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March 21, 2007

POLAND'S SWEEPING NEW ANTI-GAY EDUCATION BILL

Kaczynski_twins More evidence of the growing climate of official homophobia in Poland came last week when the right-wing government headed by the gay-baiting Kaczynski twins -- President Lech and his brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw  (LEFT) --  announced it was planning to pass a sweeping bill that, under the guise of interdicting “the promotion of homosexuality,” would ban discussion of, or
teaching about, homosexuality in the schools. The move came just as it was announced that President Kaczynski would deliver the opening address at a World Congress of Families organized this coming May in Poland by gay-hating U.S. Christian right groups.

The schools bill is sponsored by the Kaczynskis' Minister of Education, notorious anti-gay demagogue Roman Giertych (LOWER RIGHT), who is also Deputy Prime Minister. Giertych is the leader of the Catholic nationalist, anti-Semitic League of Polish Families party, the KaczynskisRoman_giertych_best  coalition partner in government. Vice Minister of Education Miroslaw Orzechowski told reporters that the main goal of the law is to “punish whomever promotes homosexuality or any other deviance of a sexual nature in educational establishments,” and that any teacher who violated the law could be fired, fined, and even imprisoned.

Miroslaw_orzechowski_2  “There are children in schools who could be susceptible to homosexual political agitation, and that puts homosexual propaganda in direct opposition to the elementary interests of our state,” Orzechowski (LEFT) said, singling out safe-sex flyers distributed in some schools which showed two men kissing. “We have to exert our influence while we still can and not wait until it is too late,” the Vice Minister added.

Polish gay activists said the anti-gay schools bill -- which has been fast-tracked, and could become law within weeks -- underscored the Kaczynski government’s aggressiveRobert_biedron  attitude toward homosexuals. “The gay and lesbian community is isolated in Polish society, it is hated,” said Robert Biedron (RIGHT), chairman of the Polish Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH). Poland is the most Catholic country in Europe, and, Biedron said, “More and more gay people are victims of physical abuse, so I’m very much concerned that Poland will become the Cuba or North Korea of Europe.”

Commenting on Vice Minister Orzechowski’s remarks about the schools bill and his declaration that any teacher who violated it could be fired or imprisoned, gay activist Biedron said, “When Orzechkowski made this statement about the law, even the journalists asked whether this kind of isolation of gay people is a first step and, if so, what will be the next? Don’t we already know this kind of language from not so ancient history? Are we waiting for camps for LGBT people?” Biedron’s reference to Nazi Germany’s persecution of homosexuals, who were victims of the Holocaust along with Jews, Gypsies, and other minorities, was unmistakable. Biedron added that “more and more dangerous measures every day” aimed at gay people mean that “Poland is like an island drifting away from Europe.”

At the beginning of this month, Education Minister Giertych told a meeting of European Union (EU) education ministers in Heidelberg, Germany, that any future European constitution should include a ban on rights for homosexuals and on abortion. “The propaganda for homosexuality is reaching ever younger children,” Giertych said, claiming that “in some countries it is even forbidden for children in hospital to talk or read about mommy and daddy, because this allegedly violates minority rights.”

“Europe needs changes,” Giertych affirmed in his March 1 Heidelberg speech, saying that abortion -- which he called “a new form of barbarism” -- “must be banned,” and demanding that “homosexual propaganda must also be limited so children will have the correct view of the family.”

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who had previously called for banning gay teachersJaroslav_kaczynski_2_best  from schools, endorsed Education Minister Giertych’s anti-gay schools bill, saying that “Recommending a homosexual lifestyle to young people in schools as an alternative to normal life goes too far. These kinds of initiatives in schools have to be stopped.”

The European Parliament’s committee on civil liberties announced this week that it will investigate Giertych’s bill, and that it has asked the EuroParliament’s legal staff to see if it the proposed legislation is compatible with European anti-discrimination regulations, or if it violates European norms on freedom of expression.

