Friday, December 31, 2010

Controlling myself

This is posting 342 for this year, down significantly from last year (459 posts). Since this blog began more than three years ago, this is post 1306. Happy New Year!

I've known for a long time that the Fundies make a distinction between sexual orientation (which they claim doesn't exist) and same-sex behavior. You can call yourself gay. We don't care, even though we know you're really straight. But if you act on that urge you claim to have, well you've lost all reason and you can't control yourself.

So one wonders if a new assault against us is confusion on their part or intentionally relying on the confusion of the hapless public. Star Parker, a conservative columnist, notes that 36% of Americans now believe that one is born gay. Therefore more Americans "believe that individuals cannot take personal responsibility for their sexual behavior." Yup, while a good chunk of Americans see us as having an immutable characteristic Parker is twisting that to mean our inability to control our conduct is immutable.

That means a gay person cannot be trusted, cannot tell right from wrong, and is dangerously amoral. Therefore we must fear gays and can't have gays as parents, teachers, and soldiers. And morality is important for a society -- even George Washington said so.

Parker starts her rant with, "I’m feeling increasingly like a minority in our country. Not because I’m black, but because I am a Christian.” Good. I very much want that that particular brand of Christianity to be a minority, and a small one at that.

Who said anything about a culture war?

Sigh. The job of Republican Party Chairman is about to open, one of those things that happens after every federal election. The current office holder is Michael Steele, who is black and had considered attempts to oust him to be racist (this is the GOP we're talking about). He is running for the job again and has a few competitors. All of them are now working to burnish their credentials as a bona-fide conservative. And how does one do that? Sit down with the head of the National Organization for Marriage and explain how one goes about dissing gays. And that after an election season where everybody said the GOP is getting past the culture wars because it's all about the economy. Sure.

There is a 15 minute video (which I didn't watch and don't recommend for your viewing pleasure) about Steele's encounter with NOM. The excerpts I read had the usual drivel about pushing marriage protection in the states and, if there is a failure, then to push for a constitutional amendment. Steele finishes it all off with an insult. He explains that when he was very young his father died from alcoholism so he knows the importance of a father and a mother and therefore gays shouldn't get married. His logic didn't make sense to me either. Just because we have Steele's bigotry on record does not mean we will be better off with any of the other candidates. Gentry Collins says gay marriage would devalue his own. Reince Priebus says "the sanctity of marriage is given to us by God." Ann Wagner says efforts to ban gay marriage is "a pillar of our Republican party and our platform." Saul Anuzis says defending straight marriage is "part of our faith."

Oh, please, don't say that anymore

I'm not the only one to be annoyed that every politician at the national level declares "The American People" want such and so. Of course, The American People are apparently for whatever the politician is for. Thankfully, the Unicorn Hunters of Lake Superior State University have included that phrase in its annual list of words that should be banished. Not that any politician will notice or change what they do.

Other banned words and phrases: Viral (as in attracting a lot of internet attention), Epic (that was an epic snow storm), Fail (those jeans with that shirt is a definite fail), Wow-factor (please confine "factor" to math and science!), A-ha moment, Back story (whatever happened to "history"?), BFF (Best Friend Forever), Man-up, Refudiate (she just needs a spell-checker on her smart phone), Mama Grizzlies, I'm just sayin', Facebook and Google as verbs, and Live Life to the Fullest ("fullest" isn't a word, besides the phrase is redundant).

Treated with respect

Host Phil Ponce on the television show Chicago Tonight did an in-depth interview of Dan Savage. By in-depth I mean 23 minutes. It was so good a notable anti-gay curmudgeon was upset that Savage was treated so respectfully. It's good to have him as a voice for our community.

We've heard the GOP say that we need low taxes so that the rich and big corporations will hire people and pull us out of the recession. Not working, you say? Bah! They are hiring -- overseas.

And a bit of good news. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services. They have just launched three new task forces to understand and help prevent suicide in high-risk groups. The three groups are military service members and veterans; American Indians and Alaska Natives; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Even better, they don't appear to be driven by ideology (left or right).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Shooting the messenger

I haven't paid much attention to the WikiLeaks controversy. I'm well aware that legitimate and sensitive international diplomacy can be ruined by exposure. However, Glenn Greenwald in Salon made a few observations that caught my attention (thanks to my friend and debate partner who sent the article to me). According to Greenwald…

WikiLeaks uncovered actual crimes perpetrated by military and government officials. These crimes reveal an alarming amount of brutality.

The media are in an uproar, of course. But they are not upset over the crimes (which are ignored). Rather their anger is directed towards WikiLeaks for revealing them. Prosecute the messenger, not the criminal. This sounds the same as the anti-gay organizations who were tagged by the SPLC as hate groups.

The media is pushing a contradictory message: The leaks reveal nothing. The leakers have done great harm to national security.

One expects government officials (the perpetrators, or at least the ones with something to hide) to push the idea that the messenger is the one who should be punished. But journalists are just as loud with that same message. We've lost something big when the journalists side with the corruption against the messenger. The job of the journalist used to be to expose the corruption. I'll let you ponder what it means when the news media becomes the mouthpiece of the government.

Use debt responsibly

What do Venice in 1490, Genoa in 1555, Spain in 1650, and Amsterdam in 1770 have in common? All are governments that collapsed under sovereign debt. France in 1787 didn't do so well either. Jacques Attali in Newsweek discusses the history of government debt and what we might do to get out of our current mess.

Government debt draws on the resources of others -- in this case our children -- to finance something today. But debt should only be taken on under particular circumstances. First, will the people paying it back likely be rich enough to do so? Second, is the debt to be used to encourage growth, to help those people to become richer? This includes such things as infrastructure (energy, transport), health care, and education. Debt should not be used to finance ongoing government operations.

Even when used for growth, debt can get too high. Accumulating government debt is far too easy. Investors suddenly get nervous and the whole thing collapses. To avoid that there are only 8 ways out. (1) higher taxes; (2) less spending; (3) more growth; (4) more lenient interest rates; (5) worse inflation; (6) war; (7) external aid; or (8) default. The only one that is currently politically palatable is growth (and yet the GOP seems determined to make that not happen). Alas, the same hubris or blindness that allows governments to accumulate too much debt tends toward impunity when getting out of it, such as driving away creditors (as Europe routinely did with Jews) or simply refusing to pay.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Don't confuse morality with legality

What is the relationship between law and morality? Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin ponders that question while dissecting the writings of Ron Sider, an Evangelical who opposes gay marriage. Sider claims that most people assume that morality and legality are the same thing. What is legal will become normal.

Tisinai responds with one of the Top Ten: lying. Most people see that even trivial lies betray trust, but only big ones, such as fraud, libel, and perjury, are illegal. That's only the start. Lots of lousy behavior (alcoholic parents giving their kids barely adequate care) is not illegal.

If morality = legality is enough to outlaw gay marriage why is it not enough to outlaw homosexuality? Doesn't morality = legality justify theocracy?

Ah, but Sider says we should only outlaw things that actually harm society, such as letting homos raise kids. Evidence, dude!

If that doesn't work (and it doesn't) Sider is ready with the gay rights v. religious freedom battle. But that's muddled too.

Ah, it is all finally revealed. When Sider insists in morality = legality he means the government should enforce his definition of what is moral.

Sider berates his fellow Evangelicals for not speaking out against gay bashing. They should speak instead about what destroys straight marriage -- adultery and divorce. Nice? Um… He feels Evangelicals have lost their moral authority to speak out against what matters most to him -- gay marriage.

Santa is gay!

The apartment of a gay couple in New York somehow ended up as the address for Santa Claus. It's puzzling because the letters they received clearly listed a particular apartment on 22nd St., not North Pole. They never found out why they were getting the letters, but after receiving about 400 of them and being affected by the contents they decided to take on the role. Some friends helped out by promising to fulfill some of the letters and the couple bought gifts for many of the others. Perhaps 150 of the letters were fulfilled. This post contains a 7 minute video of their adventures.

