Friday, May 29, 2009

Murtha has nothing to say ... really

U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha isn't a man who is known for keeping his opinions to himself, whether it's speaking out on the Haditha killings or describing his congressional district as a racist, redneck area. But he got very, very quiet on Friday, and it wasn't because he was hunting wabbits. Reporters tried to ask him questions about Kuchera Defense Systems Inc. of nearby Windber, which has been banned from doing business with the Navy, based on fraud allegations and claims of ethics violations. Why would Murtha be questioned about Kuchera? Maybe because the company has given $60,000 to the Johnstown lawmaker and his political action committee over the past seven years. Or maybe because, in the last two years alone, Murtha has "earmarked" $14.7 million in military contracts for the company. But Murtha wasn't interested in talking about his buddies. Said the lawmaker, "What's that got to do with me? What do you think, I'm supposed to oversee these companies? That's not my job. That's the Defense Department's job." He really and truly said, "What's that got to do with me?" He doesn't sound defensive at all, does he? And this isn't the only company with ties to Murtha that has been raided by the feds of late. A D.C.-area lobbying firm known as PMA also is the target of an investigation. In just the past two years, that company has received $78 million through Murtha's earmarks. Murtha was questioned Friday at a Johnstown event known as the "Showcase for Commerce." It's a trade show for defense contractors and is paid for by seven of the world's largest defense contractors, companies that have been very generous in tossing money into Murtha's campaign coffers over the years. Nobody is saying that Murtha did anything illegal, but it's been my experience, in general, that people who have nothing to hide don't get defensive and refuse to answer questions. Couldn't he have replied, "I'm aware of the investigation, and if the company is found to have committed misdeeds, it should be punished."? He could've. But these are his pals we're talking about. We pay Murtha's salary and foot the bill for his pension and health insurance. And we're all paying for these earmarked multimillion-dollar contracts that may or may not be dirty. We deserve to have these questions answered by OUR representative.

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Jon and Kate ... Hey, wait

I don't watch much reality television. For some reason, I'm not attracted to shows such as "Rock of Love," "Bridezillas" and "Big Brother" that seem to feature nothing but scummy, mean-spirited, slimy, venal and repugnant people. But one would almost have to live in a cave to avoid the mass media frenzy over the family featured in a TLC series called "Jon and Kate Plus Eight." The program follows the lives of Jon and Kate Gosselin and their eight children, a set of twins who are nearly 9 and 5-year-old sextuplets. And those lives, of late, seem to be twirling down the toilet. In my limited exposure to the program, it struck me that the mother in the family is what we used to call a "bitch on wheels." The dad appears to be a disinterested schlump. And if you believe the news reports, some from questionable sources, one or both of the parents might be having extramarital affairs, and divorce might be right around the corner. It appears to me that if these two don't actively hate each other, there's an intense and growing dislike. Which brings me to my point: Does anybody involved in this sordid mess really give a damn about those eight kids? I presume that they're all in school now, and I'm guessing that, kids being kids, some other youngster will inevitably ask, "Why does your Daddy have a girlfriend?" or "I saw on TV that your Mommy and Daddy are getting a divorce." The exploitation of these children would be considered deplorable by any caring person, but it's clear, at least at this writing, that the parents are content to allow the apparent collapse of the family to be carried out in front of millions of TV viewers. Could the big money they're raking in be the overriding factor? It's pretty clear that they're now accustomed to living a high life that, without the television program, they would be unlikely to be able to afford. If the producers of the show or the folks at the network that carries it had any morals and integrity, they would pull the plug. But again, money talks - and it's really loud. So, no matter that these children might be scarred for life by what's going on here. There's plenty of cash to be stuffed into the adults' pockets.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

People in glass houses?

Thought some of you would like this. Some of you will absolutely hate it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bad judges! No, wait, good judges

A question: Did the despicable activist judges on the California Supreme Court who once voted to allow gay marriage in the state suddenly became wise jurists now that they have voted to uphold the Proposition 8 vote that banned same-sex marriages there? Two things are certain: One, the issue is far from settled and, two, supporters of gay marriage will be taking the issue back before the electorate in what promises to be another obscenely expensive ballot battle. The only justice to dissent in Tuesday's ruling, Carlos Moreno, disagreed with the majority's opinion that Prop 8 did not change the equal-protection clause of the state constitution. Said Moreno, "Promising equal treatment to some is fundamentally different from promising equal treatment for all. Promising treatment that is almost equal (presumably he means civil unions) is fundamentally different from ensuring truly equal treatment." To the surprise of no one, I agree with Moreno, and the day will come when true equality is the law of the land.

