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On Being A Titan, Part One, Or, See It, Say It, Sue It March 9, 2011

Got a simple little story for you today of a multinational corporation that wants to build a great big cement plant in North Carolina really, really, bad, and the local opposition to what appears to be a corrupt and distorted decision process.

Two local activists in particular have drawn the ire of Titan Cement, the Grecian corporation who seeks to build the plant—and because the Company doesn’t like what the activists have been saying about what the impact of that plant will likely be or how the deal’s going down…they’re suing Kayne Darrell and Dr. David Hill, residents of North Carolina’s New Hanover County, and the two folks who are doing the complaining the Company dislikes the most.

The Company further claims that they were slandered and defamed by the damaging statements that were uttered by the two at a county commissioners’ meeting and that they have lost goodwill and the chance to do business with certain parties as a result of these statements.

But what if everything the Defendants said was not only true…but provably so—and the Company was, maybe…just looking to shut people up by sending teams of lawyers after them?

As I said, it’s a simple story today—but it’s a good one.

We have tomorrow
Bright before us
Like a flame.

Yesterday, a night-gone thing
A sun-down name.

And dawn today
Broad arch above the road we came.
We march!

–From The New Negro, by Alain Locke

So here’s the deal, as it sits today: for a number of years now Titan Cement has been looking to build this great big cement plant near the environmentally sensitive North Carolina coast (part of the site includes 600 acres of “pristine wetlands”), and part of running a cement plant is running cement kilns.

Ya gotta cook limestone, sand, and clay, along with some other ingredients, at very high temperatures (above 2700 degrees F), which sort of fuses everything together; that makes “clinker”, which eventually becomes cement, and that’s why you need giant kilns and, often, pre-heater towers.

You need fuel for those really hot kilns and towers, and our friends at the Army Corps of Engineers advise that, in the kiln fuel game, you can actually kill two birds with one limestone by burning hazardous waste as a substitute for anywhere from 20% to 50% of your original “fuel of choice” (which is often coal).

According to the Corps, you can burn 12 tons of fuel an hour in one kiln, and that means up to six tons of…

byproducts of pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and electronics manufacturers;
solvents and inks used to print newspaper and other publications;
solvents used to recycle paper;
dry-cleaning solvents;
paint thinners and paint residues;
sludge from the petroleum industry;
used motor oil;
agricultural wastes;
and scrap tires.

…might be going into the mix every hour—and as it turns out, that stuff might contain:

…arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, nickel, thallium, and zinc.

Now if you’re burning that stuff, it’s either going up the smokestack or out the door as a component of the clinker you just made, and if you live anywhere near this plant, you’re going to be at least a little concerned…and if you have the impression that the people who are trying to get the permits are running a big ol’ hustle to get those permits, you’re going to be even more concerned…and it looks like that’s what’s been going on…and if you put all this together, and you lived in the neighborhood, you might show up at a local County Commissioners’ meeting and say something like this

“From lawsuits for price fixing and court-ordered mine closures of Titan’s Florida plant, to allegations of corruption coming from Raleigh, to emails raising suspicion whether Titan was ever even considering any other location, which would make incentives completely unnecessary, the clouds of corruption grow dark as new controversies emerge almost daily.”

…or this…

“The bottom line is we know from numerous studies that if we build this thing, more children will get sick, a handful of them will die. We also know from the adult studies that more adults will get sick and quite a few more of them are going to die as well. Which ones? Can’t tell you. That makes it difficult, but there will be some.”

…which are the two utterances which are today at legal issue. (Ms Darrell is being sued for the first statement, Dr. Hill, the second.)

The reason we are all gathered here today is to figure out whether either of those statements are truthful or not…because if the statements are truthful, they cannot be either slanderous or defamatory.

So let’s break it all down, one clause at a time:

Ms. Darrell talked about lawsuits for price fixing, and sure enough, CemWeek (“Global Cement Industry. Knowledge”) ran a story in October of ’09 entitled “Nine US cement companies accused of price fixing”, describing a lawsuit filed for price fixing in which Titan was one of the Defendants.

Court-ordered mine closures? Coffey Burlington, attorneys at law, recount their success with a certain case on their website (Sierra Club v. Army Corps of Engineers, Rinker Group, Tarmac America, Florida Rock Industries, APAC-Florida and Miami-Dade Limestone Products Association), which did in fact result in a court-ordered mine closure of Florida facilities operated by Tarmac America, which is a Titan subsidiary.

Allegations of corruption? How about this, reported in January of 2010 by the Wilmington, NC, StarNews:

A corporation that shares an address and president with a Titan America subsidiary bought a Wilmington office building for more than twice its tax value from Democratic fund-raisers under scrutiny by state and federal prosecutors.

To add to this element of the story, the current Governor, Bev Perdue, has asked the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) to look into Titan’s permitting process, which is something that usually follows allegations, if I recall correctly.

Let’s move on: the folks in the Wilmington, NC, area have a private economic development committee that has negotiated secretly with Titan for some time; the result of that effort was the decision to provide $4.2 million in local government incentives to Titan.

But here’s the thing: if Titan never meant to build anywhere but on that one site, and they still hustled the community for the incentives by using the threat of building somewhere else…well, that’s why Ms. Darrell was talking about:

“…emails raising suspicion whether Titan was ever even considering any other location, which would make incentives completely unnecessary…”

In 2008, Keith Barber, he of Wrightsville Beach Magazine, documented Titan’s multi-decade interest in this particular location:

Titan has made very little effort to conceal the fact it plans to move forward with construction of a cement plant and limestone mining operation on the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River. In a 2005 interview with Titan CEO Aris Papadopoulos in Cement Americas magazine, Papadopoulos confirmed the Greece-based company had been considering building a plant in Castle Hayne for nearly two decades…

… In addition, even though the permitting process is 18 months to 2 years out, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Web site reveals that CSX Railroad is already constructing a new spur track at the site of the proposed Carolinas Cement Company.

The Charlotte News & Observer documents the existence of those pesky emails in a January 2010 editorial:

…[Titan lobbyist John] Merritt said he would talk to then-Commerce Secretary Jim Fain. Earlier, he had advised a company spokeswoman on how to respond to questions without raising suspicions that Titan might not qualify for a state grant.

“It is very important that the company not do anything that suggests that this is the only site you are looking at,” Merritt e-mailed. And sure enough, in its application for incentives Titan asserted that it was considering sites elsewhere.

Let’s jump in for just a second and take a look at where we are:

Ms. Darrell made this statement…

“From lawsuits for price fixing and court-ordered mine closures of Titan’s Florida plant, to allegations of corruption coming from Raleigh, to emails raising suspicion whether Titan was ever even considering any other location, which would make incentives completely unnecessary, the clouds of corruption grow dark as new controversies emerge almost daily.”

…and based on what we’ve seen so far, every single word of that statement turns out to be absolutely, provably true:

–There was a price-fixing lawsuit.
–There was a court-ordered mine closure of Titan’s Florida plant.
–It’s alleged that something funny was going on with that office building, and North Carolina’s SBI is investigating.
–We did in fact discover that emails exist raising suspicions as to whether Titan was considering any other location.
–And here we are, talking about one of the new controversies that emerge almost daily.

Today’s tale of legal bullying is running pretty long already, and we still have half of the story to go…so let’s take a break for today, and we’ll pick this up by looking at the statement made by Dr. Hill when we get together next time.

In the meantime, if you’re keeping score…I’m thinking that after Round One, it’s Defendants, 1, Titan, 0.

 

On Fear: The Islam Edition, Or, Do You Know My Friend Wa’el? September 22, 2010

We last got together about ten days ago, when I put up a story that hoped to explain to the Islamic world that, Qur’an burning aside, we don’t really hate either them, or our own Constitution.

