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by Peterr

Snowden, Merkel, Obama, and King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

9:13 am in Foreign Policy, LGBT, NSA by Peterr

photo: mplemmon via Flickr

In 1963, Martin Luther King addressed a group of local white clergy who were upset with him and his colleagues for being so confrontational, so direct, and so impatient in what became known as “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” After recounting the many earlier attempts to address matter that produced little if any change, King wrote this:

You may well ask: Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

In 2010, on the eve of the midterm Congressional elections, President Obama sat down with five prominent LGBT bloggers to try to tamp down the LGBT community’s pressure on him to quit defending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. LGBT activists had been raising the temperature on the White House, and Obama had the audacity to refer to King’s letter in telling them that LGBTs simply need to wait until the right time:

And so, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that the disillusionment is justified.

Now, I say that as somebody who appreciates that the LGBT community very legitimately feels these issues in very personal terms. So it’s not my place to counsel patience. One of my favorite pieces of literature is ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’ and Dr. King had to battle people counseling patience and time. And he rightly said that time is neutral. And things don’t automatically get better unless people push to try to get things better.

So I don’t begrudge the LGBT community pushing, but the flip side of it is that this notion somehow that this administration has been a source of disappointment to the LGBT community, as opposed to a stalwart ally of the LGBT community, I think is wrong.

As I said at the time, I think Obama needs to reread the Letter, as he completely misses King’s meaning time and time again over his tenure at the White House. In January 2011, the DOD’s General Counsel Jeh Johnson attempted to say that King would have been fine with drones, indefinite detention, and the War in Afghanistan, totally misunderstanding King’s life’s work in general and his very specific comments about war and non-violence in particular. Let the record show slightly less than two years after making those remarks, Jeh Johnson become the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Those old posts came back to me as I watched Obama’s speech about the NSA last Friday, and watched the subsequent analysis of it — especially that done by the invaluable Marcy Wheeler (see here, for instance). Barack “No Drama” Obama disdains confrontation, and yet it was the drama created by the direct action of Edward Snowden, together with the journalistic work of Glenn Greenwald, Der Spiegel, the Guardian, and others, that has done what King talked about: “create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

Marcy and others have been shouting for years about unconstitutional institutional overreach in the intelligence community, and the response from Obama was no better than the response from Bush, until Snowden’s leaks started appearing in print. When Obama nominated Dawn Johnsen to be the head of the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel shortly after his election in 2008, he raised hopes that this kind of unreviewable, unchallengable, behind-the-scenes approach to the Executive branch’s conclusions about what is and is not constitutional would change. While others nominated to senior DOJ posts were confirmed, she waited, and waited, and waited some more. While Obama fought for other nominees, she sat alone, in silence. When her nomination was eventually withdrawn, it came as no surprise. As bmaz wrote most eloquently,

Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

SCOTUS Justices Don’t Read Polls, But They Do Read History

3:22 am in LGBT, Prop 8 by Peterr

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in US v Windsor (the DOMA case) and Perry v. Hollingsworth (Prop 8), and by June they will issue their rulings. In so doing, they will be putting these two cases — and themselves — on one of two lists.

List A:

  • Dred Scott v Sandford – declared that African-Americans were not citizens
  • Plessy v Ferguson – upheld the doctrine of “separate but equal”
  • Korematsu v US – upheld the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII

List B:

  • Brown v Board of Education – struck down Plessy
  • Gideon v Wainwright – required that poor defendants in state courts be provided with counsel
  • Loving v Virginia – struck down laws prohibiting marriage between people of different races

The cases on List A are widely seen as the most egregious mistakes in Supreme Court history. They catered to fear, prejudice, and discrimination, at the expense of those on the margins of society. They may have been praised at the time, but as the passions of the moment faded, their defects and ill-conceived logic became clear, and the justices who wrote the opinions had their reputations scarred and shattered.