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Who passed out the cheat sheets?

The official Republican reaction to President Obama's nomination of federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice David Souter was relatively subdued. That doesn't mean it wasn't hilarious. Here are a few excerpts from the comments of leading Republican senators. See if you can detect a pattern.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell: "We will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law evenhandedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences."

Sen. Jeff Sessions, top Republican on the Judiciary Committee: "We must determine if Ms. Sotomayor understands that the proper role of a judge is to act as a neutral umpire of the law, calling balls and strikes fairly without regard to one's own personal preferences or political views."

Sen. John Cornyn, Judiciary Committee member: "She must prove her commitment to impartially deciding cases based on the law, rather than based on her own personal politics, feelings and preferences."

Sen. Charles Grassley, Judiciary Committee member: "The Judiciary Committee should take time to ensure that the nominee is true to the Constitution and apply the law, not personal politics, feelings or preferences."

Does anyone think these remarks are pure coincidence? I mean, Cornyn and Grassley used almost the exact same phrase at the close of their comment. Talk about operating in lock-step. My question is, did they all get together and slap together their script, or did Rush Limbaugh provide it to them? And anyone who doesn't think "preferences" is a code word are kidding themselves. What these lawmakers are doing is preaching to the choir and tossing a little raw meat to those on the fringe who will try to lead folks to believe that Sotomayor, who is generally regarded as a moderate liberal, makes Barney Frank look like Dwight Eisenhower. Unless something surprising surfaces, Republicans in the Senate aren't likely to go into full attack mode against the judge. She was originally nominated to a federal judgeship by the elder President Bush and in at least one case sided with anti-abortion forces. It also can be assumed that Republicans aren't interested in unnecessarily angering Hispanics and women, two key voting blocs. One can say that political considerations shouldn't play a role in senators' decisions. You also might as well say that Liberace was a babe magnet. We can assume that the grandstanding senators (Democrats were equally dramatic when Republican presidents nominated justices) will pontificate about the sanctity of the Constitution and ask Sotomayor whether she has the proper respect for the document. Not being a dummy, she will assure them that she does. Then, provided no bombshells have burst, Sotomayor will be our next high court justice. In the meantime, the show must go on.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Why? 'Cause Bracken says so

Think for a moment or two what you would do if you had $500,000 to spend on tourism promotion in Washington County. Did buying fake grass for a minor-league baseball team's sloppy field pop into your head? Probably not. But that's exactly what the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency did on Thursday. Its members voted, 8-3, to plunk down half a million dollars in hotel tax proceeds over the next decade in order to finance the installation of artificial turf at Consol Energy Park, home of the Washington Wild Things. Another $500,000 for the project will come from your state tax dollars. There's no debating that the Wild Things are a major draw, second only to the Meadows in terms of attracting visitors to the county. And no one really debates the fact that the current grass field has significant drainage problems and should be replaced. The objections from those who opposed the tourism spending centered mainly on the use of that particular funding source and the way in which the proposal was handled. Observer-Reporter publisher Tom Northrop, who cast one of the dissenting votes, believed it would have been better to use the local share of slots proceeds from The Meadows casino. But the artificial turf project was not among those forwarded by the county commissioners for slots funding. And the reason is becoming clear. Why use the slots money, and possibly raise the ire of local communities vying for that funding, when you can just strong-arm the tourism panel into coughing up the cash? Northrop was told by county Commissioner Bracken Burns, who was pushing the Wild Things project, "We're the ones who gave you the hotel tax money, and we can take it away, too." If that's not a threat, I don't know what is. I'm pretty sure if you look up the word "arrogant" in the dictionary, you'll find a picture of Burns. But the attempted bullying didn't stop there. Jeff Kotula, the executive director of Washington County Chamber of Commerce, who just happens to be chairman of the commissioner-appointed panel that decided on the use of slots money, allegedly called tourism panel member Jamie Johns of The Meadows to "remind" her that the commissioners appointed her to the board. Supposedly, all the newer members of the board got these "friendly reminders." And there's more. A state-level official also got into the high-pressure act, and some board members were told that if they didn't vote the "right way," they could easily be replaced because they serve at the pleasure of the commissioners. One of the affirmative votes for the $500,000 outlay came from board member Bob Gregg, perhaps better known as the WJPA play-by-play announcer for Wild Things games. Gregg might not get paid by the Wild Things or Ballpark Scholarships Inc., which owns the park and is the entity getting the money, but the average third-grader could spot the conflict of interest in his vote. At least the tourism board representatives from the Wild Things and Cal U., which plays games on the field, had the good sense to abstain. One might also complain that the reason artificial turf is needed at this juncture is that the field was not constructed properly in the first place. Now they want public money to bail them out. As I said earlier, no one is denying that the Wild Things are an asset for the community, and no one is claiming that new turf is not needed. But should $1 million in tax money be used for this? It brought to mind the time when we citizens said we didn't want our state tax money to be used to build stadiums in Pittsburgh, and our so-called "leaders" in Harrisburg stuffed it down our throats anyway. It also makes one wonder why the county even has a tourism promotion panel. Why don't Burns and his equally shameless cronies just make the decisions themselves, in a back room somewhere, and eliminate this charade.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

