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The NFL Steps In It–What a Surprise

The NFL has once again reminded us of its staggering capacity to botch its handling of controversies and make itself look worse. Under their new policy, players must either stand while the National Anthem or stay in the locker room until the song is over. If a player kneels, their team will be forced to pay a fine. There are a lot of thoughts I have on this, most of them negative, which I have organized below:

  1. The argument that kneeling during the Anthem is offensive do not hold up well. It has been asked why players are “taking out” their grievances on the flag and the U.S. The United States government legally oppressed black people via slavery for almost eighty years (following over a century of slavery in the colonial era), and Jim Crow was in place from the 1690s to the 1960s. Since racial equality under the law was achieved half a century ago, racism and de facto racial inequality has continued to be a huge problem. With that point in mind, it should be easy to understand why kneeling NFL players are “taking it out” on the flag and the country even if you disagree with their tactics. Arguments that they are disrespecting soldiers and veterans are also weak. Kneeling players are taking issue with our government and society, not our soldiers, whom Kaepernick specifically expressed respect for. The American flag represents our government; the National Anthem praises the U.S. as “the land of the free.” The author, Francis Scott Key, worked for the State as a prosecutor. Hence, singing the National Anthem and waving the American flag are not simply a show of respect for military personnel but also a tribute to the United States government. As others have pointed out, if players’ quarrel was with our soldiers, they might have chosen, for example, to protest the NFL’s policy of giving discounts to people from the military. They didn’t. In fact, in the military, soldiers who don’t stand for the Anthem are punished, something which would make little sense if honoring soldiers were actually its primary purpose.
  2. The argument that NFL players shouldn’t be “protesting on the job” and need to leave politics off the field is sloppy. Kaepernick and players who followed his example have not marched around the field chanting and waving protest signs. They have simply refused to take part in a political ritual. It is a protest, but it is a very unobtrusive, low-key protest. Furthermore, people who simultaneously want to take a break from politics while watching the NFL yet also adore the performance of the National Anthem are being highly inconsistent given how political the Anthem is. People claiming a double standard because of players not being allowed to wear political insignia are missing the point: if there’s a double standard, then the playing of the National Anthem is itself an example of that double standard in action.
  3. Is this a free speech violation? It’s complicated. Generally, free speech rights only apply to protection from being censored by the government. As I myself have argued, private corporations can–and sometimes probably should–fire people for political beliefs. With the NFL, however, it’s sticky, because they receive a lot of taxpayer support in terms of subsidies and use of publicly funded venues. So at that point, there’s a strong case to be made that what the NFL is doing amounts to taxpayer-funded censorship. This is especially true if you force someone to stand for the anthem or hide in the locker room in a public stadium. As if it weren’t murky enough, we have the fact that, as conservatives have been loudly complaining about, the U.S. government got the NFL to start performing the Anthem through financial incentives. Then we have the fact that Trump was threatening to make the NFL pay more taxes if it didn’t punish kneeling players. So we have a pretty strong case that the government has effectively bribed/threatened the league into punishing players who kneel, which is obviously illegal.
  4. The only good thing about this asinine new policy is that players who don’t want to stand for the Anthem can stay in the locker room. But this caveat does not prevent the policy from being unjust. It effectively tells players who feel they cannot standing during the Anthem that they are not welcome on the field and would be better off unseen. If players who feel positively about the Anthem are given the ability to stand, then it is only fair that players who feel negatively should be given the ability to kneel or sit. Kneeling or sitting does not prevent anyone else from standing, it does not prevent the Anthem from being played, and it should not prevent anyone else from enjoying the Anthem.
  5. Conservatives cannot complain about “political correctness” and liberal intolerance of different viewpoints and also want players punished for not standing during a song. Nor can anyone who has said the phrase “Make America great again” take umbrage at people kneeling because they don’t think America is great. And claims about kneeling being unpatriotic or disrespectful to the military are hard to take seriously when they come from people who are fine with the display of the Confederate Flag. After all, in addition to being founded to protect slavery, the Confederacy broke apart from the U.S. and killed hundreds of thousands of American soldiers (in pursuit of slavery.)
  6. Unless I am very much mistaken, the NFL’s strategy here is going to backfire. One thing we have learned over the years is that when it comes to displays of patriotism and un-patriotism–be it not standing for the Pledge, not standing the Anthem, flag burning, etc.–many people on the Right simply will not tolerate dissent. Kaepernick decided to kneel instead of sit after talking to a veteran. That wasn’t good enough. Before Donald Trump poured gasoline on a dying fire last Fall, only about a dozen players were kneeling. That wasn’t good enough. Trump and many of his supporters have demanded that players either stand or be fired. I cannot imagine that those people are going to be satisfied with players having the option of staying in the locker room or with the punishment being fines instead of termination. Meanwhile, the NFL has lost what respect it might have previously had from many people on the Left by caving into reactionaries after originally promising to respect players’ ability to stand or not stand as they see fit. And for what? The controversy had already died down considerably since last Fall, but through its own bad judgment, the NFL just reignited it. They have also strengthened Colin Kaepernick’s case in his collusion lawsuit.
  7. The context of the National Anthem itself makes it more problematic. Francis Scott Key was a slaveholders who used his position as a prosecutor to punish abolitionists and rebellious slaves. There has been debate over whether one line in the full version of “The Star Spangled Banner” praises killing slaves, but regardless, Key’s background and the era in which the song was written makes it cringeworthy enough.
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Speaking Truth To Power

