Sunday, July 29, 2007

“Project Censored” Head Discusses Politics, Media

Phillips Says Impeachment Essential, but Not Enough


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Ever since 1976, an aggressive group of faculty, students and staff from Sonoma State University in Northern California have been part of “Project Censored,” an organization aimed at finding the news stories least likely to be covered in the U.S. mainstream media. Since 1996, the project has been headed by Peter Phillips, who spoke July 25 at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in San Diego and explained not only how the program operates but why it’s needed.

Phillips started his talk by demonstrating that, common to the Right-wing myth that America has a “liberal media,” in fact “the media maintain a corporate bias through concentrated ownership, self-censorship, reliance on government and official sources for ‘news’ and an almost reverent attitude towards the ‘free market.’ The owners and managers of the media share a class identity with the powerful, and their sense of what is ‘newsworthy’ is influenced by their social background, their values and what they call ‘common sense.’ Journalists and editors are not immune from influence from owners and managers if they want to see their stories in print. As editors come and go, they learn the parameters of this so-called ‘common-sense’ view of the world. So a lot of what passes for ‘censorship’ or ‘manufacturing consent’ is structural, in that journalists and editors come to understand what is ‘acceptable’ news.”

According to Phillips, when Project Censored started in 1976 there were 50 large companies that owned almost all the American corporate media. Today, due mostly to mergers and acquisitions, it’s down to 10. What’s more, many of the major media conglomerates also share members of their boards of directors with leading defense contractors, private equity firms like the Carlyle Group, and other major corporations. Phillips added that, just like the media companies to which they supply “news” stories, public relations firms have also consolidated, and companies like WPP and the Rennen Group have actually launched successful campaigns to get Americans to support wars in the Third World.

WPP’s Hill and Knowlton subsidiary was responsible for the false story that Iraqi forces involved in the 1990 invasion of Kuwait seized incubators from maternity wards in Kuwaiti hospitals and left the babies on the hospital floor to die, Phillips said. The Rennen group, Phillips added, not only ran the first Bush administration’s campaign against Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989 but “created the Iraqi National Congress and hired Ahmad Chalabi to run it. They coordinated the pulling down of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad in 2003 and helped promote Jessica Lynch’s famous ‘rescue.’ According to Phillips, that last stunt was designed to make sure the U.S. media didn’t mention that on the same day, U.S. forces shelled the Palestine Hotel, where most foreign journalists covering the Iraq war were staying, and targeted the Baghdad headquarters of the Arab news channel al-Jazeera.

Phillips pointed out that under the current Bush administration, U.S. government spending on public relations zoomed up from the $38 million Clinton’s presidency spent in its last year in office, 2000, to over $1.6 billion between 2003 and 2005. He noted that the “New American Censorship” — the title of his talk — “has gone beyond simply ‘manufacturing consent’ to the deliberate management and containment of information.”

One particularly “censored” story Phillips cited was the report from the American Civil Liberties Union in October 2005 on autopsies of 45 detainees who had died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to the reports, 23 of their deaths were listed as “homicides” — which, the ACLU claimed, meant they had literally been tortured to death — and most of the rest died of heart attacks likely induced by torture. The ACLU gave a press conference and the Associated Press covered it, sending a 1,000-word story to over 1,700 U.S. newspapers — but only 12 used it, and the Los Angeles Times was the only major paper to pick it up.

The Left alternative press didn’t do any better on this story than the corporate mainstream did, Phillips added. Mother Jones, Znet and the and Web sites had the story, but The Nation, The Progressive and Amy Goodman’s well-respected “Democracy Now” radio show all ignored it. “So there’s some degree of self-censorship in all media in the U.S.,” Phillips said.

“One story in Censored 2008 will be about the Military Commissions Act and how it allows the suspension of habeas corpus for any person in the U.S. who’s designated an ‘enemy combatant,’” Phillips said. “No witnesses, no lawyers: you just disappear. Non-citizens can be locked up pending designation as ‘enemy combatants’ by the President, so the 24 million legal and illegal aliens in the U.S. can be locked up forever without legal representation. The New York Times covered this but said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s only for terrorists.’ There’s an effort in Congress to restore habeas corpus, but that’s missing from the public dialogue because the media aren’t covering it.”

With that revelation, Phillips segued into the second part of his three-part talk, detailing the sheer extent of the attacks on civil rights and constitutional traditions being launched by the supposedly “conservative” Bush administration. He cited “Operation Falcon,” under which all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies coordinate their powers and execute mass arrests of 10,000 or more. According to Phillips, this has already happened three times, and not only have the media not reported it but the government has only announced how many “felons” they have apprehended. He also mentioned provisions in the 2007 Defense Authorization Act that gut the 1886 Posse Comitatus Act and allow the president to station military troops anywhere in the U.S. and use them “to suppress any ‘public disorder’ he wants.”

Phillips also cited the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mass raids on the homes and workplaces of supposedly undocumented immigrants, and the no-bid contract Halliburton, vice-president Dick Cheney’s former company, received last year for $385 million to build mass “detention centers” within the U.S. He mentioned a contract given to Lockheed Martin to develop a spy blimp that could be put in place permanently to take high-resolution photographs over a 600-mile radius, and a rival effort by Blackwater to develop a similar blimp of their own. Phillips also discussed the Animal Enterprise Control Act, a recent law which defines any interference with a business that uses animals in any way as “terrorism.” According to Phillips, “the language is so broad it could make ‘terrorists’ out of boycotters of a grocery store.”

Where all this is coming from, Phillips explained, is the mind-set of the part of the ruling class, the so-called “neoconservatives,” currently in charge in the U.S. He briefly mentioned the philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973), who was born in Germany, left a year after the Nazis took over, settled in the U.S. in 1937 and, while at the University of Chicago, formed an intellectual circle that included Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork; former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former assistant to vice-president Cheney; former Assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes; former Secretary of Education William Bennett; Weekly Standard editor and former Quayle Chief of Staff William Kristol — all of whom studied either under Strauss himself or under professors trained by him.

“Neoconservatives,” Phillips explained, “believe that democracy is best defined by an ignorant public and a powerful, strong state; that such nationalism requires an external threat; and if such a threat doesn’t exist, it must be manufactured.” Phillips traced the history of neoconservative ideas from Strauss’s openly antidemocratic principles to the role of his disciples in the first Bush administration and the report Cheney, Wolfowitz, Libby and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote in 1992 “calling for U.S. domination of the world and overthrow of any rivals that could challenge us, so the United States must be all-powerful.”

Contrary to the common wisdom that Bush’s defeat in the 1992 election put the neoconservative project on hold for eight years, Phillips explained that President Clinton “had to deal with pressure from defense contractors,” so the much-vaunted “peace dividend” from the collapse of the Soviet Union never materialized. “Clinton got people in the government o propose selling U.S. weapons abroad to keep the defense companies profitable and allow them to merge,” Phillips explained. Meanwhile, the neoconservatives from the first Bush administration regrouped and formed the Project for a New American Century, whose 2000 report became the foreign-policy blueprint for the second Bush administration and its so-called “war on terror.” (It also named China as the main potential rival to U.S. world domination that had to be contained — ironically, since in order to maintain its empire the U.S. is running a huge national debt, much of which is being financed by China and its bondholders.)

“So when you talk about impeaching Bush and Cheney, it’s not just them,” Phillips said. “It’s a handful of military companies making huge profits. In order to justify this huge expenditure, and the over 700 military bases America maintains worldwide, we need a ‘war on terror.’ Cheney told a Jewish-American group last year that the terrorists ‘have no sense of morality’ and intend first to seize one country, then to establish a totalitarian Islamic empire from Spain to Indonesia. So, according to Cheney, we have to occupy these regions to prevent that. It means space weapons, satellite spy blimps surrounding China, and containing China’s ability to meet their oil needs by attacking Iran.”

Though Phillips clearly regards the impeachment of Bush and Cheney as only the beginning of the struggle to defeat the neoconservatives and restore American liberty, he also sees impeachment as a necessary first step. Indeed, one of the books he was promoting at his talk was a compilation of various Left-wing writers offering 12 reasons for impeachment. “The big ones are lying to the American people to get them to support the war in Iraq; authorizing and directing the torture of thousands of captives — and it’s not just Bush and Cheney, it’s the entire power structure,” Phillips said. “It’s building an imperial presidency; ordering free-fire zones and killing 10,000 Iraqi civilians each month. When people say we shouldn’t impeach now — when they say we should just let the clock run out on the Bush administration and keep the war going as an issue against the Republicans in 2008 — I say 10,000 civilian deaths per month is a big reason for impeachment and ending the war now.”

State Senator Kehoe Addresses Queer Democrats

Report on State Budget Crisis Highlight of Wide-Ranging Meeting


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Christine Kehoe, who in 1993 became the first openly Queer elected official in San Diego County and has since risen from the San Diego City Council to the State Asssembly and now the State Senate, made a dramatic appearance at the July 26 meeting of the predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club to discuss the ongoing state budget crisis. California’s constitution requires the state legislature to pass, and the governor to sign, a budget by July 1, but frequently that deadline isn’t met — and this year the legislature is almost a month behind, with no end in sight. “It could be solved by the time I get back to Sacramento,” Kehoe said, “or it could take one week, or more.”

The problem, Kehoe explained, is that California’s constitution requires a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature to pass a budget. This requirement, which only two other states (Arkansas and Rhode Island) have, was enacted during the 1930’s, in the middle of the Great Depression, on the theory that it would make legislators more responsible about spending the state’s money. What it does now is give Republicans in the state legislature effective veto power over the budget, despite the overwhelming Democratic majority in both houses. The Democratic majority needs at least six Republican votes in the Assembly and two in the Senate to pass a budget and send it to the governor.

