Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Mr. Thorne-Begland, 45, ultimately failed to draw the votes after lobbying from both the Family Foundation, a powerful conservative group that opposed his candidacy, and conservative lawmakers, who argued that his past indicated that he would press an activist agenda from the bench.

The rejection comes as the country is in the midst of a roiling debate over same-sex marriage that has placed the civil rights of gays and lesbians in the national spotlight. Last week, President Obama said he supported same-sex couples’ right to marry, a position that set off a frenzy of political soul-searching as Republicans and Democrats staked out their own positions. States, meanwhile, have been passing legislation banning same-sex marriage, most recently North Carolina last week. Others, including New York and Maryland, have passed laws legalizing it.

Mr. Thorne-Begland disclosed his sexual orientation as a naval officer nearly 20 years ago during an appearance on ABC’s “Nightline,” in a challenge to the military’s ban on service by homosexuals. He was discharged honorably from the Navy after the disclosure, reinstated by a federal court, and then discharged again under the subsequent “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He also served on the board of Equality Virginia, a gay rights nonprofit group.

“The only conclusions I can come to is that he was not supported because he was gay,” said Delegate Charniele Herring, a Democrat who voted for him.

But conservatives, including Delegate Bob Marshall, a Republican from Prince William County, argued that those aspects of his biography meant that he would not be able to be impartial, and might even engage in activism, if he became a judge. Mr. Marshall, together with several fellow Republicans from his county, a number of them former military men, led the charge against Mr. Thorne-Begland on Tuesday morning.

“It’s about a pattern of behavior that is just notorious for homosexual advocacy,” Mr. Marshall said. He added that Mr. Thorne-Begland had misrepresented himself on his application for military service, joining the Navy despite the ban on homosexuals in service. “The fact that he defied his oath and could not have been candid on the application — that’s highly problematic, and it stays with you,” Mr. Marshall said.


Virginia is one of more than 30 states with a ban on same-sex marriage, and gay advocacy groups say the state’s record on civil liberties for gays and lesbians is spotty. House Republicans have twice blocked a bill that would protect state employees from discrimination by sexual orientation, according to James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. The group issued a statement condemning Tuesday’s vote, saying it was the result of pressure by the Family Foundation.

“We are on the wrong side of history on this one,” said State Senator Donald McEachin, a Democrat, who supported Mr. Thorne-Begland’s candidacy and criticized the Republican leadership of the Senate for not putting his nomination up for a vote, after the House rejected him.
For the frothing-at-the-mouth bigots, being gay means an inability to uphold the law, apparently:
[F]or House Republicans, and for the Family Foundation, an anti-gay group that stirred up opposition to Mr. Thorne-Begland’s nomination, his sexual orientation trumped his copious professional qualifications. Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who last year expressed the view that gays are “intrinsically disordered,” denounced the nominee as “an aggressive activist for the pro-homosexual agenda.”

Mr. Marshall — known in Richmond as “Sideshow Bob” — said that, as a gay man living with a domestic partner, Mr. Thorne-Begland had a lifestyle that would impede him from upholding Virginia’s constitution, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. As if the nominee’s sexual orientation would cripple his ability to preside over traffic cases and misdemeanors.
Dahlia Lithwick destroys the hateful illogic pushed by the homophobes:

Republican Del. Robert Marshall, who led the charge against Thorne-Begland, faulted the former Navy officer for speaking out publicly—over 20 years ago—against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. (Marshall described this as not mere insubordination, but also a waste of taxpayer money. “The Navy spent $1 million training him,” Marshall said. “That’s cheating the country out of the investment in him.”) Marshall further faulted Thorne-Begland for “holding himself out as married,” since gay marriage is illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia. To Marshall, the fact that Thorne-Begland lives in perpetual conflict with the state Constitution would infect and inform his every judicial act—even though the proposed judgeship would have placed Thorne-Begland on the General District Court, the lowest court in Virginia, where no gay rights issue would ever be likely to come before him. And Thorne-Begland has gone so far as to state in writing that he would recuse himself on any issue in which he had a conflict. But that still wasn’t good enough for the commonwealth. Because in Virginia, the only way to be sure that there is no discrimination from judges is by discriminating.

Peeling away all the circular logic, it would seem that to Marshall and to his allies in the conservative Family Foundation, Thorne-Begland’s principal disqualification is that he has been a “homosexual activist.” (“I don’t even think it’s proper to put his name forward because of his behavior,” said Marshall.) Marshall then went on to clarify that it is OK for elected officials to have served in advocacy roles, pushing for say, unconstitutional personhood legislation deeming that life begins at conception, but advocacy of any sort is not appropriate for future judges, who must apparently be impartial from birth to swearing-in.

