Monday, October 20, 2014


I put my classroom preparations on hold for a while this afternoon to see the movie Pride. The general plot based on real events: Back in 1984 Britain at the height of Margaret Thatcher's power the Welsh miners were on strike. A gay man in London tells his friends that the cops aren't beating on gays so much that summer because they're beating on miners. We need to help them. They do a good enough job with their help they are invited to the town that received their help. Of course, such a manly town as a miner town doesn't exactly welcome the gays and lesbians with open arms. Prejudices need to fall – and they do, though not all of them and not all at once. It is a delightful and humorous look at building an unlikely community. It is also quite well made with some intricate scenes that assume the audience will get it. The movie is in Royal Oak at least until Thursday and will likely appear in Ann Arbor. If you don't catch it on the big screen it will soon be available through Netflix or your local video store. I highly recommend it.

Back to getting ready for tomorrow's teaching.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Positive actions at my local church

My local church commissioned another pastor today. The important and wonderful story is told on my brother blog.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Arizona and Wyoming!

Another round of the status of same-sex marriage...

A judge in Wyoming said he would issue a ruling on Monday. It came out yesterday. The judge wrote that "Wyoming cannot deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples." The ruling is stayed until the four defendants say whether they will appeal. So far Gov. Matthew Mead says he will not, nor will Debra Lathrup, Laramie County Clerk. The other two are members of Mead's administration and should follow the boss's lead. Lifting the stay likely won't happen before Monday.

The 9th Circuit had put a temporary stay on the ruling in Alaska to permit time to appeal to the Supremes. The Supremes did not receive an appeal request so declined to extend the stay.

Magistrates in North Carolina were ordered to perform same-sex marriages as part of their duties. John Kallam, Magistrate of Rockingham County decided to resign instead.

The AG of Arizona admits all those court rulings that strike down same-sex marriage bans probably applies to his state too. But he won't allow marriages to happen until all the legal details are properly in place. But a district judge said there is no reason for delay because appeals to the 9th Circuit "would be futile." So get cracking. Marriages supposedly began yesterday.

I had an interesting thought today, though have no evidence to back it up. Suppose you were a judge on the 6th Circuit and really didn't like same-sex marriage. How could you prevent it, or at least slow it down? If you rule that bans are permissible those for equality will dash to the Supremes and would likely be heard. But what if you didn't rule at all? What if you just let the case sit on your desk? Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee can't do anything about equality until you act. So you accomplish your goal by not acting.

Ian Millhiser of Think Progress says there is a way the Supremes could rule against same-sex marriage. Before he gets to that he agrees the current set of justices have been very clear they won't stand in the way of marriage equality. There was that original refusal to hear cases at the start of the month (sheesh, only 11 days ago!) and consistent rulings since then to not continue stays and not hear appeals. Then Millhiser reminds us that rulings on same-sex marriage have a basis in the Constitution while that nasty Hobby Lobby case does not. So why haven't the justices ruled? Millhiser says that if these nine justices don't hand down a definitive decision then a later court could rule in the opposite way. We have three progressive justices age 76 and older and it is quite possible when any of them leave the court a conservative White House or Congress would push for a conservative justice. And our gains could be overruled.

Paul Waldman of The American Prospect says same-sex marriage could lead to major headaches for the GOP leading up to the 2016 elections. I like when the GOP has headaches. I've reported before that most members of the GOP have been mighty quiet about the Supreme Court ruling that started this month's flurry of activity (Ted Cruz the noisy exception).

But the first three GOP primaries are in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. There are likely no issues in NH, but the Iowa GOP still has a strong and active anti-gay component. I don't have to say much about SC. A candidate looking for an edge could proclaim his anti-gay credentials to make it an issue in the race. And if the party leaders try to change the subject the religious and Tea Party base might feel betrayed by elites "who are perfectly happy consorting with sodomites." Get out the popcorn. This could be an entertaining show (alas, damaging too).

A stunning rebuke

I've been reporting on the Catholic Synod being held at the Vatican. The final, approved statement has been released. This is the version the bishops vote on. Various paragraphs must pass with a 2/3 majority.

The outcome: all that wonderful language about gay people was not approved, losing by only six votes. Also not approved were paragraphs on divorce and remarriage.

The interim report had nice words about the "gifts and talents" that gay people can offer. There were words of welcome. And there was that wonderful phrase about being willing to sacrifice for a spouse. Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin says:
The new statement has none of that. It recognizes nothing about gay people or their children. In fact, it doesn’t recognize gays and lesbians at all, but rather restricts itself to addressing families who “live the experience of having members who are of homosexual orientation.” Which means it’s not even meant to address us. This is not just a full reversal from Monday’s statement, it’s not even as minimally positive as the mysteriously revised English mistranslation that was issued Thursday. This is more than just a backtrack. It’s a doubling down on the part of John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s appointed English-speaking bishops, and stunning rebuke of Pope Francis’s attempts to inject a small dose of humanity into the operation of the Church.
From The Economist

Even with all that the conservative National Catholic Register laments that the whole process has put out "weak and ambiguous" signals about where the church is headed.

What's next? Lots of discussion and a reconvening of the Synod next October. Between now and then one conservative cardinal will be sidelined and Francis will likely select new cardinals in February. The vote tally next fall may be different.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Rome officiated at 16 same-sex marriages. They won't be legal, but they are highly symbolic. And an overwhelming majority of young Catholics in America say homosexuality should be socially acceptable. Even a majority of Catholics over 65 agree.