Concerned MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) are preparing oral questions to the European Commission and the German EU presidency for the Commission’s April 10-11 plenary session in Strasbourg. One of theKathalijne_buitenweg parliamentarians, Kathalijne Buitenweg (LEFT), a Dutch Green MEP, said serious questions surround Poland's commitment to fundamental rights: "It is shocking that the government of a modern European country would even consider such draconian legislation -- the promotion of gay hatred is the antithesis of EU anti-discrimination rules and the Polish government must publicly reject this approach," she said. The International Herald-Tribune reported this Tuesday that Buitenweg said EU parliamentarians will lobby against the legislation with the EU's executive Commission and the Council of EU Ministers, which represents the 27 EU member states.

Giertych’s bill has been denounced by both Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW.)

Amnesty International said in a statement that “the measure would deprive students of their right to freedom of expression,of a full education, and of the right to associate freely. It wouldinstitutionalize discrimination in Poland's school system. It would criminalize anybody who promotes equality regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. In short, if the measure is enacted, Poland would be in violation of its obligations under international and regional human rights treaties to which Poland is a state party and its commitments when the country joined the European Union.”

And HRW’s LGBT affairs director Scott Long said that, “Polish authorities claim to be protecting families, but in fact they are trying to deny children free speech and lifesaving information on HIV/AIDS; schools should be training grounds for tolerance, not bastions of repression and discrimination.”

Lech_kaczynski_hands_raised Meanwhile, Poland will be invaded by a host of U.S. Christian Right activists when a World Congress of Families (WCF) is held in Warsaw on May 11-13, and President Kaczynski (LEFT) -- who twice banned Gay Pride marches when he was mayor of Warsaw -- is both Honorary Patron of this so-called Congress and, it was announced last week, will give the opening speech there.

The WCF is the brainchild of the paleoconservative Rockford Institute, which describes itself as committed to spreading the values of “Western Christendom” and is based in Rockford, Illinois; and of its front-group, the Howard Center, headed by Allan Carlson, former executive director of the Rockford Institute.

Among the U.S. co-sponsors of the Warsaw WCF one finds such notoriously anti-gay propagandists as: the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, a right-wing Catholic group that crusades against condoms; the Beverly LaHaye Institute (part of the conservative think tank, Concerned Women for America and founded by Beverly LaHaye and her Christian right activist husband Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-founder of the Moral Majority); another anti-condom crusader, the Catholic Family and Human
Rights Institute; Defending the Family International, headed by long-time anti-gay activist Scott Lively (author of The Pink Swastika, which claims that “homosexuals [are] the true inventors of Nazism and the guiding force behind many Nazi atrocities”); the Family Research Council, founded by infamous gay-baiter Dr. James Dobson, and Focus on the Family, another Dobson-founded group, both of which are noted as leading Christian right lobbies and anti-gay propagandists; the Heritage Foundation, the Washington, D.C. based right-wing think-tank; the Institute for American Values, a leading anti-gay marriage campaigner; the National Association for Marriage Enhancement, an ultraconservative Evangelical Christian group in the forefront of the effort to pass anti-gay marriage referendums in the states; United Families International, an Arizona-based anti-gay marriage crusader; and more.

According to WCF organizers, more than 3500 “pro-family” activists are expected to attend their Warsaw conclave. This U.S. Christian right invasion of Poland is nicely timed to reinforce the Kaczynski government's hard-line drive against gays.

Posted by Direland at 04:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

March 14, 2007

ANN COULTER AND H.R.C.--A QUESTION OF CENSORSHIP

I wrote the following commentary for Gay City News, which will publish it tomorrow:

Ann_coulter You’d have to be living under a rock in Fiji without electricity to not have heard by now how the odious ultra-conservative pitbull Ann Coulter (left) called Sen. John Edwards (right) a “faggot” during her remarks last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). But what you may not have heard is what an organization calling itself the HumanJohn_edwards  Rights Campaign (HRC) did in response to Coulter’s bigoted slur.