View from Brazil

My friend Mark Swift, a music professor at W&J, is currently on sabbatical in Brazil. My wife will be leading a group of young people from First Presbyterian Church in Washington who will join Mark in early July. For a glimpse of life in Brazil and Mark's experiences there, check out his blog.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

These people should be behind bars

Leilani Neumann, above, and Colleen Hauser might not look like criminals, but Neumann is already up on homicide charges, and Hauser is on her way to the same fate. The reason? Their refusal to get medical attention for terminally ill children. Neumann is on trial right now for allowing her 11-year-old daughter, Madeline, to die of untreated diabetes in March 2008. At this writing, Hauser is on the lam with her 13-year-old son, Daniel, in an attempt to avoid a court order that the boy receive chemotherapy to prevent his death from Hodgkin's lymphoma. In both cases, the mothers believe the only medical treatment that is acceptable is healing from above. And they're nuts. It's not wrong for parents, or anyone, to believe in the healing power of prayer. It's not wrong for them to make decisions about medical care for their children based on the best available medical advice and testing. It's not wrong for adults to make whatever decisions they see fit about their own medical care. But it is criminally wrong - first-degree murder, in fact - for them to refuse medical treatment that could save their children from death and instead wait for divine intervention. These people do not represent the vast majority of religious folks. They are the lunatic fringe, and any normal person, even the most devout among them, would be embarrassed to be associated with the likes of Neumann and Hauser. Really, does any sane person believe that it's OK to kill a child this way?

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They're Philipping out

From the Can't-Take-a-Joke Department: It seems that the government of the Philippines is in full outrage mode because of a joking comment made by actor Alec Baldwin. In a recent appearance on David Letterman's talk show, Baldwin, whose unpleasant dealings with ex-wife Kim Basinger are well-documented, joked that he was "thinking about getting a Filipina mail-order bride ... or a Russian." And Letterman joked back, "Get one for me, for later." Well, it wasn't long, of course, before the video of the exchange was making the rounds on YouTube, and officials of the Philippines started demanding apologies. "Incidents of mockery against our race happen again and again. Again and again we must not fail in our strong condemnation and resounding assertion of our dignity," said Philippines Sen. Loren Legarda. "Let us make it clear to the world: Filipina women are not for sale. Not even for sale to Hollywood actors," she added. Another lawmaker went so far as to threaten to give Baldwin a knuckle sandwich if he dares show his face in the country. And the officials noted that the mail-order bride business is outlawed there. Really? A quick Yahoo! search for "Philippines mail order brides" turns up hundreds of thousands of responses. The main sponsor on the first page of the search results offers to hook you up with "Philippine ladies seeking love, dating and marriage." I'm guessing somebody has to be making a buck on this. After all the uproar, Baldwin might be leaning more toward a Russian woman. But he should be forewarned: Russian women seem to age about as well as unrefrigerated macaroni salad. Some of those 20-year-old Russian hotties gracing the Internet might very well end up looking like Janet Reno a few years down the road. And, you know, based on Baldwin's track record, maybe he'd just be better off with porn.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Dumb + ass = dumbass

