Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wannabe


T
here are reports that Kevin W. Blier first appeared on the conservative political scene in New Hampshire as a would-be Young Republican leader whose colleagues found had a style that they couldn't quite stomach, even in a Republican. So much so that when it looked as though he had the votes in a multi-candidate race to take a vice-chairmanship, an opponent backed out to throw his support (and votes) to a more rational choice. A few years later Blier took on his present role at The Center for American Cultural Renewal/ Vermont Renewal as its Director and Director of Communications.


Before Blier's arrival there The Center for American Cultural Renewal had staked it's claim as a resource for extremists among Vermont's evangelical Christians, as well as an umbrella organization to assist like-minded bigots in advancing their common exclusionary agenda. Their website is a collection of familiar propaganda from the religious right. Modeled after much more successful anti-gay organizations but every bit their equal in promoting vitriol and hatred by circulating misinformation in a fashion that is now de rigeur among racist and anti-Semetic organizations on the far right.


While at a adjunct seminar to a CPAC conference that Blier attended earlier this year he gave this unsurprisingly bloated assessment of he and his organization's effectiveness on the Vermont political scene:
"My name is Kevin Blier, the director for an organization out of Vermont called (T)he Center for American Cultural Renewal. Let me just say because our operation works out of Vermont, we are working out of the belly of the beast. And a lot of what we are trying to accomplish is competing in the world of ideas in that state and in other states where others are operating in the belly of the beast. Let me just – if I could – bring one military analogy to something that Stephen Moore mentioned not only in his writing but also in his public statements here: the issue of think tanks versus do tanks. And I don’t necessarily think they are in a “versus” type of thing. But let me just make the suggestion that there isn’t anybody in this room who would look at a $400 billion military budget and say let’s send it all to the Pentagon and just pay generals. And what I mean by that is, I look around the room at the people – a lot of the leadership in this room and a lot of the people at this roundtable – and say, these are the people who are part of the intellectual conservative movement who have a lot of great ideas. I think what we don’t do enough of is fund the boots on the ground. And if we want to – if it’s a war for territory – let’s say if it is a culture war – and we’re trying to take territory, we don’t take territory by just having generals come up with great ideas. I think we need to do more focus on having the boots on the ground if we are going to win battles. And I just wanted to throw that out there to those of you who are looking to fund organizations that are going to take ground."


Such repetitive use of self-aggrandizing military metaphors usually is the hallmark of a Republican chickenhawk type of wannabe. No wonder Blier's group touts its endorsement by another Republican chickenhawk, Bill Bennett. Blier's record is one of failures and his failures are beginning to mount up: a failed attempt to unseat Vermont Supreme Court Justice Denise Johnson; a failed attempt to oust Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley; a failed lawsuit aimed at altering a legislative tradition outside of the normal rules making process (what part of losing the November 2004 election does Blier not understand?); and his endless kvetching aimed at gaining some primacy to his hardcore, reactionary views on the editorial page of the Rutland Herald. Despite what he says about his group being a "do tank", he's accummulating the record of a "doesn't do so much tank" that consists primarily of failed efforts and overblown press releases.


If Blier ever expects his organization to ever be taken seriously here in Vermont, he should consider deleting from his website links to groups like the Family Research Council that rely heavily on the "research" of the Family Research Institute, led by de-licensed Dr. Paul Cameron, who had been found by a court to have "made misrepresentations" in his research claims. Even more disturbing is the fact that the Family Research Institute has been identified as a known hate group by the respected Southern Poverty Law Center. It probably wouldn't hurt to also delete references from his site to a certified screwball, "Dr" Judith Reisman the "discoverer" of Erototoxins. Hard to "take ground" when your intelligence comes from sources that the court has found to have lied, are identified as a hate group by an organization that normally tracks the Klan and Nazis, or that are just plain flaky.



What do fellow GOP conservatives say about The Center for American Cultural Renewal? "...(A)n organization with no Washington presence and little clout with social conservatives outside Vermont where it is based."



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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Little History...


T
he Center for American Cultural Renewal (cfacr.org), or Vermont Renewal as it is sometimes known, is the offspring of an earlier, little known group called "Who Would Have Thought?" that was founded by the hard-core religious right activists Stephen Cable and Judith Sargent at the time that the Civil Unions Act was approved by the Vermont state legislature.


Stephen Cable, a Rutland, VT     (right) insurance agent, had been around for years. He is best known for angry, insistent "letters to the editor" that espoused unproven theories and opinions on human sexuality, with an oddly obsessive focus on gay sex. His spurious contentions about gays are based on "research" from very discredited sources such as Paul Cameron of the Family Rearch Council and the always entertaining Judith Reisman. (More on the notorious Cameron and the bizarre yet powerful FRC, as well as the slanderous bigot Reisman, in future posts).