The Assembly actually passed its own version of the budget, though the Democrats in that house agreed to major cuts in social programs, especially those affecting senior citizens and people with disabilities, to get the six GOP crossover votes they needed. Then the Assemblymembers left town — and the budget they’d passed ran into a stone wall in the Senate. Dick Ackerman, Senate minority leader, had organized his caucus so that no Republican would vote for a budget unless a majority of the Republican members signed on to it — and, according to Kehoe, they’re using that clout to demand even more far-reaching cuts in social programs and environmental protection.

“Their latest round of cuts would decimate services to disabled people and senior citizens,” Kehoe told the San Diego Democratic Club. “We can’t vote for what they want and they won’t vote for what we want.” Kehoe explained that it’s up to the Democratic leader in the Senate, Don Perata, to do what he can to break the Republican caucus’s unity and peel off the two Republican votes needed to pass a budget. “It won’t be a good budget for Democrats,” Kehoe warned, “but it’ll be the only budget we can get.”

Kehoe said various groups are organizing grass-roots lobbying campaigns aimed at the presumably more moderate Republican Senators: Mark Wyland, Dennis Hollingsworth and George Plescia of North and East San Diego County, Abel Maldonado from Santa Barbara, Jeff Denham from Salinas. “Hollingsworth, Wyland and Plescia are our local representatives, and it wouldn’t hurt to give them a call,” Kehoe said. “Teachers are calling them, and it’s getting to be a public safety issue. Don Perata said the other day that if the Republicans want to shut down the state government, they’re getting close.”

Because of the budget impasse, Kehoe said, 2007 was the first time in 23 years that she missed San Diego’s LGBT Pride Parade. July 20, the Friday before the parade, “was the day they locked us in,” Kehoe recalled — a failed attempt by Senate Democrats to get the needed two Republican votes for the budget by closing the doors overnight. Kehoe said she looked at her watch as the lockdown continued past 7:15 a.m., the latest she could have caught a plane and arrived in San Diego in time to appear in the parade. “My hats are off to Bob Pednick, who drove an empty car with a sign saying, ‘She’s stuck in Sacramento,’” Kehoe said.

Kehoe’s dramatic appearance overshadowed the rest of the club’s meeting, which featured former club president Stephen Whitburn — whose campaign for the San Diego City Council was endorsed by the club at its previous meeting June 28 — and the president of the Stonewall Young Democrats of San Diego (the club’s youth caucus), Brandon Shawn Tate. Tate reported on a nationwide Young Democrats of America convention in Dallas from which he’d just returned, and noted with pride that the Young Democrats had elected their first openly Gay president, David Hart. According to Tate, the newly elected executive vice-president is also Gay, and the president of the California Young Democrats, Chris LaStreet, is a Lesbian — a major step forward, he explained, for an organization that has been slower to elevate Queer women to power than Queer men.

Much of Tate’s short speech was devoted to exploding the myth that young people today are more conservative than their elders. In fact, he said, the opposite is true. “In 2004, the 18-30 age group was the only one John Kerry carried in the presidential race,” Tate said. “In California, in 2006, 54 percent of young people who voted voted Democratic. If you attended the recent state convention in San Diego, they presented poll results that up to three out of every four young people who vote in California vote Democratic.”

Asked whether it was the war in Iraq that sparked young people to move away from conservative politics and vote Democratic, Tate said that was just one factor — and not the most important one — moving his generation in a more liberal direction. “A lot of us are very involved in environmental issues,” he said. “It’s a big problem that we feel we’re going to be more involved with than members of other generations. LGBT [Queer] issues are also something on which our generation is a lot more accepting. Even our generation’s conservative members are more accepting of diversity in general. The war is actually less important than these other issues. As much as we want people to be active in stopping the war, we haven’t seen that as much as we have on other issues.”

The club also considered a friendly-incumbent endorsement for San Diego Unified School District board member Sheila Jackson, which turned out to be unexpectedly controversial when veteran Latina activist Gracia Molina de Pick criticized her for voting to establish a junior ROTC program at Mission Bay High School. Molina noted that 75 percent of Mission Bay’s students are people of color, and said that for the school board to authorize an ROTC on campus is just facilitating the U.S. military’s strategy of recruiting people of color as cannon fodder for America’s current and future wars.

Jackson, who is African-American, defended the ROTC vote as a way of broadening the available programs for Mission Bay students. “Mission Bay High School recruits a lot of minority students and offers only high-end programs,” she said. “I am not a proponent of young people going into the military, but I want them to have activities and programs. A lot of students are not given the opportunity to participate in the programs they have now.” Partly on the strength of her record on Queer issues and community access for people of color in general, and partly because as yet she has no serious opposition, the club gave Jackson the benefit of the doubt and overwhelmingly endorsed her.

At the end of the meeting, former Congressional candidate Francine Busby, Lake San Marcos Democratic Club president Betty Ball and San Diego County Democratic Party staff member Ryan Hurd gave a presentation on something called the “GO Team” — “GO” standing for “grass-roots organizing.” It’s an attempt to use the principle of multi-level marketing to build a long-term political presence in San Diego County, precinct by precinct, that can develop ongoing relationships with Democratic voters and turn them out reliably. Busby said that had something like the GO Team existed during her hard-fought North County Congressional campaigns against disgraced former Congressmember Randy “Duke” Cunningham and his Republican successor, Brian Bilbray, she could have won those elections.


Challenging the “Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory”


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

“Thanks to enormous funding for educational programs, the whole world ‘knows’ that HIV causes AIDS,” opens the press release announcing a recent book by retired Virginia Tech chemistry and science studies professor Henry H. Bauer, The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory. “But is what we know compatible with the facts?” Bauer, who has spent a good deal of his career exploring challenges to scientific orthodoxies and how to tell serious challengers from cranks, was struck by one particular anomaly in the conventional wisdom about “HIV/AIDS” — why, when 75 to 90 percent of all people diagnosed with AIDS in the U.S. were men, were HIV positive results from the U.S. military’s mandatory testing of new recruits equally frequent among men and women? — and did an in-depth statistical analysis of all public HIV antibody test data. That analysis convinced him that, whatever the HIV antibody test measures, it is not infection with a sexually transmitted virus.

Bauer’s statistical analysis makes up the first, longest and most technical part of his book. The remaining two sections attempt to explain why, if the HIV/AIDS model is so demonstrably false, it nonetheless retains its hold on the government’s purse strings and the public imagination. It’s one of the biggest and most nagging questions challengers to HIV/AIDS orthodoxy get; as John P. Moore, professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University and one of the most aggressive defenders of the HIV/AIDS model, told the Gay & Lesbian Times in their June 7 issue, the challenge “basically says that every scientist, every physician and every clinician out of the hundreds of thousands of professionals working worldwide on this is either some kind of malicious scumbag who will do anything for money, or we’re all stupid.”

According to Bauer, there’s a third explanation that has to do with the increasing politicization of science and the ability of small cadres of scientists to set the research agenda for an entire field — and enforce their agenda by denying research grants, important teaching positions and publication in prestigious journals to those who disagree. Bauer’s AIDS book is the product of a lifetime of research and thought into how we “know” what we know about the world, and whether science is the disinterested pursuit of “truth” we’re usually told it is or is run by individuals with the same virtues and flaws as the rest of us — virtues and flaws that sometime affect the validity of what they’re telling us.

To order The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, contact its publisher, McFarland, at 1-(800) 253-2187 or via the Web at The price is $35 — a bit steep but well worth it for what’s probably the best scientific book for a lay audience challenging the HIV/AIDS model since Peter Duesberg’s Inventing the AIDS Virus over a decade ago.

Zenger’s: I’d like to start by talking about your own history and background, what your expertise is and how you got interested in this subject.

Henry H. Bauer: My expertise was originally in chemistry, but about 30 years ago I got interested in the nature and philosophy of science. I became intrigued at the way that you can’t find useful discussions in mainstream science about all sorts of things that people are interested in, like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, psychic phenomena and so on. I didn’t see why science wouldn’t be able to do something relatively rigorous and authoritative about them.

So for about 20 years I concentrated academically on unorthodoxies in science, and how you can tell good science from bad science. Through that, I got into the Society for Scientific Exploration, which was set up specifically to give a disciplined forum for discussing topics the mainstream doesn’t deal with.

Zenger’s: Could you tell me a little more about that organization: when it was founded, by whom, and what its purpose is?

Bauer: It was founded, I believe,in 1981. The leading light was Peter Sturrock, an astrophysicist at Stanford University. He had become intrigued because the Condon Report about UFO’s was very odd, in that the executive summary was at odds with the data in the report itself. Sturrock did a survey of members of members of the American Astronomical Society, and a large majority of them said that they thought that a proper study of these claimed UFO’s should be made. That gave him the idea that there was a forum needed that the mainstream periodicals did not provide.

He got an initial membership of 100 founding members, all of them well-established academics or the equivalent. Our membership criteria initially were that, while people would naturally be interested in off-beat subjects or unorthodox views on mainstream subjects, they all had to have decent professional credentials, like tenured positions, publications in their fields, and so on.

Eventually, the Society became a forum not just for things like UFO’s and Loch Ness monsters, but for topics right in the mainstream of science that for some reason are shunned by the mainstream. For example, there are competent, professional working geologists who have found that the continental drift/plate tectonics hypothesis doesn’t really explain a number of interesting phenomena.