An energy policy that turns towards renewable energy just might make headway in a Congress partially under GOP control. That might sound surprising giving how the most recent energy bill fared. Here's the calculation: The GOP swept congressional representation from Texas to the Dakotas. This region is being heavily developed for wind farms. A renewable energy installation tax credit ends on Dec. 31, threatening lots of jobs. It is GOP lawmakers who will hear the complaints, meaning a new energy bill will come from the GOP side. Dems might be able to vote for it even if it contains funding for (snort!) clean coal. The other driving factor is rising energy costs, making wind energy cheaper. Just don't mention global warming in the bill -- most incoming GOP lawmakers have publicly questioned the science behind global warming.

I wrote recently about corporate control of the classroom and what we will lose in the process. Here's a look at how close that is coming. The Los Angeles school district is auctioning off naming rights to cafeterias and sports stadiums. The district gets money, the corporation gets advertising space. There are guidelines to eliminate corporations whose products are not age appropriate, such as Budweiser. Many school officials are uncomfortable, but not enough to stop the process. My prediction is the corporations want more than naming rights. The rich decry raising taxes to fund schools because elected officials then control the money. But if the rich fund schools through corporate donations then they get a say in how the money is spent -- and what is taught in the schools.

A short quote in an article about the Washington dynamic of a GOP House and Dem Senate and prez. has progressives laughing. GOP Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said, "There will not be one American that will not be called to sacrifice" under the needed spending cuts to deal with the deficit. He's serious? After that tax bonanza for the rich? Apparently other GOP voices are making the same claim. Come on, Mr. Coburn, tell us some more jokes. Get us laughing so hard we don't notice what is happening to the country.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Surprises and contrasts

I had an unusual evening at the Ruth Ellis Center. The first surprise was that the parking lot was full. Second was they had live musicians playing. Third was who those musicians were -- The Cut-Time Players, about 8 members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The DSO is on strike right now, but many players keep busy. This was their third gig of the day. I've seen these players from my seat in Orchestra Hall so could also name most of them. The percussionist was my teacher when I took a percussion class as part of my graduate degree. He didn't remember my name but my face was familiar. I helped him get a couple timpani down the stairs (REC is up two flights and there is no elevator or handicap access). Alas, I didn't find out who invited them and who paid the bill.

A group brought in dinner, which happens every so often. Usually it is a group from a Unitarian Universalist Church or a Metropolitan Community Church. The fourth surprise was the name of this group: MIGRA or Michigan Gay Rodeo Association. Yup, the same evening in which the DSO provided the music. They had roast turkey, ham, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, salad, and rolls. I think they also made up icing for sugar cookies. In addition to the food a table had been stacked with blankets for the kids to take with them. That was a meaningful gift because many of them have been kicked out of their parent's house. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Not just one too many cream pies

David Allison at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has been poking into studies of wild animal populations and found that a large number of different kinds of animals in the wild have a higher percentage of obesity than decades ago. That implies the human rise in obesity is not just that we eat more and exercise less than we used to. Focusing only on that means we might not be looking for important causes. A guess at those causes? Insufficient sleep, certain kinds of viruses (which cause obesity in lab animals), central heating and air conditioning (our bodies don't have to work so hard to keep warm or cool), and toxic chemicals that have gotten into the environment. Though when I think about it central heat and lack of sleep won't explain animal obesity. That leaves… Whether any of these is the actual cause, or whether it is something else entirely, will need more study.

Questioning loyalty to capitalism

The motivating issue of religious conservatives, according to Lisa Miller in Newsweek, has shifted from abortion and gays. The new issue is built on the old Protestant belief that America is God's own special country. This American Exceptionalism has been around pretty much as long as the country has. The next piece is the belief that it is free-market capitalism that created America's strength. Perhaps it did. I will note, however, there are many things that are great about this country that have nothing to do with capitalism and that the marketplace cannot solve all of our issues.

On that we add the big motivating issue, as Tony Campolo put it, "[A]nybody who is raising questions about loyalty to the old laissez-faire capitalist system is … unpatriotic, un-American, and, by association, non-Christian." And what might that disloyalty look like? Well, one example is the support of corporate bailouts.

It is possible that patriotism, not for country but for an economic system, might be the wedge issue of the next election cycle. The talking heads on the Right, notably Palin and Beck, are already at work on their message of wrapping the "shining city on the hill" around today's economic problems. The subtext is the foes of capitalism are weakening the country (and its exceptional place in the world) and by extension persecuting patriots and Christians. Though the article doesn't say so, there's a good chance that when patriotism gets used as a wedge issue the outcome is fascism.

A trap that keeps on giving

Ezra Klein of Newsweek uses the recent bill that extends tax cuts to explain how Washington works right now.

* No one cares about the deficit -- yet. In spite of many congresscritters campaigning to cut the deficit.

* Obama is much better cutting the deal than explaining it to his base, resulting in a lack of enthusiasm (see the recent election results).

* The GOP really cares about tax cuts for rich people. They even bargained with Obama to get them. It seems the prez. set his bargaining goals too low.

* The GOP has been able to convince Dems that the tax rate under Clinton -- the last time the economy was truly healthy -- was too high. Put another way the GOP made the Dems terrified of raising taxes.

* We need tax reform, now more then ever.

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, writing in the Huffington Post, talk about the history of the tax deal. Back when taxes were cut in 2003 the GOP laid a very careful trap which was sprung on Obama and will be sprung on him again in two years (and perhaps every few years after that). Some GOP operatives are crowing about the effectiveness of the trap. There were three parts to the strategy back in 2003:

* Unrealistic projections of federal surpluses which allowed for the claim that the money won't be used (never mind lowering the debt) and should be returned to the people, whose money it really is.

* Careful management of the legislation process so the effects of the cuts on valued programs couldn't be seen.

* Careful description of the cuts so they didn't appear to favor the rich as much as they did.

And, of course, they counted on the public's (and journalism's) short attention span.

The tax bills of both 2001 and 2003 were full of all kinds of time bombs that made no sense other than as political manipulation.

Which leads to the strategy that worked this year. And will likely work again in two years.

* Describe raising taxes on the rich as raising taxes on "ordinary Americans."

* Describe the dire economic consequences of any tax increase.

As before, and with every unified message from the GOP, none of these statements needs to actually be true.

And from the Dems? We only get an incoherent, rambling message.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I pledge allegiance to…

A few days ago NPR had a story about a truly dysfunctional high school (no link, it's not what this post is about). A lot of ink and computer bytes have been used to document how bad schools are and what should be done about them. The recent documentary Waiting for Superman gets into the act.

The Washington Spectator (alas, a subscription is required for online reading) says that documentary skews the debate and is pushing one particular outcome -- the replacement of public schools with charter schools run by corporations. Even the data from the movie is highly suspect.

This WS article, from the Dec. 15 2010 edition, set off all kinds of warning bells for me. I've already been writing about the corporate takeover of government and now I read about corporate takeover of schools. The corporate agenda has so thoroughly hijacked the debate that even Obama and many Dems use it as a starting point. Dems even push for centralized control over education.

A featured quote is from Barbara Miner of the website, which was set up to counter the documentary.

Should the American People put their faith in a white billionaires boy's club to lead the revolution on behalf of poor people of color?

The debate today revolves around accountability with the assumed position that teachers are the problem. Note that teachers tend to come with unions and we know what corporations think of unions. With accountability comes the need to measure outcome. With that student test scores take on primary importance. And with testing comes the focus on subjects that can be readily tested, those with specific right answers such as math and science. When studies show that students these days are obviously not all that good in math the answer is that we must stop coddling them. A strict discipline is what we need! This sounds a lot like the Father Knows Best conservative worldview.

What is carefully not mentioned by the reformers is the consequences of such focus. And what gets left out.