Not content with simply denouncing this latest evidence that Coulter is infected with a particularly virulent form of intellectual rabies, HRC decided to reach deep into the Christian right’s grab-bag of intimidation tricks and organize a national letter-writing campaign demanding of Universal Press Syndicate that it simply stop distributing her column to the 100-odd newspapers around the country that publish Coulter’s syndicated lacerations.

And now it’s HRC that is taking incoming from gay writers and editors who still hold to the increasingly quaint notion that freedom of speech applies even to those whose speech we don’t like -- that it is, in fact, a human right.

The first Scud launched at HRC came from longtime gay columnist Paul Varnell, whose work appears in the Chicago Free Press and is syndicated to a number of other gay papers around the country.

Paul_varnell_2  “Doesn't this smack of an attempt at censorship, even prior censorship? After all Coulter hasn't used ‘faggot’ in her column, so far as I know,” Varnell (left) wrote in an e-mail to HRC that he circulated to others of us who write for gay media, adding, “This just seems like trying to silence a person whose politics the HRC disagrees with. That's never a very good grounds for attempts at censorship.”

Varnell went on to say, “And if the HRC wants Coulter banned for her politics, what principle keeps the HRC from calling my publisher or editor and demanding that they drop me from publication if I write something--as I sometimes do--that the HRC would no doubt disagree with (e.g., my recent piece arguing against banning the word ‘faggot‘)?

“Frankly, HRC's ostensible apoplexy over ‘faggot’ seems a cheap and easy divergence from HRC's ostensible mission (aren't you stepping on GLAAD's toes here?) and diversion from its failure to produce much in the way of political progress for gays and lesbians? HRC seems to have dwindled to symbolic actions, gestures, and press releases while soaking up a great deal of money from this community. Not a happy trajectory to be on,” Varnell sniffed.

After reading Varnell’s civil libertarian cry of protest, Rick Rosendall, a columnist for the Boston gay weekly Bay Windows, joined in seconding Varnell’s denunciation of HRC’s call for censorship and added this telling point in a note to HRC: “I am amazed that anyone on the pro-gay side would want to silence Ann Coulter. My response to her latest slander is KEEP COULTER TALKING.! She and her fellow right-wing provocateurs haveJoe_solomonese  gone so far over the top that they are making a good case for electing more Democrats. HRC seems to be going back to the mode of [HRC director] Joe [Salmonese's] (right) predecessor, whose speech at the 2004 Democratic convention was so wrapped in victimhood that it came across as, ‘Please don't kill us!’ How lame!”

As if to prove Rosendall’s point, the three Republican presidential front-runners -- Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney (both of whom had attended the CPAC conference) and John McCain (who hadn‘t) all demonstrated just how lethal to their own chances they considered Coulter’s snarling “faggot” at Edwards when, in response to press queries, they sharply denounced her foaming-at-the-mouth anti-gay slur as “wildly irresponsible.” Edwards himself made hay with Coulter’s vicious hallucination: his campaign sent out an outraged e-mail asking for $100,000 in “Coulter Cash” to fight the right (and they got it.)

And even before HRC launched its “Off With Her Hands!” ukase, four newspapers in parts of the country that would never be mistaken for gay-friendly paradises -- the Shreveport, Louisiana Times; the Lake Charles, Louisiana Press; the Sevierville, Texas Mountain Press; and the Lancaster, Pennsylvania New Era -- had already independently announced they were all dropping Coulter’s column of their own accord because she’d barked “faggot” at the Democratic presidential contender from North Carolina.

I e-mailed a dozen gay editors and writers to get their views of HRC’s heavy-handed effort to kill Coulter’s column.

Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News and former president of the National Gay Press Association, wrote back: “HRC seems to be getting out ahead of the victim himself, John Edwards. The gay rights struggle started to end censorship about our community so we could be positively viewed. Allowing Coulter a continued voice will allow the world to see what kind of monster she is, and allow us to see who our true friends are since we'll see who hires her.”