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi seems to inspire dislike from everyone: conservatives dislike her for being a liberal feminist. Moderate Democrats see her as too left-wing. The far left wing of the Democratic Party sees her as too moderate. Libertarians dislike her partly because she joins most members of both parties’ establishments in voting to continue the Surveillance State. She’s seen as too Coastal, too patrician, too friendly to corporations. Democratic candidates sometimes disavow her. Many Democrats believe that she is a liability to the party and should no longer be House Minority Leader or, if the GOP loses control of the House in 2018, Speaker. I have many political disagreements with Pelosi myself. Economically, her views are a bad combination of heavy government spending and regulation mixed with corporatism. She has, indeed, voted the wrong way many times when it comes to reigning in out-of-control government surveillance. She is very supportive of what I consider to be misguided gun control policies. And while she is supportive of pot legalization, a case could be made that she has not done enough to promote it. Nevertheless, I believe that she should retain her position of power in Congress until she is ready to retire.

Why, you may ask, do I feel this way? The answer lies in her record on LGBT rights. A little-known fact is that Nancy Pelosi almost certainly has the strongest record of any national politician with her degree of political power, who has been serving as long as she has. Other politicians have LGBT rights that are as strong as Pelosi’s, but they are state or local politicians, Representatives and Senators less political powerful than her, or people who have been in office a shorter time. While her LGBT rights advocacy in the 2010s has been impressive, I think that it is worth looking back at her earlier record, since it showcases the degree to which she has been a trailblazer on these issues. When Pelosi joined Congress in 1987, her first speech on the House floor was about fighting AIDS. That same year, she cosponsored an anti-discrimination bill for gay people. Keep in mind that 31 years later, there is still no federal ban on businesses discriminating based on sexual orientation. In 1993, Pelosi attended a gay rights march in Washington and bucked the Clinton Administration by voting against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise. She voted against it due to her belief that gay soldiers should be allowed to serve openly. In 1996, she was one of just 67 Representatives who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act–once again, defying the Clintons. In fact, for every year that have been able to find data for, the Human Rights Campaign gave her a rating of 100%. “I rise in strong opposition to this ill-named ‘Defense of Marriage Act’,” the Congresswoman proclaimed, “and I do so on the basis of conscience, Constitution and constituency.” House Democrats voted in favor of this bigoted piece of legislation by nearly two-to-one. In the Senate, Democrats voted in favor of it by over two-to-one.

It was in 2004 that Pelosi would take perhaps her most courageous stand in favor of gay rights. The Massachusetts Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage the previous year. George W. Bush reneged on a campaign promise and called for a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage, which Republicans in the House and Senate overwhelmingly supported. San Fransisco’s courageous Mayor Gavin Newsom began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in direct defiance of California law. But nationally, most Democrats practically fell over themselves to assure voters that they did not support gay marriage. As far as I can tell from my research, only one sitting Senator, Ron Wyden, openly supported gay marriage at that point. A few other brave Senators–Russ Feingold, Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer–would come out in support within the next couple of years. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle combined opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment with boasts about his vote in favor of DOMA. “In South Dakota, we’ve never had a single same sex marriage,” promised Daschle, “And we won’t have any. It’s prohibited by South Dakota law as it is now in 38 other states.” John Kerry, who had been one of the Senate’s prominent gay rights champions for over fifteen years, panicked when he feared that marriage equality in his home state would sink his campaign. He repudiated the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s decision and announced that he had been mistaken to vote against DOMA and now supported the bill. “I was incorrect in that statement,” Kerry said with regard to his original opposition to DOMA. “I think, in fact, that no state has to recognize something that is against their public policy. While Boxer would come out in support of gay marriage two years later, she declared in 2004 that marriage was between a man and a woman. Even Barney Frank, a trailblazer for LGBT rights and one of my personal heroes, publicly criticized Newsom’s issuing of marriage licenses as politically foolish.

