Saturday, April 19, 2014

Arc of the moral universe

Says Rachel Maddow, using a line from Martin Luther King:
Sometimes the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. But you know what? Sometimes the arc of the moral universe runs around like a chicken with its head cut off.
She bases that conclusion on two stories that appeared on the same day. I already mentioned one of them -- Louisiana choosing to keep its unenforceable sodomy law.

The other story is about Charles Cooper. A year ago he was the lead lawyer before the Supremes arguing that Calif. should be allowed to keep its same-sex marriage ban. This year he is helping his daughter plan her lesbian wedding. Yep, his opinion has changed.

The video is under five minutes.

Leading the defense will be …

On April 23 US District Judge Michael McShane will hear the case challenging Oregon's ban on same-sex marriages. But the defense table will be empty.

* Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum won't be there. She filed a brief saying, "This case presents that rare case in which there simply is no legal argument to be made in support of a state law."

* The governor or any other state officer won't be there.

* No outside anti-gay group will be there. The Supremes decided the Calif. case last summer by saying outside groups don't have standing to appeal. So why get involved if they can't pursue an appeal? They didn't even file briefs laying out their position. That's perhaps because they no longer have the resources to devote to a lost cause -- they want to use their dwindling resources to overturn public accommodation laws (see Arizona).

The judge did get lots of briefs -- from Oregon businesses saying the ban was bad for business.

Now some judges might feel free to impose their own opinion on the case, someone like Antonin Scalia, for example.

But not this judge. He's gay. Yes, a gay federal judge. Judge McShane did tell the attorneys in the case he'd be willing to step aside if anyone was uncomfortable with him being gay. But nobody expressed any concerns. Then again, there weren't any attorneys for the anti-gay side.

Of course, anti-gays from other states will complain about the activist gay judge. Too bad.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Big consequences that I can't prove

The Oklahoma marriage equality case was before the 10th Circuit Court yesterday. The state had declared that allowing same-sex couples to marry "harms the government’s interest in creating stable families and cared for children." One of the judges on the case demanded the state prove it. The attorney for the state said it isn't the government's responsibility to show the harm. Quite the dodge. The judge persisted. The attorney replied there are "real world consequences" but "no one knows the long-term effects." Translation: The most horrible things are going to happen and we can't prove any of it, nor do we have to. Which means they're in the same situation as this guy.

The Arkansas same-sex marriage ban has been before the judge. He says he will rule within two weeks. The plaintiff attorney is feeling pretty good. Since the Windsor case last summer, the one that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, there have been 18 cases at the state and federal level that ruled in favor of equality. The attorney for the state said that ruling only applies to federal laws and did not block states from defining marriage as they wish. He is correct, but he misses the point.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Take it to the square

I'm not sure why I did not get a paper version of The Washington Spectator this month. It's only now, half way through the month, that I've gotten around to reading it online. The article that caught my attention is a review of the book The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right by Lee Fang. The review is written by Samir Chopra so most of the quotes are of Chopra's words. This book is a thorough review of the relentless takeover of American society and politics by the Koch brothers.

Chopra starts off by confirming the actions of the Koch brothers and their puppet GOP are all about Power.
The modern Republican Party supposedly suffers from ideological confusion. It is for the regulation of gay marriage and reproductive rights; it is against the regulation of industrial pollution, healthcare insurance, and workplace safety. It is for the reduced power of the executive branch, except when it comes to spying on Americans and declaring war. It is for the religious freedom of Christian evangelicals but not Muslim Americans. These seemingly disparate platforms actually display a coherent unity: the American Right is committed to preserving all hierarchy and imposed order: men over women, white over black, rich over poor, bosses over workers, Christian majorities over Muslim minorities. This love of hierarchy, of entrenched power, is manifest in the most visible face of opposition to the Obama Presidency: the Tea Party and the new crop of Republican representatives it has sent to Congress.
The rest of the review -- and the whole of the book -- delve into how the Koch brothers have thoroughly derailed Obama's agenda and voter mandate. Distressing reading, and perhaps a guidebook on how they might be resisted. I'll only mention one more item.
Fang shows how the Tea Party never was, or is, a grassroots phenomenon; its birth is found in the tobacco industry’s resistance to government regulation, packaged in a verbal and visual co-optation of the language and symbols of the Boston Tea Party. Indeed, every instance of supposed bottoms-up Tea Party activism is shown to be corporate funded and organized to advance a corporate agenda, whether in pursuing tax breaks or derailing climate change legislation.
Yes, distressing. Add to that Nate Silver's prediction that the Senate will likely flip to GOP this November and I'm feeling glum. I'm also thinking about how this might play out. So a prediction -- with the warning that you have no reason to trust my fractured and cloudy crystal ball, especially since I fear I'm right yet hope I'm wrong.

