Signs and Wonders
A cross made of stones rests below the fence in Laramie, Wyo. where Matthew Shepard was tied and pistol whipped into a coma.
Associated Press/Photo by Ed Andrieski
A cross made of stones rests below the fence in Laramie, Wyo. where Matthew Shepard was tied and pistol whipped into a coma.

Signs and Wonders: Rethinking the hate crime that launched the gay-rights movement

Newsworthy

Not a hate crime? The murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 became a cause célèbre for homosexual activists who said Shepherd’s murderers targeted him because he was gay. Now comes a new book saying Shepard and his murderers partied together, had sex together, and used drugs together. The Book of Matt, out next week to coincide (more or less) with the 15th anniversary of the murder, is causing buzz because the writer is himself gay and a credible investigative reporter. One of the more interesting reviews of the book came from gay journalist Andrew Sullivan: “If you’re going to base a civil rights movement on one particular incident, and the mythology about a particular incident, you’re asking for trouble, because events are more complicated than most politicians or most activists want them to be.” Precisely.

No debt ceiling negotiations? President Barack Obama said on Sunday that he was not going to allow Republicans to use the debt ceiling as a leverage point to delay or defund Obamacare. The current debt ceiling is $16.7 billion, and if it is not raised by early October, portions of the government may have to shut down. “What I haven’t been willing to negotiate, and I will not negotiate, is on the debt ceiling,” Obama said in an interview with the ABC News show This Week. “What has never happened in the past was the notion that—in exchange for—fulfilling the full faith and credit of the United States, that we are wiping away, let’s say major legislation, like the healthcare bill,” he continued. That is, of course, a false statement. Lots of laws get passed that are never fully funded, or funded at all. Every debt ceiling negotiation is a negotiation over that very question. As the old Washington saying goes: “You can’t take the politics out of politics.” Negotiations are part of the process. But it seems that this increasingly imperial president not only wants to take the politics out of politics, he wants to take democracy out of it as well.

Red flags at FERC. Two conservative groups are sounding the alarm about Ron Binz, President Obama’s choice to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the subject of a Senate hearing yesterday. According to a new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Colorado-based Independence Institute, Binz pushed the boundaries of regulatory authority and increased government oversight when he was chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) from 2007 to 2011. Amy Oliver Cooke, director of the Energy Policy Center at the Independence Institute, said, “His legacy at the Colorado PUC is littered with controversy, including an ethics violation, a scathing state auditor’s report, corporate welfare, and disregard for consumer costs.” Such appointments, and the political machinations around them, sometimes cause our eyes to glaze over, but it’s important to remember—as Ronald Reagan famously said—that “personnel is policy.” Such appointments have a huge impact on how our government is run. FERC, in particular, is an interesting body. It funds itself from the fees it generates from the industries it regulates. And those industries are huge, virtually the entire non-nuclear energy infrastructure of the United States, including oil, gas, and hydroelectricity.

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Momento mori. Tertulian, in his Apologeticus, wrote, “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!” Translated: “Look behind you! Remember that you are a man! Remember that you’ll die!” So on this day, I remember notable deaths. Musician, songwriter, and activist Rich Mullins died 16 years ago tomorrow. Mullins is best known for his worship hit “Awesome God,” but he was a virtuoso on the hammer dulcimer and a contrarian voice in the Christian music scene. At the time of his death in a car accident, he was living in a hogan in New Mexico, teaching Navajo children. He turned the financial proceeds of his music career over to his church, which paid Mullins a modest salary. The rest went to charity. Also on this day, I remember the Battle of Antietam, which took place on Sept. 17, 1862—151 years ago today. Despite all that has happened since, it remains the single bloodiest day in American military history, with 22,717 dead, wounded, and missing on both sides. Though the battle was inconclusive, the Confederates left the field. President Abraham Lincoln claimed it as a victory, and issued his Emancipation Proclamation. Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation discouraged the British and French governments from plans to recognize the Confederacy, thereby changing the course of the war.

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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