In a March 25, 2004 interview, Pelosi initially tried to dodge questions about gay marriage, claiming that her focus was on defeating the Federal Marriage Amendment. But when pressed by Neil Cavuto and asked, “Can same-sex couples marry?” she responded, “Yes.” When Cavuto asked whether she would approve of Newsom’s actions, she again replied, “Yes.” This support may seem perfunctory and tepid now, but it was very courageous in 2004 and went far beyond what even most other liberal Democrats and certainly Democrats in similar places to Pelosi on the pecking order were comfortable with. All of the stances that Pelosi has taken on gay and transgender rights would be considered standard for a prominent Democrat now, and nobody could be nominated by the party for president these days without endorsing them. But a decade and a half ago, they were nothing short of radical. That has to count for something. Pelosi has spent over thirty years being on the correct side of one of the most important human rights issues of our time with remarkable consistency. She does not deserve to be deposed from her leadership position for not being correct on every single other issue. Nobody can measure up to those kinds of purity tests. Oh, and what about Tim Ryan, the Democratic Representative from Ohio who challenged Pelosi in 2016 and 2017 for the position of House Minority Leader and has harshly criticized her? Well, early in his political career, he was scoring as low as 55% from the Human Rights Campaign, in contrast to Pelosi’s perfect scores. It’s great that he and many other politicians have come around on LGBT rights, but converts shouldn’t lead. Trailblazers like Nancy Pelosi should.

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7 Thoughts on Syria

So I wrote this last year and got a lot of positive feedback, which is why I am reposting it, with an update:
7 thoughts on Syria:
1. The policies of the Assad regime are reprehensible. Some of his policies are better than some of the policies of some world leaders, but that is not saying much and does not excuse his atrocities.
2. This does not justify military intervention by the United States unless we are willing to establish a concrete minimum standard of human rights and then invade/attack every country that fails to meet it. Since we cannot and will not do that, we should only go to war against another country if it attacks or is clearly planning to attack us.
3. Sanctions and other forms of boycotts are not only a justifiable response to the actions of countries like Syria but a moral necessity.
4. If you support Trump’s military intervention in Syria but opposed Obama’s, then that is a double standard. Ditto if you defended Obama’s military intervention but oppose Trump’s.
5. The United States deserves plenty of criticism for its foreign policy, which has often been belligerent, selfish, and inconsistent. That said, criticisms have to be based on concrete objections rather than just opposing everything the U.S. does. One cannot criticize the U.S. for being callous and uncaring when it does not militarily intervene and then criticize the U.S. for sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong when it does intervene.
6. Trump’s hostility to refugees makes his humanitarian arguments for military intervention fall flat.
7. In November [of 2016], I warned on my blog that while Clinton had a proven track record of being too hawkish, there was no reason to think Trump would be any better in that regard. It’s looking like I was right.
Update:
Since I originally wrote this, Trump has continued kissing up to the government of Saudi Arabia, which is at least as bad, if not worse, than Assad. This further exposes his professed humanitarian motives as cockamamy.

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Would MLK Have Supported Gay Rights?

As we approach what would have been the 89th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded of the longstanding debate over whether or not King would have supported gay rights, particularly gay marriage, had he lived longer. Looking to his family provides few definitive answers, since they have been heavily divided on the issue. Coretta and his oldest daughter, Yolanda, for example, favored gay rights, while his youngest daughter, Bernice, and his niece, Alveda, oppose gay rights. Alveda, in particular, was humiliated after making up a story about her uncle’s opposition to gay rights. And, of course, one can never be certain precisely how someone would have evolved over the course of forty-plus years. King’s former driver, Civil Rights Movement veteran Tom Houck, certainly takes the position that his old boss would have become a gay rights supporter. But nobody can really say for sure. Nevertheless, there are reasons why we can make an educated guess. Please note that most of what I am saying here about King’s views specifically has been covered by other writers, but I will paraphrase it here and make some additional points.