Here are some of the subjects, issues, and ideas that no longer fit into today's school "reform" -- and I'm not even going to get into the lack of music education in public schools (which makes my new career more difficult).

We lose the crucial role of education in a democracy, teaching the next generation what democracy is, it's importance, and what it requires of the empowered citizen.

We lose the concept that education empowers and elevates a community. A primary way out of poverty is through education. New corporate schools are more interested in producing workers content with their station in life.

We lose intellectual curiosity and different thinking.

We lose academic freedom and the contention that creates, which is how we work out what we mean by democracy.

We lose passion and compassion, the sense we're in this together, a defiance of control, a demand for freedom, a commitment to our children (who in may school board meetings are the one constituency not represented, even though the entire enterprise is supposedly for their benefit).

We lose empowered communities, places that feel they can pursue their own development, rather than recipients of charity that demands mandates.

We lose a curriculum of inquiry, critical thinking, imagination, discussion, social ethics, beauty (I guess I am going to mention music), complexity, and reality.

We lose the immediacy of science, that issues are still being explored and debated and have a real context as opposed to unscientific dogma.

We lose inviting an array of community activists, experts, and elders into the classroom.

We lose respect for the profession of teaching.

Education shouldn't be to invite youth to fill the vacant slots in the empire (if there are any). Instead, it should cultivate youth to help envision a future of deeper humanism and caring, and to give them the tools to build that future.

It is time to change the terms of the debate.

Nostalgic for Bush?

A decade ago Bush campaigned on the phrase Compassionate Conservatism. It was annoying to hear him praise a governmental program that helped the poor, then cut it in the next budget. At least Bush gave the impression of being clueless of the effects of his actions. Who would have thought we would be nostalgic of any aspect of the Bush years?

But that is one aspect we can yearn for. According to essayist Terrence Heath, conservatives of today don't even bother with the pretense of being compassionate. Many of their words reveal just how much they don't care about the rest of us. The rest of Heath's essay delves into the one group that was ignored in the tax/stimulus deal that Obama just signed. Those are the unemployed who have already used up 99 weeks of unemployment insurance. It ain't pretty.

Things have changed!

A year ago to get a hate crimes bill that protected gays through Congress it had to be attached to a must-pass military spending bill. The GOP squawked, but enough voted for it to get it passed.

One year later. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal was included in a must-pass military spending bill. Amazingly, that important bill did not pass. Some say it was because of DADT, some said because of other provisions in the spending bill. Gay activists thought the effort was dead when Harry Reid asked for a cloture vote when he knew some key backers weren't able to vote.

So DADT was pulled out of the spending bill, sponsored by an Independent and a Republican (!), and declared it didn't have to waste time in any committee. The House passed it a few days ago 250-175 -- and not strictly along party lines. The Senate held a cloture vote this morning and it passed. The GOP waived their right to debate, so the vote for the actual bill was this afternoon.

And it passed. 65-31.

Obama will sign it within the week.

This duck ain't so lame.

To top it off we have the opportunity of watching John McCain's head explode.

Yup, a year ago a gay friendly bill needed to be buried inside a must-pass bill. This time a gay friendly bill failed when it was buried and succeeded when it stood on its own. A first!

Definite progress!

However, the policy of discharging openly gay soldiers from the military is not gone. Obama has not, though urged by Reid, declared that dismissals will stop immediately. This bill only says the Dept. of Defense has the permission of Congress to end the policy, which is no longer required by law. It will still take six months to a year before gays can serve openly without fear of dismissal. The Sec. Def., Prez., and chairman of the Joint Chiefs need to certify they have a plan of implementation that won't impede military readiness.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mistranslation and misinterpretation

In case you haven't explored why many Christians believe the Bible does not condemn gay people (or you need a refresher) Bishop Gene Robinson wrote an excellent series of articles for -- of all places -- The Washington Post. Though that is a surprise I'm pleased to see these arguments in such a prominent secular venue. I've seen all of these points before.

In "Texts of Terror" he discusses how one should read the Bible. One major hurdle is making a distinction between what the words mean now and what they meant in context of the society in which they were written. He also explores the importance of Tradition and Reason, which (with Scripture) make up 3 parts of the Quadrilateral that John Wesley described. The fourth is Experience. Robinson also declares he does not believe God stopped talking to people once the books of the Bible were chosen and made official.

The two condemning passages from Leviticus chapters 18 and 20, the ones that refer to male-male sex as an abomination, are in the section describing purity. They assume that everyone must be straight, so gay sex is a person acting against nature and is thus unclean (in the same manner a woman's period is "unnatural" because it happens only for a short time each month. The surrounding passages also uphold common cultural stigmas and current understandings of how the world works. They might have been important in ancient Israel, but the whole lot of them are not binding on us today.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) is frequently taken as a prohibition to gay sex. However, the story is about coerced sex, or rape. Elsewhere in the Bible, including by Jesus, the story is declared to be about not offering proper hospitality.

Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. One would think an issue causing denominations to split would be worth a mention.

In Romans 1:26-27, Paul appears to be using the same argument as Leviticus -- that since the ancient world didn't know the concept of homosexuality all people were assumed to be straight. Worshipping idols (instead of God) would cause people to do things which are not natural, so straight people would engage in same-sex acts. Other than that, there are several sexual acts, such as temple prostitutes, that Paul is upset about, but he never actually says. Just a few verses later at the start of chapter 2 Paul issues a strong condemnation against judging others. This is the part conservatives ignore.

Passages in the letters to the Corinthians and to Timothy that are used as texts of terror use a Greek word that is used nowhere else in Scripture nor in other texts of the time. It's meaning is unknown. Modern translators have, of course, imposed their own biases onto the word.

These passages simply do not address the modern concept of two people of the same sex in a loving relationship. That means while we should not interpret the Bible to condemn gays we also cannot say it supports gays. The concept of homosexuality was unknown at the time. However, the Bible has a great deal to say about empathy, justice for the marginalized, honesty, and loving relationships. Those concepts should guide us when dealing with gays and gay relationships.

Another excellent discussion of these texts of terror can be read in the Soulforce guide "What the Bible says -- and doesn't say -- about homosexuality."

Over the rainbow

Final exams are over with and grades have been computed. This semester of teaching is over and I have about 3 1/2 weeks to get ready for the start of next semester and do all those things I've been putting off.

I also spent a wonderful evening in Grand Rapids where a semi-professional handbell choir (similar -- and just as good -- as the one I'm in) performed one of my compositions! They made the trip worthwhile.

Now to some of the things that have accumulated since I last wrote (some other things are either no longer relevant or will be relevant in new ways soon).

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute (part of the National Organization for Marriage) has a beef with the rainbow flag that represents the diversity of the sexual minority community. She said the coalition that passed the gay marriage ban in Calif. was the true image of diversity, having people of every race and color. "The gay lobby does not own the rainbow." Lots of people put rainbows in their children's nurseries and we can't forget Noah's Ark and all the animals. Dr. Morse wore a colorful scarf to highlight her intentions, but it wasn't a rainbow scarf.

Dan Savage takes the first and best shot. "Let's make a deal: give us our full civil equality—repeal DOMA, let us marry legally in all fifty states, end DADT, pass ENDA, stop torturing gay kids to death—and we'll let you have your f**king rainbows back."

Other comments:

"Time to get out the pink triangle. We OWN that."

It's OK, the rainbow flag is so 1980s.

Let's send her a real rainbow flag to wear as a scarf. "Let her walk around downtown and get called faggot or dyke. Or even worse, get beat up because people think she is gay."

Golly, they'll have to buy their rainbow scarves, bumper stickers, and jewelry from gay businesses.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The death of community

In response to my criticism of Obama yesterday my friend and debate partner provided a bit of insight.

Yes, Chamberlain. Appeasement is the first word I chose.