In chemistry, electrochemistry, which was my specialty, there was the claim of cold fusion, which you may have heard of. In cosmology, if you don’t accept that everything started with a Big Bang, you don’t get grants and you don’t get published and so on. So the Society has broadened its forum to include all sorts of topics where the mainstream has taken a dogmatic conclusion, saying there’s no further doubt about this. Yet there are competent people in the field who say this isn’t so: there are other possibilities.

Sturrock thought it was important that we have a journal, which was founded a few years later. I started the book review section shortly after that, and it was through reviewing books on unorthodox views that I discovered, sometime in the early 1990’s, that there were people who didn’t believe that HIV causes AIDS. The first book I read was by Ellison and Duesberg. I looked for other books taking that point of view, and finally in 2004 Harvey Bialy’s scientific biography of Duesberg came out. In it there was this astonishing statement that simply couldn’t be true.

Bialy said when the Army started to test recruits in the middle 1980’s, they found that teenage women tested HIV positive as often as teenage men. Now, I knew that the orthodox view is that HIV entered the United States sometime in the 1970’s to produce the early AIDS outbreaks in the early 1980’s. I also knew that the victims early on were 90 to 95 percent male, and that they were primarily Gay men and injecting drug users.

I just could not see how in the space of 10 years or so, or even 15 years, a virus could spread from relatively closed communities in a few large metropolitan areas, so that by the mid-1980’s all across the country teenage women would be infected as frequently as teenage men. It just didn’t seem possible. What also didn’t seem possible was that this impossibility would have escaped the notice of the people who gathered the data. Why didn’t they realize this was contrary to the accepted view?

I checked the source to see whether it had been correctly quoted. It had been correctly quoted. The authors of the paper had also pointed out that there were aspects of their results that were strange, that were anomalous. They wrote down the rates of HIV positivity by county in large numbers of areas, and the counties where the rate of HIV infection was highest were not the counties in which the reported AIDS cases were highest. Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York were the areas where most, or a predominant majority, of the early AIDS cases were reported from, and you found the highest rates of HIV not only around New York but in Washington, D.C.; in the Southeast; in Florida; in some areas of Texas, and so on. The authors of the report actually noted those oddities.

Because this was still so confusing, I thought, “Well, maybe there is later work that has found flaws in this, or has corrected it, or modified it.” So I looked for other publications that reported HIV tests from the earliest times when testing began, the mid-1980’s. I looked for data particularly on low-risk groups. I don’t believe that I’ve ever experienced a period of time that I’ve found so emotionally exhausting, because I could not believe what the data were telling me.

Article after article was saying the same thing: that, in any group that you test, the rate of testing HIV positive increases regularly with age from the teens through middle age, and then goes down again. Most striking, in any group that you test, Black people test HIV positive far more often than others, on average five or six times more often than white Americans. White Americans test positive 50 percent more often than Asian-Americans, and Hispanic Americans are somewhere between white and Black Americans.

Now, to me it just seemed obvious that this was not reflecting a sexually transmitted disease. Syphilis and gonorrhea hop around from one region to another, and from one group of people to another. They don’t show those sorts of regularities. So I thought that the data were absolutely clear that what was being tested, what was being detected, could not be a sexually transmitted infection. I wondered what on earth to do about it, and I wrote some fairly overwrought, emotionally overwrought letters to some friends asking for advice, and eventually decided that a good thing to do would be to ask the opinion of the people who gathered these data.

I wrote to the Army Research Office with a summary of my analysis, and also to the Centers for Disease Control. I should have known what the reaction would be. I was treated as a crank. The Army did not respond at all, and the CDC sent me a letter which really made me laugh, because I have written letters like that myself to cranks who submit quite outlandish papers for publication in the journal I edit. So my attempt to get anybody who was in any sort of official position to take note of this didn’t get anywhere.

I was also advised by some of the people I already knew were dissidents, who told me I had absolutely no chance of getting a publication into any of the standard scientific journals. So I gave some talks at the Society for Scientific Exploration, and I wrote articles in which I documented the analysis quite fully. Then I realized that the only way to try to bring this to a wider audience was to put it into book form. So I did that, and I wrote a manuscript in which the first half was the analysis of the HIV data and the obvious conclusions from it. The second half of it was really a survey of how the mainstream periodicals and venues have kept any of this out of their forums.

I sent the manuscript to the only two publishers I located who were willing to look at actual manuscripts submitted by individuals, rather than agents. I’ve had a lot of experience with publishers in the past, a lot of rejections over the years. And with the manuscript, of course, I included self-addressed stamped envelopes where they could write. Within a week of when I sent the thing off, one of the envelopes was back, and I remembered just cursing silently how cavalier this rejection was. They would barely have had time to read the thing. So I didn’t open it for a while, but before tossing it away I did open it, and it said, “We are very interested in publishing your work.” This was from McFarland Publishers.

I had really lucked out. The person that had read my manuscript had not long before that read Celia Farber’s article [“Out of Control: AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science”] in the March 2006 Harper’s magazine, and so she was primed at least to admit the possibility that the orthodox view was wrong. But this person, Jeannie Tobiason, not only was primed for that, but she’s a marvelous editor. She pointed out to me that the second part of the book that I’d written was a crankish rant against the mainstream, and this is not the way to get attention.

So she said, “What can you offer that’s an alternative to that?” I’d already been thinking along the lines that a great barrier to anybody taking the dissident view seriously is that it seems totally inconceivable to most people that UNAIDS, WHO, CDC, the NIH and on and on and on could possibly be wrong about something like that. That’s where my background in science studies, in the philosophy and sociology of science, really turned out to be valuable, because I was familiar with the state of affairs, that actually science proceeds by trial and error. From my reading, I already knew of quite a number of specific instances of where science had changed its mind quite dramatically. From reviewing dissident books, I also had quite a good idea of some of the crucial steps by which the HIV/AIDS mainstream actually went wrong.

One of the crucial msitakes had been pointed out by John Lauritsen [statistician and reporter for the now-defunct New York Native] at the beginning: that the way the CDC classified AIDS cases prejudged that it had something to do with Gay sex, because they didn’t report the characteristics of all the AIDS victims in toto and do anything like a multivariate analysis. First of all, they said, “How many of the reported AIDS cases are Gay men?” Well, a very large number — I think it was 75 to 80 percent. Then they said, “Of the remainder, how many are drug users? How many are hemophilacs?” and so on.

What Lauritsen pointed out, which is confirmed by a number of the early publications, is if the CDC had made the first category people who used recreational drugs, the first category would have been 90 to 95 percent, or even more. Then of the remainder, only a few percent would have been Gay men. So that sent the thing off in the wrong direction.

I also had read Michelle Cochrane’s book When AIDS Began: San Francisco and the Making of an Epidemic. It’s based on a doctoral dissertation that she wrote. She re-examined the actual medical records in San Francisco of some of the early AIDS cases, and she found that the generally accepted shibboleth that AIDS hit young, “previously healthy” Gay men was not the case at all. They weren’t particularly young; the average age was 35. It’s not old, but it’s not what you would emphasize as “young.” And they were anything but “previously healthy.” They had experienced all sorts of infections over the years. So those were two of the dramatic decisions, or crucial decisions, that I think put things on the wrong track.

A very powerful one was that the Secretary of Health and Human Services put the U.S. government’s imprint on Dr. Robert Gallo’s claim to have discovered the virus that causes AIDS, because most people working in virology and related areas look for funds for their research from federal organizations. So that’s really a summary of how I came to look at the analysis, and then how I came to give the book the sort of format that it has.

Zenger’s: What has been the reaction so far?

Bauer: I’ve had some very nice comments from people who already shared my point of view. It’s really too early to have any full reviews of the book. There’s been a nice notice in the College and Research Libraries Newsletter, which I understand goes to many academic librarians all over the country. It describes the book as “credible,” which is very nice. I’ve had a couple of radio interviews, and I’ve been quoted in the San Diego Gay & Lesbian Times, and that has stirred up one of the fanatical defenders of the faith, a fellow called Kenneth Whitworth, who publishes stuff on, the site John Moore and others have set up.

Last Sunday night [June 17] I was on 21st Century Radio, which is a program out of a Baltimore station. Kenneth Whitworth immediately wrote an angry e-mail to the manager of the station about how could they give any air time to “views that represent such a gross public danger to public health.” So those are the main responses that I’ve had up to now.

Gordon Stewart, a British epidemiologist with whom I’ve been in touch, told the editor of the Lancet that they should review the book, so they’ve got a review copy. I sent e-mail information about it to quite a lot of people who I thought might take an interest in it, amongst them some mainstream people who have published articles stating that the extent of the African epidemic cannot be explained on the basis of sexual transmission of HIV. Their suggestion is that much of it is by needles: that the medical systems in Africa have to reuse needles so much that there is a great danger of infection.

I told some of these people about it, and one of them got the International Journal of STD’s and AIDS to request a review copy. So I am expecting that some mainstream journals are going to take notice of it at some time or other, and I don’t think I’m being unduly paranoid or pessimistic in expecting that they will take every chance to do a hatchet job on it. I mean, that’s been the case in the past. I remember in particular a New York Times review that a medico called June Osborne did of Peter Duesberg’s book. As I read that review, I thought that it was such a textbook example of someone who doesn’t let the reader know what the author of the book actually said, but instead just denigrates the author. But we’ll see.