There is little reason to think that King was a gay rights supporter while he was alive, at least not in the 1950s. In 1958, he received a letter from a “boy” who was experiencing same-sex attraction and asked for advice. “Your problem is not at all an uncommon one. However, it does require careful attention. The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired . . . I would suggest that you see a good psychiatrist who can assist you in bringing to the forefront of conscience all of those experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit. You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognise the problem and have a desire to solve it.” King’s advice was neither affirming nor helpful, but while this in no way excuses his homophobia, he was writing in a time when homosexuality was illegal in every state, and no public gay rights groups existed in America. As scholar Michael G. Long points out, it may be relevant that King made no attempt to invoke the Bible, use the word “sin,” or urge the gay youth to deal with his feelings by praying or going to church. Thus, in some sense, King was giving what would have been a boilerplate American liberal response to homosexuality in the 1950s.

This segues into another important point. As seems to be generally acknowledged by historians and theologians, King’s religious views were not fundamentalist or evangelical. King was an ordained minister brought up in a fundamentalist home and frequently invoked religion, but his theology was liberal. As a theology student, he wrote that, “Others doctrines such as a supernatural plan of salvation, the Trinity, the substitutionary theory of the atonement, and the second coming of Christ are all quite prominent in fundamentalist thinking. Such are the views of the fundamentalist and they reveal that he is opposed to theological adaptation to social and cultural change. He sees a progressive scientific age as a retrogressive spiritual age. Amid change all around he is willing to preserve certain ancient ideas even though they are contrary to science.” While King at times hedged as to whether he believed in a literal eternal Hell, he once said, ““In reality I know nothing about heaven … personally I don’t believe in hell in the conventional sense.” He also believed that, “If Christ by his life and death paid the full penalty of sin, there is no valid ground for repentance or moral obedience as a condition of forgiveness. The debt is paid; the penalty exacted, and there is, consequently, nothing to forgive.” The simple fact is that if he were alive today, King would probably be rejected as even a Sunday School teacher for most evangelical and fundamentalist churches. And while few theologically liberal Christians defended homosexuality or gay rights in the 1950s, many would later become strong supporters, in contrast to most evangelicals and fundamentalists. Thus, it is reasonable to suspect that King would have likely made the same intellectually journey on gay rights, including marriage equality, as many other liberal Protestants–some of whom, like William Sloane Coffin, were involved directly in the Civil Rights Movement. After all, the religious opposition to gay rights in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries has come primarily from theological conservatives.

We must also recall that King favored separation of Church and State. In response to the 1962 Supreme Court ruling on teacher-led prayer in public schools, he opined, “Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision. They have been motivated, I think, by little more than the wish to embarrass the Supreme Court. When I saw Brother [Alabama Governor] Wallace going up to Washington to testify against the decision at the congressional hearings, it only strengthened my conviction that the decision was right.” And he had little sympathy for religious arguments against birth control. In a speech that Coretta delivered on his behalf to Planned Parenthood, he argued that, “There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.”

Finally, MLK’s views on interracial marriage suggest that he would eventually have extended the same line of reasoning to gay marriage. “Marriage,” according to King, “is at bottom a mutual agreement between two individuals. One always has the freedom to say yes or no to the agreement. Individuals marry, not races.” Additionally, “When any society says that I cannot marry a certain person, that society has cut off a segment of my freedom,” because, “It hasn’t given me the possibility of alternatives.” This line of argument from King has been cited by his old ally and longtime LGBT rights advocate, the inestimable Congressman John Lewis, on multiple occasions. Obviously, not everyone who supports interracial marriage supports gay marriage. Nor does everyone who supports gay marriage support interracial marriage. But there is strong correlation between support for both policies. The aforementioned William Sloane Coffin officiated the first interracial marriage in Virginia legally performed post-Loving and later became an early advocate of gay marriage. The United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association endorsed interracial marriage in the 1960s and gay marriage in succeeding decades. Fundamentalist people and groups such as Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones University, W.A. Criswell, and John R. Rice have also opposed both interracial marriage and homosexuality and/or gay marriage. The Northeast has been the quickest region to legalize both interracial marriage and gay marriage and the South the most resistant. Indeed, religious disagreements over both interracial and gay marriage tend to break down on similar lines: Southern and theologically conservative religious people and institutions are more likely to be opposed, Northern and theologically liberal religious people and institutions are more likely to be supportive. According to Ebony magazine in 1965, “practically all major religious denominations in the U.S. outside the Southern Bible Belt have gone on record as being in opposition to restrictive marriage laws based on race.” [emphasis mine] Anti-gay individuals, including those from MLK’s own family, should think twice about invoking him to oppose LGBT rights.