I pointed out that, just like everywhere else, about 20% of our population are idiots, that this means about 60,000,000 of us might, at any time, be inclined to burst into fits of random stupidity, such as the desire to burn Qur’ans to make some sort of statement, and that the same First Amendment that protects the freedom of stupid speech also protects the rights of Islamic folks to freely build mosques…and finally, that this apparent “paradox of freedom” is exactly why the US is the kind of country that many Islamic folks the world over wish they lived in as well.

I then went off to enjoy my Godson’s wedding, and I ignored the posting until the next Monday.

On the two dozen sites where it could be found, this was apparently considered to be a fairly innocuous message…with one giant exception, which is what we’ll be talking about today.

Long story short, some portion of this country’s population has some bizarre ideas about Islamic folks…but maybe if they knew my friend Wa’el, they might see things a bit differently.

This world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those that feel

Horace Walpole, Fourth Earl of Orford, in a letter, August, 1776

So all of this took place at Newsvine…and if you’re not familiar with how things work there, users may “seed” a story that they find of interest, so that it may attract the interest of others. What happens is that the user reposts a shortened version of the original story, along with a link back to the source.

My original posting on the site had fewer than ten comments, but by Monday Newsvine user btco’s seeded version of my story had about 300 comments; today there are more than 625.

Those who were not liking the story basically came down to one of a few categories of responders; here’s one example…

…I live a few minutes from Dearbornistan in Michigan and I can tell you that, as a place with a great deal of Muslims, they barely speak out against the Islamofacists that kill. There is outrage; however, but that outrage is aimed at America instead of the Islamofacists that should be the target of the aforementioned outrage. In fact, Dearborn has seen Muslims verbally attack Christians and forbid them for handing out Christian pamphlets, their 1st amendment right to do so, as this goes against the @!$%#ed up Sharia Law. Until Dearbornistan demands that they will abide willingly with the constitution and ignore the racist and misogynic crap that is Sharia law, then Dearbornistan Muslims side with the enemy and that enemy is Islam.

…and here’s another:

Christianity underwent reformation and was tamed by enlightenment period (during which, BTW, was harshly criticized).

Islam is in its original forms, claws and all.

And people like you, who for some dubious reason think it should be allowed to be what it is are doing great disservice for Muslims whose minds are set for the reforms and who want to live like normal, 21 century people, but are forced to “submit” to medieval dogma.

The idea that all Islamic folks worship a Moon God, that neither democracy nor any other religion can co-exist alongside Islam, that after beating them, all Islamic men send their four wives out to distribute “terror tomatoes” among the infidel population, and that, for adherents of Islam, both the Bible and the Constitution are immoral and corrupt all seems to be accepted wisdom for a bunch of the commenters (except for the “terror tomato” part, which I made up myself); it all seems to come from an apparently long-circulating email that was posted in the comments over and over that purports to prove that Muslims can’t be good Americans.

So is all this true?

Well…let’s start with the question of whether Islamic people can co-exist with democracy…and to help answer that question, let me introduce you to my friend Wa’el.

Wa’el Nawara has been trying to advance the interests of democracy in Egyptian politics for many years now, in the form of his work for the El-Ghad Party, in the face of an Egyptian Government that has been ruled, since the end of King Farouk’s reign, by just one political party, the (secular) NDP. The founder of El-Ghad, Ayman Nour, was imprisoned and tortured for basically getting 8% of the vote in a 2005 Presidential election against the current President, Hosni Mubarak.

To prevent this from happening again, it is also alleged that the Egyptian Government helped to orchestrate a temporarily successful “takeover” of the party from within. (This is not uncommon; the Egyptians security apparatus has acted against numerous parties, including the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood.)

Shortly after Wa’el and I became acquainted (I had been researching a series of stories about Egyptian politics when we were introduced) he was inside the offices of his own Party, which were burned by a mob that was allegedly associated with Egyptian State Security (an event that was recorded, live, by people across the street). Afterwards Wa’el, along with many of the 30 other people who were in the building, were arrested and detained for…you guessed it…suspicion of arson.

It’s not just Wa’el, or the other members of his Party…nor the other members of other Parties, either.

If were to take the time, you’d find out there’s a Center for Democracy in Lebanon, you’d discover that Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and even Saudi Arabia have all held recent local elections, and you’d find out there’s even a debate in the UAE as to whether adopting democratic reforms might be appropriate.

Outside the Gulf, India’s current President is their third Muslim President, Indonesia, which is 80% Muslim, elects their Presidents (even as they struggle with sectarian violence)…and all of that tells me that anyone who thinks Islam and democracy are incompatible should do some more reading.

Can Islam accept the presence of other religions?

One answer can be found in what is today’s Spain, but what used to be Andalucía (or Al-Andalus, if you prefer Arabic), where Moors ruled for centuries over Jews with far more compassion and respect than they ever received under Christian dominion; another, in today’s Egypt, where Christian Copts and Muslims have lived together for thousands of years, even as tensions have increased recently between the two groups.

Does Wa’el beat his four wives?

Not as far as I can tell—and if his one wife ever found out he had three other wives…I’m guessing that wouldn’t go so well for Wa’el.

Is the Bible corrupt to those who follow Islam?

Those who follow “mainstream” Islam believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or that He was crucified. Is that corruption? I don’t know, and I guess you’ll have to decide that one for yourself.

Now we need to be fair here, and acknowledge that one branch of Islam does indeed represent much of what my most conservative friends are afraid of: Wahhabi Ikhban. Here’s what the Library of Congress has to say about the sect:

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab was concerned with the way the people of Najd engaged in practices he considered polytheistic, such as praying to saints; making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques; venerating trees, caves, and stones; and using votive and sacrificial offerings. He was also concerned by what he viewed as a laxity in adhering to Islamic law and in performing religious devotions, such as indifference to the plight of widows and orphans, adultery, lack of attention to obligatory prayers, and failure to allocate shares of inheritance fairly to women.

When Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab began to preach against these breaches of Islamic laws, he characterized customary practices as jahiliya, the same term used to describe the ignorance of Arabians before the Prophet. Initially, his preaching encountered opposition, but he eventually came under the protection of a local chieftain named Muhammad ibn Saud, with whom he formed an alliance. The endurance of the Wahhabi movement’s influence may be attributed to the close association between the founder of the movement and the politically powerful Al Saud in southern Najd (see The Saud Family and Wahhabi Islam, 1500-1818 , ch. 1).

This association between the Al Saud and the Al ash Shaykh, as Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab and his descendants came to be known, effectively converted political loyalty into a religious obligation. According to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab’s teachings, a Muslim must present a bayah, or oath of allegiance, to a Muslim ruler during his lifetime to ensure his redemption after death. The ruler, conversely, is owed unquestioned allegiance from his people so long as he leads the community according to the laws of God. The whole purpose of the Muslim community is to become the living embodiment of God’s laws, and it is the responsibility of the legitimate ruler to ensure that people know God’s laws and live in conformity to them.

So what have we learned today?

Well, we learned that there is a community of Americans out there who are profoundly afraid of Islam, or anything connected with it, and the odds are that they know very little about the religion, other than what they’ve seen and copied and pasted, over and over, in a particularly ignorant email.

My friend Wa’el, on the other hand, lives a life that disproves those myths: in addition to being the target of a mob, he’s been jailed, along with many of his friends and associates, for trying to create a more democratic Egypt, he has just the one wife, who lives as an equal in their house, and his own country, Egypt, is one of numerous Islamic countries that have other religions well-established within their borders.

We also learned that numerous countries with Islamic populations are countries with varying degrees of representative democracy…and that the world’s largest democracy just inaugurated their third Muslim President.