I've never gotten the impression that James Harrison would be a likely target if one were looking for a person with whom to have an intelligent conversation, but the Steelers linebacker took stupidity to a new low over the weekend when asked about the team's upcoming trip to the White House to be honored for its Super Bowl victory earlier this year. It seems James is passing on the event. His reasoning? James says that if the president really wants to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, he should invite them in a year when they DIDN'T win the Super Bowl, not just because they won a championship. He went on to say that if Arizona had won the Super Bowl, the president would've invited THEM to the White House. Duh! Perhaps James has been living under a rock, but it has been a tradition for many years for the president to invite championship-winning college and pro teams to be honored at the White House. Note the word "honored." It's an honor, James. And, yes, it's for winners. Like the Steelers this year. I'm beginning to think James suffered some sort of lasting brain damage from the incident last year when he allegedly busted down a bedroom door to smack his baby's mama. That, or maybe he's just really dumb, or a major league horse's ass. Or both.

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An embarrassment to her party (and country)

Anyone with a set of eyes and ears has long known that Nancy Pelosi is a partisan political schmuck with few redeeming qualities. Now she has herself in a real pickle, and it's fun to watch her squirm. Pelosi, for reasons known only to her (something self-serving is highly likely), has been making a big to-do about her allegation that the CIA lied to her in 2002 about waterboarding of a terror detainee. The first point that should be made here is that these events happened SEVEN YEARS AGO! This is water way under the bridge. It's been crystal clear that the Bush administration lied, twisted the truth and did a poor job (deliberately?) of interpreting intelligence in the war on terror and the war in Iraq. I'm guessing that Pelosi is attempting to make herself look better by claiming she was misled, while at the same time doing some partisan piling on regarding the Bush administration's alleged torture of detainees. The backlash from Republicans was quick and brutal. That was to be expected. But even current CIA Director Leon Panetta, one of Pelosi's fellow Democrats, said the agency's records from the September 2002 briefing attended by Pelosi show that "CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing 'the enhanced techniques that had been employed.'" I rarely agree with House Minority Leader John Boehner - mainly because the Ohio Republican is as big a political hack as Pelosi - but he's absolutely right on this matter. Said Boehner, in an appearance on CNN, "Lying to the Congress of the United States is a crime, and if the speaker is accusing the CIA and other intelligence officials of lying or misleading the Congress, then (she) should come forward with evidence." In other words, Nancy, put up or shut up. A lot of us, even many Democrats, would prefer the latter. Unless you want to resign, which would be even better.

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Governmental abuse

Stupid, harmful actions by government entities have become so commonplace that it's difficult for these official misdeeds to stand out from their peers, but the National Park Service is certainly doing its best. The agency has decided that it needs to immediately take the land of seven property owners in the area of the proposed Flight 93 memorial so that the shrine can be completed by the time of the 10th anniversary of the plane crash in 2011. Anytime the government is involved in a project, you can pretty much count on it being overdone at a ridiculous price. Here's an excerpt from a recent AP story:

The seven property owners own about 500 acres still needed for what will ultimately be a $58 million, 2,200-acre permanent memorial and national park at the crash site near Shanksville, about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

The word in that paragraph that jumped out at me was "needed." Needed? Do we really need to spend $58 million and consume 2,200 acres - almost a quarter of it seized from people who don't want to be uprooted - in order to commemorate the heroism of the Flight 93 passengers? Wouldn't a single building on a five-acre plot be sufficient? And how many people - outside of family and friends - really want to go look at the site where dozens of people plowed into the earth on an airplane? I really don't see too many parents packing the kids into the Winnebago for a trip to Shanksville. Honestly, I have zero interest in going. The heroism of those aboard that flight was appreciated and should be honored, but the Park Service has gone way beyond an appropriate commemoration, and the seizure of private property for this overblown memorial is shameful.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Those ads are giving him the willies