Some say that Cable has had earlier personal connections to notoriously unsuccessful "ex-gay ministries" but certainly at his cfacr.org site we can see that he touts the work of these frauds now. Practicing what is called "reparative therapy" these groups programs have been roundly condemned by the American Psychiatric Association , the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of Social Workers. These groups, along with the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the American School Health Association, the Interfaith Alliance Foundation and the National Education Association put out the following statement more than 15 years ago:
The most important fact about 'reparative therapy,' also sometimes known as 'conversion' therapy, is that it is based on an understanding of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major health and mental health professions. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers, together representing more than 477,000 health and mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus there is no need for a 'cure.' ...health and mental health professional organizations do not support efforts to change young people's sexual orientation through 'reparative therapy' and have raised serious concerns about its potential to do harm.

The decision by the Vermont Supreme Court in Baker v. Vermont upset activists like Cable so much that he and his group urged the legislature to defy the Court. Anti-gay activists cared little about the effect that such a constitutionally dumb act would have had. They dismissed the recognition by the legislature of marriage being preserved for male-female couples. Like white supremacists in the 60's fearing the results of the US Supreme Court's decision in Loving v Virginia that struck down Virginia's anti-miscegenation law, Vermont's anti-gay activists like Cable based much of their argument on purported biblical prohibitions, misinformation and an appeal to the baser instincts of some Vermonters.


Cable and the other groups goal was then, and remains today, the institutionalization and state sanction of discrimination, supported by their own peculiar religious beliefs, with the ultimate goal to be the complete breakdown of church and state separation, leading to a state level (if not national) theocracy. To that end these activists pursued a narrow agenda in 2000, primarily that of driving from the state legislature those who had voted for Civil Unions and advocating for the removal from the Court of those justices that had affirmed the Baker decision. They were partly, although only briefly, successful. They, along with other groups that had fundamentalist or evangelical connections, like TIP (Take It To The People) and a group calling itself Take Back Vermont (Funny story here: The "Take Back Vermont" crowd failed to register the tradename "Take Back Vermont." Two Ferrisburg, VT women, sensing an entrepreneurial opportunity, registered the name for their Vermont-made products company. Succeeding groups like Vermont Renewal have learned from that lesson and are quite diligent about their "brands," so much so that they've left quite the paper trail), were able to see that 17 of the legislators who had voted for the Civil Unions Act were ousted in the November 2000 election. Most, if not all of the anti-civil union replacements that they supported or sponsored, had short careers due to the limited scope of their agenda. A successful legislator needed to be more than against something. The legislature is back to normal now and, despite the dire predictions of the anti-civil union forces, the sky has not fallen.


During this period Vermonters learned something about what other parts of the country had been going through in the name of religious intolerance. Fundamentalist cranks of all stripes showed up. Extremists like Randall Terry took up residence in the state. He was acclaimed and fêted by local anti-civil union activists like Rep. Nancy Sheltra (R-Newport). He was every bit as nasty as his reputation suggests and ironically, while working hard to deny Vermont lesbians and gays of their right to spousal benefits, he had just been censured by his church, the Landmark Church of Binghamton, New York, for a "pattern of repeated and sinful relationships and conversations with both single and married women." (Washington Post, February 12, 2000) Terry has since dumped his wife (not a very Christian a thing to do!) and has re-married to a former staffer.
"I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good...Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism."
— Randall Terry as quoted at an anti-abortion rally in Fort Wayne, Indiana by the Fort Wayne News Sentinel, August 16, 1993


More on Cable, his associates and many misrepresentations in the future.

Next up: Kevin Blier.



"What do fellow GOP conservatives say about The Center for American Cultural Renewal? "...(A)n organization with no Washington presence and little clout with social conservatives outside Vermont where it is based."


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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Is Homophobia a Mental Disorder?


P
erhaps.

Increasingly, the study of study of biases such as racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia are being encouraged in the mental health research community. Recognizing that we are all biased in some fashion the question then becomes, when do ordinary human prejudices acquire a pathological feature? All people experience sadness as an emotion. That is not a disorder. Major depression is a disorder. So how are we to view organized, delusion groups that advance a homophobic or racist agenda? Can we find instances where these groups, who often claim no association, by necessity cross paths? During the coming weeks and months, we at Blier Watch will be examining these delusions, assertions and connections, with a focus on the group that calls itself "The Center for American Cultural Renewal."

To begin, here's a piece just published in the Washington Post:
Psychiatry Ponders Whether Extreme Bias Can Be an Illness
By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 10, 2005

The 48-year-old man turned down a job because he feared that a co-worker would be gay. He was upset that gay culture was becoming mainstream and blamed most of his personal, professional and emotional problems on the gay and lesbian movement.

These fixations preoccupied him every day. Articles in magazines about gays made him agitated. He confessed that his fears had left him socially isolated and unemployed for years: A recovering alcoholic, the man even avoided 12-step meetings out of fear he might encounter a gay person.

