Thursday, September 18, 2014

6000 IDs a day

Two weeks ago I wrote about the voter-ID law in Georgia and the data that shows it is discriminatory. A few days later I had lunch with my friend and debate partner. He talked about advocacy groups that would not let such discrimination stand.

Suits by advocacy groups were indeed brought against the voter-ID law in Wisconsin. Alas, the 7th Circuit just ruled that the stay against the law must be lifted. The report on NPR doesn't go into the ruling. Instead, it discusses the chaos such a ruling has 50 days before an election. For instance, absentee ballots have been sent out, but they won't be counted unless the requester returns to the city clerk's office and shows an ID. How are those voters going to be told that is a necessary step?

I went searching for other sources, trying to get some explanation rather than having to wade through the text of the ruling. Some of what I found:

There are about 300,000 Wisconsin voters without a proper ID. How does the state issue 6,000 IDs a day between now and the election?

According to an editorial in the New York Times the voter-ID law was pushed through by (infamous) Gov. Scott Walker, who is now in a very close race for a second term. The law was revised in July to make it easier to get an ID if a person couldn't afford one or didn't have the required documents, such as a birth certificate. The 3-judge panel of the 7th Circuit didn't rule on whether the law was constitutional. Instead, they ruled that those recent changes to the law were sufficient to remove the stay until the basic question is answered. They made that ruling only hours after hearing the case. The Times calls this ruling a "big mistake." The Supremes could reinstate the stay.

From the Times article:
Notably not on Friday’s panel was Richard Posner, the Seventh Circuit judge who upheld a similar voter-ID law in Indiana in 2007. The Supreme Court subsequently affirmed that decision, but both Judge Posner and Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the opinion for the court, have since said they were wrong, and had misunderstood the true nature of voter-ID laws.
That Judge Posner is the one who did the delightful smackdown of the Wisconsin same-sex marriage ban. Too bad he wasn't part of the 3-judge panel that decided this mess.

A second NPR story is about advertisements that use double entendres to encourage young people to register and to vote. One, put out by the NRA, shows a father pulling a box from a closet. But there isn't a gun inside, instead there is a voter registration card.

They will take it

Emma Margolin of MSNBC lists five reasons why she believes the Supremes will take a same-sex marriage case. The Supremes will consider cases from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin when they meet on Sept. 29. At that conference they can decide to take one or more cases, refuse all cases, or postpone a decision. Margolin sees five reasons why they'll take at least one of the cases.

1. When a decision at the Circuit Court level is appealed, it is the losers who do the appealing. This time both sides appealed (the gay side is confident of a win). In addition, lots of groups are urging the justices to settle the issue. That included 32 states, some for and some against, and various corporations and religious groups.

2. Momentum – Eighty cases have been filed in the year since last year's pro-gay ruling by the Supremes. 41 of those cases have had a ruling at some judicial level and 39 of them have been in our favor. While there isn't a split between Circuits, this number of cases shows the matter is of public importance, one of the criteria for accepting a case.

3. Back in July Justice Ginsberg said, "If a case is properly before the court, they will take it."

4. Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit recently ruled in the Idaho and Nevada cases. He predicts the Supremes will take the case because when Justice Kennedy ruled a year ago he left intact a conflict between state's rights and the dignity of gays and lesbians.

5. The Supremes have issued stays for several state cases, starting with Utah. It doesn't make sense for them to issue a stay and then not take the case. Why block the marriages, then unblock them a few months later without a hearing?

This past Tuesday Ginsberg spoke at the University of Minnesota Law School. During that talk she said to look at the 6th Circuit – the Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee cases. If the 6th Circuit rules against us it would force the Supremes to take the case. If the 6th Circuit follows the 4th, 9th, and 10th Circuits then there is "no need for us to rush." Is this a prediction that the 6th Circuit will rule against us?