Zenger’s: I remember that article quite well, because at one point she did offer an observation of what was actually in the book, but she got it wrong. She said that Peter Duesberg was questioning whether there was such a thing as terminal syphilis. In the book, Duesberg had pointed out — had used data to argue that the only times people actually died from symptoms associated with syphilis were between the 1840’s and the 1940’s, when the standard syphilis treatments were mercury and, later, arsenic. And Osborne said he ignores the fact that today syphilis is treated with penicillin, which is not toxic. In fact, Duesberg had argued in his book that the so-called “tertiary syphilis” stopped in the 1940’s because the mercury and arsenic treatments, which had been toxic, were replaced by penicillin. If you’re a reviewer, you can dislike a book, but you do have an obligation to report its contents accurately, I would think.

Bauer: Yes, absolutely.

Zenger’s: But when I saw from her credential that June Osborne was a member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, it was obvious where her animus was coming from.

Bauer: Yes. One of the things that intrigues me that I have no answer to is that, if and when the knowledge becomes public that the HIV/AIDS hypothesis is wrong, how on earth are all of the people who have been so invested in it going to accommodate it? It boggles the imagination.

Zenger’s: Which probably explains the phone call from Mr. Whitworth to the radio station, and much of the other politics of the issue: that they are bound and determined to make sure that the information that the HIV/AIDS model is wrong never gets to the general public, just as the government of the Soviet Union was very interested in making sure that anything contradicting Lysenko’s theories of genetics never got to other Soviet academia or the Soviet people generally.

Bauer: And, you know, they can be so smooth about it. A number of months ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci was on the Diane Rimes show. My daughter alerted me to that, and I sent in a query to him along the lines of how can we have an epidemic of sexual transmission when the transmission rate is so low. Fauci very smoothly said, “Yes, well, of course the rate is not one to one, but there is so much sexual activity going on in the world that there’s still a lot of transmission.” Well, Fauci must know that the data show about 1 in 1,000, not anything like 1 to 1. Surely he knows that.

But I try very hard not to ascribe deliberately malicious motives to these people. I think really that it’s very largely getting into a state of mind where you’re blinkered. You just cannot see anything that contradicts your point of view, in part because it would be too devastating. I think psychologists are quite clear about what excellent mechanisms human beings have for not noticing things that contradict their beliefs.

Zenger’s: There’s an interesting example in the work of Nancy Padian, whose studies have been among the key data showing that the rate of sexual transmission of HIV is 1 in 1,000. She has gone public, apparently at the urging of John Moore and the people at aidstruth, with a statement saying, “How dare you use my work to intimate that the heterosexual transmission of HIV is a problem? Of course it’s a problem. It’s the biggest source of HIV transmission in the world today.” It struck me that Nancy Padian is too good a scientist to fudge her data [so she fudges the interpretation instead].

Bauer: Well, that Padian paper featured also in the South Australian court case [where Andre Chad Parenzee unsuccessfully appealed his conviction for having had sex with three women without telling them he was HIV positive on the ground that HIV had not been proven to exist], and her paper actually says directly that during the course of their actual study, they observed zero transmission. Their calculation of 1 in 1,000 was based on the notion that they enrolled some couples who were discordant — one positive, the other not — but some of the couples they enrolled were concordant. Both of them were HIV positive.

The way in which Padian calculated the rate of transmission was by assuming that in those couples who entered the study already both positive, one must have infected the other. And then she estimated when that would have happened, based on what she calls the “risk histories” of the individuals involved. But when the defense in South Australia quite rightly said that no transmission was observed in the course of her study, she submitted a statement contradicting that, trying to contradict that. It is really extraordinary.

Zenger’s: In fact, one thing that has always amazed me, and that comes through from your last answer, is that you used the word “estimate.” So many of these statistics that we hear — 5.5 million HIV positives in South Africa, for example — are based on estimates. And I once got hold of and published a document from Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the South African health minister, explaining how those estimates were derived. They were derived from annual tests of 15,000 pregnant women in prenatal clinics, and extrapolated through a whole series of mathematical formulas to determine the total number of South African women who were HIV positive, and then they multiplied it by 0.73 — and she didn’t explain where that number came from -— to reach an estimate of the number of South African men who were HIV positive.

So you’ve got all these incredible estimates floating around that make this seem like this enormous problem, and they’re based on very little hard data. And yet the mainstream media report them as if they are hard data.

Bauer: Right. There is a book that came out too late for me to mention it, by James Chin, called The AIDS Pandemic. Chin was state epidemiologist for California, and then he was in charge of data gathering for the World Health Organization. His book says that all of the numbers put out by UNAIDS are bogus and are gross overestimates. And some news items in the last week or two have said that the official figures for India are being revised drastically downwards.

Also, Rian Malan, a journalist in South Africa, wrote a couple of articles about how bogus the numbers were of South Africans who were supposed to have died of AIDS. He was living there, and he didn’t see any obvious signs of an increase in the death rate. So he had a very bright idea. He went around to coffin makers, and he found that there had been no increase in demand for coffins during the period of these few years when AIDS was supposedly ravaging hundreds of thousands of South Africans.

Zenger’s: Another point, which as I recall you make in your book, is that even though these countries are supposedly being ravaged by AIDS, their populations continue to increase.

Bauer: Yes. There’s been some very good stuff written about AIDS in Africa. I think Neville Hodgkinson’s book is first-rate on that, and some of Celia Farber’s and Charles Geshekter’s articles, point out that it is to the advantage of Africans that the myth persist that they are dying wholesale of “AIDS,” rather than of malnutrition, malaria, tuberculosis and so on, because the developed world has been very stingy in sending them aid to help against poverty and malnutrition and so on. But “HIV/AIDS” has caught on and become such a fad that anyone and everyone is rushing to send some money and helpers and so on.

Charles Geshekter, by the way, made a very good point somewhere about AIDS in Africa. You know, the orthodox view is that of course it is heterosexually transmitted in Africa, because the rates of AIDS among men and women are about the same. The fact of the matter, though, is that sexually transmitted diseases do not hit men and women in equal proportions always. If you look at U.S. figures for syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and so forth, you find that they’re not — they don’t equally hit men and women. The diseases that do equally hit men and women are the common non-sexually transmitted ones, like flu and malaria and TB and all the rest of them.

Zenger’s: You have the bizarre claim that during the 1990’s the government of Uganda worked out such a beautiful HIV prevention strategy that the seroprevalence of HIV in Uganda fell from 30 percent to 10 percent — which, since HIV is supposed to be an infection that you carry for life, just begs the question of where the other 20 percent of HIV positive Ugandans went.

Bauer: Right, because you would have had to have had 20 percent of the population die, and you didn’t have that. It still puzzles me a bit how reporters, journalists, can look at statements like that and not realize that they’re absurd. Even if it wasn’t the matter that they would all have had to die out, think about accepting the view that government propaganda and programs can drastically change the sexual habits and practices of a large proportion of the population within a few years. I mean, it’s totally absurd. It’s very hard to change people’s behavior. It’s extraordinarily hard to change people’s behaviors relating to sexual practices. So it just makes no sense at all.

Zenger’s: If the HIV/AIDS model is not only wrong but in so many particulars patently absurd, why does it persist? Why does it seem stronger than ever, with people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — who obviously have brains or they couldn’t have made the money they have — buying into it, pouring in enormous amounts of their own private resources, believing that buying all these AIDS drugs is going to save all these otherwise doomed people in Africa?

Bauer: What incentive would they have to really try reading into the literature for themselves? I imagine they are people who have relied very much on choosing people to believe, and then giving them a certain amount of freedom to go ahead and do things. This is where it’s so pernicious that the media have sort of blotted out the fact that people like Duesberg are very respectable and raising genuinely important questions.

I mean, there would be no reason for Gates or Buffett or anyone of that sort to imagine that there could be something wrong with what “everybody knows.” I think it’s the same with celebrities. I imagine that there are many people there in Hollywood and so on who simply want to use their status to do some useful things. Why would they ever get the idea that what “everybody knows,” what all the authorities are saying, is wrong?

I think there’s also a sort of emotional barrier there, too, and that is that people who have had friends, lovers and relatives die would find it very, very difficult to contemplate the possibility that some of them were killed by the medications were taking; and that others in the very early years had died because they had done foolishly unhealthy things, even though at the time no one really knew or could know just how dangerously unhealthy those things were. So, you know, I think there are barriers even among relatively disinterested people to wanting to hear this sort of stuff.

Zenger’s: In fact, I’ve had that thought myself: talking to the surviving partner of a Gay couple and thinking, “He’s probably looking at me, and what’s running through his head is, ‘I woke up my partner in the middle of the night to make sure he took his drugs on time, and this twerp over here is telling me that that just killed him faster?’”

Bauer: I have an in-law relative who was an accountant in Hollywood, and when I told him about what was turning up in my research, he was horrified. But I haven’t met so many people who died. The human side of this thing is really horrifying. I’m very conscious of the fact that for me it’s just about exclusively an intellectual exercise. But I have heard from people who have made me realize just what an emotional strain this is for some people.

I’ve had some long conversations with a young Gay man in the West who has made me conscious of what it’s like if you’re a Gay man and you test HIV positive. On the one hand, you’ve heard all the people who say, “For God’s sake, don’t take all those medications.” On the other hand, you have all the medical advisors who say you must take them. So you start taking them, and then very often you feel deathly ill. So you stop taking them, and as soon as you feel better, you feel guilty that you’re not taking them.