"He had a fixed delusion about the world," said Sondra E. Solomon, a psychologist at the University of Vermont who treated the man for two years. "He felt under attack, he felt threatened."

Mental health practitioners say they regularly confront extreme forms of racism, homophobia and other prejudice in the course of therapy, and that some patients are disabled by these beliefs. As doctors increasingly weigh the effects of race and culture on mental illness, some are asking whether pathological bias ought to be an official psychiatric diagnosis.

Advocates have circulated draft guidelines and have begun to conduct systematic studies. While the proposal is gaining traction, it is still in the early stages of being considered by the professionals who decide on new diagnoses.

If it succeeds, it could have huge ramifications on clinical practice, employment disputes and the criminal justice system. Perpetrators of hate crimes could become candidates for treatment, and physicians would become arbiters of how to distinguish "ordinary prejudice" from pathological bias.

Several experts said they are unsure whether bias can be pathological. Solomon, for instance, is uncomfortable with the idea. But they agreed that psychiatry has been inattentive to the effects of prejudice on mental health and illness.

"Has anyone done a word search for 'racism' in DSM-IV? It doesn't exist," said Carl C. Bell, a Chicago psychiatrist, referring to psychiatry's manual of mental disorders. "Has anyone asked, 'If you have paranoia, do you project your hostility toward other groups?' The answer is 'Hell, no!' "

The proposed guidelines that California psychologist Edward Dunbar created describe people whose daily functioning is paralyzed by persistent fears and worries about other groups. The guidelines have not been endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM); advocates are mostly seeking support for systematic study.

Darrel A. Regier, director of research at the psychiatric association, said he supports research into whether pathological bias is a disorder. But he said the jury is out on whether a diagnostic classification would add anything useful, given that clinicians already know about disorders in which people rigidly hold onto false beliefs.

"If you are going to put racism into the next edition of DSM, you would have enormous criticism," Regier said. Critics would ask, " 'Are you pathologizing all of life?' You better be prepared to defend that classification."

"I think it's absurd," said Sally Satel, a psychiatrist and the author of "PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine." Satel said the diagnosis would allow hate-crime perpetrators to evade responsibility by claiming they suffered from a mental illness. "You could use it as a defense."

Psychiatrists who advocate a new diagnosis, such as Gary Belkin, deputy chief of psychiatry at New York's Bellevue Hospital, said social norms play a central role in how all psychiatric disorders are defined. Pedophilia is considered a disorder by psychiatrists, Belkin noted, but that does not keep child molesters from being prosecuted.

"Psychiatrists who are uneasy with including something like this in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual need to get used to the fact that the whole manual reflects social context," said Belkin, who is planning to launch a study on pathological bias among patients at his hospital. "That is true of depression on down. Pathological bias is no more or less scientific than major depression."

Advocates for the new diagnosis also say most candidates for treatment, such as the man Solomon treated, are not criminals or violent offenders. Rather, they are like the young woman in Los Angeles who thought Jews were diseased and would infect her -- she carried out compulsive cleansing rituals and hit her head to drive away her obsessions. She realized she needed help but was afraid her therapist would be Jewish, said Dunbar, a Los Angeles psychologist who has amassed several case studies and treated several dozen patients for racial paranoia and other forms of what he considers pathological bias.

Another patient was a waiter so hostile to black people that he flung plates on the table when he served black patrons and got fired from multiple jobs.

A third patient was a Vietnam War veteran who was so fearful of Asians that he avoided social situations where he might meet them, Dunbar said.

"When I see someone who won't see a physician because they're Jewish, or who can't sit in a restaurant because there are Asians, or feels threatened by homosexuals in the workplace, the party line in mental health says, 'This is not our problem,' " the psychologist said. "If it's not our problem, whose problem is it?"

Opponents say making pathological bias a diagnosis raises the specter of social engineering -- brainwashing individuals who do not fit society's norms. But Dunbar and others say patients with disabling levels of prejudice should be treated for the same reason as are patients with any other disorder: They would feel, live and function better.

"They are delusional," said Alvin F. Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who has long advocated such a diagnosis. "They imagine people are going to do all kinds of bad things and hurt them, and feel they have to do something to protect themselves.

"When they reach that stage, they are very impaired," he said. "They can't work and function; they can't hold a job. They would benefit from treatment of some type, particularly medication."

Doctors who treat inmates at the California State Prison outside Sacramento concur: They have diagnosed some forms of racist hatred among inmates and administered antipsychotic drugs.

"We treat racism and homophobia as delusional disorders," said Shama Chaiken, who later became a divisional chief psychologist for the California Department of Corrections, at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. "Treatment with antipsychotics does work to reduce these prejudices."