Now the question that we’re addressing today is whether Muslims can be good Americans—and the fact is that Wa’el and his family would make great Americans…even though they’re not…and if I can point to Muslims who would make great Americans and live halfway around the world…how much you wanna bet we can find tens of thousands more in the heart of Dearbornistan?

 

On Organized Fearmongering Revealed, Or, “Lock Up The Kids…It’s The Gay!” August 7, 2010

The airwaves (and the print and blog waves, for that matter) are filled with the news that a Federal Judge in California has declared that State’s Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional, which could clear the way for the resumption of same-sex weddings in the State.

Ordinarily, this would be the point where I would present to you a walkthrough of the ruling, and we’d have a fine conversation about the legal implications of what has happened.

I’m not doing that today, frankly, because the ground is already well-covered; instead, we’re going to take a look at some of the tactics that were used to pass Prop 8, as they were presented in Judge Vaughan’s opinion.

It’s an ugly story—and even more than that, it’s a reminder of why it’s tough to advance civil rights through the political process, and what you have to deal with when you’re trying to make such a thing happen.

So first things first: one of the sites where my postings are to be found is The Bilerico Project, and over there Dr. Jillian T. Weiss has gone to the time and trouble of explaining the nuts and bolts of this ruling in a very accessible way; I’d commend to all of you who are looking for that background a visit to her story.

With that out of the way, here’s what I want you to know about how Prop 8 was presented, promoted, and defended: the entire process was designed to use ignorance, fear, disinformation, and God to make same-sex couples a national threat to you and your babies—and when it came time to defend this proposition in court, those who supported Prop 8, frankly, ran away and hid, which had a lot to do with the eventual outcome of the findings of fact, and, of course, the findings of law.

(If you weren’t aware, a court’s opinion will often present as a narrative of the evidence, followed by “findings of fact”, then “findings of law”. In the appeals process, findings of fact are rarely overturned; findings of law are frequently overturned.)

The “Defendants and Defendant-intervenors” (to use the exact language of the Court) who support Prop 8 intended to call 10 expert witnesses to explain why Prop 8 fulfills some sort of rational purpose.

Some of them were “deposed” (a sort of “pre-interview” conducted under oath before trial)…and that did not go well: by the time the trial came around only two of the original 10 were actually called to testify. Of the missing eight, two had their deposition testimony offered into evidence by the Plaintiffs, who were able to use the testimony of the Defendant’s expert witnesses to show the Judge that Prop 8 deserved to be overturned.

After that process was over, here’s what the Judge had to say about the Prop 8 campaign’s tactics:

The Proposition 8 campaign relied on fears that children exposed to the concept of same-sex marriage may become gay or lesbian. The reason children need to be protected from same-sex marriage was never articulated in official campaign advertisements. Nevertheless, the advertisements insinuated that learning about same-sex marriage could make a child gay or lesbian and that parents should dread having a gay or lesbian child.

One of the two defense experts who did testify was David Blankenhorn; he’s the founder and president of the Institute for American Values. Here’s what the Judge had to say about that testimony:

Blankenhorn was unwilling to answer many questions directly on cross-examination and was defensive in his answers. Moreover, much of his testimony contradicted his opinions. Blankenhorn testified on cross-examination that studies show children of adoptive parents do as well or better than children of biological parents. Blankenhorn agreed that children raised by same-sex couples would benefit if their parents were permitted to marry. Blankenhorn also testified he wrote and agrees with the statement “I believe that today the principle of equal human dignity must apply to gay and lesbian persons. In that sense, insofar as we are a nation founded on this principle, we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were the day before.”

Blankenhorn’s opinions are not supported by reliable evidence or methodology and Blankenhorn failed to consider evidence contrary to his view in presenting his testimony. The court therefore finds the opinions of Blankenhorn to be unreliable and entitled to essentially no weight.

Just so everyone knows…in this story, I’m editing the Judge’s opinion to remove various notes (example: “Tr 1900:13-18”) in order to make things more readable.

There were four defendants who were there by virtue of their being the “official proponents” of Prop 8 (other defendants included the Governor, State Attorney General, and certain Public Health officials and County Clerks, each in their administrative capacities); one of those was Hak-Shing William Tam, and, again, I’ll let the Judge handle this one:

Proponent Hak-Shing William Tam testified about his role in the Proposition 8 campaign. Tam spent substantial time, effort and resources campaigning for Proposition 8. As of July 2007, Tam was working with Protect Marriage to put Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot. Tam testified that he is the secretary of the America Return to God Prayer Movement, which operates the website “1man1woman.net.” 1man1woman.net encouraged voters to support Proposition 8 on grounds that homosexuals are twelve times more likely to molest children, and because Proposition 8 will cause states one-by-one to fall into Satan’s hands. Tam identified NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) as the source of information about homosexuality, because he “believe[s] in what they say.”. Tam identified “the internet” as the source of information connecting same-sex marriage to polygamy and incest.

(The links were not part of the original text.)

The Judge referred specifically to a letter Tam sent to the “friends” of his website during the Prop 8 fight which really shows what these folks are thinking:

“This November, San Francisco voters will vote on a ballot to ‘legalize prostitution.’ This is put forth by the SF city government, which is under the rule of homosexuals. They lose no time in pushing the gay agenda —— after legalizing same-sex marriage, they want to legalize prostitution. What will be next? On their agenda list is: legalize having sex with children * * * We can’t lose this critical battle. If we lose, this will very likely happen * * * 1. Same-Sex marriage will be a permanent law in California. One by one, other states would fall into Satan’s hand. 2. Every child, when growing up, would fantasize marrying someone of the same sex. More children would become homosexuals. Even if our children is safe, our grandchildren may not. What about our children’s grandchildren? 3. Gay activists would target the big churches and request to be married by their pastors. If the church refuse, they would sue the church.” (as written)

You can gain more insight into Tam’s thinking from his own trial testimony. Again, from the opinion:

Tam supported Proposition 8 because he thinks “it is very important that our children won’t grow up to fantasize or think about, Should I marry Jane or John when I grow up? Because this is very important for Asian families, the cultural issues, the stability of the family.”

Are these the views of just one very disturbed citizen, caught up in hyperbolic campaign frenzy?

Apparently not…because here’s what the Catholic Church was saying a year after the Prop 8 vote:

Catholics for the Common Good, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, Excerpts from Vatican Document on Legal Recognition of Homosexual Unions (Nov 22, 2009): There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”; “homosexual acts go against the natural moral law” and “[u]nder no circumstances can * * * be approved”; “[t]he homosexual inclination is * * * objectively disordered and homosexual practices are sins gravely contrary to chastity”; “[a]llowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children”; and “legal recognition of homosexual unions * * * would mean * * * the approval of deviant behavior.”

Plaintiff’s witnesses, without exception, were found to be credible, and among those was Dr. Gary Michael Sagura, a Stanford University Professor of Political Science:

“[T]he American public is not very fond of gays and lesbians.” Warmness scores for gays and lesbians are as much as 16 to 20 points below the average score for religious, racial and ethnic groups; over 65 percent of respondents placed gays and lesbians below the midpoint, below the score of 50, whereas a third to 45 percent did the same for other groups. When “two-thirds of all respondents are giving gays and lesbians a score below 50, that’s telling elected officials that they can say bad things about gays and lesbians, and that could be politically advantageous to them because * * * many parts of the electorate feel the same way.” Additionally, “the initiative process could be fertile ground to try to mobilize some of these voters to the polls for that cause.”

“[Proponents’ expert] Dr Young freely admits that religious hostility to homosexuals [plays] an important role in creating a social climate that’s conducive to hateful acts, to opposition to their interest in the public sphere and to prejudice and discrimination.”