More recently, I’ve had a conversation with a hemophiliac who’s now in his late 30’s. He was diagnosed HIV positive right at the beginning of this business 20 years ago, and he told me that his mother was a doctor who said, “But those tests are just for antibodies. You don’t need to take any medication.” So he’s alive now, and all of the people that he knew in those early days, who were all so eager for them and who took the medications, are all dead.

But he hasn’t survived to lead a relatively normal life. He pointed out to me that he lives a very solitary existence, because he feels that if he wants to get close to another person, he’s obliged to tell them about his HIV status. Then he’s going to worry all the time about will they keep this in confidence or not. So, although he’s lived these 20 years through avoiding the medications, in a sense this hysteria about HIV, this mistake about it, has also ruined his life to a very great extent.

Zenger’s: What do we do about this, and how, if ever, is the HIV/AIDS model going to end?

Bauer: It’s going to take somebody prominent in the media or in politics to take the issue up and to stick with it long enough that the defenders of the orthodox view will be forced to make substantive defenses of it in the public arena. I don’t see any other way that this is going to happen in the foreseeable future. A grim scenario, which I don’t particularly want to contemplate, is that in five, 10 or 15 years so many people will be dying from what are evidently drug toxicities that more and more physicians will actually begin to take notice and think there’s something wrong with these antiretroviral drugs.

I actually drafted, some time ago, a set of notes which I’ve shared with a few people, that asked how we could take any actions that might possibly have an effect. I think personal contact would be the crucial thing. If there were some prominent politician who was potentially open to looking at this, and if that person has on his staff someone who knows someone in the dissident community, and is relatively open to trusting them, so that one might have a chain of people who could present to somebody in politics or the media a knowledgeable dissident as somebody worth listening to. That’s about all I can think of, and I don’t know anyone who has those sorts of confidences.
Radical Right Mounts Two Rival Anti-Marriage Drives

One Would Also Abolish Domestic Partnerships, the Other Wouldn’t


Two rival radical-Right initiatives being proposed to ban legal recognition of same-sex marriages in California reveal a split in strategy and tactics within the anti-Queer, anti-marriage movement. The California Family Council, affiliated with Jim Dobson’s powerful Focus on the Family organization, is promoting a so-called “Protect Marriage” initiative that would simply write into the state constitution Proposition 22, passed by California voters 61 to 39 percent in 2000, which defined marriage in California exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.

Another group, called the Voters’ Right to Protect Marriage Initiative and headed by former California Assemblymember Larry Bowler, is going farther and pushing a ballot measure that would not only define marriage as one man and one woman but would also repeal California’s landmark domestic partnership legislation. Both groups are fighting for large-scale financial backing to pay signature gatherers to get their initiatives on the ballot.

The two rival initiatives are coming up in the middle of a process by which supporters of marriage equality for same-sex couples are pushing their demand in the legislature and the courts. In 2005, both houses of the California state legislature passed a marriage equality bill, but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it and said in his veto message that the final determination of whether California should legally recognize same-sex marriages should be made by the courts or by voters.

This year, a similar bill has already passed the State Assembly and is pending before the State Senate. What’s more, the California Supreme Court is expected to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of Proposition 22 and issue its ruling shortly before the June 2008 election, when either or both anti-marriage equality initiatives may be on the ballot. Either initiative would nullify a court ruling that the state constitution required the state to recognize same-sex marriages equally to opposite-sex marriages — but the Bowler initiative would go considerably farther.

“An amendment to the California constitution, which requires a vote of the people, is the only way to stop the politicians, and especially the courts, from redefining marriage against the will of the majority of Californians,” Ron Prentice, executive director of the California Family Council, said in a press release from his organization. “We are confident that Californians continue to want to protect traditional marriage as it has always been.”

Prentice’s release also contains his explanation for why the California Family Council initiative isn’t directly attacking domestic partnership rights as well as same-sex marriage. Claiming that California voters “are reluctant to take away existing rights,” Prentice said, “For this reason, I strongly believe that placing the winnable language of Proposition 22 into the state constitution is the best, and only winnable, choice.”

In the Voters’ Right press release, Bowler said his group had an immediate goal to raise $2 million from “people of means who strongly believe in marriage … to override the judges and politicians and fully and permanently protect marriage for one man and one woman. The only initiative that will accomplish this is the rock-solid amendment.”

“The threat to marriage in California is very real,” the Voters’ Right release stated. After reviewing the history of the state supreme court case and saying the court “has enough votes to create homosexual ‘marriages’” — a view not echoed in the statements and releases from marriage equality advocates, who are considerably more uncertain about the likely outcome of the case — the release criticized Proposition 22 on the ground that “the proposition’s limited text … left marriage an empty shell devoid of any exclusive value.” This is likely a response to the state court rulings that threw out radical-Right challenges to the domestic partnership law on the ground that Proposition 22 dealt exclusively with defining marriage and didn’t stop the legislature from creating mutual rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples that stopped short of full-fledged marriage.

Despite the clear distinction in strategy and tactics between the two radical-Right groups, Equality California (EQCA), the principal lobby in the state for marriage equality and Queer rights generally, sees no real difference. Criticizing both groups, Equality California’s statement says, “If they had their way, these extremists would completely write LGBT [Queer] people out of the California constitution — the very document that should protect the rights of all Californians. We will not — we cannot — let that happen.”

At the July 15 Spirit of Stonewall community celebration in Balboa Park, which kicked off San Diego’s Pride events, EQCA director Seth Kilbourn made it clear that his group is unwilling to accept any compromise that leaves California’s domestic partnership law in place but closes the door on marriage equality. “Domestic partnerships and marriage will always be unequal in terms of rights and benefits, status and recognition, and dignity and respect,” Kilbourn said. “There are only two reasons to have two different systems, one for Gay people and one for everybody else. Either the systems are unequal in terms of the protections they provide — which they are — or there’s a general acceptance that one group is somehow less worthy than the other. No matter how you feel about the institution of marriage, how can we accept inequality in the law, and accept the notion that Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Americans are somehow ‘less than’?”

The organizations mentioned in this article can be reached at the following Web sites:

Equality California:

California Family Council:

Voters’ Right to Protect Marriage:

Friday, July 20, 2007

Black Thursday


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Two things that happened on Thursday, June 28 were so dire in their portents for America’s political future that the day may well go down in history as “Black Thursday.” First, the U.S. Supreme Court paid lip service to the luminous anti-discrimination decision, Brown v. Board of Education, from 1954 while totally going against its spirit, throwing out two attempts to integrate public schools in Seattle and Louisville on the ground that school districts can’t make race a factor in assigning children to schools even to undo the effects of over a century of past discrimination against students of color. Then, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly killed a bad immigration “reform” bill because of organized political pressure from talk-radio hosts and other members of the rabid Right because it wasn’t punitive enough against so-called “illegal” immigrants.

The events of Black Thursday were victories for the creeping racism that has festered in the American body politic ever since the Republicans became the dominant U.S. political party in 1968 through Richard Nixon’s and Strom Thurmond’s so-called “Southern strategy.” This unholy alliance between the Republican Right of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and “solid South” Democrats-turned-Republicans like Thurmond was originally intended to blunt the power of George Wallace’s openly racist 1968 Presidential campaign and prevent it from splitting the Right-wing vote and thereby keeping the Democrats in power. But, especially since Reagan’s election to the presidency in 1980 cemented the Right-wing triumphs of 1968 (in which Nixon and Wallace combined won 57 percent of the vote to Hubert Humphrey’s 43 percent) and 1972 (in which Nixon trounced George McGovern, 61 to 39 percent), it’s become a permanent fixture of American politics and has powered a Right-wing realignment that has turned the U.S. into a far more reactionary country than it was from 1932 to 1968.

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” chief justice John Roberts — one of the two George W. Bush appointees who have changed the complexion of the Supreme Court and pushed it even farther Right — wrote in the court’s opinion. It’s a notion that has a superficial appeal. Certainly it appealed to California voters when they overwhelmingly passed Ward Connerly’s initiative to ban affirmative action in public colleges and universities. We’d all like to believe that the U.S. has not only abolished hard-line legal segregation of the races but achieved a nirvana of racial equality in which we are indeed judged, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said in about the only words out of his mouth Rightists ever quote, not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.

The only trouble is, as the old song says, ’tain’t so, honey, ’tain’t so. While Roberts and Anthony Kennedy, the mostly Right-wing but sometimes surprisingly liberal (especially on juvenile executions and Queer rights) justice who supplied the crucial fifth vote to overturn the Seattle and Louisville plans, talked in majestic legal generalities, Stephen Breyer, who wrote the dissenting opinion, cited cold, hard facts. His opinion ended with two tables and two graphs dramatically documenting how schools in the U.S. in general — and in Seattle in particular — have become more, not less, mono-racial over the years since the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Breyer’s most depressing exhibit was a graph called “Percentage of White Students in Schools Attended by the Average Black Student, 1968-2000,” which shows a steady downward trend in school integration from a peak of 36 percent in the 1980’s to less than 30 percent today. Breyer’s opinion is in the tradition of one of the Supreme Court’s greatest liberals, Louis D. Brandeis, who even before he was appointed as a justice himself practiced cases before the court and won approval for laws to protect workers’ health and safety by documenting in extensive detail just what happened to people when those laws did not exist.