So, the Senate flips to GOP. That means at the national level absolutely nothing gets done in the next two years. Anything Congress gets past a Dem filibuster and passes Obama vetoes and Congress won't have the votes to override. Anything Obama proposes is severely criticized and ignored. I know this isn't all that different than what is happening now (though there was that bipartisan budget deal not long ago).

Which leads us to what comes after the 2016 election. The House will stay GOP -- it is too gerrymandered to change. Will enough Dem voters (the ones who tend not to vote in midterm elections) be enough to flip the Senate back to Dem? We're likely to get a Dem president. Will he or she be as hobbled as Obama? Will the takeover be so complete that it won't matter? Strange that this prediction has more questions than answers.

A second Washington Spectator article is about Art Pope, North Carolina's local equivalent to the Koch brothers. Pope sprinkled enough money around politicians that he got himself appointed as the state budget director. Which means if you annoy him he defunds you. That is what is happening to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill because they are teaching economic theories that Pope disapproves of. Yup, another Power. As expected, Pope is working to discredit the Moral Monday protests. Thankfully, that work is backfiring.

A third Washington Spectator article is written by Gigi Ibrahim and is about the new documentary The Square by Jehane Noujaim. It is about Egypt's rough road after the Tahrir Square protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak three years ago. Ibrahim reminds us:
The Square returns us to Tahrir and the beginning of a revolution that not only inspired other revolutions in the Arab world in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria, but the entire world: Wisconsin, Trafalgar Square, Catalonia Square, Syntagma Square, Zuccotti Park and most recently the Maidan in Kiev.
Ibrahim concludes by saying:
Squares are not just physical places. They are an idea that becomes a state of mind. One of the lessons we must learn is that unless Tahrir is taken to our cities, councils, factories, universities, where alternative systems of democratic power can be organized and nurtured, then the idea of a revolution in a public square may become our very own limitation to freedom.
Will Americans take to the Square? We did in Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street. Though we now talk about the 1% those protests didn't accomplish much.

Another prediction: If we take it to the Square it will be because too many Americans have so little prospect and hope they have nothing to lose. It will likely get bloody. It certainly won't end well.

Will you see me in the Square? Right now I’m sitting pretty good with a comfortable retirement. But I can see the squeeze on the middle class could get to the point where it affects me. The last economic mess sucked a lot of value out of the poor and handed it to the rich. Another such downturn could possibly wipe out my pension and savings, leaving me with nothing to lose.

If the Square becomes a big part of American life, I plan to be there, whether or not my savings crashed. I have much more empathy with the poor and with justice than I would have with the 1%.

An unenforceable law has its uses

Malta has passed a civil unions law! This is significant because Malta is highly Catholic.

I had reported that Peter LeBarbara of Americans for Truth About Homosexualty was detained at the Canadian border while they decided whether the brochures and books he was carrying amounted to hate speech.

Well, LaBarbara did go on to his speaking gig at the University of Regina. Apparently, they had a change of heart (or maybe he wasn't exactly invited in the first place) and asked him and a colleague to leave. They refused to go and were arrested.

They were released and had time to visit another university. Instead they cut their visit short to return to Chicago. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin suspects LaBarbara was ready to play the martyr card for his cause, but then "decided that the martyr thing was more fun in theory than in practice."

Eleven years ago the Supremes ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional. At the time there were only 13 states that used such laws to criminalize private consensual gay sex. Not many states actually repealed those laws. And last summer Louisiana showed why.

Even though the sodomy law was unenforceable, it was the reason behind an entrapment campaign last summer near Baton Rouge. Sheriff deputies propositioned men. When the victim agreed to private consensual sex, they were arrested. The purpose was, of course, intimidation.

So a legislator introduced a bill to remove the law. No go. By a large majority the state House voted to keep a discriminatory yet unenforceable law.