The cases on List B, on the other hand, are considered to be among the finest ever to have been handed down. Setting aside fears and prejudice, the justices stood firmly on the side of those on the margins. Boiling these cases down, the messages of these cases are simple and straightforward: “Separate is NOT equal” said the Court in Brown, “rights are meaningless unless you have the ability to employ them” said the Court in  Gideon, and “discrimination is not a rational basis for marriage laws” said the Court in Loving.

The justices of the Supreme Court are famous for saying that they do not decide cases based on polling or popular opinion. That may be. But these same justices are passionate about history — especially the history of the Supreme Court of the United States. Come June, when they decide Windsor and Perry, they will be making history. But it’s up to them as to whether they will be remembered for a decision like Dred Scott or decision like Loving.

So what will it be, Your Honors? Do we put Windsor and Perry in List A or List B? Historians are waiting . . . Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Mike Huckabee’s Attack on Unbelievably Un-American Economic Terrorists

6:27 am in LGBT, Religion by Peterr

Oh my. Mike Huckabee is not happy:

“This is economic terrorism,” said Mike Huckabee, the former pastor, governor and presidential contender, who is a paid CGBG consultant. “To try to destroy a business because you don’t like some of the customers is, to me, unbelievably un-American,” he said in an interview.

The “this” of his ire was a LGBT-led campaign to pressure companies like Microsoft, Apple, Macys, and Wal-Mart to end their participation in the Charity Give Back Group (CGBG), formerly known as the Christian Values Network.  So why is the campaign un-American “economic terrorism?

CGBG promotes the products of participating companies to its supporters, and the companies agree to funnel a portion of the proceeds from the sales of their wares back to a number of anti-gay organizations from the religious right, like James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council — an organization designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. [Update: edited for more clarity.]

But Mike . . . boycotts are “economic terrorism”? Really?

I guess that makes James Dobson an unbelievably un-American economic terrorist for the Focus on the Family boycott of Disney [pdf], along with the unbelievably un-American American Family Association, the unbelievably un-American Catholic League,  the unbelievably un-American Citizens for a Better America, the unbelievably un-American Concerned Women for America, and the unbelievably un-American Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Here’s the SBC’s 1997 terrorist manifesto, Mike. The unbelievably un-American economic terrorist Richard Land was at the heart of implementing that manifesto, crafting and mailing propaganda to his co-conspirators, urging them to channel the anger of their followers and recruit them for the cause.

I’m no fan of Dobson, Land, et al., though.

I prefer the unbelievably un-American economic terrorism of Martin Luther King Jr. myself. When the white-owned businesses in Birmingham in the early 1960s told King and other black leaders,  “We’d love to let you folks sit at our lunch counters, but we don’t want to offend our customers or get involved in politics,” unbelievably un-American economic terrorism ensued. This being pre-9/11, the preferred term used by Bull Connor and his all-American defenders of freedom was “outside agitators” instead of “unbelievably un-American economic terrorists” but the idea was the same.

It makes me wonder how much CGBG is paying Huckabee these days to “consult” like this.

Or . . .

*donning tin foil hat*

Maybe Huckabee is a Manchurian Consultant, secretly recruited by Teh Gay Agenda to undermine the already shaky credibility of the Homophobic-American community.

Maybe I shouldn’t have outed him like this. My bad.

by Peterr

On Worshiping Milton Friedman and Calling Him Jesus

6:52 am in Culture, Economy, Religion by Peterr

(photo: juicyrai)

From USA Today comes news of a survey by a group of Baylor researchers on the values and beliefs of the American public. The study examines the intersection of personal faith/religious expression and economic beliefs, views on gays and lesbians, spirituality and mental health, and other issues.

What leaped out at me from the USA Today write-up was the confusion that many folks on the conservative end of the religious spectrum have.

“They say the invisible hand of the free market is really God at work,” says sociologist Paul Froese, co-author of the Baylor Religion Survey, released today by Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“They think the economy works because God wants it to work. It’s a new religious economic idealism,” with politicians “invoking God while chanting ‘less government,’” he says.

In other words, they’re worshiping Milton Friedman and calling him Jesus. Sorry, folks, but there is no commandment that reads “Thou shalt pull thyself up by thine own bootstraps.”