Unfortunately, Justice Roberts’ opinion harkened back to an even earlier stage in the Court’s history, when its justices saw themselves as protecting the rich and powerful against the claims of working people and people of color. In 1883, the Court threw out the civil-rights act passed by Congress in 1875, which banned racial segregation in public accommodations. Justice Joseph Bradley, for the court majority, wrote that for African-Americans — most of whom had been slaves until just 18 years before Bradley wrote — sooner or later “there must be some stage in the process of elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen, and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights, as a citizen or a man, are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected.” After that case — and the more famous, and even more obnoxious, Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896, which specifically allowed so-called “separate but equal” segregation (of course, it was never truly equal) — African-Americans were reduced to a legally sanctioned second-class status. It wasn’t until 1964 that Congress again banned segregation in public accommodations — and this time Earl Warren’s Supreme Court, the most liberal in our history, said such a law was constitutional.

The only real difference between Justice Bradley and Justice Roberts on racial issues is that Bradley was a better writer. Just as the current Right wants to remove all government regulation on corporations and the economy, and return to the lassiez-faire days of the robber barons of the late 19th century — in which there were a handful of filthy-rich Americans, great masses living in virtual destitution, and not much of a middle class in between — they want to proclaim that a “color-blind” America really exists, and say that if African-Americans are still poorer than other people it’s their own damned fault, and maybe they really are racially inferior after all. Though Justice Kennedy’s concurrence in the Seattle and Louisville school cases left open a vague hope that he might day join the four reason-based justices in acknowledging some sort of race-based remedy for America’s centuries of discrimination against African-Americans in education, the overall message from the Supreme Court to the Black community is from now on, you’re on your own. It took 58 years for the Court to overrule Plessy v. Ferguson and perceive the reality that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” — and 53 years after Brown for the Court to retreat to the racial certainties of the 19th century.

If the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Black Thursday represented a return to its historic role limiting instead of advancing civil and human rights, the U.S. Senate’s refusal even to debate a controversial immigration reform bill demonstrated the brute power of the carefully cultivated mass Right created largely by the alternative Right-wing media, particularly talk radio. It’s true that this “reform” put the progressive community in a bind — a quite common one in these days of Right-wing dominance of American politics — in which the alternative was support a dreadful bill that would impose punitive conditions on current undocumented (so-called “illegal”) immigrants seeking legal status, create a sweeping guest-worker program that would undermine U.S. wages and accelerate the race to the bottom already under way under lassiez-faire capitalism and pro-corporate globalization, and wreck 42 years of enlightened, humane immigration policy based on family unification; or defeat it and hand the Right a political victory.

That dilemma was vividly demonstrated last May 24, when immigration activists Mary Moreno Richardson, daughter of undocumented immigrants and reverend canon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral near Balboa Park; and Lilia Velasquez, immigration-rights attorney and adjunct professor at California Western School of Law, clashed on the issue at a San Diego Democratic Club meeting. Richardson was guardedly optimistic about the bill and said she hoped it would be the basis for negotiations on both sides. Velasquez said the bill was so badly flawed she’d rather see no bill at all. “We think we’re better off with the bad status quo than with a bill that will make things worse,” Velasquez said. “We’re hoping it won’t happen this year. I think the issue is too controversial for any of the presidential candidates to take it on next year. If it doesn’t pass this year, it probably won’t happen until 2009, and until then we’ll have the Minutemen and all that chaos.”

If I’d been called by a pollster and asked about the grand “compromise” immigration bill — worked out in secret by 14 Senators from both major parties and not seen by anyone else in Congress until they actually introduced it — I’d have said, especially after I heard Velasquez give the speech I just quoted, that I was against it. And that answer would have been read as a triumph for the Right. The Right has achieved such an extraordinary level of organization and media access in this country — one the Left can’t hope to duplicate in a thousand years — that on issue after issue the Right is able to define the agenda and, if not get absolutely everything it wants, at least set the terms of the debate and, in the worlds of lingustics professor and political consultant George Lakoff, “frame” issues in ways that give them built-in advantages.

Since the quiet repeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987, which required radio and TV broadcasters to present more than one point of view if they covered political issues at all, the radical Right has created what amounts to a second corporate media party. Just as there are two corporate-dominated political parties in the U.S. — as well as a small host of alternative parties vying for, and hardly ever getting, public attention — so there are two corporate media parties. There’s the center-Right corporate media party of NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the other so-called “establishment” media outlets — and there’s the scrappy far-Right corporate media party of talk radio, Fox News, the Washington Times, the American Spectator and the like. Many Left media analysts don’t recognize this distinction — they get confused because the same giant media conglomerates own the outlets for both — but it’s real, and as writers like Eric Alterman, Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber have documented, not only has the far-Right corporate media party built its own audience, its ceaseless attacks on the center-Right corporate media party as the “liberal media” have moved all public discourse in the U.S. ever farther Right.

As an issue, immigration was a Godsend for the far-Right corporate media in general and talk radio in particular. In an era when it’s not O.K. to air your racism blatantly, openly and proudly (just ask Don Imus) but it is O.K. to speak in racial code, immigration gave talk radio hosts a chance to sound off against Latinos endlessly while occasionally disclaiming, “We don’t hate them because they’re Latino. We hate them because they’re illegal!” (The last time any radio personalities attacked any identifiable group so viciously, and so incessantly, as Rush Limbaugh and Roger Hedgecock go after “illegal” immigrants, their names were Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels and their principal targets were Jews.) At a time when talk-radio hosts were worried about losing credibility because they automatically supported the Bush administration in general and the war on Iraq in particular at a time when the American people generally were becoming more and more disgusted with both, immigration gave them an excuse to join the anti-Bush bandwagon by attacking him from the Right.

The strategy worked. The audience Limbaugh, Hedgecock and their colleagues have carefully built up over the years and trained as effectively and completely as Pavlov trained his dogs swung into action. Senators reported their mail was running 100-to-1 against the immigration bill. Even some of the Senators who’d worked on the thing in secret publicly abandoned it to sate their drooling talk-radio-conditioned constituents. A poor immigration reform bill which progressives should have attacked on its (lack of) merits became, instead, another excuse for the Right to roll right over the center and the Left, and to show that despite the minor blip of the 2006 elections, the efforts of the radical Right to achieve full-spectrum dominance over U.S. politics continues apace.

Even the attempts by moderates to challenge the Right’s immigration victory backfired big-time. When center-Right media commentator David Broder sounded off in his July 5 Washington Post column,, “A Mob-Rule Moment,” and wrote, “A particularly virulent strain of populism has made official Washington altogether too responsive to public opinion,” Rush Limbaugh was right on him that morning, denouncing him (with some justice) as an elitist with no feeling for the real needs and desires of the American people. (Broder’s column had also criticized Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives for pandering to their base by quietly killing a bill to renew the “fast-track” authority by which presidents of both parties have negotiated job-killing, environment-destroying, corporation-enriching trade deals like NAFTA and its successors.) And when center-Right Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein dared to suggest that maybe it might be a good idea to consider re-enacting the Fairness Doctrine, Limbaugh emitted several days’ worth of screaming denunciations that compared the Fairness Doctrine to Stalinism. (I’m not making this up!)

The events of Black Thursday were a badly needed wake-up call to Democrats and progressives who came away from the November 2006 elections convinced that Bush’s drop in popularity and the Democratic recapture of Congress spelled the end for the Right-wing revolution that began under Nixon and became complete under Reagan. The defeat of the immigration bill showed the continuing power of Right-wing organization and Right-wing media to kill any but blatantly Right-wing solutions to America’s most intractable problems — immigration, the “war on terror,” health care, energy policy and the like. And the Supreme Court ruling on school integration warned that even if the Democrats keep control of Congress in 2008 and elect the next President, any progressive or even moderate programs that somehow make it through the gauntlets of big-money influence on politics and the relentless opposition of the organized Right will be fair game for invalidation at the hands of an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court. In the 1930’s, it was liberals and Leftists who were calling for judicial restraint, and Right-wingers who were hailing the activist judges of the U.S. Supreme Court who were throwing out the New Deal legislation willy-nilly. Those days could come again!

Law Professor Cohn Highlight’s Bush’s Legal Abuses

Tells Progressive Democrats Her Book “Cowboy Justice” Already Out of Date


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Marjorie Cohn, professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego and president of the National Lawyers’ Guild, came to Giovanni’s Restaurant in Clairemont Thursday, July 19 to talk about the Bush administration’s crimes and legal abuses and to promote her new book, Cowboy Justice: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law. But she admitted that since her book went to press, so much new information about the administration’s attack on law and justice has come out it’s already out of date — and she said the reason she picked only six Bush legal abuses to highlight was that her book would have ended up “about the size of an unabridged dictionary” if she’d tried to write about them all.

“The reason I wrote the book is to put it all together and summarize all the crimes the Bush administration has committed,” Cohn explained. The six Bush crimes she focused on were the illegal war of aggression against Iraq; the use of torture; assassination and the targeting of civilians in the so-called “war on terror”; maintaining the Gulag-like prison at Guantánamo; spying on Americans; and the issuance of over 1,000 “signing statements” in which Bush states that he’s signing a Congressional bill into law but he’s only going to execute those parts he agrees with or that fit his agenda, and ignore the rest.

According to Cohn, the legal principles Bush, vice-president Dick Cheney and the rest of his administration are so blithely ignoring go to the heart of our Constitution and its guarantees of freedom. “James Madison wrote that the preservation of liberty required that the three departments [the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government] be separate and distinct,” she explained. “The colonists made a revolution because they were responding to a political situation, King George III’s agents would just go into people’s houses and tear them apart looking for ‘evidence.’ That’s why our Founders put the Fourth Amendment into the Constitution. The Framers also charged in the Declaration of Independence that George III ‘refused his assent to laws necessary for the public good.’”