This represents the death of community, because the gov't won't have the means to fund it. It's hard to imagine tax rates ever increasing again in this country, short of a world war. (And, speaking of short, any modern world war would likely be so short that taxes would be the last thing on our minds.)

That provides an excellent lead-in to today's criticism. This time it's the GOP's turn.

Yes, I've pointed out many times, we know what the GOP is like and what their goals are (see the comment about community above).

We're about to add close to a trillion in debt to appease the rich. Somehow that amount of money doesn't need to come out of other spending. But the big objection to extending unemployment benefits was the money wasn't balanced by a cut in spending. The amount each will stimulate the economy is well documented -- the gov't will get a good deal of the latter back in increased taxes from increased economic activity. The opposite is true of the former.

One little detail of the deal hasn't been mentioned in the mainstream news (though Olbermann mentioned it) -- while unemployment benefits are to be continued, the extension does not apply to those who have already been out of work for 99 weeks.

Which means millions of Americans will be sliding into destitution with no way out. It will expand the ranks of the permanently economically desperate.

If Obama capitulated on the tax breaks for the rich and got only a one year extension of unemployment benefits (though many say he didn't need to) he doesn't have anything to bargain with a year from now to extend them again. Yes, this implies we may be seeing the last of unemployment benefits.

Taxes won't go up. The rich are sitting fat and happy. Economists and Tea Party members are clamoring for the debt and deficit to come down. That essentially means there is one place for this money to come from -- the poor, the working class, and the former middle class. It's going to get desperate out there. Desperate people do violent things. The GOP expects they'll harness that into keeping them in power. Whether they succeed it is going to get ugly out there.

My friend is right. The death of community will be the result. The GOP's demand for lower taxes is disgusting. Alas, we knew that.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eroding stability

An article by Evan Thomas in Newsweek compares present day America with the social turmoil of Germany. No, he doesn't bring up the issue of fascism. Instead he notes the wonderful contributions Germany has made over a long history, yet the country was frequently convulsed with social problems.

America has the social stability that Germany lacked (at least since the Civil War). That stability is built on our Constitution and that our upper class keeps changing through immigration. Americans have enough common sense that it would be difficult for those who rant and rave (see McCarthy) to get over 50% of the vote before their lies were exposed by our free press.

But Thomas thinks our stability is eroding. Some of his reasons:

* Politics is so polarized that neither side hears the other.

* The income gap is now huge.

* As the rich get richer with no care for the rest, the folks outside the gated communities are growing restless.

* In an atmosphere of fear and envy rumors spread fast -- mistakes are seen as sinister plots.

* The internet has expanded opinion, but not truth. Mainstream media isn't successful anymore in exposing distortions. Political forces are capitalizing on those distortions.

The case has been before the judge

I've finally seen several summaries (one, two, three, and four -- I'm sure one of them has a link to a video of the entire 2.5 hours of the proceedings) of the Calif. gay marriage ban before the 9th Circuit Court on Monday. The proceedings didn't say much new. This is, after all, a request to revisit a case quite thoroughly argued.

The anti-gay side included a lawyer for the deputy clerk of Imperial County. He was there because the first order of business was to determine if the anti-gay people in the court had standing to bring the appeal. The rules say that those bringing appeal will be harmed because the lower court told them something they had to do. Most of the anti-gay crowd would only be harmed through an affront to their religion, so they found a deputy clerk who would have to actually write out marriage licenses for gay couples and be annoyed at having to do so. However, the lawyer for this hapless clerk was unprepared for his moment in the spotlight, not even knowing if the person he represented was elected or appointed. The judges gave off strong vibes of why are you wasting our time.

It seems the three-judge panel wants to rule in favor of gay marriage, but are having a hard time getting past the issue of standing.

We won't know the ruling for a few months. There are several possible outcomes, but no need for a lot of effort to sort through them now.

Yup, he's been flattened

Listening to the NPR news yesterday morning had me struggling to find the right word for what I was feeling. Exasperated sounded about right, but not nearly strong enough. That eventually got me to checking a thesaurus which suggested aggravated, annoyed, irritated, galled, peeved, put out, riled, and vexed (among others). Individually, these words again didn't sound strong enough. Perhaps I should use them all together. Or maybe I should just graduate to outraged.

The target of all this venom is Obama and his deal to keep the income taxes of the rich at the low rates passed under Bush. Yeah, he says he got a lot of tax benefits for the middle class and the poor out of the deal (not just the Bush era cuts) and even got the unemployment benefits extended for 13 months (while the rich get to keep their cuts for 24 months). And, he whines, it was the best deal he could get.

It may be the best deal he could get now only because he boxed himself into a corner and had long ago thrown away his best assets. Those assets were the huge army of progressives and independents who voted him into office in 2008, ready to do battle for him against his foes. Alas, he told them to sit down and shut up. So they did. He could have easily said, "Fellow Americans, we must preserve the tax cuts for the middle class and we can't afford the tax cuts for the rich. Call your senator and ask them to help both the economy and the deficit." Perhaps if he hadn't exasperated his base so completely he wouldn't be facing a hostile House in January.

Since the election I've been predicting the GOP was going to flatten Obama. I didn't think it would happen before the new Congress was sworn in. I also didn't think the flattening would be so thorough. Obama whined that one doesn't negotiate with hostage takers unless someone is about to be injured and working Americans were about to take a hit. But all he did was to show the GOP how effective their tactics can be. Hold the poor hostage and Obama will cave. Meaning Obama is already politically impotent and there is two years to go.

I'm pleased to see that there are many Dems similarly outraged and ready to stand up to the GOP. I'm glad somebody has a spine. Alas, they also see the head of their party as damaged goods. Obama's approval rating and the results of the last election mean that many Americans figured that out a long time ago.

I'm especially pleased at Keith Olbermann's 12 minute chastisement. He says it a lot more completely, eloquently, vehemently, and devastatingly than I could. He explains how, after annoying his base, Obama could still have pulled it off. Olbermann even mentioned the possibility that Obama may not be nominated again. Hmm, Obama compared to Neville Chamberlain.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Neither party is listening anyway

Terrence Heath expanded on an essay he wrote shortly after the election. The earlier one said the GOP didn't win, the Dems lost because so many millions who voted for them in 2008 didn't bother to vote.

Since then the GOP has been saying America has spoken and has clearly spoken in favor of their policies. By making that claim the GOP is, of course, ignoring the clear voice with which America spoke in 2008 and the numerous polls about the priority of various issues since then. All those polls say Americans do not want the policies the GOP is ramming through.

So why, if Americans don't like GOP policies, did they not vote to prevent them? Heath provides an answer. Because to those 45 million citizens who sat this one out, their vote is useless. Neither party is listening to them anyway.

I've been wondering when somebody is going to come right out and say this. Clarence Jones of the Huffington Post finally has. In the same manner that Eugene McCarthy took up a primary challenge against President Lyndon Johnson (who signed some landmark laws yet escalated Vietnam) in 1968 it is time for a Democrat to challenge Obama in the primaries in the 2012 campaign season that is about to start. Obama has abandoned the base that got him elected. It seems he feels he can ignore us because we have nowhere else to go (that's especially true of gay issues). Any true progressives -- with a spine -- out there?

Waiting for the analysis

The Calif. gay marriage ban was before a 3 judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court today. It was broadcast on TV, though I didn't watch. I haven't yet seen a summary of what happened. One hour of the presentation was to explore whether the anti-gay side is allowed to bring it before the court at all. The second hour was to explore the issue itself.

A big improvement but still tainted

The Pentagon report on the survey of the troops and their families about the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't tell was released last Tuesday. I wasn't all that interested to read all 267 pages, so I'm glad Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin summarized the recommendations. The report had two parts, what the survey told the military leaders and the recommendations for how to proceed with repeal (once Congress gives permission).

The report is a gigantic step in the right direction, but it is not all roses. Many recommendations are quite good. Some recommendations are constrained by the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that says the government cannot recognize gay marriages. Other recommendations are tainted with heterosupremacy -- the belief that straight relationships are inherently better than gay relationships. Here's a summary of the summary.

