Thursday, October 29, 2009

Humor gets to the core of the debate

The Colbert Report on the Washington Domestic Partner referendum is good for a laugh. You are voting to approve it, aren’t you?

First year report card

Yes, I know it's been a while since the Gay Crow's Nest News Service (as my friend and debate partner has been calling it) has published an issue. Part of it has been something worthwhile to pontificate on and part of it has been when I did find something to comment on my time was taken up by other pressing concerns. For example, this evening I spent another hour calling for the No on 1 Campaign in Maine to preserve gay marriage there.

As have many other publications, Newsweek has a review of the first year of the Obama presidency. Never mind that he took the oath of office in January. He actively started shaping his staff and his policies the day after last year's election and influencing events not long after. So, let me add my voice to the chorus.

The verdict, according to Anna Quindlen: "Yes We Can" sells a whole lot better than "Yes We Can, but it's going to take a while." Progressives (and gays) are wondering what's taking so long. Quindlen points out, for example, that the military ban on gays could have been a done deal by now. Why hasn't it?

Perhaps because of his race and his age, much of the electorate, especially those of us who are liberals, succumbed to stereotype and assumed that he was by way of being a firebrand.

And perhaps because -- oh, I don't know -- he said he was a "fierce advocate" of gay rights?
A year in, and we know that we deceived ourselves. He is methodical, thoughtful, cerebral, a believer in consensus and process. In an incremental system, Barack Obama is an incremental man.

Quindlen goes on to explain how incremental Washington is. The Founding Fathers intended it that way. Even the bold strokes from Lyndon Johnson -- the Voting Rights Act, for instance -- were actually small steps built on previous efforts.

There are two things that could help satisfy our hunger for the bold stroke. One comes from Obama -- he could follow LBJ's lead and promise Congress they are making history. The other comes from us. LBJ accomplished much of what he did because he had so much of the country actively engaged in telling Congress what they wanted.

As I've reported many times (including above) gays are frustrated with change that Obama has appeared to promise, seems able to accomplish, yet hasn't. The first case is mentioned above, the gay military ban. But here are a couple more.

Tim Coco and Junior Oliveira were married in Massachusetts. Oliveira is a citizen of Brazil and is seeking asylum in the USA because he had been abused and raped while in Brazil. His asylum request was denied in 2007 and he was sent back to Brazil. The couple appealed to John Kerry, who became their advocate. Yet, the Obama administration, including Attorney General Holder, has not acted. And they could because the asylum application is not based on the gay marriage, even though no asylum application would be needed if the couple wasn't gay.

The prez has stated he is for the gay side of the initiatives in Maine and Washington, though hasn't said so where it counts. For example, AG Holder gave a speech at the University of Maine and afterward was asked about the Maine gay marriage battle. Instead of a ringing endorsement of gays, Holder didn't take a stand.

However, there is one big step and some baby steps that Congress and the Obama administration has taken for us.

Gays (and even transgendered people) are now protected in the national hate crimes act! Annoying that many in the GOP feel there aren't enough hate crimes perpetrated against gays to make their inclusion in the hate crimes laws necessary. Alas, according to the Triangle Foundation here in Michigan the crime has to be severe enough to get the Feds involved before it is classified as a hate crime.

A witness to the signing ceremony tells her story.

Between The Lines reports on several other actions that would have never been done under Bush. These include:

Grants (of only a quarter million) will be given out to create resource centers for gay seniors. That little money to reach perhaps 4 million gay seniors? Then again, Fundies proclaim gay seniors don't exist because the gay rights era isn't that old and gays don't live that long.

HUD is proposing new regulations so that subsidized housing will be available without regard to the sexual orientation or gender identity of the applicants.

The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act has passed, but has not yet been funded.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cowering before toothless tigers

The last election cleaned out most potent GOPs, starting with the Prez and veep and on through both the Senate and House. Yeah, there are many GOP members in Congress making a lot of noise, but they're a toothless bunch right now.

So what's with the Dems? That's the question from Jonathan Alter of Newsweek. They seem to be fighting the last war, in which one is careful not to give the GOP ammunition. They have succumbed to GOP ways of thinking -- selling out to corporate interests and believing everything the Pentagon says is what must be done.

The example of health care: The goal isn't a bill, but to get insurance to more people and to control the cost of premiums. If the current effort doesn't do those things it is the Dems who will get blamed and properly so.