Referring to the “signing statements” issue, Cohn said that under the Constitution, only Congress can pass a law — and when it does so, the President has only two options: sign the bill into law, or veto it. During the 6 1/2 years of his Presidency, Cohn explained, Bush has only vetoed three bills — two to expand federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research and one to set up voluntary timetables for the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq —but he’s effectively gutted other bills through “’signing statements’ that he’ll only enforce the parts he likes.” Cohn conceded that Bush isn’t the first president to issue signing statements, but he’s issued more of them than any other president and they’ve been much more far-reaching.

Among the bills Bush has tried to gut with “signing statements,” Cohn said, are John McCain’s anti-torture bill (which itself was far less sweeping than the mainstream media hype made it seem, she explained); the security provisions added to the USA PATRIOT Act when it was reauthorized to limit its incursions on civil liberties; and three bills Congress passed in a vain attempt to protect servicemembers who’ve suffered disabilities in the war on Iraq. One of the bills Bush stuck a “signing statement” on would have limited the number of days after an injury a servicemember could be returned to combat duty. Another would have obligated the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress on the military’s treatment protocols for post-traumatic stress disorder, and a third would have studied whether soldiers with brain injuries were being treated properly. “That’s how Bush ‘supports the troops,’” Cohn said acidly.

“In an end-run around Congress and the Fourth Amendment, Bush ordered a secret wiretapping program to get out of having to comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA],” Cohn explained. This law, passed in 1978 after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled Richard Nixon’s secret wiretaps unconstitutional, sought to balance national security and the Constitution by setting up a secret five-judge court to hear requests from the White House or the Justice Department for authority to wiretap foreign nationals. Throughout its history, including during the Bush administration, FISA has granted virtually every executive branch request for an order to wiretap — “but that wasn’t good enough” for President Bush, Cohn said.

Not only did the administration set up a proposal to spy on people without court supervision, Cohn said, they lowered the threshold for spying from “probable cause” — the legal standard of the Fourth Amendment for authoring searches and seizures — to “reasonable suspicion” and allowed Justice Department functionaries, not judges, to issue the actual warrants. What’s more, Cohn said, the administration “admitted that they’ve spied on some people in error” — and they tried to keep this entire program secret. The only reason we know about it is the New York Times received a story about it based on a leak.

“Then there are the lies the Bush administration used to get us into the war with Iraq,” Cohn said. “They knew Saddam Hussein was no threat to the U.S. and had no weapons of mass destruction and no love for al-Qaeda.” Cohn said that, contrary to the mainstream media — which in 2002 and 2003 parroted the false claims of the Bush administration and now refer to the Iraq war as a “mistake” that was not fought “competently” — the Bush administration in general and Vice-President Cheney in particular had long wanted to go to war against Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Cohn ran through her familiar arguments that the war was illegal because according to the United Nations Charter — which, as a treaty signed by the U.S., is equivalent to the Constitution itself, she argued — the only legitimate reasons for a U.N. member to go to war are self-defense or under the authorization of the U.N. Security Council. “There was no possible justification of self-defense, and the Security Council never agreed,” Cohn explained. “Therefore, the war is an illegal war, a war of aggression, the kind that was called at the Nuremberg trials ‘a crime against peace.’”

According to Cohn, the real reasons the U.S. went to war against Iraq were oil and bases. She cited retired UCSD professor Chalmers Johnson’s argument that the U.S. projects imperial power across the world not by ruling other countries directly, but by building giant military bases from which we project power and bend other sovereign governments to our will — and according to Cohn, that practice is happening in Iraq on a bigger scale than anywhere else in the world. “The U.S. has built huge military bases in Iraq, including the so-called ‘Embassy’ in Baghdad, which cost $600 million and is a self-contained city with no need for Iraqi electricity, food or water,” she said.

Cohn also noted that even before taking office as vice-president, in 2000 Cheney commissioned a report from the Right-wing Project for a New American Century (PNAC) which reported that “the need for a substantial American force presence in the [Persian] Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein. Another report involving Cheney — a document produced by his secret task force on energy policy in March 2001, six months before the 9/11 attack, that “included a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries, charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a list of ‘Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oil Contracts’.”

According to Cohn, the so-called oil “reform” law both the Bush administration and the Democratic Congress are pressuring Iraq to pass would turn over most of Iraq’s oil to U.S. and multinational oil companies. The force in Iraq that’s holding it up is the oil workers’ union, which has called at least one strike that shut down the Iraqi oil industry altogether — and more than once has got the government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to cave on the oil law. Right now, Cohn said, the oil workers’ union has persuaded the government to block implementation of a new oil law until at least October to give the workers a chance to propose alternatives.

The union’s general secretary, Faleh Abood Umara, has told a U.S. journalist that if the oil law the U.S. wants is passed, “it will undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and our people … If the law is ratified, there will be no reconstruction. The U.S. will keep its hegemony over Iraq.” According to Cohn, Iraqi labor leaders have joined a nationalist coalition containing Sunni and Shi’a Arabs and Kurds to demand an end to the U.S. occupation, curtailment of al-Qaeda in Iraq (which, Cohn said, contrary to Bush administration propaganda is a local group that appropriated the name and has nothing to do with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda) and an end to Iran’s growing influence in Iraq. It’s groups like that, Cohn said — not continued U.S. occupation — that hold out Iraq’s best hope for avoiding a bloody civil war.

What’s more, Cohn is convinced that if the Bush administration is allowed to serve out its term, the U.S. will be at war with Iran within a year. She attributes that to the influence of Vice-President Cheney over Bush. She quoted former Watergate conspirator John Dean’s comment that “Cheney lets Bush believe he’s really President” and cited a Washington Post series on Cheney that argued that whenever there’s been an internal conflict within the Bush administration, Cheney’s side has won.

While other figures within the administration, including secretary of state Condoleeza Rice, favor diplomacy over war as a means of dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, Cheney is determined to attack — and, lacking spare ground troops because they’re tied down in Iraq, Cohn said the war against Iran is likely to be fought from the air. Already, she said, the U.S. has sent three aircraft carrier battle groups to the Persian Gulf; and Cohn suspects “there’s going to be an ‘incident,’ like the Gulf of Tonkin, and we will ‘have’ to attack Iran in ‘self-defense.’”

Cohn also reviewed her familiar arguments against torture, pointing out that the Geneva Conventions do not allow it under any circumstances — even the “ticking time-bomb” scenarios beloved of the administration and its defenders — and also mentioned that the Military Commissions Act passed by Congress last year gives the principals in the Bush administration blanket “amnesty” from prosecution under U.S. laws against war crimes. She talked briefly about the attempts to get other countries to threaten prosecution of Bush administration officials under the concept of “universal jurisdiction” — the idea that some crimes are so horrible, any country in the world can punish them even if their nationals were not directly victimized.

This isn’t a new theory; Israel used it to capture, try and execute Adolf Eichmann for his involvement in the Holocaust, and both Britain and Spain used it to seek prosecution of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. But so far, Cohn explained, the U.S. has been able to pressure countries like Belgium and Germany to back down on invoking “universal jurisdiction” against U.S. government officials, and has signed a broad network of bilateral immunity agreements, mostly with developing nations dependent on U.S. trade for economic survival, to make sure Americans can never be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court — from which Bush unilaterally withdrew the U.S. in 2002, becoming the first president to rescind the U.S.’s signature on a treaty.

On Guantánamo, Cohn said, “Bush is truing to keep the Guantánamo detainees from ever seeing a judicial process. Many people there have no hope at all. It’s a place of incredible sadness and despair. Two hundred detainees have started a hunger strike and three have already died.” In order to stop the hunger strike, the U.S. has enlisted doctors to force-feed the prisoners, itself a breach of medical ethics. Cohn gave a gruesome description of the force-feeding process, in which a tube is inserted through a person’s mouth into their stomach. When this is done at Guantánamo, no anaesthetic is used and the tube isn’t even sterilized or cleaned between uses, “so each prisoner gets to see the blood and bile of the prisoner who was force-fed before him,” Cohn said.

Cohn also said that Bush has become the first president since Nixon to assert the “right” to assassinate any person anywhere in the world, rescinding the executive order banning targeted assassinations issued by Gerald Ford and renewed by every president since. “Then there are the extraordinary renditions, sending people to other countries to be tortured,” Cohn said. “Oftentimes CIA agents go along, so that after they’re tortured they can ask them questions. … There’s an interesting quote from a former CIA agent that said, ‘If you want a serious interrogation, you send the prisoner to Jordan. If you want them tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear and never be seen again, you send them to Egypt.’ It’s like a checklist.”

Summing up at the end of her lecture — at the point where it’s customary for a speaker to tell us what we should be doing about the evils she’s described — Cohn said, “Impeachment is a no-brainer. Bush’s picture is right next to the words ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ in the Constitution. But it’s not just about impeachment. It’s also about holding them accountable in criminal law, and there’s also universal jurisdiction. We’ll have to figure out a way to get around the amnesty Congress gave Bush and his gang, but hope springs eternal. That’s what I see here tonight, that’s what I saw when I attended the World Social Forum, and that’s what I’m seeing from the unions in Iraq.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Queer Pride Hosts “Community Celebration” July 15

Police Chief, 16-Year-Old Lesbian Highlights of Rally at Organ Pavilion


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Photos, top to bottom: Police chief William Lansdowne, Missy Luber, Jason Knight, Seth Kilbourn, the San Diego Gay Men's Chorus

In June 1969, police staged a raid on the Stonewall Inn, a sleazy Gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City. Though Gay liberation groups had already formed in San Francisco and Los Angeles, it was the action of the Stonewall’s patrons — mostly Latino drag queens and hustlers, along with a smattering of Gays caught in the Left-wing political and social movements of the time — that put Queer liberation in the forefront of American politics and inspired many new recruits for the movement. Thirty-eight years later, the San Diego LGBT Pride organization held a so-called “Spirit of Stonewall Community Celebration” July 15 at the Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park, at which, far from being portrayed as enemies, the San Diego Police Department was given a “Stonewall Service Award” — and police chief William Lansdowne actually invited Queers to apply for the “150 immediate openings” in his department.