Ginsberg also talked about her friendship with Antonin Scalia (they frequently go to the opera together) and joked about plans to write a comic opera with the title "Scalia/Ginsberg."

The Macarthur Genius Grants for 2014 were recently announced. These are awards of $625,000 paid to individuals the Macarthur Foundation considers worthy based on past accomplishments. Two of this year's winners are from our community.

Mary Bonauto was the lead lawyer in the cases that resulted in civil unions in Vermont in 2000, in marriage equality in Massachusetts in 2004, and the Windsor case that was decided last year overturning part of the Defense of Marriage Act and gave rise to the flurry of marriage equality cases that have arrived on the Supremes' doorstep. Her work put a solid foundation under all those cases.

Alison Bechdel wrote the comic-strip Dykes to Watch Out For (1983-2008) and has published memoirs in comic-book form that describe the complex relationship with her father.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Yesterday was the big fund-raising event for Ruth Ellis Center. Again, I volunteered to help out. This time I did guest check-in. I sat with a couple other volunteers. As guests arrived I helped check names off a spreadsheet, one out in the cloud so all three of us were updating the same file. I think there were about 240 names on the list, though not all came. Alas, check-in was on the main floor and the party was on the 11th.

After most guests had arrived the volunteer coordinator, my boss for the evening, allowed me to join the party. The buffet line had lots of fancy things, though I stuck to safe foods – roast turkey, cheese, cucumber, and hummus. Eventually the program began.

The program is titled "Voices" and gives the Center's youth a chance to express themselves. The Center staff started preparations last winter. They asked various people to help the youth. This included a couple composers, a choreographer, and a creative writer guide. There were also a couple professional producers, though I think one concentrated on clothing. The one person they could have added and didn't was a lighting designer, or at least someone on a follow spot.

First came a video that described the process of the writer and one of the composers working to draw out the youth and guiding them in expressing themselves. In the video we also heard from some of the youth who went through the process and how it helped them to mature.

The writer (also otherwise a volunteer at the Center) worked with several youth, four of whom recited spoken word pieces they had written. These were intercut, with each reading sections before allowing another to speak. The themes were mostly about self-empowerment. One talked about "gay marriage" and how it should be just "marriage." He doesn't gay walk his dog.

Sessions of spoken word alternated with dance. The first couple dances were solos in a ballet style for men. The dancers were accompanied by a string quartet, with music written by one of the composers. The quartet included a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and one from the Michigan Opera Orchestra. They have some high powered friends! The other composer provided electronic dance music for a troupe of eight youth, who danced in the vogue style I see most weeks from the kitchen at the Center.

The next part of the program was awards. First came plaques given to each of the talent guides. I'm sure all their time was donated. Then the staff presented two winners of a new award, a "Ruth's Angel" for exceptional service to the Center.

The first went to a woman who had joined the board only two years ago and in that time raised $40,000 for the center. She came onto the stage and was handed a mic. She told a bit about her passion for the work the Center is doing and how she had to get involved.

The second award was given to me.

This was a delightful surprise! I hadn't been told ahead of time. When the presenter started talking about a faithful volunteer who started back in 2008 I knew it was me. There aren't any other volunteers who have been around as long (I've been there longer than all of the current staff, so there was a scramble to find my start date without asking me). I made my way on stage and accepted the plaque and the mic. I spoke a bit about why I'm there most Wednesdays over six years, even if it is only to serve food, load the dishwasher, and scrub pots. I ended by saying how wonderful it was to see such a large crowd of supporters of the Center. Those who I talked to later assured me what I said was eloquent.

While watching the program, and especially when they started handing out plaques, I was thinking wouldn't it be nice for me to get a plaque? Then I'd tell myself that I'm not doing it for the recognition. I don't need an award. My mind would come back and say, yeah, but wouldn't it be nice, say after ten years? I'll say now that getting the plaque is wonderful!

