Baldwin a Communist hardly tells his complete story. After directing the ACLU for 30 years, Baldwin went on to oversee civil rights work in post-war Japan, Germany, and Austria and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter in 1981.

4. But here's the most important point, and it's simply an exercise in logic: the ACLU and communism - and by extension its adherents - are unrelated. The ACLU is concerned entirely with upholding constitutional protections and guarantees, while communism is an economic/political system. Shared views between the ACLU and Communists are coincidental and do not suggest that the two are intrinsically linked.
posted by Maj. M.T. Rational XXXIV at 5:34 PM | link | 7 comments

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

No gay marriage? What about gay zlarriage?

My heart broke a little last November when 11 states passed bans on gay marriage. While these measures passed by overwhelming majorities in four Southern states, the most disconcerting aspect of the situation was that two solid-blue states, Oregon and Michigan, passed bans (57% and 59% of the vote, respectively). As much as I'd like to blame it all on the religious right, I can't do that. Many Democrats have voiced their opposition to gay marriage, and Bill Clinton himself signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman, in 1996. And now many in Congress are pushing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage.

Why is this happening? What about freedom, liberty, equality, and all those other buzzwords we throw around so casually? I've debated this issue with several people over the last few years, and I've never once heard a good reason why homosexuals should not be able to marry. I have heard several bad reasons, however, and I think opponents of gay marriage themselves understand that they don't have a legal leg to stand on, which is why they're going to the extreme of attempting to amend the Constitution.

Here's how a typical debate on the subject goes:

Rational Person: So, tell me why you're against gay marriage.
Gay Marriage Opponent: God created the institution of marriage as a holy union between one man and one woman.
RP: He did? How do you know that?
GMO: The Bible says so.
RP: You know you're not allowed to discriminate based on your religious beliefs, right?
GMO: Yeah, I guess so.
RP: You'll have to give me a better reason then.
GMO: Homosexuality is unnatural.
RP: No it's not, and even if it were, why shouldn't they be allowed to marry? What's it to you?
GMO: Gay marriage will destroy the notion of family, and humans will no longer procreate.
RP: Heterosexual marriage will still be allowed, and you can have all the children you want. Families will still exist.
GMO: Marriage is traditionally the union of one man and one woman. That's the way it's been for thousands of years. It's a sacred institution; we must protect its sanctity.
RP: Traditions end, often with very good reason. And is marriage really so sacred? Let me get this straight: Britney Spears can get wasted in Vegas and marry some guy she barely knows, but two people who love and cherish each other - but happen to be of the same sex - can't? And what do divorce rates tell us about the sanctity of marriage? If we allowed homosexuals to marry, I'd bet a lot of money that the divorce rate among homosexuals would be substantially lower than that of heterosexuals, because they would value the right dearly.
GMO: But marriage is simply defined as the union of one man and one woman!
RP: Who says? Webster's? Words only mean what we allow them to mean. We can print new dictionaries if that's what concerns you.
GMO: But then the government and businesses will have to extend the same rights that heterosexual couples enjoy to homosexual couples!
RP: Yep, that's the idea. Anything else?
GMO: Because I said so!

This argument unfolds like one between a precocious child and a lazy parent. When lazy parent makes an irrational and unjust decision, precocious child will naturally question it. The more rational precocious child is, the more irrational lazy parent becomes, until lazy parent erupts and yells, "Because I said so!" It's a sad sight to behold.

Look, maybe we can compromise. Heterosexuals can keep marriage, and homosexuals will get their own marriage-like institution called zlarriage. Zlarriage will be defined as the legal union of one man and one man or one woman and one woman. The government and businesses will recognize its legality and offer the same rights and benefits to zlarried homosexual couples that they offer to married heterosexual couples.

See? Separate but equal.
posted by Maj. M.T. Rational XXXIV at 10:07 AM | link | 11 comments

Monday, March 27, 2006

Speak up

Please. Everyone. Can we stop assuming completely ridiculous things about one another based on our issue-specific political beliefs?

Liberals do this plenty ("Support charter schools? You hate poor children. Don't like affirmative action? You're a racist. Don't like abortion? You hate women"), but conservatives seem to be a little bit better at it. Conservatives gave us gems like "Don't like being spied on? You love terrorists" and "Don't think lying to the Grand Jury about a blow job is as serious a crime as lying to the American people about your motives for leading its army to war? You're obviously a communist."

Here is an excellent example.

In sum, the writer suggests that because San Franciscans greeted rallying out-of-towner evangelical Christian teenagers with resistance (a counter-rally, along with some official condemnations by various city officials), said SFans therefore believed that only non-religious liberals should have the right to free speech.

The really sad thing about the commentary on this story is that it appears on a site whose stated purpose (from the "About" section) is as follows:

"The American Thinker is devoted to the thoughtful exploration of issues of importance to Americans. Contributors are accomplished in fields beyond journalism, and animated to write for the general public out of concern for the complex and morally significant questions on the national agenda."

A more complex analysis of what was happening here might have noted that the counter-rally participants were simply excercising their own right to free speech. While I'm sure tensions were high and bile was spewed from both sides of the fence, here, I can find nothing in the SFGate article about anyone demanding that anyone else's First-Amendment right be revoked.

The counter-rally is as central to American free speech as the rally itself. If a group of people came to my town and declared "cultural war" on me, I would not cheer them on. Would you?
posted by Maven Swift at 2:06 PM | link | 3 comments

Friday, March 24, 2006

Why we’re here

If we believed most of the information we got from the news media, Capt. Rational and I would be scared shitless right now. We would be terrified that we were the only two reasonable people left on earth, that everyone was either a godless commie liberal slut or a right-wing hatemongering religious zealot, that the lunatics had at last taken over the asylum. We’d see the world in red and blue and there would be no hope for us.