It may have made sense to back off a public option when the bill itself is in doubt. However, Congress watchers are confident some sort of bill will be passed. Now is the time to come out from under the shadow of Bush and actually do what we elected them to do.

When journalism is un-American

Obama has publicly accused Fox News of right-wing bias. Fox News hotly denied the charge -- in a manner that confirmed it. They said Obama is wrong and politically motivated without offering evidence or without explaining why Obama may see political gain in doing what he did.

Not only is this bad reporting, it is un-American, ignoring the purpose of a news service in an democracy. Even worse than being a corrupt network their example is corrupting all of cable news. Rival networks attempt to be as populist and to use their own ideological filter.

So Jacob Weisberg of Newsweek has a solution, one that my friend and debate partner has been suggesting for a good long time now: Ignore Fox News.

Now that might be hard to get some segments of the general public to go along with that. But it should be possible for other news organizations to boycott them. Don't refer to their stories. Don't try to imitate them. Don't debate them. Don't explain why they're unreliable. Don't appear on their shows (you'll only be used as propaganda). Journalistic ethics demands ignoring them.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One ringy-dingy

When a telemarketer calls and launches in to their script I'm pretty quick at interrupting and saying I'm not interested and hanging up. My personal rule is if you called me, I don't want what you're selling. Yes, I'm on the Do-Not-Call list, but that doesn't stop charities and campaigns (and salespeople who don't check the list).

So it might surprise you to hear I was on the other side of the process this evening. I got a chance to live the life of a phone campaigner. It's a rather boring life, however the technology is nifty.

I did this for the Protect Maine Equality campaign (and from my phone here near Detroit). The polls show the issue is tied and will be won by those with the best get-out-the-vote effort. My job was to find out what side of the issue a voter was on, then if they were pro-gay to explain the inverted text of the ballot ("Do you want to reject the new gay marriage law?"). I was also to ask them to vote early (which Maine allows) so the campaign could ignore them, then ask them to volunteer or to donate. I was not to engage with those against gay marriage (nor to explain the inverted question, which I think means I heard one opponent vow to vote for us). I was to engage the undecided, but just a little bit.

The evening started with a web-based meeting to explain the computer system. Alas, I'll probably have a 45 minute charge on my phone for that. Then the fun began. I went to the call website and entered my phone number and a few other things. One of those was what kind of music I wanted to listen to while the computer was dialing -- very important. The computer then called me (meaning all the rest was on their dime). The webpage then had a box with the name of the person being called. A lot of the calls didn't go through -- I could watch the name change. Once I got an answer (and my music stopped) there were answering machines (don't leave an answer, merely tag as "not home") and fax machines (wrong number) to deal with. Then there was the human who frequently responded, "Oh, he's not home." So I didn't go through my call script all that often. And I listened to a lot of music.

When done with a call, I told the computer to disconnect (my line to the computer stayed live), then filled out a questionnaire about what I had learned. Then take a sip of water and tell the computer to go on to the next call. I talked to only one opponent. Several people were supporters, though none volunteered to help or donate. I did correct one person's understanding of the inverted ballot language.

You, too, can call people in Maine -- also donate and volunteer in other ways.

About a week ago I did stay on the line for a caller. She was from the National Rifle Association and said she had a message to play for me and a single question afterwards. I agreed, knowing what was coming. The message was a conspiracy rant about how Hillary was meeting with world leaders to take away our guns. The caller asked, "What do you think about this?" I said, "Sounds good to me!" She thanked me and hung up. I am very aware the purpose of the call wasn't the question. If I said anything like, "That's terrible!" she would have asked for a donation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ph.D v. algebra flunkie

A comment from the Vatican's astronomer: Truth does not contradict truth. (Detroit Free Press, Sunday, October 11)

Governator signed a gay-friendly bill and opponents claim it will lead to homo indoctrination in schools. Wait… I thought we busted that menace with the marriage ban. They wouldn't be projecting, would they?

An evangelical bigot sees the light. Once he walked away from rejection and condemnation he found his relationship with God became much deeper. He saw with greater clarity what love and compassion were all about. That deeper relationship with God also brought great pain as he realized to what extent his faith had brought great harm to others. Though he never inflicted a physical blow, his attitudes contributed to a climate in which, among other things, suicide was the way to bring peace to a tortured gay teen.