What cost Thorne-Begland the nomination is all the discriminatory rules he has challenged. He famously appeared on Nightline challenging DADT in 1992. (He was honorably discharged.) Of course by that yardstick, Justice Thurgood Marshall—dubbed the “suicidal crusader” at the NAACP—was also unfit to serve as a judge. So was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a passionate career-long advocate for women’s rights. Indeed by that measure almost every lawyer who has advocated passionately for any client or cause or change in existing law—from Janice Rogers Brown to Clarence Thomas to the brilliant Paul Clement—is also unfit for the bench. Apparently, the only advocates we can trust to morph into a neutral umpire upon rising to the bench are straight white men. Anyone else who pledges to become an umpire—as Thorne-Begland did, by the way—must be lying.


It should terrify anyone who cares about the future of the judiciary that advocacy, especially passionate advocacy, and most especially passionate advocacy on civil rights issues with respect to laws that have since been repealed, can be disqualifying. Or at least it can be disqualifying when that zealous advocacy is for a cause about which elected officials have personal religious objections.

Thorne-Begland didn’t challenge DADT because he wanted to embarrass the military. He challenged it because he is braver than the rest of us. When he and his fellow pilots stationed at Virginia Beach were told that in a 20-year career, approximately 25 percent of them would be killed in action, he realized that he would die for his country but he wouldn’t lie for it. Integrity, it seems, is only rewarded when you tell the right kinds of lies. Thorne-Begland has been a well-respected state prosecutor for 12 years and was the unanimous choice of the Democrats and Republicans in the Richmond delegation, who advanced his nomination. He was approved by the courts committees in the House and Senate. The attacks on him began only after that vetting process was complete. His career-long advocacy of gay rights issues crossed some invisible line when, as the Family Foundation breathlessly warned, Thorne-Begland had the temerity to actually be “with President Obama when he signed the repeal of DADT.”

If we keep refusing to seat any judges who stand up to discrimination, Virginia will continue to be a state that discriminates. And if we only want to seat judges willing to lie about who they are and what they believe in, we may as well stop seating judges at all.

Yes, our legislators are more polarized today than they used to be — and one party is worse than the other:
With the use of overlapping cohorts, we can make the over-time comparisons needed to analyze polarization. A good example is Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), who, after his primary defeat last week, will have served in the Senate between 1977 and 2013. As David Karol points out, Lugar himself did not change very much over time: he was a reliable conservative who moved only somewhat towards the center during a 30-plus year career (from a DW-NOMINATE first dimension score of 0.348 to 0.241). DW-NOMINATE scores range (with slight simplification) from -1 to +1 or a band of two units. So in 30 years, Senator Lugar moved just five percent on the liberal-conservative dimension.1

For Lugar, what is more dramatic is the change in his ideological position relative to the Senate Republican Caucus. In his first term in Congress, Senator Lugar was the 23rd most moderate Republican in the Senate; in the most recent term (through 2011), he was the fifth most moderate. Even if he had maintained his freshman score of 0.341, he would still have been the 12th most moderate Republican in the 112th Congress. This repositioning occurred because almost every new cohort of Republican Senators has been more conservative than Senator Lugar. That fact is the basis for our claim that the Republican party has moved to the right.

Indeed, we find that contemporary polarization is not only real — the ideological distance between the parties has grown dramatically since the 1970s — but also that it is asymmetric — congressional Republicans have moved farther away from the center than Democrats during this period. In two figures below, we plot the mean first dimension DW-NOMINATE scores of the two parties in the House and Senate from 1879 to the present. Since the mid-1970s, Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats have moved to the left. This rightward shift is especially dramatic among House Republicans, from a mean of 0.22 in 1975 to 0.67 in 2012.

To be sure, political polarization is not entirely asymmetric. Congressional Democrats have moved slightly to the left during this period, but most of this is a product of the disappearance of conservative Southern “Blue Dog” Democrats. But the northern Democrats of the 1970s are ideologically indistinguishable from their present-day counterparts, with average scores around -0.4.

Though Democrats have not moved nearly as much to the left as the Republicans have to the right, they have also contributed to polarization, in our opinion, by embracing identity politics as a strategic tool. In Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Democrats advocated redistribution and regulation of business. These issues remain active to some extent, but with time emphasis has shifted to issues centered on race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual preference (Gerring 1998). This distinction, however, is not necessarily picked up in roll call voting. But it does represent an important rhetorical shift from the Roosevelt and Truman-era Democratic Party that likely worsens political and social divides. Nonetheless, we should be careful not to equate the two parties’ roles in contemporary political polarization: the data are clear that this is a Republican-led phenomenon where very conservative Republicans have replaced moderate Republicans and Southern Democrats.


The public policy consequences of polarization are immense. Bipartisan agreements to address looming issues like the budget deficits, spending on entitlement programs, and immigration are now almost impossible to reach. In contrast, during Ronald Reagan’s administration, about 40% of the members of Congress could be described as moderates. Reagan was thus able to forge major bipartisan agreements to cut taxes in 1981, raise taxes in 1982, fix Social Security (the Greenspan Commission) in 1983, and pass immigration reform (which included amnesty) and major tax simplification in 1986.