“[T]he role of prejudice is profound. * * * [I]f the group is envisioned as being somehow * * * morally inferior, a threat to children, a threat to freedom, if there’s these deeply-seated beliefs, then the range of compromise is dramatically limited. It’s very difficult to engage in the give-and-take of the legislative process when I think you are an inherently bad person. That’s just not the basis for compromise and negotiation in the political process.”

As the Judge notes, all this hating has had an effect on actual crime and violence:

“[O]ver the last five years, there has actually been an increase in violence directed toward gay men and lesbians”; “gays and lesbians are representing a larger and larger portion of the number of acts of bias motivated violence” and “are far more likely to experience violence”; “73 percent of all the hate crimes committed against gays and lesbians also include an act of violence * * * we are talking about the most extreme forms of hate based violence”; the hate crimes accounted for “71 percent of all hate-motivated murders” and “[f]ifty-five percent of all hate-motivated rapes” in 2008; “There is simply no other person in society who endures the likelihood of being harmed as a consequence of their identity than a gay man or lesbian.”

So what can we make of all this?

How about this: there’s a community of people who feel that Teh Gay poses an imminent danger to their marriages, their children, and their way of life—but when it comes time to actually explain why, in a court of law…they can’t offer a bit of evidence, except to say “it’s on the Internet” or “because God told me so”.

In the meantime, the group who isn’t actually a threat to anybody is the group most likely to be targeted for violent attacks—because some people are just so sure they’re such a threat to our marriages, our children, and The Good Ol’ American Way.

Political compromise is not likely—and political courage isn’t either, which may be why there’s still so much “not asking” and “not telling” going on these days.

Whether this opinion is upheld or not, its deeper truths remain for all to see; I’ll close today’s discussion with a deeper truth of my own:

If you belong to a political or racial minority…or if you’re a “plain old White American”, facing the prospect of soon becoming a minority group…you better figure out, and quickly, that those same forces of prejudice you’re directing at these people can be turned against you, too (as they were, against the Chinese, not so very long ago, and as they are, against Blacks and Hispanics and Arabs, to this very day), just as soon as it’s convenient for the political needs of another.

The reason we fight prejudice isn’t just to protect the group being affected…but to protect us all from the people who will manipulate this stuff for their own use—and if you don’t think the fear of The Gay Baby Molester, and the Scary Hispanic Border Jumper, and the New Black Panthers isn’t being used by Conservatives, right now, to keep you from thinking about the problems they created as November draws nigh…well, then, Gentle Reader, you’re missing out on Politics 101.

 

On Email Gay Bashing, Or, ENDA’s Already Getting Ugly March 25, 2010

It wasn’t but a couple of days ago that we had a conversation about The Fear and the emails that are used to spread it, and I figured with that out of the way we had dealt with the topic, and that we’d move on to new things.

Well, we would be moving on, Gentle Reader, if it wasn’t for the fact that an email came in today that was so ugly, so disturbing, and so indicative of what we are about to see as the battle over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) begins to heat up (ENDA being possibly the next “big contentious thing” that this Administration hopes to accomplish), that I had to interrupt my story schedule to bring it to your attention.

“Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.”

–W.C. Fields

For those not yet aware, let’s do a bit of background: there have been a series of civil rights laws passed over the years, providing protections related to the right to vote, providing for equality in housing and employment based on race, or religion, or ethnicity, or gender, and providing protections for the disabled.

What is missing is a law protecting those who are gay or those who might view gender in a way that’s different than what the most fundamentalist church in town views as “normal” from discrimination in housing and employment; the idea is that ENDA (officially known as H.R. 3017, Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009) is intended to fill that gap.

The House Education and Labor Committee has held hearings on the bill, but that’s as far as it’s gone so far. Now that the pressure is easing to get health care reform through Congress, there are people who would like to advance ENDA from a bill to a law…and I’m one of ‘em.

So, naturally, when an email came into my inbox asking “Do You Support The Homosexual Agenda?” I thought to myself: “why, yes, I do”, and opened the darn thing.

As it turns out, the sender, “Public Advocate of the United States” (which, I assume, is not to be confused with The Advocate), is not a supporter of Teh Gay Agenda…but that’s not really a surprise, is it?

In fact, the group is against…well, pretty much everything, including:

“…The National Endowment of the Arts and the federal funding and endorsement of pornography and obscenity as legitimate forms of art;

The mainstream media’s promotion and glorification of drug abuse, teenage sex, gangs, atheism, homosexuality and other immoral behavior and beliefs;

The passage of hate crimes and thought control legislation that creates inequality in our state and federal legal systems…”

All of which they present with no apparent sense of the contradictions inherent in their own positions…which is also not really a surprise.

Anyway, according to the email…

“The Radical Homosexuals claim you and other pro-family Americans actually now support same-sex marriage, special job preferences for homosexuals and promotion of the homosexual lifestyle in schools…”

First off (and I had to do some research to confirm this), The Radical Homosexuals are not a band, which is too bad, because that would be one sweet name to put on a marquee.

Secondly, Angry Conservative Fundraising Guy, the country is split, almost 60/40, in favor of civil unions, this according to Pew…and when it comes to actual marriage, Pew counts it at 53% against, 39% for…which means The Radical Homosexuals are more correct in their assertions than Angry Conservative Fundraising Guy might like.

But let’s move on:

“…You see, the Radical Homosexuals are storming through Washington demanding passage of their agenda.

And with the passage of Thought Control last year, they say NOW is the time to push their perverse “life-style” on every man, women and child in America.

And they insist YOU actually support them.

The Homosexual Lobby played a major role in electing Obama and the majorities he enjoys in both houses of Congress.

I can only begin to imagine all the damage the Radical Homosexuals will do with their allies controlling the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House.

As the President of Public Advocate of the U.S., I’ve devoted twenty-seven years to battling the radical homosexuals in Washington.

Backed by Hollywood celebrities, the media and millions of your tax dollars, the Radical Homosexuals have many Congressmen quivering with fear — and they have a Radical Homosexual-friendly majority in control of Congress…”

(A quick word regarding emphasis: throughout this story, where emphasis occurs, it’s as it was presented in the original, except that for technical reasons I had to change underlined words to italics.)

Storming?
Thought Control?
A Quivering Majority of the Members of Congress?

And that’s only what he can begin to imagine:

“…Frankly if you really do support the radical Homosexual Agenda — or if you just no longer care enough to stand up for the family — insiders in Congress say the entire Homosexual Agenda could pass in a matter of months.

*** Special job rights for homosexuals and lesbians. Businesses may have to adopt hiring quotas to protect themselves from lawsuits. Every homosexual fired or not hired becomes a potential federal civil rights lawsuit.

Radical homosexuals will terrorize day care centers, hospitals, churches and private schools. Traditional moral values will be shattered by federal law.

*** Same-sex marriages and adoptions. Wedding-gown clad men smooching before some left-wing clergy or state official is just the beginning.

You’ll see men hand-in-hand skipping down to adoption centers to “pick out” a little boy for themselves.

*** Homosexual advocacy in schools. Your children or grandchildren will be taught homosexuality is moral, natural and good. High school children will learn perverted sex acts as part of “safe sex” education.

With condoms already handed out in many schools, Radical Homosexuals will have little trouble adopting today’s “if it feels good do it” sex-ed curriculum to their agenda.

And to add insult to injury, lobbyists for the Homosexual Agenda are paid off with your tax dollars!

That’s right, radical homosexual groups like the Gay-Lesbian Task Force and ACT-UP receive millions from the government.

Hundreds of millions of dollars flow from taxpayers to homosexual activists through funding for homosexual “art,” so-called AIDS-awareness programs, and research grants…”

OK…so…at this point I need you to sit back down and take a deep breath, because it’s about to get a whole lot weirder.

I do not want you drinking anything while you read this next passage.
I don’t want you eating, either.

There are a few of you who may…oh, how should I put this…it’s possible that you may have some doubts about your own mental health.