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Why Trump’s Comments were S@#%y

Let me be clear. Calling certain countries “s@#%holes is not the problem per se. The problem is when we have a president with a history of racism who uses the condition of primarily nonwhite countries as a reason for not letting people from those countries immigrate here. The other problem is that Trump made no acknowledgement of how certain countries ended up the way they are now. Haiti was effectively established as a plantation colony for white French planters to exploit black slaves. These slaves were forced to secure their freedom in a violent rebellion. During that rebellion, the federal government funneled money to French planters trying to put down the revolt. After that, countries such as the U.S. and France continued to exploit Haiti in any way possible. France bullied Haiti into paying them a large amount of money in exchange for political recognition. The U.S. brutally occupied them for almost twenty years starting under the Administration of Woodrow Wilson.

The fact that conditions are bad in certain countries does not mean that immigrants from those countries will not contribute positively to the United States. To take Haiti as an example: just because I wouldn’t want to live in Haiti, thanks to what countries like France and the U.S. have done to it, does not mean that most Haitian immigrants who come to America will not work hard and livrte here peacefully. To suggest otherwise would require a massive logical leap. During the 1930s, conditions in Germany were far worse than in Haiti now, because German Jewish immigrants who came here ended up as some of our most prominent scientists and human rights advocates. We need look no further than Albert Einstein. Mexico has high levels of poverty and crime, but most of immigrants who to the U.S. from Mexico work hard and commit crime at lower levels than native-born Americans. Nor is it true that everyone who comes here from countries like Norway is a saint. Some people may come here from Norway because they find the country too liberal on issues like race, LGBT rights, and feminism. When assessing which immigrants to take, we should look at whether they have a criminal record or if there is any other compelling reason why that specific person is very likely to be a danger. If not, we should welcome them.

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I Miss Senator Russ Feingold

While the victory of Donald Trump in 2016 was a horrible event, I think it may in some ways be even worse that Russ Feingold, perhaps the greatest civil libertarian of the Senate from 1992 to 2010, failed to regain his seat in a rematch against the second-rate Ron Johnson. Since the House just passed a bill to renew a major NSA surveillance program that you can read about here (https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/5d7f7088-f6d1-11e7-91af-31…), I thought it would be a good time to provide this quote from Feingold’s speech in 2001 explaining why he was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act: “Of course, there is no doubt that if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch terrorists. If we lived in a country that allowed the police to search your home at any time for any reason; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to hold people in jail indefinitely based on what they write or think, or based on mere suspicion that they are up to no good, then the government would no doubt discover and arrest more terrorists.
But that probably would not be a country in which we would want to live. And that would not be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our young people to fight and die. In short, that would not be America.
Preserving our freedom is one of the main reasons that we are now engaged in this new war on terrorism. We will lose that war without firing a shot if we sacrifice the liberties of the American people.”

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If Medieval Kings Had Twitter

1. Charlemagne: Everybody is arguing about whether or not it is a BAN. Call it what you want, it is about keeping bad pagans (with bad religions) out of the empire.

2. Henry II: Now that Eleanor of Aquitaine is out of the dungeon for the holidays, she is unaccepting of what I did for her and thinks supporting a rebellion against me is no big deal. I should have left her in the dungeon until next Christmas!

3. Richard I: My coronation had the largest audience of any coronation ever!

4. King John: Had an open and successful kingship. But the nobles, incited by the Pope, made me sign the Magna Carta, giving up much of my power. Very unfair!

5. Richard II: If a peasant wants the privilege of keeping their head on their shoulders, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect my kingship. If not, you’re beheaded!

6. Charles VII: It wasn’t Joan of Arc, the noblemen, or the French Army who won the Battle of Pay. IT WAS ME!

7. Henry VI: Crooked Richard of York also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful prince to top European monarch I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!

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