Fortunately, the 1980s prepared us for this. We know the only real way to make sense of the flat, eye-straining red and blue outlines — the only way to see them in three dimensions — is to don a pair of special glasses with one blue lens and one red one and keep both eyes open.

We don’t buy the red-state/blue-state dichotomy. We were paying attention as the numbers came in during the 2004 presidential election, and we noticed that in most states, the margin of blueness/redness was pretty slim. That means most of America is a healthy shade of purple, a good strong blend of people and ideas. And we’re not sure, but if we had to guess, we’d say most of these people are a lot more reasonable than our pundits, elected officials, and cookie-cutter talking heads.

Unfortunately, those latter three types are in charge of the mainstream media, so it falls to the rest of us to have the reasoned debates they won’t. It’s up to us to help each other understand where we are coming from, what we believe, and why we believe it. If there is common ground — and God help us if there isn’t — it’s our responsibility as citizens to find it.

We will disagree — sometimes passionately — about policy and morality and everything else under the sun, but we will do it civilly and it will be good for us.
posted by Maven Swift at 8:34 PM | link | 1 comments

Got gay?

Parody of the ridiculous has long been an effective method of making the ridiculous look even more ridiculous. If the parody itself does not accomplish this, the parodied party's indignant - and often preposterous - reaction usually does. Rather than having a chuckle at their own expense and letting the parody roll off their backs, targets of parody too often resort to litigation.

Case in point: the parody shown in the picture, which was created by Santa Rosa, Calif., blogger Justin Watt. Last September, after spotting an anti-gay billboard erected by Exodus International, a Christian nonprofit whose stated mission is to "... provide support for individuals who want to recover from homosexuality," Watt created his amusing and poignant parody and posted it on his blog.

Fast-forward six months to March 2, 2006, when Watt received a cease-and-desist letter from lawyers representing Exodus, who claimed that Watt's use of their image violated copyright law. ACLU lawyers were soon on the case and sent a detailed response to Exodus's lawyers, explaining that Mr. Watt's parody is protected by the First Amendment, citing, among other laws, section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, which regards fair use of copyrighted material. Fortunately, the issue will never reach court, since earlier today, Exodus unceremoniously dropped its case against Watt.

Even though the issue in this case was one of free speech and not gay rights, this episode highlights a dangerous attitude that is prevalent in our society even in the year 2006. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, too many Americans believe that homosexuality is a disease, a choice, or a perversion. What's worse is that this belief is put into practice, and rights enjoyed by the heterosexual majority are denied to LGBT citizens. As far as we've come in the area of civil rights, our government still blatantly discriminates against a significant portion of the population based on an archaic notion of normality. For more on the ongoing fight to protect gay rights, please visit the ACLU website.
posted by Maj. M.T. Rational XXXIV at 7:18 PM | link | 1 comments

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The truthiness about sex

Stop the ACLU posted an item today about a recent ACLU press release regarding the sex education curriculum in Rhode Island's public schools. The ACLU has argued - and the Rhode Island Department of Education has agreed - that the federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum failed to live up to Rhode Island's anti-discrimination statutes and comprehensive sex education laws.

It was a straightforward, no-nonsense press release. But our buddy Gribbit at Stop the ACLU proceeded to completely misread it and post his distorted interpretation under the headline "Abstinence Is Harmful? News To Us." He took a portion of the ACLU headline, dismantled an adjective (”Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage”), eliminated the subject (”Curriculum”), then made a component of the adjective (”Abstinence”) the new subject.

Gribbit also included a little lecture on reproductive health, which is (mostly) accurate and inarguable, save for a bizarre and misplaced attack (?) on homosexuals. We don’t need to be reminded that abstinence is the best method for avoiding unwanted pregnancies and STDs. That’s not the issue here. The issue is that teaching ONLY abstinence is dangerous in that it doesn’t teach teens that there are methods to safely engage in sex. Asking teens not to have sex is like asking kittens not to be cute. Not gonna happen. And contrary to what Gribbit claims, having sex is not akin to shoplifting. Now do I believe that teaching abstinence should be part of sex education? Of course! And I bet the ACLU does, too. However, it should be part of a comprehensive curriculum that covers the many aspects of sex.

Also included in Gribbit's post are some inaccurate figures regarding the effectiveness of hormonal birth control. According to the FDA, hormonal birth control has a failure rate of 1-2%, not 8%. In practice, this number goes up to 5% as a result of missed does, etc., but this is hardly the drug’s fault. Additionally, the FDA says that, administered correctly, the pill can be up to 99.9% effective.

Of course condoms, the pill, and other common methods of contraception aren't infallible, but they’re a hell of a lot more effective if used properly. It only makes sense, then, to teach teens how to use them properly.

As for Gribbit's claims regarding abortion safety, the data shows otherwise again. Abortion as performed by a licensed physician is among the safest surgical procedures there are. According to a CDC fact sheet, only 1% of abortions result in infection (common to all surgeries), and 0.6 deaths occur per 100,000 abortions, which happens to be lower than the maternal fatality rate associated with live birth (9.8 per 100,000). Regarding the purported abortion-breast cancer link, the National Cancer Institute issued a report written by a group of breast cancer experts that says there is no link between abortion and breast cancer.

The debate over at what point life begins will rage on forever, but, as the Supreme Court said in Roe v. Wade, settling that argument is beside the point. In the majority opinion, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, "the unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense" and therefore did not enjoy the status or rights of such persons. The Court also held that criminalizing abortion "abridged [a woman's] right of personal privacy, protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments."

posted by Maj. M.T. Rational XXXIV at 7:43 PM | link | 13 comments