The approval rating for the Supremes is up. Half of surveyed Americans think the Supremes are in a Goldilocks position: not too liberal, not too conservative. The GOP thinks the court is too liberal, Dems think it's about right. And that for a court that is ready to roll back the Warren Court gains (though with a tablespoon, not a wrecking ball)? What gives? Partly, the Sotomayor hearings this summer convinced the public that the court is heading leftward, even though she is a bit to the right of the justice she replaced. Another part is that in the big civil rights cases last year the Supremes ruled very narrowly, leaving most of liberal rulings intact. See the comment about the tablespoon. But with the cases coming up this term the Supremes will reveal themselves soon enough.

We have some brilliant people working on climate change, alternative energy, and other scientific issues. So why are we making so little political headway? All these people with Ph.Ds are up against protesters who can't pass algebra -- and who think they're smarter than the experts. Alas, the noise can make the scientists timid. It allows actual corporate opponents to raise FUD -- fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Sure, the new stuff is greener, but it's still risky and it would cost too much to switch. Better to play it safe. Alas, that allows the rest of the world to zip past us. The solar experts are Japan and China. Wind experts are in Germany. Nuclear experts are in France. Don't look for a sputnik moment.

A diagnosis that fits

More than a year ago I wrote about the incompatibility between the profit motive and health care. I have no trouble finding the link because I thought that post was one of my better ones and put a link to it in the margin of my blog.

Blogger/Essayist Terrence Heath takes that incompatibility another long step. He provides a lengthy (though far from complete) list of instances and their consequences of health insurers refusing to pay for treatment or canceling coverage completely. The numbers: 45 thousand die each year because a lack of insurance. 700 thousand go bankrupt every year because of medical expenses.

What kind of person will not only endure, but agree to -- alright insist on -- 45K deaths and 700K bankruptcies? Heath says: a sociopath. Too harsh? Definitions please:

* A sociopathic person: no conscience, no feelings of remorse or shame, no concern for the well-being of anyone else, no sense of responsibility, and coupled with the ability to conceal that from other people.

* A sociopathic corporation: failure to conform to social norms, repeated lying, reckless disregard for the safety and well-being (including financial) of others, lack of remorse for damage.

In the case of health care insurance it turns out the more sociopathic they are the more profitable they are. Abuse, anyone?

Heath expanded on the ability to conceal mentioned above. Sociopaths are usually able to keep that mask in place until it is too late for the victim. On occasion the mask will slip and the victim will get away, usually leading to the perpetrator's downfall.

Heath says the health insurance industry has let the mask slip. The industry was all for the new reform bills because the way to universal care was to force everyone to buy insurance. Up go profits. What about the consumer protections that don't let insurers drop coverage? Um, those seem to be missing. Besides, these companies could have followed those guidelines over the last 30 years and didn't; will a law stop them? Prevent a public option and profits go up some more.

Here's the slipped mask: A new report funded by the insurance industry says that if several provisions in the Baucus health plan becomes law health care rates will go up. That sounds like extortion. Give us what we want or we'll charge more (they'll charge more anyway, because they can).

An abuser will reveal a true face long before the first punch has been thrown. That's the time to sever the relationship. The abuser usually response, "If you leave, you'll regret it!" Actually, you'll regret it more if you stay.

So, why are we still trying to negotiate with -- appease -- health insurers? Better to cut our relationship and proceed without them. Alas, even the wonderful congressional health plan doesn't cover spine stiffening.

A second Bill of Rights

Blogger, more accurately blog essayist, Terrence Heath nominally reviews Michael Moore's movie Capitalism: A Love Story and gets into several other interesting side issues. I haven't seen the movie and probably won't.

One of the major points Moore/Heath makes is the confusion that results when the first three words of "The love of money is the root of all evil" are left off. Or, put in capitalist terms: There is nothing wrong with profit. However, there is a great deal wrong when profit is placed above, or replaces, everything else.

I've recently written about how the working poor feels their social contract has been dismantled. It's the contract that Franklin Roosevelt articulated as a second Bill of Rights. I paraphrase some of the major points.

* The right to a useful job that provides adequate food, clothing, and recreation.

* The right of businessmen to work free of unfair competition.

* The right of every family to a decent home.

* The right of adequate medical care.

* The right to a good education.

* The right to protection from the economic fears of old age, accident, sickness, and unemployment.

All that spells security for the working class. The parts that were achieved in Roosevelt's time have been dismantled since then.

