Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Harry Reid smile

Just before the Senate voted on the $1.1 trillion dollar budget deal Republican Ted Cruz of Texas pulled a parliamentary move to demand a vote to defund Obama's executive actions on immigration. It didn't get very far. I'm not sure why it worked, but Cruz's stunt and delay gave permission to Harry Reid to push through 24 nominations that the GOP had bottled up. They all passed. The GOP doesn't like it when Reid smiles.

That means we have a new Surgeon General and a bunch of new district and circuit court judges. And that means the national judiciary is more diverse (a gay judge in the 5th Circuit, which includes Texas, a black female district judge in North Carolina). It also means Obama has now confirmed more judges in six years of office than his predecessors.

As for that budget deal and the nasty gifts to Wall Street buried in its pages I'll only repeat what I said to my friend and debate partner. Republicans have clearly shown in issue after issue they are enemies of principles I hold dear. However, Democrats aren't able to convince me they are my friends.


Last August a federal judge declared Florida's ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. That judge put a temporary stay on the order. It expires January 5. The stay is to give the Florida AG time to appeal the decision to the 11th Circuit. The case is indeed before the 11th Circuit, but won't hear the case before Jan. 5. They also refused to extend the stay.

So the AG went to the Supremes and Clarence Thomas, who heads the 11th Circuit. Thomas referred the case to the Court as a whole (as has been done with all the same-sex marriage cases). The Supremes denied the request to extend the stay, though the order says that Scalia and Thomas would have granted it.

All that means same-sex weddings may begin in Florida on January 5!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The birds will help

Yesterday evening I went to the Detroit Film Theater to see the movie The King and the Mockingbird. It is an animated film from France first released in the 1950s in a highly butchered version – the producers said animator Paul Grimault was taking too long. Grimault restored the cuts and released the updated version in 1979. This version is cited as an influence on Studio Ghibli of Japan, the origin of to Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.

Enough of the pedigree. On to the story. The king of the title is a pompous fool who disdains his people who are quite happy to disdain him right back. He likes to shoot little birds (though he never actually hits them), which makes him the enemy of the bird's papa, the mockingbird of the title. We are taken to the king's private apartment on the 296th floor of the palace. The room has lots of artwork, most of it of the king. A young shepherdess on one wall comes alive and falls in love with the chimney sweeper on the adjacent wall. But a portrait of the king falls in love with the shepherdess. The portrait king sends the real king through a trap door (lots of these in the story) and the portrait takes off after the young lovers, who work to escape the palace. Along the way the sweeper rescues the little bird, so the papa bird says if the lad ever gets in trouble, he only need call and the birds will help him out. At one point the lovers are put in a lion's den. That's when we find out that the mockingbird speaks several languages, including lion. After lots of delights, visual and story, the movie ends mostly as one would expect.

I was a bit surprised that a section of this French film looked a lot like Venice – not just lots of canals, but several landmarks too.

Pursue any recourse you believe is available

Back in January I told about a United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Indiana that ousted its gay choir director. In response 80% of the church left. That particular church will close at the end of this year due to falling attendance, membership and financing problems. The pastor, who did the ousting, says the closure "is not due to that situation whatsoever." Rather it is due to a general "downward spiral" across the whole United Methodist denomination. Commenters think the pastor has a bad case of denial. Even with falling membership not many churches lose 80% of their membership in a year.

Back in October Gov. Matt Mead of Wyoming conceded the legal landscape in states in the 10th Circuit and declined to appeal when the state's ban on same-sex marriage was struck down. Who was he going to appeal to? The 10th Circuit that had already struck down bans in Utah and Oklahoma? The Supremes, who refused to hear those two cases?

No matter. GOP leaders in Wyoming are still in a snit. They wrote a letter to the Gov. slamming him for not filing an appeal.

Mead, who was re-elected last month, said this group of leaders is "free to pursue any recourse they believe is available. Interestingly, when I was fighting the case in Wyoming federal district court and a separate case in Wyoming state court, I did not hear from this group."

OutSports lists 109 sports people who came out in 2014. This sets a record, topping the count of 77 last year. The list includes athletes, coaches, officials, administrators, and media people at the high school, college, and professional levels. Most of those on the list are Americans, though there are many from other countries. The sports at the top of the list are swimming, football, and track & field, though 34 sports are in the list.

A new analysis from the Pew Research shows the wealth gap between the rich and the middle class has set a new record. The rich have 6.6 times the wealth of the middle class. Back in 2010 the multiple was 6.2 and in 2007 was 4.5. The ratio between the rich and poor is now 70.

The background question is what defines rich or upper-income. That appears to depend on the number of people in the family, similar to the federal definition of poverty. A single person is upper-income at $66K a year and a family of four is upper-income at $132K.

Melissa McEwen of the blog Shakesville wrote:
This is not justice. The people who keep collecting more and more, hoarding vast amounts of wealth, cannot keep pretending that they "deserve" it on the basis of "hard work." They can't keep pretending that they're just generating more wealth, instead of stealing it from the lower classes.