Afterward I talked to Henry, the coordinator of the Center's drop-in program, of which I am a part. When the staff came up with the idea for the Angel Award late last fall he said he wanted the award to go to people who make a real difference, not some kind of token to a big donor. The others asked if he had someone in mind. He did – me. Others quickly agreed.

Then came the task of getting me there without telling me about the award. I started asking how I might volunteer for the event (saves on buying a pricy ticket). Henry didn't want to answer because he was afraid he would say too much. He turned me over to Nick, the volunteer coordinator for the event. Nick had the task of coming up with something for me to do so that I would be free during the actual program. Though email he offered a couple jobs and I chose one. Then there was the fear that I would do my part and head home, though I had said I very much wanted to see the program. Nick sent out one more email yesterday afternoon asking me to confirm whether I would be there. Thinking back I doubt he sent confirmation notes to the other volunteers. Through the many months, and especially in the last week, the entire staff kept the secret.

It is pretty neat being a Ruth's Angel. I'll be back there Wednesday. And the Wednesday after that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Need more scientists!

Richard Harris did a report on NPR about scientists who can't get funding – traditional sources, especially gov't, have dried up – and so are dropping out of doing science. That left me with a big question. Aren't lots of people supposedly in the know shouting for students to go into STEM subjects? The "S" in that acronym stands for science. So why so much shouting about studying science when scientists can't get their research funded?

Between the Lines, Michigan's gay newspaper, has already endorsed Dem Mark Schauer to replace GOP Rick Snyder for governor of Michigan. Of course, the choice – even if only in terms of policies towards sexual minorities – has been glaringly obvious for months.

Michigan state Dem lawmakers have introduced bills to put sexual minorities into the state's civil rights law beside race and other protected classes. This is not the first time such bills have been introduced. Both houses of the state legislature are controlled by the GOP and their spokesman repeated the line that protections are needed for those with a religious objection to homosexuality.

A clear discinction between free speech and bribery

The Senate has approved opening debate on a constitutional amendment to do something about all that corporate money in our campaign-election system. Yay! A first step has been taken. Even GOP Congresscritters don't like the current system. It requires they spend way too much time asking for money. Even Republicans believe corporate influence is too strong. So an attempt to limit such large-scale corporate bribery should be celebrated.


A report from NPR isn't so cheery. They point a couple things behind this particular vote.

* It is a GOP stalling tactic. Congress is in town for only a short amount of time before heading home to campaign. Spend time debating this amendment and the Senate isn't spending time on such issues as equal pay for women and college affordability (not that either of those was any more likely to get past this particular House).

* Both parties will oppose anything that appears to give an advantage to the other party (so they love power more than they hate dialing for dollars and more than they honor the constitution).

* Approving debate in the Senate is far different from passing an amendment, which requires a 2/3 majority.

There are very clear polls saying American citizens support such an amendment by huge margins. But David Keating of the Center for Competitive Politics (I'll guess this is a highly conservative group, though I won't look it up because their vision statement is likely quite vague) says the polls are wrong, badly phrased, or insufficient. His proof: Polls show a strong support for the First Amendment.

I'll respond by declaring Keating's reading of the polls misses a key point. Citizens see a clear distinction between free speech and bribery.

I heard elsewhere that the only way to get a serious push towards campaign finance reform would be a big scandal. Alas, since the source of so much campaign money is now secret a scandal is harder to generate.

Another NPR report considers the question: When the Senate, and Congress as a whole, is so gridlocked does it really matter which party is in the majority? That question is appropriate with lots of analysis predicting the GOP will take the Senate in November. Mara Liasson's report provides some answers.

* Obama says a GOP majority would stop his agenda of improving minimum wage, equal pay, and infrastructure funding. But would that agenda go anywhere with a solid GOP majority in the House?