With all the problems in our country, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran has decided to make it a priority to ensure that no kids hear the word "erectile" on television. The Virginia Democrat wants the House to consider legislation that would ban advertisements for erectile dysfunction drugs between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Said the congressman, "I do object, when you're sitting around with the kids, to be warning people about a four-hour erection. That's not appropriate. I have no problem with the product. I have a problem with advertising it." Yes, let's attach great shame to our private parts and any discussion thereof. It'd be much more fun for boys to be totally shocked, and maybe even a little afraid, when they get a surprise around age 12. Let's face it, little kids couldn't care less about mushy advertisements showing semi-elderly people getting frisky. And if a kid is old enough to take interest in such advertising and ask a question, would it be that horrific to give him or her an age-appropriate answer? I do have to admit, however, that the "Viva Viagra!" ads are so catchy that anyone from 8 to 80 can't help but be sucked in. Moran claims the ads have become "increasingly aggressive ... more pervasive and explicit." Hey, in this day and age, just having a guy toss a football through a tire swing as a metaphor doesn't get anyone's attention. And it's not like those folks in the Cialis spa commercial are in the same bathtub playing "Up Goes the Periscope." I also guarantee you that if the drug companies didn't warn people about the possibility of four-hour erections, a lawsuit is coming from the first guy who has an unwelcome encounter with the corner of a chest of drawers while navigating a dark bedroom. The three major ED-drug manufacturers note that their television advertising is carefully targeted to run during shows that appeal primarily to men over age 50. And at least one of the companies already has its own restrictions on hours of the day when the ads run. If you ask me, Moran is the one going off half-cocked.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

An author? You betcha

I hear that Alaska governor and former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is writing a book. Shouldn't there be a rule that you had to have read a book, or at least be able to name a magazine or newspaper you flipped through, in order to write your own book? I can't wait to hear the tale about how she attended five colleges in order to get a single bachelor's degree, or how having Vladimir Putin fly over one's home state is indicative of foreign policy expertise.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Time for a change of habit?

A story out of Florida provides a good stepping-off point for a discussion on a longstanding, and controversial, practice of the Catholic Church. The Rev. Alberto Cutie, a popular Miami priest known as "Father Oprah" for the relationship advice he dispenses on his archdiocese's radio broadcasts heard throughout the Americas and Spain, told the CBS "This Morning" show today that while he still thinks priests should be celibate, he's thinking about leaving the Catholic Church because he's been romantically involved with a woman for two years. The Puerto Rican-born Cutie made the announcement after a Spanish-language magazine published photos of Cutie and his lady friend kissing and hugging at a bar and on a beach. While there is some merit in a church or any other organization building and nurturing its traditions, there also is benefit on adapting to changing times and circumstances. And it would seem to be time for the Catholic Church to allow priests to marry, at least in the Western Church where such a move has broad support among rank-and-file Catholics and the church is scrambling to find candidates for the priesthood. The celibacy rule does not eliminate sexual urges, but it might cause priests to try to relieve those urges in secretive, harmful ways that have devastating effects on victims. There are child molesters in all walks of life (media people included), but no singular profession seems to have had such a concentration of molesters as the priesthood. And for a religion that goes well out of its way to prevent gay people from securing equal rights, the priesthood certainly seems to attract a lot of homosexuals. One would think that priests also are expected to avoid masturbation and sexual fantasies. It's all just ridiculously unrealistic, just as it seems odd to me that priests counsel people about their marriages. It's like someone coming to me for diet tips. I'm sure people will make the argument that being celibate allows priests to devote themselves to the church, but married clergy in other denominations seem to be able to balance family life and their religious duties. Others don't want to break with tradition, but the Catholic Church also has had traditions of mandatory Latin Mass, not eating meat on Friday and conducting bloody Crusades, but those have fallen by the wayside. The church has survived English-language Masses, Friday frankfurters and no longer gaining converts at the point of a sword. It probably can continue as a viable religion with married priests. And hey, while we're at it, why not ordain women? It seems like a no-brainer to double your pool of potential clergy.


Shot today, suit tomorrow?