To paraphrase comedian Lewis Black: if you go to an International House of Pancakes and you have “body issues”, you will inevitably feel better about yourself after the visit; this because there is always someone there who is at least 400 pounds heavier than you will ever weigh, ever, in your entire life.

The next portion of this email represents the International House of Mental Health, and there’s someone there 400 times crazier than you…and it’s this guy:

“…One stormy night I drove to a mailshop hidden deep in a nearly deserted stand of warehouses. I’d heard something was up and wanted to see for myself.

As I rounded the final turn my eyes nearly popped. Tractor-trailers pulled up to loading docks, cars and vans everywhere and long-haired, earring-pierced men scurrying around running forklifts, inserters and huge printing presses.

Trembling with worry I went inside. It was worse than I ever imagined.

Row after row of boxes bulging with pro-homosexual petitions lined the walls, stacked to the ceiling.

My mind reeled as I realized hundreds, maybe thousands, more boxes were already loaded on the tractor-trailers. And still more petitions were flying off the press.

Suddenly a dark-haired man screeched, “Delgaudio what are you doing here?” Dozens of men began moving toward me. I’d been recognized.

As I retreated to my car, the man chortled, “This time Delgaudio we can’t lose.”

Driving away, my eyes filled with tears as I realized he might be right. This time the Radical Homosexuals could win.

You see, even though homosexuals are just 1% of the population, if every one sent a petition to Congress it would generate a tidal wave of two or three million petitions or more.

Hundreds of thousands of pro-homosexual petitions will soon flood Congress , and my friends in Congress tell me there’s virtually nothing on Capitol Hill from the tens of millions of Americans like you who oppose the radical Homosexual Agenda and the Gay Bill of Special Rights.

I made up my mind that night to write to you and as many other patriotic Americans as possible. To stop the Radical Homosexuals and protect traditional marriage there must be an immediate outpouring from folks like you….”

I need to interrupt for a quick second to ask a question: is it just me, or is the only difference between that story and a bad gay porn film that there’s nobody knocking at the door saying: “here’s the pizza…and here’s the pepperoni”?

“…Homosexual activists mock me in the halls of Congress. They say it’s too late because Americans like you don’t care enough to help, especially with the Democrats in control of Congress and the White House…”

Hey, Angry Conservative Fundraising Guy: just because someone mocks you in the hall, it doesn’t mean they’re some kind of homosexual activist.

They could be mental health activists, for example, or activists promoting better education…and, of course, it’s always possible they’re from the Netherlands.

Now not all the news here is bad:

“…If you won’t help, I’m afraid there is little more I can do.

But the fact is, even if every person responds it won’t be enough to counter all the radical homosexuals are doing.

And not everyone will respond. Some are cowed by how pro-family Americans are portrayed on TV. Others will count on someone else to fight the fight and carry the load. I don’t believe you are like that…”

Just a real quick little bit of advice for the author of this piece, if I may be so bold.

Context matters, as those who used the word “Teabag” just a bit too freely discovered last spring, much to our delight, and when you’re busy stirring up The Fear Of The Radical Homosexual, I would be careful how I throw around terms like “carry the load”.

Next time, Angry Conservative Fundraising Guy, consider hiring a panel of 13-year-old boys who like Beavis and Butthead DVDs for a focus group before you hit the “Send” button and this sort of thing might not happen again.

The rest of this is a great big fundraiser which includes a series of links to what the sender calls a “Morality Survey”, but what I call either a push-poll or a handy one-page checklist of the arguments you can expect to hear over the next few months.

Now I think we’ve all seen enough of this for today, but here’s what I want you to take away from our conversation:

ENDA will be used as a tool to continue spreading hate in the run-up to this year’s elections…and really, really, really creepy people will be trying to scare you using really, really, really turgid (and I do mean turgid) prose.

The imaging will be ugly, with the fears of pedophilia and crossdressing and things being rammed down throats likely to all play starring roles in the Conserva-theater that’s soon to come.

I also expect to see more “outings”, á la Karl Rove’s usual practice—even against other Republicans, which has already apparently happened in this cycle, in the Illinois Senate Republican primary.

“…Stop imagining, unravel the truth and ask: “just who is it happening to?”

Everything that the passenger do, the driver experience, too

So if humanity is one then we all get burned when it’s hell that we’re traveling through…”

–From the song The Travelers, by Brother Ali.

There is no reason for us to blow this one.

The Conservative craziness that’s coming may become so extreme that even the Republicans no longer want any part of these people, but I wouldn’t count on it.

What I would count on is that this is the kind of fight we want to be having—as long as we’re out there having it.

Talk to your friends, talk to those people in line at the espresso stand, and (here’s one for the Captain in all of us), maybe even talk to the attractive individual working out next to you at the gym. Make them understand what this election is really going to be about, how desperate the other side is, and why we can’t afford to let them win.

The Radical HomoFearoPhobians are already hard at work, so get out there and do the same.

Unless, of course, you’d prefer another summer of really, really, awful Teabagging.

 

On Respect, Or, How To Avoid Mispronounciation July 26, 2009

For today’s story, we will travel far afield from the typical domains of politics or science or law that have so often provoked our thinking into an often overlooked area of human relations:

To which gender do you belong?

It’s a simple question, or so common sense would tell us—either you’re male, or you’re female.

As it turns out, things aren’t quite so simple, and in today’s conversation we’ll consider this issue in a larger way. By the time we’re done, not only will we learn a thing or two about sex and gender and sexuality, we’ll also learn how to offer a community of people a level of respect that they often find difficult to obtain.

Do you get off casting hexes?
Assuming forms of either sexes
And oh…are you a boy or a girl?

–Imperial Drag, Boy Or A Girl?

The best place to start today’s story, I suspect, is with a story.

Regular visitors to this space will recall the recent conversation we had regarding the life and times of Gladys Bentley. The kind folks at the Bilerico Project (“daily experiments in LGBTQ”) asked me to repost at the site, and it was there pointed out to me that I was confusing gender and sexuality at various times in the diary.

It occurred to me that education was the solution here; to that end I located Lifelines Rhode Island’s TGI/Gender-Spectrum Terminology Guide (which, unless indicated otherwise, will be the source for the material you see here today). Tobi Hill-Meyer, who also posts at the Bilerico Project, was able to confirm to me that the information here “covers a lot more than most terminology lists I’ve seen”…and with a confirming source in place, I think we’re ready to move forward.

Actually, before we do that…a caveat. Everything that will be presented today is “in flux”. Terminology and attitudes and thinking evolve rapidly in this area, and Ms. Hill-Meyer would tell you to worry less about exact terms and to pay more attention to the general concepts that this discussion incorporates.

The first thing you should know is that biological sex, gender, and sexuality are three completely different things, neither associated with the other. What I mean by that is that an individual might be male, or female, some combination of the two (intersex persons)…or none of the above—but that has no bearing on whether that same person might find themselves sexually attracted to males, or females, or intersex persons…or no one at all.

Let’s start with biological sex.

The human body expresses sex in four different ways, the first being genetic. Genetic males carry an X and a Y chromosome, genetic females two X chromosomes. Intersex persons might have a single X chromosome (known as XO) or some combination of three or more X and Y chromosomes.

“Gonadal” males possess testes, gonadal females possess ovaries; intersex persons might possess undescended testes or streak ovaries.

Those persons who possess testosterone or DHT in the body are “hormonal” males. Estrogen and progesterone are found in hormonal females, and intersex persons might have levels of any of these hormones that are either high or low…or they might not have the “receptors” that allow the body to recognize the hormones that are present.

Morphological sex is expressed by the presence, in males, of the Wolffian duct and a penis. Females will possess a Mullerian duct and a vagina. Intersex persons might possess both a Wolffian and a Mullerian duct or incomplete internal sexual organs—or none of the above—and an enlarged clitoris, a “micro-penis”, or a shallow and fused vagina.