Lesbian blogger Pam Spaulding -- whose well-read Pam’sHouseBlend.com was voted “best LGBT blog” in the 2006 Weblog awards -- told me: “Personally, I'm fine with letting her continue spouting the bile; she provides a look into the mind of the Republican base. She's their Id and they know it. One can see that by reading the reaction of some conservative bloggers -- ones who attended the CPAC conference. They later wrote an open letter condemning Coulter and distancing themselves from her remarks, mostly because her ‘faggot’ lobbing forced them to confront the homophobia in their ranks.”

Mike Chase, editor-publisher of the biweekly Baltimore OutLoud, responded: “I think the HRC is jumping the gun here in attempting to quiet Coulter by seeking to have her column dropped by Universal Press. Actually Coulter is the kind of rabid opposition that makes us stronger. Her comments are so transparent, calculated to arouse a reaction to serve her own mercenary interests. Who really cares what Ann Coulter says, anyway.I think the HRC is looking to score some easy points. I would much rather see that organization working to fix the gay marriage mess (which they share some responsibility in creating) That is something far more important than the rantings of a right wing hatchet queen.”

And Cynthia Laird, News Editor of the California gay weekly Bay Area Reporter, said of Varnell’s protest: “I do agree that this action smacks of an attempt at censorship, which I just can't tolerate. I also agree that as gay people, we have often found ourselves in a similar situation where people want to prevent us from speaking.”

(I’d like to think the other editors whose views I’d solicited were just too busy to respond, rather than wary of taking on HRC or, worse, uncomprehending of the free speech issues involved in the organization’s action.)

It’s dangerous for a gay group like HRC to issue a demand for suppression of a writer, even of someone as repulsive as Coulter. In doing so, those who claim to speak for all lesbians and gays surrender the moral high ground to the theocratic censorship drives of the Christian right. Not only does HRC’s action allow Coulter to pose as a martyr and a victim of the Homintern, it’s also a very slippery slope on which to embark, because the Christers are bigger and better-funded than we are -- we’ll be on the losing end.

Two years ago, I did an investigative report for the L.A. Weekly on “The New Blacklist: How Corporate America Is Bowing to Anti-Gay Christian Groups’ Boycott Demands.” I found out that Christer boycott campaigns targeting what they termed “pro-gay” programming had forced Procter & Gamble to pull advertising from TV shows like “Will & Grace” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy“; that “Desperate Housewives” lost ads from Safeway, Tyson Foods, Liberty Mutual, Kohl’s, Alberto Culver, Leapfrog, and Lowe’s; that “Life As We Know It” had ads pulled by McCormick, Lenscrafters, Radio Shack, Papa John’s International, and Chattem and Sharpe; and that “South Park” had ads pulled by Foot Locker, Geico, Finish Line, and Best Buy….and that’s just a partial list.

You’d call that censorship, wouldn’t you? But is there any moral difference between those Christer letter-writing demands for suppression of speech and HRC’s? Surely not. And there’s an old civil libertarian principle that says: the only effective answer to bad speech is….more and better speech.

Posted by Direland at 11:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

March 10, 2007

FRANCE: WILL BAYROU BEAT SEGOLENE ROYAL?

Bayrou_good_head_1 For the first time in France's presidential campaign, the centrist Francois Bayrou (left), who has been gaining by leaps and bounds in the polls for weeks, is now neck-and-neck with the Socialist Segolene Royal in a new poll for the weekly Journal de Dimanche released today. Taken by the IFOP polling institute -- in my view the most reliable of the four major French pollsters -- it shows Bayrou and Royal both at 23% in the first round of the voting which begins on April 22, with the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy at 28% and neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen at 13%.