1. Don't treat full integration of gays in the same manner as integration by race. Don't place sexual orientation alongside race, color, religion, sex and national origin as a class eligible for diversity programs and tracking initiatives. Yes, orientation is not to be a factor in promotion and personnel decision making, and cases of abuse should be handled as all other such cases are handled. Alas, we've seen that when sexual orientation isn't specifically mentioned in anti-bullying laws students still feel free to bully gay kids.

2. Don't track the effectiveness of integration -- don't ask service members if they are gay.

3. There is no need to change policies to address fears of homosexual behavior. Current standards of conduct, applied without regard to orientation, are sufficient.

4. No need to change Chaplain policies. If atheists, Christians, and Muslims can serve together, so can those with varying views of the sinfulness of homosexuality.

5. Repeal the ban on "sodomy" between consenting adults.

6. Orientation is not to be considered when assigning rooms. If a raging homophobe objects to rooming with the gay guy, handle it on a case-by-case basis.

7. Separate showers are not necessary. Gays already share showers with straights in hundreds of thousands college dorms, school gyms, professional sports locker rooms, police and fire stations, and athletic clubs. We should now be able to lay this particular bogeyman to rest.

8. Revise regulations so that gays can appropriately define "dependent" and "family member" for benefits. Alas, a gay spouse isn't seen for the relationship, but only as a "designee." Gay couples do not get military housing in the same way that unmarried straight couples are not eligible for such housing.

9. Don't rewrite regulations to allow same sex partners be accommodated in duty assignments.

10. There are already regulations concerning HIV in the blood supply, so they don't need to be changed.

11. Those who were dismissed under DADT can reenlist, provided they still qualify in all other respects.

12. Those who threaten to quit rather than work with gays should not be accommodated.

John McCain has been blubbering that the survey should have asked whether the soldiers believe DADT should be repealed. The report says if it had been done that way it would have been a referendum on the policy and the military does not make decisions by referendum.

The military brass, in hearings before the Senate, have been saying forcefully that repeal should happen by law and not by the courts. If the courts have their way the policy must be repealed immediately. If done by law the Pentagon can implement changes carefully with minimal disruption. Care about combat readiness? Then repeal the law.

Harry Reid has released the Senate calendar for the time until adjournment on Dec. 17th. DADT repeal and the defense spending authorization is not listed. Obama will either change the policy through executive directives (with the risk that the next president will reinstate it) or wait for the courts to repeal it. Perhaps he'll do both.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Illinois has approved Domestic Partnerships! Both state house and senate passed it with comfortable margins. The governor will sign it soon. It's not marriage, but it is a step in the right direction.

Jon Stewart has the latest on the Senate hearings on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He even flattens McCain, the biggest obstacle. For those that don't recognize the two fighting knights, it is from Monty Python's spoof on King Arthur. And it was very effectively used.

Most maps don't show population density, so it isn't obvious how packed China is and how sparse much of Russia is. So here's another way to look at the population of each country. Reassign the country with the most land to the citizens of the country with the most people. Do the same with the second largest area and second most populous country, and the same on down the list. The Chinese take over Russia, the Indians take over Canada. USA (3rd), Brazil (5th), Yemen, and Ireland stay put. It makes for some interesting neighbors. Look here for more explanation and here for a map with enough detail to actually read (once loaded it can be enlarged).

Rafi Ron used to work as the Director of Security at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv (and was on duty there when 9/11 happened). He says the TSA's reliance on technology won't work. The terrorists are already a step ahead. Instead of focusing on the gadgetry, screeners should be studying the people -- human nature hasn't changed and a watchful and well informed screener can uncover explosives that machines can't. We spend too much time annoying harmless passengers and not enough time on actual threats. However, this makes me think the real goal (at least in the USA) is to annoy harmless passengers to get us used to excessive government intrusion and think it is normal and appropriate.

Spoiled brats

When I heard about this latest GOP tactic my reaction is this is the worst thing they've done. Certainly the worst since … well longer than a week ago. We are talking about the GOP. At least this one is way up there on naked greed, callousness, and chutzpah. The stunt certainly qualifies for outright extortion.

In case you hadn't heard -- and the mainstream news has been downplaying it (what liberal bias?) -- the entire block of 42 currently serving GOP senators delivered a letter to Harry Reid saying until they get their tax cuts (the ones for the rich) preserved Reid can consider everything in the lame-duck session to be filibustered. They sound like spoiled children with puffy blue faces (wish I could claim that phrase was original with me -- the picture isn't either). And their tax cuts are more important than…

* Extension of unemployment benefits -- strange that tax cuts for the wealthy don't have to be paid for through spending cuts, but benefits for the poor do. Note the rich get $100,000 a year each (not that they'd notice) while the poor struggle with $12,500 a year which can make the difference between keeping the house and not.

* Defense spending authorization for two wars, a bill that includes the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Though for this a couple senators may break ranks.

And Reid? He merely sputtered about the lack of effort to solve the nation's problems. It also sounds like the prez. is caving under the thought of a fight. The GOP is handing him a PR bonanza and he isn't taking it?

Don't be surprised that when the debt limit must be raised sometime around March the GOP votes it down.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Restoring what the Constitution intended

Back when Jimmy Stewart starred in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington when a senator wanted to filibuster a bill he actually had to commandeer the Senate chamber until the issue was resolved one way or another. Because of that a filibuster was rare.

Now all a senator has to do is say, "I want a filibuster," and the Senate has to go for a cloture (end debate) vote, then wait a prescribed amount of time before the vote on the bill itself takes place. The senator has no skin in the game. Yet, even if he knows the cloture vote will go against him he can slow down Senate business. Because it's so easy practically everything over the last couple years has been tagged with a filibuster. As a result 60% of the senators are needed to get anything done.

Senators in both parties say it is time to go back to majority rule, and the filibuster must require some effort by the senator demanding it. A chance to do that might actually be coming up soon. During the first day of a new Congress the Senate can change the rules of how it operates and that needs only 51 votes.

And it looks like the drive to change the rules isn't to allow the majority to flatten the minority, but to make the Senate more deliberative and to restore the intent of the filibuster rules. And one intent is to put the burden back on the one calling for the filibuster rather than on the majority.

It gets the Senate back to being what the Constitution says it should be. And isn't that what the Tea Party wants?

Divided at the dinner table

Lisa Miller in Newsweek takes a look at how we are divided by what we eat. Those who are not poor, who are food secure, have access to fresh and healthy food (grown by poor farmers who struggle with earning a living through organic farming). We make choices based on what is best for ourselves and for the earth as a whole. Those who are food insecure, the ones whose money might run out before the end of the month, don't have access to fresh and make choices based on what it the most filling for the lowest price instead of what is healthy. Their food is grown and processed by rich agriculture conglomerates. Because of this the food insecure tend towards the high calorie foods and have a much higher rate of obesity. This divide between what the secure and insecure eat has grown as the income gap has widened. America, with a high income gap, also has a high rate of obesity. Japan has low income equality and has much thinner people.

I liked the campaign better than the book

James Kloppenberg, a history professor at Harvard who has studied Obama and his books, wrote an essay for Newsweek. This appears to support my friend and debate partner's idea that Obama is governing from the left of center. Kloppenberg says that Obama is doing exactly what he said he would do in the two books he wrote before the run for president. Obama is neither following the dictates of party dogma (as the GOP accuses him of doing) nor is he a spineless wimp for not fulfilling the dreams of progressives (we'll see about that). Perhaps progressives took his campaign, rather than his books, at face value (what a thought!). Obama's method of operation is to understand his opponents, rather than simply demonizing them (something I appreciate), and that his decisions be based on evidence, not party platform (another trait I appreciate). Alas (from my point of view), Obama's admirable traits have hit up against the GOP rigid doctrine, united front, and insistence they be the ones in power. And Obama hasn't figured out how to overcome that yet. I get the impression he's going to be flattened by the new Congress.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gone nutty

Did you know that Mr. Peanut, the logo for Planters Peanuts, is gay? That's the conclusion after his sidekick Benson was revealed. Here's the hilarious coming out story.