One of the things that always irritates me about the arguments about what the Bible says about homosexuality is that the Bible says very, very little about it at all. It just not a topic of conversation, and what little is said says absolutely nothing about a loving committed relationship between two people of the same gender. But to hear the religious right tell the story, you’d think that everyone from Adam to Jesus was constantly harping on the subject.


On the other hand, the Bible is filled — absolutely stuffed! — with commentary about how one ought to live from an economic perspective. In the stories and the laws and the preaching of the prophets, we hear constantly about caring for the poor and needy and widows and orphans, about proper government oversight of the marketplace (for instance, use the same set of weights and measures for all customers, not one set for your friends and another for the marks), about judges and rulers providing fair application of justice, about condemnations of bribery, about forgiveness of debts, etc. Money and commerce are a much larger topic than LGBTs and their sex lives.

(The sex lives of opposite-sex-minded folks do get discussed, though, like the story of King David, who set up one of his military leaders to be killed so that David’s affair with his wife wouldn’t be discovered, or Solomon and his hundreds of wives and concubines. But I digress . . .)

Government comes in for its share of criticism in the Bible, to be sure. But the criticism is usually that the ruling class — the kings, judges, priests, and wealthy merchants/landowners — is not doing what it is supposed to be doing. Jeremiah was a real pest, from the standpoint of the government, because he kept asking it to do its job. Ditto for Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, and the others. And Jesus? Calling out hypocrites and self-centered players in the economy and government was part and parcel of his daily teaching. As I noted here at FDL last December, the Villagers of DC today are not so different from the Villagers of Jerusalem back then. Both are skewered by Jesus’ observation that one cannot serve both money and God, served up in a wonderful story that opens sort of like this:

Once upon a time, there was a rich man who lived in a nice gated community, with gold-trimmed plates on his table, with gold-plated flatware sitting on linen tablecloths woven with gold threads for trim. He had a fine private chef, who served only the finest meats from the best markets, and the freshest vegetables from the best farmers. Every day he and his friends dined on the most elaborate culinary creations.

Outside the gates was a poor man named Lazarus, who was sick and covered with sores. He watched the procession of groceries go into the house every day and the procession of half-eaten scraps go out of the house every night. “If only I could eat the scraps,” he thought, his mouth watering, as the neighborhood dogs came and tried to lick at his sores. . .

You can read my retelling of the story for yourself at the link, but (spoiler alert) it does not end well for the rich man. It’s about as anti-Milton Friedman a story as anyone could come up with.

Or look at Ezekiel, speaking to the rulers in Jerusalem. He calls them “whores,” because despite the fact that God raised up Israel from slavery in Egypt, the leaders in Ezekiel’s day had forsaken love of God for love of money and their own personal power. Ezekiel compares Jerusalem to the heretical region of Samaria and infamous city of Sodom (chapter 16):

Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the Lord: . . . Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

“More corrupt” than Sodom? That’s going to leave a mark.

The harsh condemnation of the rulers is not that government has done too much, but it has done too little to economically care for those on the margins.


I would say that this Baylor study (pdf) means that people ought to go to church more often, but digging into the details of it, that seems to be part of the problem. The folks most likely to confuse Milton Friedman with Jesus, who want less government, and who think the unemployed shouldn’t get any help, are most likely to be frequent attenders of church.

*beats head against desk*

Maybe it’s time for them to look for a different church — one that reads the whole Bible, and actually notices the parts about caring for your neighbor.

by Peterr

Marriage Delayed is Marriage Denied

6:49 am in LGBT, Religion by Peterr

Wedding Cake by the-icing-on-the-cake. (Jo)

Rose Marie Belforti

Town Clerk, Ledyard NY


Dear Ms. Belforti,

There are legislators in the state of New York. From what I hear from my perch in Kansas City, they can be a pretty odd bunch at times. Still, they *are* legislators, and after they argue and bicker and horsetrade, in the end they manage to pass legislation every now and then.

You are not a member of the legislature.