Melenchon_2 Just yesterday, Le Monde reported that the Socialists' resident polling expert, Gerald Gall, had warned party leaders that Bayrou defeating Royal (Segolene_white_selfsatisfied_1right) for a place in the runoff was a distinct possibility. And the leader of the party's left wing, Senator Jean-Luc Melanchon (left), issued a cry of panic, declaring that "the powerful rise of Bayrou in the polls risks turning the entire political landscape upside-down," and that it was, for the Socialists, "time to act" in light of Bayrou's impressive advances. But Royal's campaign manager, Jean-Louis Bianco, declared today that Royal "would not change her campaign" in light of the Bayrou threat, even though all the latest polls show her support continuing to decline.

The showing by Bayrou -- leader of the small UDF party founded in the '70s by former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing -- is indeed remarkable, considering he got less than 7% of the vote in the last presidential election in 2002. When President Jacques Chirac scrapped the conservative Gaullist RPR party that had brought him to power and replaced it in 2002 with a new party, the UMP (Union for a Presidential Majority as it was first called, now the Union for a Popular Movement), he not only merged into it the hard-line, free-market, Milton Friedman-style economic conservatives of the Democratie Liberale party led by Alain Madelin, but seduced a chunk of Bayrou's  UDF by giving cabinet posts to some of its best-known figures (notablyDouseblazy_silly  among the UDFers he bought off: Chirac made the soufflé-light Philippe Douste-Blazy (right), (known as "Doux Blah-Blah," or "Sweet Nothings," in Le Canard Enchainé) his Foreign Minister. But these defections had one advantage: they removed Bayrou's rivals in the UDF and left him able to run the party with a firm hand. As a result, Bayrou -- who had, after all, been Chirac's Minister of Education in conservative Prime Minister Alain Juppé's government from 1993 until the Socialist parliamentary victory in 1997 -- turned fiercely on Chirac, and has been a constant critic of the outgoing president for the last several years. Last May, Bayrou led 10 UDF deputies in the National Assembly in voting for a motion of censure of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's conservative government.

A former professor of French literature and the author of a number of historical works (including a best-selling biography of King Henri IV), Bayrou is viewed with some sympathy by many left voters for his consistent vocal opposition to Le Pen and his criticism of Sarkozy's verbal anti-immigrant extremism. Indeed, Bayrou caused a major split in his party in the late '90s when he opposed any presidents of regional governments who owed their election to accepting the votes of regional council members from Le Pen's Front National party. An attractive and articulate TV presence, Bayrou has a carefully cultivated image of franc-parler, or plain speaking -- for example, he is the only presidential candidate this year who has made a major campaign issue out of France's crushing national debt and budget deficits -- that goes down well to voters turned off by the traditional langue de bois, or wooden language, spoken by the political classes.

This year, Bayrou has been attacking the "failed traditional right-left cleavage" in French politics, and has been aggressively courting the left electorate, going so far as to say that, if elected president, he would likely appoint a prime minister from the left. And he hinted at his choice by publicly praising Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the leader of the Socialist Party's right wing who was Finance Minister in the Lionel Jospin government. Just a few days ago Strauss-Kahn, under pressure from Segolene Royal and her domestic partner Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party's boss, was forced to declare to the press that he would not accept becoming Prime Minister under Bayrou. At the same time, on Friday Strauss-Kahn proposed a "new majority coalition" for the Socialists, jettisoning the Communists and Greens (both stagnant in the polls at 2% or less of the vote this year in the polls) who had been part of the governing "plural left" coalition created by the late Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, in favor of an alliance with Bayrou and the centrist UDF. It's an open secret that there is no love lost between Strauss-Kahn and Royal, and despite his active campaigning for her the wily Strauss-Kahn is clearly keeping his options open.

Because Sarkozy is feared and detested by the left as an anti-civil libertarian who has courted Le Pen's electorate by aggressively playing the race card with his tough line on immigrants, and who is committed to what he calls a "rupture" with the welfare state and with the mixed economy, the Socialist leaders, and in particular the party's elected officials, are scared to death of recent polls showing Bayrou capable of defeating Sarkozy in a runoff while Royal loses to him -- fears that have been widely reported by the press.. And the more that the impression is created that Bayrou would be a stronger candidate against Sarkozy than Royal, the greater is the likelihood that more and more left voters will desert Royal for Bayrou in order to block Sarkozy. Already Bayrou is drawing as many votes from the left as from the right in the opinion polls.