The Onion claims to have found the journal of one Nathaniel Linsley, a popular gay man of Philadelphia in the 1770s. Through this document we learn that Betsy Ross didn't create a new country's flag, but a shirt for Nathaniel. The stripes are so slimming and he really liked stars. The blue provided a bright splash of color and the cotton sure beat leather and wigs during the hot Philadelphia summer. Alas, sequins were too expensive.

The latest edition of the Washington Spectator (alas, no link) mentioned an explanation by a global warming denier given in 2009 that has since gone viral. Illinois Rep. John Shimkus quoted from the Bible: Genesis, Chapter 8, the section just after Noah's Flood.

Never, Again will I curse the ground because of man, even through every inclination of his hears is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.

According to Shimkus that means God won't allow global warming to happen.

That same issue notes that in the GOP House the chairmanships of the various committees will be going to the representatives who have raised the most money from the corporations regulated by those committees. For example, Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus is to take over the Financial Services committee and has received more than $1.4 million from banks and insurance companies.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed a few more anti-gay organizations as hate groups. The groups are, of course, protesting the label, in spite of the SPLC's careful documentation. Some have noted these groups are not saying, "We didn't do those things," or, "You misunderstood us." Instead, they are saying, "You slander us. You better apologize." Put another way, "Yes, we did and said those things, but it is wrong for you to conclude that we hate gays."

The Celtic Tiger has become a tiger skin rug

Yeah, it's been over a week since I've written something for this blog. It isn't because I haven't accumulated things to write about. Now that the holiday is behind us (as well as a fabulous performance of "Of Mice and Men" by Steinbeck at the Hilberry Theater) I can get to some of them. That means there will be a few that are no longer worth writing about. Sigh.

The GOP has been pushing for a smaller government and a bit more (perhaps a lot more) austerity for the rest of us. If the Bush years weren't a good enough example of how well that works we now have the example of Ireland. Essayist Terrence Heath explains it all for us.

Ireland is in the news (just today) because its celebrated Celtic Tiger has gone bust, the country has sunk into a depression, its banks need bailing out which puts the country under the sway of EU bureaucrats, its Parliament is pushing an austerity budget, and its people are demonstrating in the streets.

What happened?

The Celtic Tiger came into being because the Irish Parliament set the corporate tax level at 12.5%, much lower than the rest of the EU and the USA. Multinational corporations set up shop there and hired lots of Irish workers. But those corporations didn't go to Ireland because the locals were great workers, the move was to create tax shelters. Other than the pay for the workers the country didn't benefit. All that corporate profit didn't stay in Ireland, didn't enhance the local quality of life. That is now being called tax piracy. The same thing is behind the faulty claim that we shouldn't tax the rich because they create jobs. Even in the boom times the national budget was being starved of income.

The lack of local investment wasn't the only problem. As in America and elsewhere in Europe the drive to deregulate made the Irish more vulnerable.

Then the worldwide recession hit. Those big multinationals had to save money. Since they had no stake in Irish society (or any society) they shed workers. The recession hit Ireland first and developed into a depression. The national government, already strapped for cash could only handle the unemployed by going into debt. Until it couldn't.

There were austerity budgets, intended to calm the credit markets and get the economy booming again. Neither happened. The government told the people, "We're all in this together." The Irish people could easily see the lie -- perhaps 300 people living large and 4 million paying the tab.

The Irish people also saw something else. There had been a ladder that allowed the working class to climb to the middle class and the middle class to climb, perhaps, into the world of the rich. That ladder is being burned. Helping the poor isn't just about money (for something to eat and a place to stay). It's also about access to services that improve quality of life and expand choices in life. Those services are disappearing. Irish life is being divided into the rich and everyone else and the wall between the two is being built higher.

Austerity didn't work. Yet the price of the EU bailout is more austerity. It deeply affects everyone -- except the people who engineered the mess. Another way out is to raise that corporate tax rate. But that is one thing the government won't consider.

To those of us in America does any of this sound -- even remotely -- familiar?

Too many efforts by the American government are promoted solely by the number of jobs they will create. Yes, America needs job and lots of them. But America needs a lot more than just jobs. We need a way for the working class to climb into prosperity. We need protections for the environment. We need improved quality of life. Austerity won't get us there and will likely burn the methods of getting there. What will get us there? Raising taxes.

Sara Robinson took a look at why so many working and middle class Americans appear to be voting against their own economic interests by voting for the GOP. The insight is through a new poll about how Americans view the Bush tax cuts about to expire and in particular about the taxes on those who make over $250,000 a year.

The question was what is the percentage of families that make over $250K? Average guess is 17%. People think that about 1 family in 6 makes that kind of money. If true, then a typical family has a reasonable chance, with a little work, of pulling down the big bucks, and when they do they don't want Uncle Sam taking it all.

The real value is less than 3% of Americans make more than $250,000 a year. That's somewhere between 1 in 35 and 1 in 50 families. The average working Joe has no chance, outside a winning lottery ticket, of needing to worry about that tax bracket.

That means conservatives have pulled a masterful con job. They've convinced more people that upward mobility is possible while at the same time they've closed off the avenues for making that mobility happen.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Some things get better, some get worse

Several gay fathers, with their kids around them, add their voices to the It Gets Better project. Once they realized they are gay they thought they could not have a family. They are all quite pleased that they found a way. The video is less than 6 minutes.

Jon Stewart takes a look at McCain's tactic of continually requiring more proof (the latest being a different kind of study) before supporting Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The segment, a little over 5 minutes ends with several actors (one of them Sean Hayes) presenting an "It Gets Worse" public service announcement. McCain's reputation can only get worse the longer he stalls the process.

The United Church of Christ has issued a call to its members to get involved in the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Good to see a Christian denomination get behind ending discrimination.

Rachel Maddow reports that there exist at least 60 votes to stop a GOP filibuster of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Questioning reliability

I'm usually pleased with Newsweek's treatment of gays. They magazine took up our cause a long time before other mainstream media did so (and I've been reading it for over 3 decades now). But every so often…

The latest is a piece by Eve Conant featuring Brian Brown, the nasty man at the head of National Organization for Marriage. The entire piece refers to Brown in glowing terms and his opponents (which would be us) in scary and violent terms. Newsweek has a new owner and new chief editor. I wonder if this article marks a shift in the magazine's reliability.

I haven't gotten the answer I like yet

I reported last Friday that Cindy McCain had spoken against Don't Ask, Don't Tell while her husband John is the big reason why the repeal hasn't been passed. Less than 24 hours after the video that included her remarks went public she issued a retraction, saying she agrees with her husband.

When the issue of DADT repeal began hitting the news last spring, John McCain said that he wouldn't vote for it unless the Sec. of Defense was for it. Soon, Robert Gates said just that. Then McCain wanted the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to confirm it. And Admiral Mullen said just that. Then McCain demanded we all wait for the service members to be surveyed and the report to be issued. The report results have been leaked, saying service members have no problem with repeal. Now McCain is saying we did the wrong kind of survey. The survey that was done asked how such a repeal should be implemented and it should have surveyed whether the repeal should happen. Actually, many gay organizations were annoyed that such questions were in the survey. Put another way, McCain hasn't gotten the answers that confirmed his bigotry, so he wants more times to get the answers he wants. He's now threatening to demand Congressional hearings, which would drag the process long enough that a vote couldn't happen until the new Congress was seated. Joe Lieberman is telling McCain to shut up.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The political jungle

This could cause a few domestic fireworks. Cindy McCain has been speaking out about the need to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Her husband John is a big reason why the repeal hasn't happened yet.