Lansdowne’s appearance to accept the award, given largely for how quickly the police were able to arrest the Queer-bashers who attacked people leaving the 2006 Pride festival, was one of the high points of the event. The other was an intense speech by 16-year-old out Lesbian Missy Luber, a short, sandy-haired, energetic young woman who was one of the few people on the program who wasn’t there to promote an organization that employs her. “I have never felt so proud as when I have walked in the [Queer Pride] parade,” said Lansdowne. “The LGBT [Queer] community in San Diego has really organized. … You have always asked for equality, dignity and respect, and God bless you, you’re going to get it.”

“I was born in 1990 and spent my time growing up in a Queer bubble,” Luber said, “but I always knew there would be people who would hate me for loving women. To be an LGBTQ [Queer] teen is to be discriminated against by people who think it’s a choice.” Joking that when other girls her age were playing with Barbie and Ken dolls “I kept my Ken doll in the closet,” Luber added, “To be an LGBTQ teen is to love another person and be told it is sick, but today it’s to stand strong and be surrounded by people who love me and welcome the world with open arms. When I hold my girlfriend’s hand and people look at me with disgust, I know this community will support me. This community has loved and failed and triumphed together, but there’s still so much to do. … Our community extends to the confused teens in small towns, to the religiously miseducated. We must work to change the community around us.”

Though the crowd was surprisingly small — about 150 people — and looked even smaller than it was in the broad expanse of the Organ Pavilion, Luber’s speech was so rousing that even the usually unflappable Delores Jacobs, executive director of San Diego’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center, began her speech by joking that Luber had already said everything she had to say. “In the last 35 years, San Diego has become the worst-kept secret in the United States,” Jacobs said. “We have more LGBT elected officials than almost any other city. In addition, we have the largest, most active Democratic club in the county … and our LGBT business association was recently chosen the best in the country. We have a dedicated Youth Center and a housing project for LGBT youth that’s become a national model. San Diego has the second largest association for [Queer] families in the country, Family Matters, and we also have one of the largest congregations of the MCC church so we won’t let the religious Right hijack religion. In addition, we have the second oldest and third largest center in the country.”

Jacobs’ boosterism pretty much dominated the entire event. In previous years, this event had been called a “rally” and had been held the Friday evening before the annual pride parade and festival. This year, the Pride organization decided to make the event seem less political by calling it a “community celebration” and divorced it from the main Pride events by holding it a week earlier and in a different location. It also directed the focus away from the political struggle for Queer rights and more towards the elaborate social-service network the Queer community has created to take care of its own. Instead of inviting a Queer senior citizen to discuss the problems Queer people face as they age without children or other sources of family support, Pride invited a social worker, Renée Nashtut, who runs an agency called Aging as Ourselves but is still a few decades short of her own seniorhood.

Nashtut began by telling the story of Dan Miller, who was at the Stonewall Inn the night of the riot in 1969, moved to San Diego 11 years ago and is now 82 years old, homebound and unable to take care of himself without help. “Gay seniors are a twice-hidden population,” she explained. “They continue to fight for their rights as LGBT seniors and do not want to go back in the closet. Ninety percent of them have no children. They have grown up and aged with their families of choice, who are in the same boat they are.” She talked about senior citizens’ homes that don’t let lifelong Gay or Lesbian partners live together, and gave a pitch for her Aging as Ourselves agency as “being in the lead in creating a program” to help Queer senior citizens live the rest of their lives with dignity.

Though he had a quite unusual story to tell — he’s a Navy man who was discharged for being Gay, then called back because his skills as a Hebrew linguist were needed for a year-long deployment in Kuwait, then discharged again and put on the so-called “Individual Ready Reserve,” which means he could be deployed a third time — Jason Knight spoke less about himself than about his organization, the Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network (SLDN). Knight said that he spent a year in Kuwait “as an openly Gay person, with the full respect and support of my colleagues” — until General Peter Pace, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was quoted in the service newspaper Stars and Stripes as saying open homosexuals were unfit for service in the U.S. military, and Knight felt compelled to take him on publicly, also in the pages of Stars and Stripes.

Knight explained that SLDN has a dual mission; it’s a social-service agency offering counseling to Queers in the U.S. military and attempting to help both those who want to stay in and those who want to get out, and it’s also a lobbying group aimed at reversing the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy passed in 1993 that forbids openly Queer people from serving. “Because of this law, 11,000 people have been discharged because they happen to be Gay or Lesbian,” Knight said. “It’s sad that we look beyond people’s service records [and at their personal lives]. We should repeal this because when our ship comes into port, we shouldn’t have to hide when we reunite with our loved ones. We should be able to put our partners’ names on our insurance policies. … Whatever you feel about the war, we have a right to choose to serve.”

Seth Kilbourn of Equality California came to talk about the marriage issue and the likelihood that the radical Right in California will put on the ballot in June 2008 an initiative that will not only amend the California constitution to ban same-sex marriage but will almost certainly reverse California’s domestic partnership law. “We got the same-sex marriage bill through the legislature in 2005 [it was vetoed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger], and we are prepared to do it again,” Kilbourn said. “The state of California has reduced the inequality by passing domestic-partner legislation, which we worked hard for, but domestic partnerships and marriage will always be unequal in terms of rights and benefits, status, and dignity and respect. There are only two reasons for unequal systems: either they are unequal in benefits or they are ‘less than.’ We cannot accept that. The difference between calling Mom to say, ‘Hey, I’m getting domestic-partnered,’ and, ‘Hey, I’m getting married,’ is what we need to end, not only in law but in terms of our families, our loved ones and the guy in the next cubicle.”

According to Kilbourn, the California Supreme Court is expected to rule “within 12 months” on whether the state constitution permits the government to discriminate by granting marriage to opposite-sex couples but not to same-sex couples. At the same time, his organization expects to face an initiative challenge from the radical Right to pass the same ban on marriage rights for same-sex couples — and all other legal recognition as well — that has been approved in 35 U.S. states and defeated at the polls in only one, Arizona. Equality California hopes to defeat any such initiative by starting a program called Let California Ring. Based on the idea that the more openly Queer people voters know, the less likely they are to vote for something that would strip them of their rights, Let California Ring aims to start what Kilbourn called “millions of conversations” between Queer and non-Queer Californians about Queer rights and marriage discrimination.

Kilbourn pushed his audience to visit this program’s Web site,, and while the site is still under construction, it explains, “We owe it to families here in California, and to the rest of the country, to create a climate where all people are welcomed, included, and treated fairly, regardless of their differences. Our talking together to millions of Californians through Let California Ring will help change hearts and minds all across America, making our country, and the lives of many Lesbian and Gay couples and their loved ones, better.”

The San Diego Pride “Celebration” was MC’d for the third year in a row by raucous-voiced Lesbian comedian Laura Jane Willcock and opened with a performance by folksinger Marianne Keith. It also featured the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus singing the national anthem, as they had done a week before at Petco Park before a San Diego Padres baseball game that had been designated “Gay Night” at the ballfield. Anti-Queer Right-wing talk-show host Roger Hedgecock, self-proclaimed “ex-Gay” turned anti-Queer crusader James Hartline and a handful of people from a church called Set Free Ministries tried to organize a protest at the July 8 baseball game, saying it was inappropriate for the Padres to have an organized group from the Queer community at the same game where there was a hat giveaway to children in attendance. The program for the July 15 celebration featured a photo of the chorus singing the anthem before the start of the July 8 ballgame.

Other entertainers at the celebration included the Kickers Cloggers, who did an energetic version of a country line dance to recorded accompaniment and, because they’d only rehearsed one song, disappointed a crowd that wanted them to do more; Peech, a duo of women who sang some energetic songs backed by acoustic guitar; and Noah Sugarman, a tousled-haired young man who began his first song by imitating a drum machine with his voice and, when he sang, sounded like a cross between Jack Johnson and John Mayer. Other speakers included Bob Lehman, who with his partner Tom Felkner organized the Stonewall Citizens’ Patrol after the 2006 Pride attacks; Joe Darby, co-vice-president of Pride at Work (an organization for Queers involved in the labor movement); and Coral Lopez, communications manager for the local Latino AIDS service agency Bienestar.

In addition to the featured speakers, other honorees included veteran Queer community fundraiser and attorney Bruce Abrams; long-term couples Cynthia Lawrence and Peggy Heathers (40 years) and Jerry Peterson and Dr. Robert Smith (35 years); Mick Rubin as a “Friend of Pride” for his efforts in challenging the Boy Scouts of America’s anti-Queer discrimination policy; and Elaine Graybill for political, social and fundraising activism with the San Diego Democratic Club and other Queer organizations. The event also featured an appearance by openly Lesbian San Diego City Councilmember Toni Atkins, who brought the city proclamation she intended to present before the Council on July 17 and said, “It’s a point of pride with me that most of the Pride events occur in my Third City Council District.”