There is also a governor in New York. He argues and bickers and horsetrades with the legislators, trying to shape the proposals into something he’d like. In the end, he takes whatever legislation is passed by the legislature, and either signs it into law or not.

You are not the governor.

There are also judges in New York. When people argue and bicker with one another over the meaning or application or constitutionality of a law, they often end up arguing and bickering in front of a judge. Sometimes there are juries who listen in. In the end, the judges and juries pass judgement on the laws and their application.

You are not one of them.

You are a town clerk. It’s a fine and noble position, and people in your town depend on you to do your job. They don’t depend on you to write legislation, approve legislation, or rule on its constitutionality. Other people have those jobs, not you.

Your job is to be the town clerk. When two people present themselves to obtain a marriage license, your job is to insure that they meet the requirements of the state of New York before you issue it to them. Is one of them too young? Your reply is simple: “No license for you. Come back when you’re older.” Is one of them presently married to someone else? Again, your answer is clear: “Sorry, but it’s one license at a time per customer. Come back when the old one is void.” Is one of them drunk? “Sorry, but we can’t serve you if you’ve had too much to drink. Come back when you’re sober.”

And if they meet the requirements, your answer is equally clear: “Sign here . . . pay your fees . . . and here’s your license.”

There’s no “but I don’t think they’ll stay married” exception that allows you to refuse a license because you think the union will not last. There’s no “but I don’t like interracial marriages because it confuses the kids” exception that allows you to refuse a license based on your perception of what’s best for children the couple may or may not have down the road. There’s no “but he/she is just a golddigger after your money” exception that allows you to override the wishes of the couple because you believe that one of them is taking advantage of the other.

And there’s no “but I don’t like same-sex couples” exclusion that allows you to override the law of the state of New York. There just isn’t.

If that’s a problem for you, then I suggest you find another line of work that lets you practice your prejudices. Either that, or move to somewhere else that approves of your prejudice and become a county clerk there.

Ms. Belforti, you are entitled to your religious beliefs, just as I am entitled to mine. But your beliefs do not entitle you as an agent of the state of New York to set aside and ignore the laws you don’t like that have been passed by the state legislature, signed by the governor, and not been overturned by the judges of the state of New York.

Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio came to you two weeks ago to obtain a license for which they meet all the requirements, and you refused to grant it. For that you should be sanctioned, and if you persist, you should be removed from office and replaced with someone who will faithfully execute the laws of the state of New York.

It’s been two weeks, and the clock is still ticking. You can argue with the law and bicker with the law, but you cannot do it on the county’s time and at this couple’s expense. To borrow from a certain pastor, “Marriage delayed is marriage denied,” and marriages like these have been delayed far too long already.


Rev. Peterr


by Peterr

Obama May Want to Re-Read King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’

8:36 am in Government, LGBT by Peterr

photo: mplemmon via Flickr

At yesterday’s meeting with five progressive bloggers, Joe Sudbay at AmericaBlog asked a simple question that’s been waiting for a simple answer:

JOE: I was glad to hear that you and your staff appreciate constructive feedback.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that’s something we enjoy. (Laughter.)

JOE: We’ve been more than willing to offer that. We’ve certainly been more than willing to offer than from AMERICAblog, particularly on issues related to the LGBT community, which, you know, there is a certain amount of disillusionment and disappointment in our community right now.

And one of the things I’d like to ask you — and I think it’s a simple yes or no question too — is do you think that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is unconstitutional?

The answer he got was this:

It’s not a simple yes or no question, because I’m not sitting on the Supreme Court. And I’ve got to be careful, as President of the United States, to make sure that when I’m making pronouncements about laws that Congress passed I don’t do so just off the top of my head.

I think that — but here’s what I can say. I think “don’t ask, don’t tell” is wrong. I think it doesn’t serve our national security, which is why I want it overturned. I think that the best way to overturn it is for Congress to act. In theory, we should be able to get 60 votes out of the Senate. The House has already passed it. And I’ve gotten the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to say that they think this policy needs to be overturned — something that’s unprecedented.