Moore's movie (according to Heath) ends at the National Archives with a view of the US Constitution. Words like "capitalism" and "free market" and "profit" aren't there. What is there seems to be (if teabaggers are to be believed) a touch of socialism.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America …

That sounds like a social contract -- even common (and Christian) decency. We as a country have exalted the "I" to the detriment of "we".

More than a sloppy historian

I've commented about the right claiming that fascism is from the left, while extensive research proves fascism in Italy and Germany arose from the right. Why the confusion? At the end of 2007 Jonah Goldberg released a book with the title Liberal Fascism, making the claim that it's the liberals that morphed into fascism in the 1920s and liberals (now led by Obama) will do it again. David Niewert says Goldberg is either a very sloppy historian or is purposefully misleading readers to hide the beginnings of fascism on the right. Of course, every right-wing talking head has praised Goldberg's book in an attempt to make the left and Obama look scary.

Great president -- if he'd do something for us

President Obama spoke at a Human Rights Campaign dinner last weekend. HRC is the largest gay lobbying organization. The reactions to Obama's speech tend to offer up two basic ideas.

1. This is the first time a president has spoken at such a dinner and offered this kind of support. There is plenty of video of him (and you can watch the 20-some minute speech at this link or many others) that will be featured in his opponents campaign ads in 2010 and 2012 (and, yes, I know Obama himself is not on the ballot in 2010). The sight of the president saying all this will be a help to the politically unaware gay kid in Oklahoma. It was a great speech.

2. This sounded like Candidate Obama's speech. When is he actually going to do something for us? Yeah, the hate crimes bill will be on his desk soon, but he has a bully pulpit that he isn't (at least doesn't appear to be) using to get employment non-discrimination, military non-discrimination, repeal of defense of marriage, federal domestic partnerships, and sponsorship of foreign partners passed. Some of these he can do through executive orders until Congress acts. So why doesn't he?

Gays aren't vampires -- they show up on TV. Here's Jon Stewart complaining that Fox TV avoided reporting on the National Equality March.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Isn't the King James bible conservative enough?

One wonders if some of the loudest Fundies have actually read the bible. It's easy to believe the woman in the pew hasn't because she's been told one must read it correctly, with correct understanding, so perhaps it's best we just tell you what it says. It appears a Fundie or two has read the bible -- and is annoyed with what they find inside. That can be the only reason for The Conservative Bible, a project to purge the bible of liberal bias -- perhaps an inverse of the Jefferson Bible. Wait -- isn't the bible supposedly the inerrant word of God? Gotta get that irony alarm fixed. Here are 10 guidelines for how to make the bible more conservative:
1. Provide a strong framework to support translation without liberal bias.
2. Don't emasculate, don't use gender inclusion.
3. Don't dumb down -- some modern translations are at a 7th grade level (oh, yeah, the guy in the pew isn't going to read it).
4. Use conservative terms for words that have drifted in meaning (such as "peace").
5. Combat addition. They didn't "cast lots," they "gambled."
6. Emphasize the logic of Hell.
7. Express parables in their full free-market meaning.
8. Exclude liberal passages that were added later -- "Forgive them for they know not what they do."
9. Credit the open-mindedness of the disciples.
10. Use concise terms rather than liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio.

All that prompts an essay discussing the how difficult it is to get the bible from the original Hebrew and Greek (starting from which text to select) into modern English -- and then the perils in interpreting and understanding whatever you end up with.

The civil rights battle of our time

Yes, it has been a while since I've written. I'm putting on a Road Rally this evening (similar to a scavenger hunt) with two friends. We're doing it because we won last year. All the clues are now created, all the support forms printed, all the envelopes stuffed and I have some time before I pick up the huge order of sandwiches. So here are just a few things that I've collected over the last week but didn't have time to write about.

Three congressmen -- Mark Schauer, John Dingell, and John Lewis (on the receiving end of bludgeons during Civil Rights marches) -- say health care is the civil rights battle of our time. I'd agree, even if it bumps gay rights down a peg or two.

An anti-gay group spokesman looked at the recently publicized bones of a 4.4 million year old proto-human and declared she shows evidence of pair-bonding -- which proves the definition of marriage hasn't changed in 4.4 million years. Never mind the evidence of pair-bonding is tenuous at best and that such bonding could just as easily be gay as straight and that rituals of marriage probably didn't develop until 40 thousand years ago. There's this to ponder: I thought they didn't believe in evolution.