Perception, the folks at Lifelines would tell you, exists in two parts: gender, which is derived from the perception of whether you appear to others to be male or female, and gender identity, which is based on your own perception of yourself as male, female, neither, both, or whatever other label you might choose to attach to your gender identity. The “take-away” from this line of thought is that people are entitled to make their own choices regarding gender identity.

Sexuality, or sexual orientation as it’s used by Lifelines, can be a bit tricky, but it works like this: start with an individual’s chosen gender identity, then proceed to whom they are attracted to. For example, if your gender identity is female, and you are attracted to females, you would be a lesbian. Options include straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual…and pansexual, a term used by those who see more than two sexes—and genders—within the rich tapestry of human existence.

I ought, therefore I am.

–From Immanuel Kant’s Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

Everyone still with me on all this?

Good, because now we get to the heart of the matter…the “how to show respect” part…and if you’ve been keeping up, what’s coming next will be fairly simple to grasp.

Mispronounciation is the act of referring to someone with the incorrect personal pronoun—in other words, incorrectly referring to a “he” as a “she”. To avoid this, all you need to do is refer to the individual using the pronouns that match that person’s appearance.

If the person to whom you are speaking is visually expressing their gender as female, that person is referred to as “she”, and vice versa. The fact that the person might not be “passing” in a manner that you find entirely convincing is irrelevant, as is the fact that the person may or may not have had sexual reassignment surgery.

If that same person were to express their gender, on another occasion, as a male, you would refer to the same person as “he”.

In keeping with the admonition to not worry so much about every single term, but instead to make an effort to grasp the concepts presented here, we will not endeavor to define everything on the list; instead touching on just a few terms and explaining why they are important.

“Tranny” is considered offensive and should be avoided.

A “crossdresser” is someone who does not associate their clothing choice with a desire to express as a different gender. In other words, when Rudy Giuliani dresses as a woman—even as he views himself as a man while doing it—that’s crossdressing.

Drag Kings and Drag Queens are entertainers who express themselves in an alternative gender. If the person with whom you are speaking is not on stage at the time…these terms are probably inappropriate.

Transsexual persons are taking hormones and have had sexual reassignment surgery…most of the time. (Some people use the term to describe themselves even though they have not had surgery.) This term is often used within the medical community.

There are some people who do not prefer this term, either because it implies that a mental illness is somehow involved, or because it implies a change of sexuality, as opposed to a change of gender. (You should know that the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, also known as the “DSM-IV-TR”, does in fact describe Gender Identity Disorder as a mental illness.)

The word transgender, which has been in common use to describe people who are expressing any number of gender options, is considered offensive by some people because it is sometimes used to describe a person’s gender choice, instead of the preferred “he” or “she”.

Androgyne persons do not wish to express a single gender choice, instead choosing to present themselves in a way that blurs the line between male and female. Someone who expresses their gender in this manner might or might not also express their sexuality the same way.

Trans is the currently preferred term to describe people who are…well, trans.

Someone who fits into any of the categories we have described here would be considered a trans person. A trans man would be someone who was female at birth, but is now expressing the gender choice of male; obviously a trans woman would be someone who was designated male at birth and is now expressing the gender choice of female. (“Trans” is a prefix defined as “across, over, or beyond”)

If you fit into none of these categories, but instead are always expressing yourself in the same gender as your birth gender, the term cisgender or cissexual is in current use; this derived from the prefix “cis”, which is defined as “on this side of”.

So what have we learned today?

We learned that there is a community of people who do not find the two gender choices “man” and “woman” representative of all the options available…and we learned that, within that community, there are people who might wish, from time to time, to vary their gender role.

Beyond that, we found out that gender and sexuality are separate and not interrelated, and that a person can change one while not changing the other.

We learned that addressing someone using the gender they have chosen is the best way to show that person respect—and the other thing we should be taking away from this discussion is that terminology changes rapidly, but the larger concepts presented here have more permanence, and over the long term I would expect those concepts to change less than the terminology.

So go forth and have some summer fun…and should the occasion arise, apply these principles, and summer will be more fun for those you meet up with as well.

And who doesn’t love that?

 

On Looking Deeper, Or, Things About Iran You Might Not Know June 24, 2009

It has been an amazing week in Iran, and you are no doubt seeing images that would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago.

For most of us, Iran has been a country about which we know very little…which, obviously, makes it tough to put the limited news we’re getting into a proper context.

The goal of today’s conversation is to give you a bit more of an “insider look” at today’s news; and to do that we’ll describe some of the risks Iranian bloggers face as they go about their business, we’ll meet a blogging Iranian cleric, we’ll address the issue of what tools the Iranians use for Internet censorship and the companies that could potentially be helping it along, and then we’ll examine Internet traffic patterns into and out of Iran.

Finally, a few words about, of all things, how certain computer games might be useful as tools of revolution.

The first task for today…let’s talk about blogging:

It turns out that bloggers in Iran risk running afoul of the Press Law of 1986, which, in addition to requiring the licensing of media outlets, reads in part:

Article 6: The print media are permitted to publish news items except in cases when they violate Islamic principles and codes and public rights as outlined in this chapter…

…5. Encouraging and instigating individuals and groups to act against the security, dignity and interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran within or outside the country…
…7. Insulting Islam and its sanctities, or, offending the Leader of the Revolution and recognized religious authorities (senior Islamic jurisprudents);
8. Publishing libel against officials, institutions, organizations and individuals in the country or insulting legal or real persons who are lawfully respected, even by means of pictures or caricatures; and
9. Committing plagiarism or quoting articles from the deviant press, parties and groups which oppose Islam (inside and outside the country) in such a manner as to propagate such ideas (the limits of such offenses shall be defined by the executive by-law)…

… Article 25: If a person, through the press, expressly and overtly instigates and encourages people to commit crimes against the domestic security or foreign policies of the state, as specified in the public penal code, and should his/her action bear adverse consequences, he/she shall be prosecuted and condemned as an accomplice in that crime. However, if no evidence is found on such consequences he/she shall be subject to a decision of the religious judge according to Islamic penal code.

Article 26: Whoever insults Islam and its sanctities through the press and his/her guilt amounts to apostasy, shall be sentenced as an apostate and should his/her offense fall short of apostasy he/she shall be subject to the Islamic penal code.

Article 27: Should a publication insult the Leader or Council of Leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran or senior religious authorities (top Islamic jurisprudents), the license of the publication shall be revoked and its managing director and the writer of the insulting article shall be referred to competent courts for punishment.

(In Iran, the penalty for apostasy is death.)

Those bloggers who are not licensed can still be prosecuted under the Penal Code, as the OpenNet Initiative reports in an excellent article they’ve just posted on the subject.

In 2008 the Iranian parliament passed a law which provides for the death penalty for bloggers who engage in non-permitted activities, a situation faced today by Yaghub Mehrnahad, who publishes the Mehrnahad blog.

(Interestingly, this blog can be reached in Persian, but an attempt to access the same URL with Google Translate returns this message:

“You are not authorized to view this page

The Web server you are attempting to reach has a list of IP addresses that are not allowed to access the Web site, and the IP address of your browsing computer is on this list.”

More about that later.)

There is also the risk of torture: a problem noted by the BBC at least as far back as 2005.

Ironically, Mohammad Ali Abtabi, a cleric and former Vice-President of Iran whom you may have recently seen on “The Daily Show” maintains a blog in which he does criticize Iranian society on a regular basis, including his assessment of the recent election as “a huge swindling”…which has now caused the authorities to place him under arrest.

So how does Iran manage to control Internet access?