Well, they can, but the situation is untenable. This system can't be sustained; it will collapse under the weight of need or revolution.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dancing umbrellas

On the lighter side, OK Go, has a new video out. This is the group that got their start dancing on treadmills and has been doing elaborate videos ever since. This one is influenced by Busby Berkeley and features lots of umbrellas and a camera on a drone. There is both the official video and another of how the intricate shots were made. Yeah, it was released about 7 weeks ago and I just now had time to watch it. And by this time more than 16 million other people have seen it.

Worst for sexual minorities

The Michigan legislature ends its lame-duck session today. They finally came up with a way to fund road maintenance ($1.2B needed a year). Alas, they did it with an increase to the regressive sales tax rather than the more responsible gasoline tax. And since the sales tax is to be raised, voters have to approve it – next May. I just had my car's front end aligned because of a pothole last winter. There is one bright spot in the bill that was passed – the House had passed a version that funded roads by taking more money away from schools so that taxes didn't have to be raised.

I got an email alert saying the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by the House just might see a vote in the Senate before the night is out. As of this posting there is no news. I got an alert yesterday calling for protesters to come to the Capitol this afternoon to be a silent protest if it ever came up. The RFRA was supposed to be the companion to an expansion of Michigan's civil rights law to include sexual minorities so that our rights to public accommodation were defined to be less important to the Fundie right to discriminate. Alas, our half of the pair died. And apparently state senators are desperate for it to pass, with only the GOP Majority Leader of the Senate standing in the way. If only he can stand there a few more hours.

In the last couple days there have been voices calling for this bill. They say those claiming it is a license to discriminate are wrong. There's nothing in the bill that would allow that! Where could they get such an idea? Well, let's see now. Might it be because similar bills in other states were all about discrimination? Perhaps because the RFRA was introduced to blunt the inclusion of sexual minorities in the civil rights law? Is it because sponsors of the law can't come up with any other credible scenario for why the law is needed? Yeah, the text of the bill is carefully crafted. Here's the text as passed by the House.

Peter Hammer is a professor in the Wayne State University Law School and discusses the social and economic conditions of sexual minorities in Michigan. He says Michigan has been ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the five worst states for sexual minorities. Our companions are Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Louisiana. Such fine company. Which is why we've been hearing "Mich-issippi" lately. And why my sister and her partner want to move to a friendlier state.

Hammer reviews several Michigan laws that prove the animus lawmakers have for sexual minorities. I'll let you read the list. Thankfully, some of the laws have been overturned. Alas, not enough of them.

Slowing down the bandwagon

The Supremes will decide whether to take the Louisiana same-sex marriage case on January 9, the same day they'll decide whether to take the Michigan case. The LA case is of interest because the district judge said bans on same-sex marriage are just fine with him, in contrast to more than 30 other recent rulings around the state.

The announcement of the Supremes considering the LA case seemed premature to me. I read the article again. No, the 5th Circuit hasn't ruled yet – the LA case will be in oral argument before that court on the same day the Supremes will decide whether to take it.

Meanwhile, Butch Otter, Gov. of Idaho is shouting Wait for Me! He doesn't want the Supremes to take a same-sex marriage case until it can include the one from his state in the mix. He filed a brief with the Supremes saying they should wait for Idaho's case because he says it is a better case. In particular it would challenge the 9th Circuit's level of scrutiny and has a religious liberty component. Otter's brief isn't attached to a case yet because it is still before the 9th Circuit and a plea for another hearing – even though the 9th Circuit has said same-sex marriage is just fine with them. One might think Otter wants to jump on the bandwagon to make sure the Supremes don't get to it this year.

Besides, Michigan has the better case – there was an actual trial, producing actual evidence.

Money is more important

The fall semester is over. I submitted grades this afternoon, though I hadn't caught on that they were due at noon today instead of 5 pm. I learned that in an email that was sent at 10:45 this morning and I saw at 3 this afternoon. I called the dept. chair. She says the worst that might happen is that I end up on somebody's black list. Whatever. Grades were submitted by 3:30. Next semester begins January 13, so almost 4 weeks off. I already have a long list of things I want to do.

Billionaire David Koch, one of the Koch brothers doing all they can to eliminate democracy in America, was interviewed by Barbara Walters as one of her "10 Most Fascinating People of 2014." He gave his political philosophy as "conservative on economic matters" and a "social liberal." So, yes, he back's gay marriage. But why does he back so many candidates who are against gay marriage or even gay rights? Because money (and related power) is so much more important to him and those candidates are willing to do his fiscal bidding.

Which makes me think... A big reason why the GOP still gets votes even though they are working against the economic interests of the poor and middle class is because on social issues they are working to implement the Fundie position. Those who don't like democracy for monetary reasons have teamed up with those who don't like democracy for theological reasons.