Moreover, as Le Monde noted yesterday in an article on Bayrou's impressive rise in the polls, the opinion surveys this year show that voters who say they'll vote for a left candidate in the first round of voting are only between 32* % and 36% -- the lowest number since 1969, when polls showed just 31% for the left in the first round. And in 1969, the left was shut out of the runoff, leaving a duel between President Georges Pompidou and the centrist Alain Poher. Will that history repeat itself this year?

Royal's centrist campaign, and her law-and-order, family-values pandering to some of the favorite themes of Sarkozy, means she hasn't convinced enough voters that she is all that different on issues from him, which has helped Bayrou's rise. And she wasn't helped when Le Canard Enchainé recently revealed that both the Royal-Hollande couple and Sarkozy had cheated the tax-man by underestimating the value of the property they own to avoid the special French tax on the wealthy.

Sarko_gesturing_speech_4 And Bayrou has been making all the right moves. For example, when Sarkozy (left) this week -- in a blatant appeal to Le Pen's electorate -- promised to create a new "Ministry of Immigration and National Identity," Bayrou immediately reacted with a strong denunciation of Sarkozy for "crossing the line" and linking the two concepts in a thinly-veiled racist appeal. So Bayrou's rapid response dominated the news cycle on the issue -- while it took the cautious Socialist Royal several days before she managed to criticize Sarkozy's proposal, and in terms more tepid than Bayrou's (and her statement came well after all the civil rights and anti-racist organizations had already flayed Sarkozy for his demagogic proposal.) And moves by Bayrou like this attack on Sarkozy have helped many voters overlook or forgive Bayrou's long record as part of the right, and his participation in the Chirac-led conservative coaliton.

Another problem for the Socialists: The  feeble showing this year by the tiny Trotskyist parties of the extreme left, which together won 10.4% of the 2002 first round vote by winning Socialist voters disillusioned with the Jospin government and thus helped make Le Pen's defeat of Royal that year possible. Those parties -- as well as independent “left of the left” candidate Jose Bove, the anti-globalization and environmental leader; the Green Party candidate Dominique Voynet; and the Communists’ Marie-Georges Buffet -- are all stuck this year at around 2% or less in the polls. This means, as Le Monde puts it, that “the conundrum which now perturbs the Socialist leadership is: how to simultaneously rally all of the reduced left electorate [including voters for the left-of-the-left parties] while at the same time appealing to the voters attracted by the centrist, and have enough votes in reserve for Royal to win the run-off” -- assuming, of course, that she is in it. And that simultaneous appeal to the radical left and the center is a complicated tap-dance to pull off for Royal, who is dismissed by many of those who served with her in government as an intellectual light-weight who refuses to study the dossiers on issues.

Around 40% of the French who say they intend to vote still haven't made their choice. It's a traditional rule in political polling that undecideds usually break to the challenger. But this year, while Sarkozy is part of the current government as Interior Minister and is president of the governing UMP party, voters have been hammered by the media for the past year with the inevitability of a Sarkozy-Royal runoff so that it is Bayrou who is positioned psychologically as the challenger, not Royal.

In 2002, the Socialists were shut out of the presidential runoff by Le Pen. Now there is the very real possibility of a replay of 2002 -- except this time, it is the centrist Bayrou who threatens to defeat the Socialist candidate for a place in the runoff against Sarkozy. A runoff which Bayrou might just win.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, see my previous reports on France's 2007 elections::

February 22, "Segolene Royal in Free-Fall"

February 9, "France: Bad News for the Left";

February 1, "Jose Bove Complicates the Contest"

 

Posted by Direland at 08:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)