What they aren’t doing is employing the simplest method possible: cutting off all access. This is presumably because of the negative impact on the Iranian economy that would be caused by business being unable to do what they need to do online.

There are several methods being employed, including a requirement that all Internet Service Providers in the country connect to the state-owned Data communication Company of Iran (DCI) for international access, that all ISPs put in place “filtering” and monitoring technologies, and that households be blocked from having access to high-speed Internet connections.

As of this writing the fastest Internet connection now available for an Iranian household is 128k, about double the speed of a dial-up connection…and as you might guess, not fast enough to allow Iranians to use such services as YouTube. A 6MB cable Internet connection, not uncommon in the US, would be roughly 50 times faster. Because of this the total capacity of Iran’s international Internet connections are roughly 12GB per second. Normal traffic is about 5GB per second, which, we are told, is about the same as a mid-size American city.

OpenNet reports that after an initial period of reliance upon foreign monitoring software, the government decided to create an “in-house” capability, and as a result there are locally developed software packages designed to allow access to the actual data packets in messages—meaning that authorities can read such things as e-mails and instant messages after they are sent and before they pass through the DCI “gateway”.

There has been a conversation regarding the role of Western equipment suppliers in all of this; and it is alleged that a Nokia/Siemens joint venture (Nokia/Siemens Networks) has sold to the Iranians equipment that is used to monitor the Internet use of Iranian citizens. The company denies this, however.

They also want you to know that the joint venture has been sold to a third party, and that, as their press release tells us: “providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate ultimately benefits societies and brings greater prosperity”.

Another method of blocking access is to deny connections to certain sets of IP addresses, and this is why, presumably, I could not access the translated version of the “Mehrnahad” blog. This method would also allow the Iranians to block access to and from inside the country to sites like the BBC, Google, and Blogspot.

There is a way around “address blocking” which involves setting up “relays” and “bridges” that can be accessed by people in Iran—and this is something you yourself can do that can be of considerable benefit to Iranians trying to reach out to the rest of us.

The Iranian Government is also trying to locate and isolate those with Twitter accounts that are set to the Tehran time zone…and you can help make that process tougher by either setting up a Twitter account and setting the time zone to Tehran, or changing your existing account’s time zone.

The next few minutes are going to get a bit geeky, and for this I apologize in advance.

In order for your computer to use certain services that involve communicating with other computers the operating system utilizes a series of “ports” (this is all in the software, so don’t bother looking at the back of the machine to find them).

Some quick examples: the TCP/IP connection your computer is using to access the Internet is through Port 80 and the FTP service runs on Port 21.

There are two kinds of ports—TCP and UDP—and there is no reason to explain here why or how they differ.

There are thousands of ports, the ports used are usually specific to a particular service, and there are giant lists of assigned ports that everyone can access. A service can (and usually does) use more than one port for two-way communication with a computer, which is why the Federal Emergency Management Agency Information System uses TCP Port 1777 and UDP Port 1777.

The routing data that packets of information display as they travel through the Internet includes the port that the packet is seeking to access…and that data is accessible to all routers…and if you controlled the gateway through which all inbound and outbound Internet traffic was passing through you could block packets that seek to utilize certain ports.

Experts are suggesting that this is exactly what is happening today in Iran, with more than 80% of traffic bound for ports using the Adobe Flash Player being blocked, nearly 75% of the POP Service (e-mail) traffic being blocked, and roughly 70% of traffic bound for ports used by “proxy servers” being intercepted. (Proxy servers, by the way, are the same type of connections we discussed earlier that you can set up at home to help Iranians trying to reach the Internet.)

Voice over IP (VoIP), the Internet “telephone” service, is proving to be a troublesome issue for censors, as it has legitimate business purposes and is difficult to censor without either having someone listening on the other end of the line or installing a monitoring system worthy of the National Security Agency.

Interestingly, with the exception of the few hours immediately following the vote, the amount of Internet blockage, overall, seems to be fairly close to what it was just before the voting. However, the amount of “instability” has been highly variable, suggesting that certain blocks of IP addresses have been temporarily “withdrawn” from the Internet’s address structure, for want of a better term, and then once again made known to that same addressing infrastructure.

It is suggested that this may be because the Iranian Government has been able to institute a sufficient level of monitoring on those address blocks so as to make them comfortable with again allowing the users of those addresses access to the Internet.

In one of the oddest developments I’ve heard so far, there are reports that certain communications protocols used by some games are not being blocked. We will not go into specifics here, but it seems strange indeed that the video game your mother didn’t want you playing all day might actually be a tool for surreptitious communication.

And with all that said, let’s wrap it up for today.

Here’s what we’ve learned: it is indeed hazardous to be a blogger in Iran.

Despite the fact that it can get you tortured or get you the death penalty, there are those who take the risk—including a former Vice-President who now finds himself under arrest.

We can help Iranian citizens by installing software on our own computers that helps them obtain uncensored Internet access, and about 1/3 of that traffic is getting through.

The regime is not attempting to permanently shut down all Internet traffic—and in fact, that would be a cure that might be as bad as the disease.

The Iranian Government, instead, is developing and operating a sophisticated system of Internet blocking, but it is not perfect…and there are odd connections that could be used that most people would never think of as useful for the purpose.

Finally, a Western company is accused of selling equipment to Iran that could be used for Internet monitoring, but the company in question denies that the gear they sold Iran can perform the tasks the accusers say it can.

It is rare indeed to be able to see two revolutions taking place at the same time–but as you’re watching the news from the newest Iranian Revolution…keep an eye on the news of the Internet Revolution as well.

WARNING—Self-promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I was not selected in the first round of voting. There are two more chances to be selected…with an announcement due this week…so even if you’ve done so before, I still have to ask you to stop by the Democracy for America site and click on the “Add your support” link to offer your support for me again. Thanks for your patience, and we now return you to your regular programming.

 

On Angst, Or, We Meet A Tea Party Protester April 17, 2009

So if you’re like me, you have been wondering just exactly what all this “tea party” stuff is about. There’s going to be some sort of protest, that we know; but beyond that the whole thing seems a little…vague.

Alternatively, it’s possible that you were unaware that “tea party” has recently become a word reborn in conservative political circles.

Well, whether you knew it or not, April 15th was indeed a day of protest, with citizens gathering for what were reported to be a series of grassroots events across the nation that was intended to invoke the spirit of the Boston Tea Party.

In an effort to find out exactly what is motivating these folks, and to find out what they are trying to accomplish, I took my handy recorder and captured a conversation with a “tea bag” protester.

We will review that conversation, and we will follow it up with a few thoughts about how this group of voters might impact electoral politics going forward.

Let’s begin by setting the stage: the city of Issaquah, Washington (population about 17,000) is more or less 15 miles east of downtown Seattle, in eastern King County. It’s a bedroom community, for the most part, with some light industrial and stores like Home Depot. The Costco corporate headquarters is located over where the old skydiving airport used to be, and I-90 bisects the city.

Seattle’s eastern suburbs have been a good source of reliable Republican voters, and the Representative from the District (WA-08) is former Sheriff Dave Reichert (R-Ineffectual), who defeated Darcy Burner in one of the more closely watched Congressional races of both the ’06 and ’08 cycles.

It was a lovely not raining afternoon (this time of the year, that’s a real treat), and the steps of the Issaquah City Hall create a nice backdrop for a gathering. At noon on a Wednesday about 120 people are gathered, holding signs, and reacting to the honks of passing traffic. A “patriot”, in blue coat and tricorner hat, was present.

After a period of standing out in front of City Hall, most of the group left to march up and down the street; and it was at this point that I approached a woman who had chosen to remain behind to see if I might ask her a few questions about the event.

Where you see quotations, they are exact transcripts from the recording.
Her comments are in boldface.
Ellipses (…) are used only to indicate pauses in the conversation, not to indicate “trimming” of the quotes.