The Supremes decided that Don't Ask, Don't Tell can remain in effect while the case is before the 9th Circuit Court. The earliest that court can rule on the case is March.

Iowa GOP leaders have been crowing about how three state supremes were ousted because they mandated gay marriages. They're now saying let Iowa citizens vote to ban gay marriage or we'll oust the other four justices who approved it. Nothing like an ultimatum to start off a legislative session. The Dem leader in the state Senate is holding firm.

Hit them in the wallet

Sara Robinson has written several essays about fascism. She has another essay, though this one is about what we, average citizens, can do about it. The Tea Party might be the agent that might tip us into fascism, but it will be the corporations who will hold the power. The last election shows that perhaps corporations already do hold the power (though I note there were several heavily funded candidates who lost). Which means a political solution to our country's problems is no longer possible. They have Congress in their back pocket and many courts too. They control most of the news which no longer tells us the truth. Our doctors give us the medical care their corporate backers will permit, which is not the best care.

I've long wondered why the rich, with all the money they have, want even more, to want it so badly they work to dismantle the middle class. Robinson says their ultimate goal isn't money, it's to make the rest of us dance to their tune. They want to be Masters of the Universe (MotU).

The way out? Hit the big corporations where they feel it -- in the wallet. Yes, it will be hard, even for the most green and conscientious among us. Robinson bases her recommendations on two principles: (1) These monster corporations have power because of their money. That money comes from us, so stop giving them money. (2) Corporations have the most control over the federal government, so pull all power from the federal level and bring it back to the local level where we can keep an eye on it and where great solutions to national problems are already being worked out.

Her steps to combat the MotU. It's no coincidence that many of these steps also promote a healthier lifestyle and planet.

1. Live within your means. Return to the values of gauging someone's status based on thrift, prudence, and how much you helped your community rather than on glitter and extravagance. Prune your life to something manageable that allows you to save some money. It also allows you to walk away from a job that abuses you and your world.

2. Stop using credit cards. Every time you use a card the MotU collect a fee. They collect more when you pay interest and late fees. If you can't get by without plastic, use one from a local bank or credit union or use a debit card, which has lower fees. For as many things as possible use cash.

Yes, I have one of those MotU credit cards and use it for the rewards points I get. But the rewards are actually quite small, especially compared to giving control over to the MotU.

3. Move your money to a local bank or credit union. Including your mortgage, car payment, and retirement fund. The local bank invests locally and local economic health and resilience matters over time.

Yikes! This one is going to hurt. At the very least it will take a significant amount of research to make me comfortable in local investing. An alternative for me, also requiring significant research, is how I might invest in mutual funds while keeping my money out of the hands of the worst of the MotU.

4. Eat local, eat organic, cook your own. And stay away from processed food. That's the stuff in the center aisles of the grocery store and it is all made by MotU. In addition, MotU oil companies won't get money for the oil used to make fertilizer and to transport your food. Farmers markets and community supported farms keep money out of the big corporations.

5. Support local merchants instead of big box stores. It isn't just Wal-Mart. All big box stores suck money out of the local economy and underpay their employees. Many restaurant chains also want to be MotU so aim for the local guys. The locals may not be any more expensive yet their employees are better paid and their money stays in the neighborhood.

6. Make your own energy. The biggest MotU are oil and coal companies. So fire Big Fossil. Yes, it will cost money for solar panels, though the investment can pay off. Another option is community power companies, which are beginning to take hold.

7. Buy used. MotU is dependent on us buying more stuff. So stop. That's also better for our wallets and the earth. Get to know eBay, Craigslist, and Freecycle.

8. Buy American, buy Union. If you must buy new, support an American family. Unions are the best bulwark against corporate power.

9. Use less Big Fossil. This will (1) reduce the need for American defense to keep oil flowing, (2) stops Big Fossil, who are the biggest campaign contributors, (3) your choices will spur clean technologies, (4) make your community more resilient. And hundreds of other reasons.

10. Hire a better employer. The highest paying jobs are with MotU. But what good is a job like that if your employer destroys your community, nation, and world environment? Yeah, in this economy jobs are hard to walk away from. But once the other 9 items are well under control the high paying job won't be so necessary.

If you visit Robinson's article online she has links to various sources that explain each item in more detail. It looks like I'll have enough resources for a year's worth of stewardship talks at my local church. Also click on the comments at the end of Robinson's article where she talks about how her local community -- Bellingham, WA -- is already doing many of these things. Along the way the town found the distance between progressives and conservatives isn't all that great when the issues are local.

Rocks thrown from all sides

I wrote yesterday about how many progressives didn't work hard to elect Dems because they were so disenchanted with the way Obama has treated them. My friend and debate partner responded:

Obama steered his legislative program and governance slightly left of center, making important progress on the major agenda you have listed. The sure signal that he chose well and was an outstanding leader and politician is that the far right and far left ranges of the political spectrum were and are about equally furious with him. That's good politics.

Real benefits: Important progress for the middle class at the expense of the wealthy and powerful. But the center he catered to and benefited is apathetic and uninvolved. The result: important progress that made almost no one happy.

Political results: Won almost no one's loyalty and support. Obama got to stand in the middle and have rocks thrown at him from all sides. Every good deed punished.

As Nov 2nd showed: Fatal.

I admire what he did because it is and was very good governance, far better than we deserved after electing the Bush nation-wreckers twice. Americans need to re-educate themselves on what government is for and can be realistically expected to do.

Steering just left of center could not (as you are painfully aware) win the support of LGBTs (whose needs are way progressive) nor of young people (who are idealistic and fail to appreciate the challenges of change). Notice that I am writing here about the affect experienced by Americans -- the practical consequences of governance, NOT about justice or rights deserved but delayed.

This time my debate partner gets some debate in response. I understand his point but don't completely agree with it. Detroit is enjoying a fine Indian Summer so I had a chance for a long bicycle ride today, hopefully not the last of the season. So I thought about this a bit as I rode, though didn't come up with more than three counter-examples. Good sign that my debate partner's idea is sound? We'll see.

It is one thing to go for the center between progressive and conservative ideas generally held by the citizens. It's quite another to compromise on issues between corporations and citizens. Even conservative citizens see (some) value in reining in corporate greed (many of them were hurt in the Great Recession too) even if the corporate puppets in Congress fight such protections tooth and nail. In cases such as this I don't think it is smart to govern from the center.

The American middle class is suffering because of the Great Recession and many are desperate. Not getting them the help they need, especially not making sure unemployment benefits last through the long downturn isn't smart maneuvering, it's simply dumb -- and political suicide, as we saw.

In the case of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the military ban on gays serving openly, a majority of conservatives want the ban lifted. Given that so many want it gone and the prez. still can't get rid of it, he's a wimp.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Perhaps butter and jam would help

The music group OK Go has another video. Definitely innovative. This one is drawn on 2,430 pieces of toast as it's canvas for animation. I really like the innovation. I'm not so impressed with the actual images or the song.

Perhaps you could change those pesky consumer protections

Lots of GOP candidates campaigned with a promise to repeal the new health care law. Those who became lawmakers will find a member of the health insurance lobbyists waiting outside their office door in January with the message, "Don't repeal. We like it. Though perhaps you could tinker with it a bit."

This is from an article in Newsweek by Wendell Potter, who used to be a PR person with a hand in crafting the message which would shape or kill health care legislation. He's now ashamed of some of the things he did, though now he has the insider perspective. He says insurance companies like the new law because it mandates so many more people must have insurance and all those additional people mean more profits.

Of course, the insurance industry doesn't like everything in the bill. It's the little things -- like consumer protections. These are things like covering kids with preexisting conditions, canceling coverage when the policyholder gets sick, and requiring 80% of their money goes to actually taking care of patients. That sort of thing.