The gay side of the marriage battle in Maine has been producing some hard-hitting ads in response to the lies the Fundies have been telling. Alas, that means they are playing defense -- the Fundies still control the message -- and the side that plays defense rarely wins. Sigh.

Try this experiment: Assign some students to be prisoners and some to be guards. Watch what happens. The experiment had to be stopped within a week because the guards were heaping so much abuse on the prisoners. That has become known as the Lucifer Effect. Given the right circumstances we all can become evil. One wonders if this is contributing to the way Fundies are treating gays?

The logic can leave you scratching your head. For instance, there is a push by PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-gays) to overturn DC's sexual orientation protections. Since they are now straight, don't they want the ordinance to protect them too? Have there ever been hate crimes perpetrated against ex-gays? But PFOX doesn't protect ex-gays, it works to make gays miserable so that they turn to discredited therapy to become ex-gay. So protections for gays means discrimination of ex-gays -- if you don't let us beat up gay people you're discriminating against us! Our organization with wither away!

"A village cannot reorganize village life to suit the village idiot. It's as simple as that ... we have a village idiot in this country—it is called Fundamentalist Christianity." Frank Schaeffer on the Rachel Maddow Show

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How far must we go to get away from it all?

A traveler lamenting another strip mall in the wilderness set out to determine where in American are you farthest from a McDonalds. If Alaska were included in his analysis the answer would be easy. So let's stick to the lower 48. Start with a map showing all 13,000 McDonald's Gilded Parabolas. Then look for blank spots -- central Nevada, arid hills of southeastern Oregon, Salmon River Mountains of Idaho, and the plains of northwestern South Dakota. The winner is: somewhere between the towns of Meadow and Glad Valley, SD you will be the farthest from a McDonalds -- 107 miles by crow and 145 miles by car.

Calculating our chances in Maine

Back in early April I wrote about an analysis to predict when each state will get gay marriage. The prediction was that Maine would get it this year. And it might -- polls show the referendum to ban gay marriage is behind, but too close to allow us to rest in our efforts.

The looming vote in Maine prompted Nate Silver to revisit his calculations. The determining factor if the original predictions was the religiosity of voters in the state. Now Nate thinks another factor should be considered. It is:

* Does the measure also ban civil unions? That made a difference in last year's Arizona vote. Leaving off civil unions makes a ban more likely.

Now for particulars in Maine's case:

* Maine is pretty low in religious voters, with only 46% claiming religion as important (that number for Calif. is 57%).

* It is a standalone initiative in an off-year election. The get-out-the-vote drive will be crucial.

* Maine is a fairly liberal state. The Fundie "base" is much smaller than in other states.

* The Maine legislature approved gay marriage. It wasn't imposed by the courts, meaning no activist judges to campaign against.

* This referendum is in response to the law passed by the legislature, it was not a pre-emptive strike (meaning the gay side knew it was coming).

* The referendum isn't a constitutional amendment.

The result? Too close to call.

Back to those April predictions, it said several other states would have gay marriage by the end of this year:

Rhode Island -- rather quiet
Nevada -- barely got civil unions
Washington -- fighting to keep expanded civil unions
Alaska -- ?
New York -- some say there will be a vote in the Assembly by the end of the year, some disagree
Oregon -- ?

However, we might hear from New Jersey ahead of its predicted passage 2010 and DC (no prediction) looks like it will get gay marriage by Thanksgiving, subject to being overturned by Congress. And a gay marriage bill was just introduced in Illinois (predicted for 2012).

I have good neighbors

This past Monday and Tuesday were overcast. Wednesday was quite busy. So this afternoon with the sun shining (though the air chilly), I decided it was time for a long bike ride. As in a bit over two hours.

I came down the home stretch and was concerned when I saw an ambulance at the end of the street. What had befallen my neighbors, the ones who had moved in only a year before? Had one of their kids been injured? Who had the ambulance been called for?

Well … me.

My neighbor's father takes the 3 kids to and from school every day. I sometimes see him out my window in the morning. He saw my side garage door open, which he had never seen open before, and saw the car inside. I wasn't in the yard. He tried the doorbell and got no response (it's also broken). He even called out to me. After 25 minutes of no response, he called 911. The paramedics came into the house through the garage (the door to the kitchen was unlocked and I wonder about damages if it had been locked) and walked through the house (they left the kitchen door open on their way out). They were back in the driveway by the time I rode up. Once I greeted them they left. It was then my neighbor told the story.

Alas, the guy who called 911 will probably now be reluctant to call when I really need it.