Only one motivation

A week ago I wrote about the strict voter ID law in Wisconsin. At that time the Supremes put the law on hold for this election season, but didn't strike it down. The issue of its constitutionality was before the 7th Circuit. Though I don't have confirmation it sounds like it went before the standard 3 judge panel and was upheld. That panel at least said the stay on the law must be lifted (the stay the Supremes just reapplied).

One judge of the 7th Circuit, Richard Posner, took advantage of one of the rules of the court. Without the request of either parties of this particular case he asked for an en banc hearing by the full 7th Circuit. Ten judges voted whether that hearing should be granted. The vote was tied at 5-5, which meant the hearing was denied. Judge Posner wrote a dissent of that denial (copy through this link). His four voting partners signed on.

That dissent, like the one Posner wrote to overturn the same-sex marriage ban, eviscerates the claims the GOP made when they passed the voter ID law and stomps all over the opinions of the judges who voted to not hear the case.

The dissent doesn't do anything at the moment. The law still stands and is still stayed until the November election is over. But this document is important for two big reasons. First, Posner approved Indiana's voter ID law in 2008, which went on to be confirmed by the Supremes. Yes, he changed his mind about voter ID laws and did so based on more evidence. Second, Posner handed those pushing for wide voter access a comprehensive rebuttal that can be used when this case goes to the Supremes. And the Supremes know to read rulings from Posner very carefully.

I read through the 30 pages of the ruling. Here is my summary of the arguments:

Wisconsin's law is much more severe than Indiana's. The types of IDs permitted form a smaller list. The documentation required to get an ID is greater. The list of those who can vote without an ID is shorter. The number of citizens without an ID is much larger, and many who don't have an ID also don't have the backup documentation. The length of time to come up with an ID when challenged at the polling place is much shorter – 3 days instead of 10.

Those who favor the voter ID law say there aren't that many people who tried to vote and were turned away. Posner says that didn't count those who wanted to vote, but decided the obstacles were insurmountable and didn't bother trying.

The district court listed some of those obstacles: It is difficult (especially for a poor person) to find what the required documents are. To get to the DMV one must go during business hours and claim a vacation day or suffer lost wages to do so. If one doesn't have a license one must, of course, rely on the vagaries of public transport and pay for that cost. If any of the underlying documents are not at hand the whole business of lost wages and transport costs is repeated to find and deal with each gov't agency. If those original documents, such as a birth certificate, must be obtained from another state, it may take weeks for the document to arrive. If there is a discrepancy between any of the documents then more time off work and more transport costs will be needed to straighten out the mess. Those who, because of poverty, race, or language (all categories not likely to vote GOP), are uncomfortable dealing with gov't officials are less likely to endure the process of getting documents.

Expenses for fees, travel, and lost work can be about $75 to $175, far greater (even adjusted for inflation) than the $1.50 poll tax outlawed in 1964.

Several citizens testified to the difficulty of getting a birth certificate, especially if they are elderly. What to do if the state of birth lost the certificate? What if the birth wasn't properly registered? The last 10 pages of the ruling are copies of forms that might be needed to request, and perhaps find, a birth certificate.

Proponents say 22% of eligible voters don't register (which doesn't require ID). They must not want to vote. Fine. But not wanting to vote does not describe the 9% of registered voters without ID.

There are several types of vote fraud: voter impersonation, electorate manipulation (gerrymandering and laws that prevent voting), voter intimidation, vote buying, misinformation (advertising the wrong election day or polling place), misleading ballots (see Florida in 2000), ballot stuffing, misrecording of votes, misuse of proxy votes, destruction of ballots, tampering with voting machines (which is why my city has us vote on paper, which is tallied by machine). The voter ID law deals only with voter impersonation (and it seems to me the GOP is actively engaging in many of the other types of fraud).

The evidence of voter impersonation fraud is extremely rare. The effect of a voter ID law means a large number of people who will probably vote Democratic are discouraged from voting. This is Posner's basic point.

Requiring a voter ID is supposed to prevent non-citizens from voting. Nope. Non-citizens are given drivers licenses too. That puts a big hole in the effectiveness of preventing voter impersonation.

Posner goes through the list of states who have enacted voter ID laws. Those with the strictest laws have the GOP in control of the state House and Senate and all but one have a GOP governor. Most of the other states with such laws are also controlled by the GOP.

Evidence of voter impersonation fraud "is downright goofy, if not paranoid" and rarely exists. Even Fox News says there isn't much evidence. A journalism consortium found only 10 cases since 2000 out of 146 million voters. One is a dozen times more likely to be struck by lightning.

The incentive for someone to engage in voter impersonation fraud is low (the incentive to vote, never mind impersonate, is low – see stats on voter turnout), so even a modest penalty strongly discourages the crime. Only a massive campaign will sway most elections and those are too risky for politicians considering the costs of bribes to make it worthwhile for voters.

Proponents of the law say getting a photo ID is no big deal because one is needed to fly, pick up a prescription, open a bank account, buy a gun, or enter a courthouse. Some courthouses do require ID, but the Supreme Court building does not. As for the others, not true (besides, poor people don't fly). But in the same paragraph is the claim that an ID is easy to get and that 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin don't have one. So, they are lazy?

Voter ID laws don't increase the confidence of an election leading to increased turnout. That would only happen if voters believe the law actually reduces fraud. A state with a law that reduces fraud implies that in states without the law fraud is rampant – or there is some unusual compulsion in Wisconsin.

The panel of proponent judges are not bothered by an absence of evidence. It appears to be enough that the legislation says there is a problem. "In so saying, the panel conjures up a fact-free cocoon in which to lodge the federal judiciary. … If the Wisconsin legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?"

The conclusion:
There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter-impersonation fraud, if there is no actual danger of such fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.