Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Index of Posts on Moral Discernment

Here’s the index of the moral discernment series.  I’ll soon add this to the page on “popular series” in the upper right of this blog.

Critical Variables in Moral Discernment

Convictions and Moral Discernment 1

Convictions and Moral Discernment 2

Convictions and Moral Discernment 3

Moral Discernment: Loyalties, Interests, Passions

Perception and Moral Discernment

Styles of Moral Reasoning/Modes of Moral Discourse

April 27, 2009 Posted by | convictions, ethics, moral discernment | 4 Comments

Health Care Blues

The video of the salaries of healthcare CEOs is from James Pence of The Hillbilly Report, a great populist progressive blog here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  The song, “Health Care Blues” is by my friend, Paul Whitely, Jr., one half of the  folk duo, Down to Earth. (The other half is Paul’s lovely wife, Kate Sanders.) Paul and Kate double as the volunteer music ministers in our church.

To get rid of the health care blues, we need single-payer health care in this country, Medicare for everyone.  It would also solve the economic problems of Medicare and Medicaid, allow people to keep their own doctors (or switch), would save billions, cover everyone, and allow American businesses to compete on an even global playing field.  The House Bill for Medicare for all is H.R. 676.  Go to Physicians for National Healthcare Plan and write your Congressperson to co-sponsor H.R. 676 here.  (I’m pleased that my Rep., John Yarmuth (D-KY-03) is a co-sponsor.  The Senate version of H.R. 676 is S. 709, The American Health Security Act, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and is far more comprehensive (and ultimately cheaper) than the health reform package being worked on by Sens. Kennedy  (D-MA) and Baucus (D-MT) and championed by Pres. Obama.  Let’s try to see if, instead of tinkering with a broken system, we can’t get healthcare for people, rather than profits.

By the way, the U.S. almost got single-payer, universal healthcare after WWII, like most of Europe, Canada, and, eventually, the rest of the industrial world.  It was pushed by Pres. Harry S. Truman (D) in 1948 and he had large Democratic majorities in both houses. Do you know what stopped it? Costs? Fears of socialism? Worries about “not keeping my own doctor” (which lie conservatives use to scare seniors)? Nope. None of that. It was RACISM.  Southern Senators refused to vote for it because they feared (rightly) that they would have to de-segregate Southern hospitals. So, even though the impoverished post-War South would have benefitted the MOST from universal healthcare, racism killed it.  Got to love the way we constantly cut off our noses to spite our own faces, huh?

April 27, 2009 Posted by | economic justice, healthcare | 2 Comments

Visual: The Problem of “Only Looking Forward” on Torture

Daily Kos has a timeline as far as we now know, about the U.S. and  torture after 9/11.  The website of Foreign Policy now has a timeline, too.  I hope the mainstream media, special prosecutors, and the ICC are paying attention.to the timelines.

When you only look forward, things get you from behind!


April 27, 2009 Posted by | torture | 17 Comments

Connecticut: 4th U.S. State to Allow Same-Sex Marriage (updated)

Update:  CT’s Supreme Court actually struck down the ban on same-sex marriage last fall.  This month, the CT legislature enacted the enabling legislation to implement that ruling. On Thurs.  Gov. Jodi Rell signed into law the new marriage equality standards.

A timeline of the recent struggle for (civil) marriage equality in the United States.