One has to wonder how many ambulance-chasing lawyers already are camped out outside the hospital room of the 15-year-old boy who was shot by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy when he pointed a toy gun at officers. A sheriff's spokesman says officers had received reports of someone who was riding a bicycle and brandishing a handgun yesterday in Palmdale. Officers reportedly spotted the boy and told him to drop the gun, which did not have an orange tip found on most toy weapons, but the boy instead pointed it at them and was shot. He's in stable condition at a hospital and is expected to recover. But you can be sure that plenty of people will blame the police officer, who in reality would have been cleaning up the gene pool if he had eliminated a teenager dumb enough to point a gun, toy or real, at a policeman.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Say what?

An oil company has an advertisement currently running on radio that praises a driver who switched from an "inferior" oil to the company's synthetic product by telling the driver, "That's using your dipstick." The phrase is repeated several times throughout the ad. They intend it as a compliment. I had a totally different take. Do I just have a filthy mind?

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Trickle-down stupidity?

OK, boys and girls, listen carefully. Unwed mother Bristol Palin has some advice for you on how to avoid getting in the "family way." Of course, it's abstinence, which worked so well for her. Bristol gave an interview to ABC's "Good Morning America" in which she said that she wishes she had waited to have sex. I'll bet she does. She also offered this startling bit of information: "I just think that abstinence is the only way you can effectively, 100 percent foolproof way you can prevent pregnancy." Hold the presses. Do you mean that if you don't do the horizontal hokey-pokey, you can't get pregnant? This should solve everything in the area of teen pregnancy, right? Wrong! Even Bristol's baby daddy, who looked like a deer in the headlights when he was paraded around the Republican National Convention and learned that he would be getting married, knows better than that. Levi Johnston, now estranged from Bristol, said abstinence is "not realistic." Smart boy, at least in that regard. "Abstinence is a great idea," Johnston said in an interview with "CBS This Morning. "But I also think you need to enforce, you know, condoms and birth control and other things like that to have safe sex. I don't just think telling young kids, ‘You can’t have sex,’ it's not going to work." Perhaps he didn't say it eloquently, but Johnston is right on the money. We can talk all we want about abstinence being the best bet for our children. It is. There's really no denying that. But the reality, which some find to be an inconvenient truth, is that unmarried young people have been having sex with one another since the dawn of time, and they will continue to do so in large numbers as long as humans walk the Earth. What we have to do, as responsible people, is find the best ways of helping these children protect themselves from pregnancy and disease, and if they foul up, we should make sure that they have access to the morning-after pill. No, it shouldn't be used as a routine birth-control measure, but if a couple of kids screw up, no pun intended, the rest of their lives should not be ruined (and many are undeniably altered for the worse by an unintended pregnancy) when a simple trip to the drugstore could prevent it. Telling kids to just say no to sex is about as effective as telling the ground not to get wet when it rains. If Bristol Palin, a girl from a stable, well-to-do, loving, two-parent family who no doubt had her mother in her ear preaching abstinence for years, goes ahead and has unprotected sex, what are the odds that a girl from a poor, single-parent home with little hope for the future is going to buck the odds and keep her drawers on? We need to help our kids, and ourselves, by offering them more than empty words.

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The latest on the same-sex marriage front

This just in from Maine:

AUGUSTA, Maine – Maine's governor signed a freshly passed bill Wednesday approving gay marriage, making it the fifth state to approve the practice and moving New England closer to allowing it throughout the region.
New Hampshire legislators were also poised to send a gay marriage bill to their governor, who hasn't indicated whether he'll sign it. If he does, Rhode Island would be the region's sole holdout.
The Maine Senate voted 21-13, with one absent, for a bill that authorizes marriage between any two people rather than between one man and one woman, as state law currently allows. The House had passed the bill Tuesday.
Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, who hadn't previously indicated how he would handle the bill, signed it shortly afterward. In the past, he said he opposed gay marriage but supported civil unions, which provide many benefits of marriage.
Debate was brief. Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, turned the gavel over to an openly gay member, Sen. Lawrence Bliss, D-South Portland, to preside over the final vote.
Republican Sen. Debra Plowman of Hampden argued that the bill was being passed “at the expense of the people of faith.”
“You are making a decision that is not well-founded,” warned Plowman.
But Senate Majority Leader Philip Bartlett II said the bill does not compel religious institutions to recognize gay marriage.
“We respect religious liberties. ... This is long overdue,” said Bartlett, D-Gorham.
Maine is now the fourth state in New England, to allow same-sex marriages. Connecticut enacted a bill after being ordered to allow gay marriages by the courts, and Vermont passed a bill over the governor’s veto.
New Hampshire’s House was also expected to vote on a bill Wednesday and send it to Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat.
Massachusetts’ high court has ordered the state to recognize gay marriages. In Rhode Island, a bill to legalize same-sex marriage has been introduced but is not expected to pass this year.
Outside New England, Iowa is recognizing gay marriages on court orders. The practice was briefly legal in California before voters banned it.