One of the first things we addressed was her concern that her rights to gather and speak freely might be threatened:

“…You bet they are” she answered, “Obama is about, he’s more like, a, a he wants to be a leader himself, he’s the leader, OK, but he doesn’t speak for America…and he is not really, really, the President of the United States.”

I asked her how she had reached that conclusion:

“He hasn’t proven that he’s a citizen, he hasn’t proven that he’s a citizen, he’s a liar…he, he, says one thing and he does another all the time…so, you know…he is not a patriot. I was born and raised in America, even people I grew up, with, that became Americans, love America. People come to America to be free. You know what I feel he’s taking away from us? Our freedom.”

I asked her what laws are being proposed that would make her feel that way, to which she replied:

“Taking all that money and doing with it as he pleases, without confer–, letting people take a vote on it on the right to do this that’s the Constitution, the 9th and the…”

“So Congress didn’t vote on any of that…”

“He is getting them to do what he wants, people are doing what he wants, because, he has people like Farrakhan, he has a lot of people behind him that are not for America. OK, and he’s a Muslim, let’s just remember that, OK, he’s not an American patriot, he’s a Muslim—“

“He’s a Muslim?”

“Yes, he claims to be a Muslim—“

“So you’re not worried about that Reverend Wright thing, then?”

“Oh, no no no no, Reverend Wright is a radical in his own way, too…”

“But he doesn’t have any influence on Obama, apparently, because…he’s a Muslim—“

“Well, he does, you know all about it, don’t you…”

At this point she began to ask a series of questions designed to determine my organizational affiliation, to which I had to again explain that I am but a humble blogger, and not really affiliated with any organization, and that my purpose in coming was to try to gather an idea as to what was going on so that I could explain it to others.

To which she offered this reply:

“Mr. Obama’s a liar…But we’re here today…just as Americans to say we want, we don’t wanna pay for what he wants us to pay for with taking all that money away from America.”

She reports that she went to Washington, DC, “and even called the President” to express her displeasure about the growing deficits during the Bush Administration; and we found a point of agreement when she noted that not voting can be a political statement, just as voting is.

She then went on to say:

“…the people, according to our Constitution and what I’ve always known is the Government was for the people, by the people, and of the people. We the people have the right to make those decisions at State levels, each State…”

At this point I asked her if that wasn’t the function of Congress, who are our elected Representatives, and that if that was true then how is that taxation without representation? (And no, I did not mention the whole Gettysburg Address “thing”. Sometimes you just have to let someone say what they want to say, and not get in the way…)

“…well, we have voted in a lot of people who are liars; that get in there for the wrong reasons. We have to start paying attention…and learn about these politicians…”

(A point with which I wholeheartedly agree—but to be honest, I don’t think she has a desire to learn that Mr. Obama is actually a real live, no-kidding, American citizen.)

I then asked her about the 2007 Federal Budget.

My understanding of that budget is that about $2.4 trillion was spent, and more or less $2.1 trillion of that was spent on Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Defense, leaving roughly $300 billion for all other spending.

Since the deficit for that year was above $300 billion, my question to her was which of the three choices above was she ready to start cutting?

“They’re not gonna go anywhere, they’re never gonna be used for those things, hardly…”

I explained to her that this is not a matter of conjecture, but that this was how the money was actually spent that year:

“Obama does what he wants with it—“

“Well, what I’m saying is that—“

“That’s the way it looks—“

“That’s how the money was spent—“

“Don’t you know about…how—“

“In 2007, that’s how the money was spent—“

“Are you a Republican?”

“No”

“Are you a Democrat?”

“Not really…”

“Are you a libertarian?”

“I don’t think the idea of having no government works very well, no ma’am–”

“So you don’t vote at all?”

“I do vote, and I don’t vote based on any party…”

“You don’t?”

“No ma’am, I don’t think Democrats or Republicans have a monopoly on ideas.”

Eventually, as I tried to get an answer from her about the Budget, it came to this:

“That’s not the true issue. The true issue is we don’t want our taxes going up because they’ve taken so much money and bankrupted America…we don’t wanna pay for that, we want him to leave that money alone, not bail out AIG, and let America resolve its issues…amongst the people.

They think everybody’s stupid. They think everyone’s stupid except them.
What’s your opinion?”

At this point I tried to explain that stimulus seems to make sense, and that the Great Depression offered an historical example of why.

“You don’t mind if I spend your money then, can I take all your money and spend it the way I want to?”

“Well, I don’t think I’m going to let you take all my money—“

“But that’s what Obama did. I don’t mind paying some taxes—“

“So you don’t have any money at this point?”

“Ye-, of course I have money—“

“So he didn’t take all your money?”

“I work, OK, I, he, he, if he has taken that money because he has stolen a lot of money from the United States of America—“

“How did he steal it?”

“You know exactly how.”

“Well, I’m confused…”

“Well, if you’re confused go watch him, OK. You’re for Obama, right? Isn’t that who you believe in?”

“Well, I did vote for Obama, but I wouldn’t say I believe in him…”

“Well, good-bye. Yeah, you do believe in him, and if you’re a person who doesn’t vote, and you say you vote, I’m confused, I know who you are—“

“Who am I?”

“You’re trying to deceive, that’s why you’re here. You’re not American, you’re one of these radicals the other way. I believe that this President is not the true President, OK, I believe that he is not an American citizen, he’s a liar, he’s a liar and he’s a thief. He got homes through…all kinds of discrepancies…he has never admitted to anything, he wasn’t a good politician, all he is, is a Socialist, he’s a Socialist, don’t wanna work, just do your own thing, take what you want, do what you want, live off welfare…”

At which point the interview concluded.

So what have we learned here today?

Well, let’s start by presuming that this sort of voter is not a likely “get” for any future Democratic candidate…and with that in mind, let’s have a look at what her impact might be on a Republican candidate seeking office.

Republicans should be aware that there exists a significant community of voters who are clearly upset with Mr. Obama. These voters are upset about issues they can’t (or won’t) exactly articulate, and they are not exactly sure how to fix “what ails them”…but they are genuinely upset, and they seem to feel that they no longer have a sense of control over, or attachment to, their Government.

You might see good news for Republicans when looking at this woman, since she represents, as far as I could tell, a group seeking a leader; but I see instead a substantial group of individuals who have the potential to vote for candidates of third parties—in other words, voters who feel alienated from both major parties, which would not be good news for Republicans.

To “recover” these voters, I suspect, will require Republican candidates to go quite far to the right—and I suspect that if the woman I met today becomes the Republican “target market” Republicans will have even more problems attracting centrist voters than they have now.

If the world does not come to an end, economically or otherwise, by 2010, and there are no huge tax increases, it will be even tougher to make the arguments we heard today, suggesting the woman I interviewed will become a more isolated part of the electorate than she might be today.

If the economy actually improves, it suggests that finding a voter outside of the 15-30% of the electorate these voters might represent who will vote Republican–particularly in statewide and Federal elections–will be tougher and tougher.

What does all that mean?

It means, absent a major economic collapse, that the Republican future, at least for a few cycles to come, might be as a Congressional minority, with several States still available where they can maintain control of Gubernatorial and Legislative positions…but with a declining number of those States over time, and a decreasing chance of electing a President because of the inherent problems they face retaining centrist voters.

Of course, there is also the possibility that these voters will cleave off to support a Bob Barr or a Ron Paul or a Mike Huckabee, who might seek a third party candidacy, which, ironically, could help Republicans gain centrist voters, even as they lose this group of voters. In all probability, this would also cost the Republicans the chance to elect a President until a “centrist/rightist reconciliation” of some sort can occur.

It puts Republicans in a tough spot, and as a political geek I can’t wait to see how they approach working it all out.