  • 1992: The District of Columbia allows domestic partnerships of same-sex couples that qualify for a limited number of rights.  These rights are expanded in 2002, 2005, 2007, and 2008.
  • 1997:  Hawai’i passes a law allowing “reciprocal beneficiary relationships” to qualify for  many rights of marriage.
  • 2000: Vermont becomes the first state in the union to legalize same-sex civil unions which offer gay and lesbian couples many of the same legal rights as marriage.
  • 2000:  California passes a “domestic partnership law” which allows same-sex couples (and non-married heterosexual couples) to have many of the same rights as married persons.
  • 2004: The Massachusetts State Supreme Court rules that restricting civil marriage to heterosexual couples violates the equal protection clauses of the MA Constitution.  With that decision, MA becomes the first state in the U.S. where same-sex couples can marry. This leads to a storm of controversy that plays a major factor in the 2004 presidential election and several other elections, as many states (including, alas, my adopted home in the Commonwealth of Kentucky) rush to put ballot measures in place that will amend their state constitutions to rule out same-sex marriage. This increases conservative Republican turnout in several swing states, including OH (where many voting irregularities were reported) and is, at least, one factor in the narrow “re”-election of then-Pres. George W. Bush.
  • 2004:  Maine and New Jersey pass laws allowing for domestic partnerships with some of the rights and benefits of marriage.
  • 2005:  Connecticut allows for civil unions, but not marriage for same-sex couples.
  • 2007: New Jersey allows for same-sex civil unions with many of the rights and benefits of marriage.
  • 2007: Washington State  passes a Domestic Partnership law which is expanded in 2008.  In March 2009, Washington State updates its Domestic Partnership law to include all the legal rights and benefits of marriage, but the TERM “marriage” is left for heterosexual couples.
  • 2008: Domestic Partnerships are granted in Oregon and Maryland.
  • 2008: New Hampshire (which in 2004 saw the first openly gay Episcopal priest consecrated as Bishop) passed a civil union law that is nearly equivalent to heterosexual marriage.
  • 2008: California had been gradually expanding its Domestic Partnership law, but in May the CA Supreme Court ruled that the state ban on same-sex marriage was a violation of the state constitution.  Many gay couples rushed to get married, but opponents of same-sex marriage struck back with a ballot measure amending the state constitution to forbid same-sex marriage.  That ballot measure, Proposition 8, passed on 04 November.  Proposition 8 itself has been challenged in the CA Supreme Court (with attorneys claiming that this is not a simple amendment, but a radical revision, to the CA Constitution and, thus, needed to go through the legislature and not directly to ballot). The Court has not yet ruled on this question, but from comments during oral arguments seems inclined to uphold Prop. 8, but reluctant to nullify the thousands of same-sex marriages performed during the few months of legality.
  • 2008: New York’s legislature narrowly defeated a same-sex marriage law, but did vote to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
  • 2009: 03 April, the Iowa State Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriages violates the Iowa Constitution, thereby legalizing same-sex marriage. Iowa is the first “heartland” (e.g., not on either of the coasts; generally speaking the heartland  states are more conservative on social issues than states on either coast) state to legalize same-sex marriage.  It should be difficult to reverse:  In normal circumstances any amendment to the Iowa Constitution must pass in identical wording in both houses of the state legislature 2 years in a row and then be put on a ballot measure for voter approval.  The Democratic leaders of both houses have  said they will not let any such measure out of committee. But same-sex marriage opponents are pushing for a Constitutional Convention (and trying to make this a campaign issue for 2010 elections) which could radically alter the state constitution directly.
  • 2009: 07 April, the District of Columbia city council votes to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
  • 2009:  07 April, Vermont’s legislature overrides the governor’s veto to legalize same-sex marriage. VT, which passed civil unions in 2000, became the 3rd state (after Prop. 8 reversed things in CA) to legalize same-sex marriage and the first to do so legislatively.
  • 2009: 24 April, in a 4-3 decision, Connecticut’s Supreme Court strikes down its ban on same-sex marriage, thereby making it the 4th state to legalize same-sex marriage.

More on the way: 

  • A Bill legalizing same-sex marriage has been introduced into the New York state legislature.  Last year this bill passed the House but failed in the Senate. This year there is the chance that it could narrowly pass the Senate. Gov. Patterson (D-NY), who introduced this year’s version, has promised to sign the bill.  53% of New Yorkers support same-sex marriage.  If this year’s bill fails to pass the NY senate, it will be reintroduced in 2011 after the 2010 midterms–and will be a campaign issue in 2010.
  • A Bill legalizing same-sex marriage has passed the New Hampshire House, but is held up in the Senate.  The NH governor has not said whether he would sign or veto the measure.  Yet, a veto would merely delay, not stop the move to marriage equality in NH.  Much popular pressure is being placed on the NH governor to change his mind and sign the bill.  The bill goes to the Senate floor on Wednesday, but the vote will be very close. Everything depends on 3 very wobbly Democrats.
  • A Bill legalizing same-sex marriage has been introduced into the legislature of New Jersey.
  • A Bill legalizing same-sex marriage has been introduced to the Maine legislature which held hearings open to the public in early April. Although some spoke out against the measure, the reading of the bill was met with thunderous applause–something rare in legislative sessions anywhere.
  • I expect the 1996 “Defense of Marriage Act” which forbids national recognition of same-sex marriage to be either repealed or challenged in the courts before the end of  Obama’s first term as president. (Not this year, however, and probably not before 2011.)  Because of DOMA, same-sex couples in marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are denied the 1,138 rights  and benefits that heterosexual married couples have under federal law.

If the struggle continues on a state-by-state basis, FiveThirtyEight.com’s statistical genius, Nate Silver, predicts that by 2024 same-sex marriage will be legal in all 50 states (with Mississippi predictably being the last state to legalize same-sex marriage).  Here is his break-down.  Actually, after enough states legalize marriage equality, it is likely that a challenge will be raised in the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), although I hope we have more progressive justices on the bench before then.  But Nate points out that this state-by-state move shows that this will not be able to be used as a wedge issue by conservatives for much longer, and soon it may actually benefit progressives–although this will be at different rates in different  regions of the country. (I predict FL to be the first Southeastern state to legalize same-sex marriage, although it just amended its state constitution to ban it in 2008.  I think that will be reversed by 2014 at the latest.  Colorado will probably be the first non-coastal Western state to legalize same-sex marriage, although the struggle will be titanic because of the Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs. )

There are also seven (7) nations that recognize same-sex marriages:  The Netherlands (2001); Belgium (2003); Canada (2005); Spain (2005); South Africa (2005); Norway (2008); Sweden (2009).

Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships are legal in 14 countries:

  • Denmark (1989)
  • Hungary (1995)
  • Iceland (1996) In 2009, Iceland became the first modern nation to elect an openly lesbian prime minister, but with a financial crisis many times that of the U.S., she has her hands full!
  • Portugal (n.d.)
  • Switzerland (n.d.)
  • Germany (n.d.)
  • France (1999)
  • Finland (2001)
  • Croatia (2003)
  • Luxembourg (2004)
  • New Zealand (2004)
  • United Kingdom (2005)
  • Mexico (2006)
  • Brazil (State of Rio Grande do Sul only–2006).

Congrats, LGBTQ folk!  This straight ally longs for the day when neither sexual orientation nor gender identity is a cause of discrimination anywhere in the world.  Marriage equality marches dances onward!

April 27, 2009 Posted by | civil liberties, GLBT issues, human rights. | 11 Comments

Sleep Deprivation & More

I suffer from insomnia and have all my life.  So, I know something about sleep deprivation, personally, although it has never been used as an interrogation technique on me.  Sleep deprivation can cause massive weight loss or gain. It prevents the body from metabolizing glucose efficiently so that people who regularly suffer sleep deprivation are more subject to adult onset diabetes–as are those who work graveyard shifts.  As an interrogation technique, its results are mixed. People will say anything to be allowed to sleep, but the information given is often unreliable.  Former Israeli PM Menachim Begin described his interrogation by the Soviet KGB in his younger days and said that the sleep deprivation hurt him worse than deprivation of food and water.

Prolonged sleep deprivation often leads to hallucinations, headaches, anger, and the slowing of higher brain functions. (Yes, gentle readers, some of my least charitable responses to my critics on this site came at times when I was sleep deprived–not that this is a valid excuse for my sometimes unsanctified behavior.  My apologies.) 

The U.S. under Bush misused a scientific study showing no permanent harm in sleep deprivation, IF NO OTHER STRESSORS ARE PRESENT. But, as the author of that study, horrified that it had been so misused, told Congress, if you add stress, such as being detained, threatened, interrogated, then sleep deprivation causes far worse harm.

Does sleep deprivation count as torture?  Depending on how long it is used and in combination with what other techniques, it sometimes is.  But even if it is not technically torture, or is on the borderline, it clearly falls under the category of “cruel, unusual, inhumane, and degrading treatment” which is also forbidden by the same anti-torture laws.

And sleep deprivation was the mildest of the techniques described in the released torture memos.  Other tecniques included slapping (at least humiliating, and more so in certain cultures where a slap is worse than a punch; if delivered with enough force it is cruel); using a cloth around the neck to slam a head into the wall (!!); stress positions, prolonged nudity in extreme temperatures (both physical and psychological torture); small closed boxes (I  have claustrophobia, that would be horrifying!), sometimes with insects or other things of which the prisoner is afraid (specifically authorized by now-judge Bybee); people being given Qu’rans that they have been told have been soiled by urine, feces, or menses; men being smeared with a red liquid they are told is menstrual blood (psychological torture in cultures in which such is considered ritually unclean); the use of dogs to frighten detainees; etc.

Go ahead. Defend ANY of this as within U.S. or international law.  Defend any of it as moral. Anyone who claims this is moral is a sadist.

And these “interrogation methods” were authorized by people who had sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution–National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice; Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; White House lawyer John Yoo; Bybee of the Office of Legal Council (now a judge in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals); CIA Directors Porter Goss and George Tenet (the latter given the Medal of Freedom by Bush); Armed Services General Counsel Haynes; Vice President Richard B. Cheney; President George W. Bush.  All of them need to be investigated and prosecuted for these war crimes.

We now see why Bush wanted a special form of “military tribunal” for show trials or indefinite detention without trials.  Because, not only were many of the detainees not terrorists at all (even Bush released many picked up by mistake), but because the use of these methods would lead any civilian U.S. court, or any normal military court, to throw the case out and release the detainee/prisoner simply on the basis of the treatment. It wouldn’t matter how conservative the judge was.

There were voices of dissent within the Bush admin.:  Senior officers from ALL FOUR branches of the military protested, citing appropriate U.S. and international law; FBI Director Robert Muller forbade anyone in the FBI to have anything to do with this or to be present for any CIA interrogations–even when his job was threatened by George W. Bush. (The FBI has come a long way from the bad old days under J. Edgar Hoover.  The CIA needs just as thorough a housecleaning by new Director Leon Panetta.)

These practices are evil and defending these practices shows a degraded soul, a loss of moral coherence of the order of someone defending rape or child abuse.  If we are not outraged, we are not paying attention.

April 27, 2009 Posted by | human rights., torture | Comments Off on Sleep Deprivation & More