The interesting quote here, for me, is from Sen. Plowman, who said the bill was being passed "at the expense of the people of faith." However, the new law does not require churches to perform gay marriages or to recognize them, and it doesn't require Sen. Plowman to like it. The two statements most often offered in opposition to gay marriage are: 1. It's wrong (under some religious belief system) or 2. How do I explain to my children why their friend has two mothers? To the first objection, I would say, we should not be basing our laws on any particular religious belief system. Who is to say that one church's beliefs are better than another's? And there are some churches that are very welcoming and accepting of gay people. As to the second objection, try something like this: "Honey, God created many different kinds of people. It's not for us to judge them just because they are different from us." Or maybe, "The main thing is that Bobby's parents love one another." Trying to shield a child from the fact that gay people exist or that they are married is just idiotic, and it's going to prove fruitless, because someday all people, whatever their sexual orientation, will have equal access to marriage rights. And if you're still convinced that being gay is a choice, you're either in deep denial of reality or you need help matching socks. I'm still waiting for a good explanation from a gay-marriage opponent as to how allowing gay folks to marry hurts them or their own marriage. I'm all ears.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

And the nominee is?

The ink was barely dry on David Souter's retirement announcement when liberals, conservatives, black folks, gay folks, Hispanics and women's rights advocates – just to name a few – started weighing in on what sort of person should replace Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court. Conservatives are worried that President Obama will nominate someone so far to the left that he or she would make Nancy Pelosi look like Jesse Helms. Liberals, of course, are looking for exactly that sort of person. Hispanics want a Hispanic. Black people want someone who looks like them. Gay-rights leaders pine for a homosexual justice. And women think Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should have some company in the girl justice locker room. Obama finds himself in a position in which no matter what he does, a whole lot of people are going to find fault with him. One person who might make at least two groups happy is Judge Sonia Sotomayor, above left, a jurist on the federal 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City. She's a woman, clearly, and also a Hispanic. In addition, she's considered a moderate, which might tamp down the expected firestorm of opposition from Republicans. If she had a handicap of some sort, she might be a shoo-in. I'm not trying to make light of people with handicaps, but I do believe that political correctness and pandering to interest groups has gone too far when it comes to filling sensitive positions at the highest levels of our government. The president's appointments to his Cabinet were, in my opinion, fairly lackluster. Some seemed politically motivated, rather than aimed at putting the most qualified person in the post. Would it be wrong to simply name someone with impeccable credentials and standing as a legal scholar to fill Souter's position, no matter what that person's political bent might be? Of course it wouldn't be wrong, but that's not how it works. The most recent President Bush nominated two strongly conservative judges – John Roberts and Samuel Alito - to fill court vacancies, and he pretty much dared Democrats to do anything about it. He even had the gall to nominate the clearly unqualified Harriet Miers to the post that eventually went to Alito. Democrats are expecting Obama to defend their turf. In other words, with the liberal Souter stepping down, only another liberal will do as his replacement on a court that is precariously balanced between liberal and conservative viewpoints. But how can Obama be sure that his liberal appointee will remain a liberal once on the high court? He can't. Just ask the elder President Bush how that Souter appointment worked out. It will be years before Obama's first high-court pick can be evaluated. I guess we should just hope, in the short term, that the person paid taxes and didn't have an undocumented Honduran maid living in the spare bedroom.

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