* * *

Amid a profusion of recent studies into the nature of prejudice, researchers have found that biases are very common. Almost everyone harbors what might be termed "ordinary prejudice," the research indicates.

Anthony Greenwald, a psychologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Mahzarin R. Banaji, a psychologist at Harvard, developed tests for such biases. By measuring the speed with which people make mental associations, the psychologists found that biases affect even those who actively resist them.

"When things are more strongly paired in our minds, we can respond to them more quickly," Banaji said. "Large numbers of Americans cannot as swiftly make the association between 'black' and 'good' as they can between 'white' and 'good.' "

Similarly, psychologist Margo Monteith at the University of Kentucky in Lexington found that people can have prejudices against groups they know nothing about. She administered a test in which volunteers, under time pressure, had to associate a series of words with either "America" or a fictitious country she called "Marisat."

Volunteers more easily associated Marisat with such words as "poison," "death" and "evil," while associating America with "sunrise," "paradise" and "loyal."

"A large part of our self-esteem derives from our group membership," Monteith said. "To the extent we can feel better about our group relative to other groups, we can feel good about ourselves. It's likely a built-in mechanism."

If biases are so common, many doctors ask, can racism really be a mental illness?

"I don't think racism is a mental illness, and that's because 100 percent of people are racist," said Paul J. Fink, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association. "If you have a diagnostic category that fits 100 percent of people, it's not a diagnostic category."

But Poussaint said there is a difference between ordinary prejudice and pathological bias -- the same distinction that psychiatrists make between sadness and depression. All people experience sadness, anxiety and fear, but extreme, disabling forms of these emotions are called disorders.

While people with ordinary prejudice try very hard to conceal their biases, Solomon said, her homophobic patient had no embarrassment about his attitude toward gays. Dunbar said people with pathological prejudice often lack filtering capabilities. As a result, he said, they face problems at work and home.

"Everyone is inculcated with stereotypes and biases with cultural issues, but some individuals not only hold beliefs that are very rigid, but they are part of a psychological problem," Dunbar said.

The psychologist said he has helped such patients with talk therapy, which encourages patients to question the basis for their beliefs, and by steering them toward medications such as antipsychotics.

The woman with the bias against Jews did not overcome her prejudice, Dunbar said, but she learned to control her fear response in social settings. The patient with hostility against African Americans realized his beliefs were "stupid."

Solomon discovered she was most effective dealing with the homophobic man when she was nonjudgmental. When he claimed there were more gays and lesbians than ever before, she presented him with data showing there was no such shift.

At those times, she reported in a case study, the patient would say, "I know, I know." He would recognize that he was not being logical, but then get angry and return to the same patterns of obsession. Solomon did not identify the man because of patient confidentiality.

Standing in the central yard of the maximum-security California State Prison with inmates exercising around her, Chaiken explained how she distinguished pathological bias from ordinary prejudice: A prisoner who belonged to a gang with racist views might express such views to fit in with his gang, but if he continues "yelling racial slurs, assaulting others when it's clear there is no benefit" after he leaves the gang, the behavior was no longer "adaptive."

Prison officials declined to identify inmates who had been treated, or make them available for interviews.

Chicago psychiatrist Bell said he has not made up his mind on whether bias can be pathological. But in proposing a research agenda for the next edition of psychiatry's DSM of mental disorders, Bell and researchers from the Mayo Clinic, McGill University, the University of California at Los Angeles and other academic institutions wrote: "Clinical experience informs us that racism may be a manifestation of a delusional process, a consequence of anxiety, or a feature of an individual's personality dynamics."

The psychiatrists said their profession has neglected the issue: "One solution would be to encourage research that seeks to delineate the validity and reliability of racism as a symptom and to investigate the possibility of including it in some diagnostic criteria sets in future editions of DSM."

Groups like The Center for American Cultural Renewal frequently cite the work of supposedly scientific sources. We'll examine their sources. If the sources are not scientific, but are the work of equally delusional bigots, is it not like the prison gang prejudices that reinforce their biases in a purportedly fact-based way that really is nothing more than a validation of the group paranoia/bias?

Hopefully we'll conduct this examination in an informative and at times lighthearted way. We'll leave humorlessness to the folks at The Center for American Cultural Renewal.



"What do fellow GOP conservatives say about The Center for American Cultural Renewal? "...(A)n organization with no Washington presence and little clout with social conservatives outside Vermont where it is based."


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Friday, December 02, 2005

UNDER CONSTRUCTION


T
his site is a grassroots effort dedicated to examining the shenanigans, as well as connecting some of dots, of the hate-mongers over at The Center for American Cultural Renewal/Vermont Renewal. The opening date is expected to be during the coming holidays.





What do fellow GOP conservatives say about The Center for American Cultural Renewal? "...(A)n organization with no Washington presence and little clout with social conservatives outside Vermont where it is based."


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