* Scott Reed of the US Chamber of Congress (and a conservative) says the GOP takeover of the Senate would repudiate Obama's leadership style. Since Obama would be focused on legacy he'll do all he can to work with the GOP which will "get something done that are good for the country." The GOP agenda is good for the country? GOP actions over the last 6 years haven't been working to thwart Obama's leadership and legacy?

* Mitch McConnell will become Majority Leader and he has a long agenda: restrict the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act, financial service protections, the Environmental Protection Agency, and surely others. That means the next two years will be nothing but veto fights, with the GOP unable to override vetoes in the Senate.

* The GOP will demand more oversight of Obama. And former Secretary Clinton will face long strings of subpoenas. That translates to Bengazi as the only topic of conversation in the Senate.

* Perhaps the GOP will overreach, giving Dems a chance to "clarify" what the GOP agenda will do for America. Which supposedly means a retake of the Senate in 2016.

Don't bother reading the comments to this article – the GOP crazies took it over.

Mara Liasson left out one big consequence of the GOP ruling the Senate. Say goodbye to any approval of Obama's judicial nominees. And say goodbye to a reasonable Supreme Court if Ginsberg retires or dies (she is 81 years old and has had treatment for cancer). An ineffective or conservative judiciary is a big part of what conservatives are after.

Kinder, gentler smackdown

The 9th Circuit Court heard oral arguments in the Idaho and Nevada same-sex marriage cases. Hawaii was supposedly in there somewhere too, though didn't get much of a mention in the news. The 9th Circuit was a kinder, gentler version of the 7th Circuit oral arguments and ruling that came out a week ago. But it was just as devastating to out opponents. An example of the exchanges: Allowing gays to marry violates the "bonding" right of children to be raised by biological parents. Say what! That's ridiculous.

This hearing allowed Ari Ezra Waldman of Box Turtle Bulletin to do a comparison with the hearing before the 9th Circuit of the Calif. Prop 8 case from a couple years ago. One of the judges was a part of both cases.

The last time was all about narrowing the focus of the case so the Supremes might take it and not appear to be too far ahead of the mood of the country. So the 9th Circuit said that case was all about Calif. having marriage equality and voters taking it away. The Supremes ruled on standing instead of the central issue and Calif. got marriage equality anyway. This time...
The judges' questioning was direct and they expressed a similar, though less visible, frustration with the misdirection and misleading statements from the anti-equality attorneys as Judge Posner. The tone of the hearing suggested that marriage equality supporters are finally out of the closet, following a tidal wave of an emerging consensus of the legitimacy and morality of marriage freedom for all.
Judge Posner wrote the recent ruling from the 7th Circuit.

The old argument that same-sex sex marriage deprives a child of a father and a mother came around again (maybe not before the 9th Circuit but it has appeared many other places). And a child needs both for the complementary parenting styles. This time Judge Barzon declared that old line to be sexist, based on old ideas that women nurture and men discipline, and unconstitutional as a reason to discriminate.

There's the argument that we're just not really sure that kids raised by same-sex couples do as well as kids of straight couples. Another smackdown – one reason why kids of same-sex couples might not fare as well is because you are denying their parents the benefits and protections of marriage.

This consistent rebuttal of the same, now stale, arguments prompted commenter Pete in SFO to suggest other judges start of the case by asking, Dude, do you have anything new? No? Then let's all go home.

The various state arguments, including here in Michigan, have all been about the children. But it is good to see someone spell out what is really behind it all these crazy arguments – it is all about a religious view of morality. We can thank the Foundation for Moral Law for the clarity.

The Supremes have put the various same-sex marriage cases on their agenda for their conference on Sept. 29. Cases have been filed from Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana, and Wisconsin, all of which have been through the Circuit Courts. There are three possible outcomes from that meeting: they'll take one or more of the cases, they'll refuse to take the cases, or they'll put off a decision on what to do. They may put off a decision until January and still release a ruling in June. By January we should hear from Circuit Courts about the cases in Michigan and Idaho, and maybe even Arkansas and Texas.