And so my hope and expectation is, is that we get this law passed. It is not just harmful to the brave men and women who are serving, and in some cases have been discharged unjustly, but it doesn’t serve our interests — and I speak as Commander-in-Chief on that issue.

Let me go to the larger issue, though, Joe, about disillusionment and disappointment. I guess my attitude is that we have been as vocal, as supportive of the LGBT community as any President in history. I’ve appointed more openly gay people to more positions in this government than any President in history. We have moved forward on a whole range of issues that were directly under my control, including, for example, hospital visitation.

On “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I have been as systematic and methodical in trying to move that agenda forward as I could be given my legal constraints, given that Congress had explicitly passed a law designed to tie my hands on the issue.

And so, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that the disillusionment is justified.

Now, I say that as somebody who appreciates that the LGBT community very legitimately feels these issues in very personal terms. So it’s not my place to counsel patience. One of my favorite pieces of literature is “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and Dr. King had to battle people counseling patience and time. And he rightly said that time is neutral. And things don’t automatically get better unless people push to try to get things better.

So I don’t begrudge the LGBT community pushing, but the flip side of it is that this notion somehow that this administration has been a source of disappointment to the LGBT community, as opposed to a stalwart ally of the LGBT community, I think is wrong.

Obama’s answer reads like someone who’s read a set of talking points from King’s letter, not the letter itself. To refer to the letter in the context of an answer that at its core tells LGBTs they are wrong for pushing for action and to wait and be patient is stunning.

Let’s take a look at some of that letter (full letter in an annotated form here), written by King to a group of local clergy who were upset with him for pushing too hard, too fast, and in too public and direct a manner:

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs.On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community.

Promises made and not kept?
Blasted hopes?
The dark shadow of deep disappointment?
The humiliating signs remained?

That sounds very, very familiar to the LGBT community. While the progressives in general were celebrating Obama’s victory in November 2008, LGBTs were mourning the passage of Proposition 8 that tried to reverse marriage equality in California. “Your kind need not apply” said Prop 8.

Two years has passed since then, and the Obama DOJ has consistently defended DOMA and DADT in court (sometimes with amazingly destructive language), the Obama political folks never pushed for EDNA, and now Obama think LGBTs should not view his administration as a source of disappointment?

That sounds very much like the local clergy to whom King was writing, not the person in the jail cell holding the pencil.

Here’s more from King’s jail cell:

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

The LGBT community gets this. They’ve gotten very good at it, too:

They continue to lead a drumbeat of criticism of the inaction of the WH on DOMA, DADT, and ENDA.

They provided immediate pushback against Valerie Jarrett for her unthinking use of the language of “lifestyle choice” to describe the gay teen who committed suicide.

Dan Choi presented his very body, chained to the WH fence, and later walking into a recruiter’s office to reenlist in the military.

Kerry Eleveld offers constant questioning of Robert Gibbs on LGBT issues in the WH press room.

Direct action, growing stronger and louder over two years. And wonder of wonders, a week before the midterm elections the WH invites a group of LGBT activists into the WH for a strategy session on DADT, followed by inviting a major LGBT blogger to be part of an intimate sit-down with the President the next day.

It sure looks like the LGBT community and its supporters have managed “so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Does Obama get that he’s on the wrong side of what King wrote about?


More from King’s letter, on the basic question that Joe asked:

How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? . . . Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. . . .

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

How can Obama praise these words and then immediately pivot to tell Joe Sudbay that the LGBT community is wrong in considering the Obama administration a disappointment when it comes to dealing with the segregation faced by LGBTs?

The phrase “shallow understanding” comes to mind.

One last piece from Brother Martin — the section that speaks of the neutrality of time mentioned specifically by Obama:

Such an attitude (about being in too great a hurry, because change is inevitable) stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

When is the time to do right? Now.

No excuses like “after health care is passed.”
No delays like “after the banking system is back on its feet.”
No holding off “until the midterms are over.”

This is the kind of ineffective use of time by people of good will to which King referred.

The time is always ripe to do right.

Obama may want to re-read one of his favorite pieces of literature, and then try again.

(photo h/t mattlemmon)