Baseball is pretty much the same as having sex, which is why boys shouldn't have to ever play girls in sport — or at least that's what some misogynistic religious nuts believe:
The baseball team from Mesa Preparatory Academy made it all the way to the finals of the Arizona Charter Athletic Association's tournament, where the Monsoons — and how cool is that, by the way? — were scheduled to meet Our Lady of Sorrows, a Catholic charter school from Phoenix that is run by the Society of St. Pius X, about which much, much more anon. As it happens, the Monsoons have a freshperson second baseperson named Paige Sultzbach, who is slick with the glove around the bag and who is also a female person. (Just for the record, Mesa's archery team is coed as well.) Paige was a softball player in junior high, but, because Mesa doesn't offer a girls' softball team, she tried out, and made, the boys' varsity baseball team, which is a formidable accomplishment for a 15-year-old. Her coaches and male teammates supported her, and good on them for doing that, too. This is the kind of story that makes celebrating the anniversary of Title IX worthwhile. Except that her opponents in the title game disagree, and they've dragged Jesus in as an accessory before the fact.


The most notable thing about the Society of St. Pius X is that they're a bunch of schismatics. Don't take my word for it. Hold a séance and talk to the late Pope Paul VI, who suspended the society's founder, renegade ultramontane French bishop Marcel Lefebvre, in 1975. Undaunted, Lefebvre consecrated four of the society's priests as bishops in 1988, earning him the not inconsiderable wrath of Pope John Paul II, who excommunicated him. The society is a radical rightist organization that has flirted not only with heresy, but with outright political fascism as well. Officials of the society have expressed support for, in no particular order, the French monarchy, the racist platform of Jean-Marie le Pen, and the Vichy government of the 1940s. One of the society's most prominent bishops, Richard Williamson, managed to put up a track record of public pronouncements that make Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps sound like Francis of Assisi.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Williamson is a raving nutball. Among his other charms, Williamson, who was one of the bishops whose 1988 consecration led to Lefebvre's excommunication, is a devoted Holocaust denier, telling a Swedish television station in 2009, "I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against, is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler." (He's also expressed his belief that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the ancient Czarist forgery that has ignited anti-Semitism for almost two centuries now, is an authentic document.) He also believes that The Sound of Music imperils souls because it "places friendliness and fun in the place of authority," and that the United States government brought down the towers itself on September 11, 2001.

And, of course, more directly relevant to why Paige Sultzbach didn't get to play for the championship of her league last week, the society is a bit batty on the subject of women. For example, Williamson has argued that a kind of satanic "modernism" entered the church during Vatican II and it has resulted in an increased freedom for women, which is where all this comes back again to Paige Sultzbach, standing out there at second base, waiting for opponents who have taken their theology and gone home.

Williamson is opposed to women attending college, working outside the home, and — I am not making this one up — wearing shorts. "A woman can do a good imitation of handling ideas, but then she will not be thinking properly as a woman," Williamson once said. "Did this lawyeress check her hairdo before coming into court? If she did, she is a distracted lawyer. If she did not, she is one distorted woman."

How Arizona saw fit to allow what is essentially an international anti-Semitic cult to operate a private school at all is probably a question for a later date. (Arizona is doing a lot of strange things these days.) Completely by accident, Paige and her teammates had found themselves caught in a dark, dank corner of reactionary Christianity, which admits no light, no warmth, only the cold, dead past, and which stinks of prejudice, decaying dogma, and the worst social offal of the 20th century. There's not a lick of Catholic doctrine that would forbid men and women from playing baseball against each other. There is nothing in the Gospels that would remotely touch upon the situation, and not even St. Paul, that censorious old blatherskite, said anything that can be stretched plausibly to forbid it, and people have been known to use Paul's Epistles like taffy to marshal their arguments.

Selective logging as conservation strategy.

Not all the fish are disappearing.

Little knowledge of fracking pollution, especially regarding the consequences for those living closest to drilling sites.

The promise and perils of smart grid technology.

Meanwhile, energy companies are worried they may be held accountable for the pollution they create.

America's most endangered rivers.

Summer is here (well, at least it is here in PHX where we're experiencing our first full week of 100+ degree weather): protect yourself.

No need to offer constitutionally-guaranteed protections to suspected terrorists, because that'd be rewarding them. Hell, why even bother with trials if we're going to declare the accused guilty before they've even been tried?

Federal marijuana policy ignores reality.

MSF isn't too fond of the Gates Foundation's global vaccination program.

PhDs on food stamps.

The politicized attack on poli sci.

More on political science funded by NSF.

The attack on political science is really an attack on social science. (h/t Monkey Cage)

Explaining the glut of state bans against gay marriage while public support of gay marriage is relatively strong.

A quick lesson in how much framing and context in journalism matter.

Wow, Jan Brewer decides signing into law yet another unconstitutional bill probably isn't a good idea.

Optimism and poverty traps.

50 years of government spending.

Guppy lust.

Elgin and Wilt go head-to-head.

A food truck goes minstrel show.

Taco history. (h/t Andrew)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's favorite music.

The Beastie Boys' Sabotage video as remade with children.

Stephin Merritt does a solo performance of one of his new Magnetic Fields tunes:

Heather's Happy Link Of The Day: British birds in Legos.

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