So if a new lawmaker wants to tinker, they'll be glad to offer suggestions on what could use some tinkering. And they'll be ready with "death-panel" style ads to help the lawmakers along. Just keep your hands off that mandate.

Cheerleaders at a Charlie Brown football game

After the election I wrote that Dem voters stayed home, handing the election to the GOP, because the Dems didn't create the change they campaigned on in 2008. Here's another look at the voter's annoyance.

Ezra Klein in Newsweek says the Dems accomplished quite a bit in two years, mostly fulfilling their campaign pledges (rare politicians!). Their problem was that much of the progress didn't register with voters. Klein lists these accomplishments:

* Health Care reform, which included a lot of little (and not so little) things -- cover 32 million more people, cut the deficit by about $14 billion a year, insurance exchanges, make it illegal to turn down customers for preexisting conditions, pay doctors for quality instead of quantity, and even require restaurants to include calorie and nutrition info on their menus.

* Financial regulation, including a way to monitor bubbles, the ability to take down institutions without bailouts, and a consumer advocate in the government.

* The economic stimulus, which "failed" because it was too small, not too big. This included infrastructure improvements, digitalizing our medical records, and investments in renewable energy.

* The Race to the Top program, which is changing education.

And those are just the big things.

Why wasn't that enough?

Daniel Lyons, also of Newsweek, provides a clue. Obama was able to harness the vast social media resources of the internet during the campaign. The prez. campaigned in a new way and that led to expectations that he would govern in a new way. He didn't. Social media sites are built around discussion and all these Netizens expected Obama to let them in on the discussion of the details of programs and priorities. Instead, he carefully shut the door. One big facet of the annoyance was the Netizen's priorities: Close Guantanamo, end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, legalize marijuana, support gay marriage, use the internet to create a more transparent government, and to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. And how many of those did Obama and the Dems accomplish? One guess.

Obama may have done a lot. But of the specific dreams of the Netizens who put him in power, the hope he offered came up empty.

Terrence Heath fills in some details, though he isn't directly responding to Lyons. Heath features the story of Jodi Jacobson of Vieginia, who worked her tail off to get Obama and Democrats elected in 2008. She didn't just vote, she told lots of other people why voting for Obama was a good idea. Once Obama was elected, Jacobson wanted something in return.

In exchange, I wanted the change I was promised. And I was willing to keep working for it well after the election.

I certainly never thought it would happen without a fight.

I further expected the Administration to call on us, command us, to fight in support of a clear agenda for change.

Instead, this Administration not only failed to do much of any of the above, it has also vilified people like me by calling progressives the problem. It has locked out progressives in meetings and in the press. And it has catered slavishly to the religious right.

And while Obama stayed silent, equivocated and pre-emptively compromised away the rights of my children, gay children, Latino children, and black children, status-quo politicians in leadership, like Chris Van Hollen, my own Congressman, gave away the store by supporting people like Bart Stupak and undermining those like Jennifer Brunner.

I would not in the end been so distraught at the many giveaways that eventually happened if the good fight had been fought en route to getting there.

Not only did Obama not fight, he made his base feel like "cheerleaders at a Charlie Brown football game." Instead of a reason to believe we get told to sit down, shut up, and settle for whatever crumbs get tossed our way. Electing Dems, simply because they are Dems (or, worse, not GOP), won't get progressives very far.

Jacobson voted in 2010. But she did not work to tell anyone else that voting for Dems was a good idea. And 45 million voters stayed home.

The GOP policies won't help the country. Dems can take the government back in 2012. But only if they prove they won't be wimps.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I have readers!

I've noticed through blog stats that there have been days in the last couple weeks when 45-50 people read my blog. And through the wonders of the internet they are around the world. However, I notice that nobody has left any comments. I'm pleased you like what you read here and apparently come back for more. But I'd like to know a bit more about you. Who are you? Names are optional, since I don't provide my own. Where are you? How did you find this humble blog? What keeps you coming back? What things that I write about most interest you? Are there topics you would like me to address? I'm full of curiosity and wish you would share.

Free speech has consequences

Back in mid September I wrote that Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell was essentially stalking Chris Armstrong, who is the student body president at UM and is gay. Shirvell said that he was only exercising his free speech rights. Today, Shirvell was fired for conduct that would prevent him from being an effective employee. His actions crossed from speaking to stalking. Efforts are underway to disbar him as well.

This should be easy, but somehow it isn't

There are rumors, reported in the Wall Street Journal, that Senators Levin and McCain are in discussion to get the Defense Authorization Bill passed in the lame-duck session by stripping out the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. This, of course, has gay bloggers incensed. One of the gay lobbying groups is saying such background noise isn't helpful. But we've had too much of such groups telling us everything is fine when it isn't.

The White House opposes such action, but we're skeptical of him too. And simply "opposing" it doesn't mean he'll expend any effort in that opposition.

Adam Serwer of the American Prospect sums it up neatly. More than two thirds of Americans want DADT gone, including a majority of conservatives. There is plenty of research to show that the policy hinders the very things it was proclaimed it helps. If Democrats can't get this passed, no wonder voters won't vote for them. Harry Truman integrated the armed services in spite of strong opposition by military leaders, soldiers, lawmakers, and the general public. it was the right thing to do. Democrats can't get a bill passed to allow gays to serve openly in spite of strong support by many military leaders, soldiers, the general public, and being the right thing to do.

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon expands on what Rachel Maddow said a couple days ago. The GOP is full of shameless liars. There are no checks on those lies. Dems, including the prez., put an emphasis on being civil and to them calling out the liar isn't civil. Democracy suffers (which is the goal of the GOP).

Did you learn how to detect BS when in school?

Sharon Begley of Newsweek says we need to reform science education to add one important item to the curricula. We need to teach the ability to detect Bad Science (BS). Perhaps this shouldn't be restricted to science classes. Classes in BS detection would include such topics as:

* What counts as evidence? Many studies are observational, rather than randomized, and such studies only show correlation, not cause and effect.

* How do statistics work? One important concept is regression to the mean. When you take medication at the depth of a cold, did the medication bring about health or did it just take time for your body's own defenses to kick in?

* How do you know? If it is by intuition or anecdote, it is likely wrong. The human brain is good at finding patterns in randomness and at overestimating causality.

The burden of money

Ezra Klein in Newsweek reports that Congresscritters are getting tired of the money in politics. The 2010 election cost over $4 billion and lawmakers have to spend time and effort to raise that kind of serious dough. It's time and effort not spent on the job they were elected to do and they recognize how corrupting it is. So they're ready to do something about it, right?

But they know how the game works and know how to turn it to their advantage (they used it to get elected, didn't they?) and they know the current system does not help challengers. And at least the Senate expects its members to raise money not only for themselves, but for the party as well -- it's now a dues paying organization. Though the current system is onerous, it is worth doing to stay in power. Only a giant scandal will change the system (well, yeah, the system is a scandal, but not a very visible one).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A body at rest

Christoph Niemann has illustrated basic physics concepts in a way that everyone can understand.

The Ann Arbor online newspaper has a fine article on Rev. Douglas Paterson, who helped guide First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor to be a welcoming congregation for sexual minorities.

A struggle ruinous for the victor

Terrence Heath wrote a three part essay on why the GOP win is Pyrrhic. First, the definition: A Pyrrhic Victory is one that is so costly that another such victory will cause defeat. Put another way, the struggle is ruinous for the victor. That sure caught my interest.

We'll start with what happened to the Democrats. Heath believes the GOP didn't win, but the Dems lost. Why? The Dems promised change and didn't deliver.

Obama kept striving for bipartisanship, even though the GOP repeatedly and firmly rebuffed his efforts, starting before Obama took office (yeah, the GOP claims that the Dems didn't reach out, perhaps because they knew it was a futile exercise). So the Dems continued to barter away the change they ran on, the change the country needs. And they got very little for it. The list of bills that died through filibuster is long. The Blue Dog Democrats, who obstructed a lot of Dem plans, lost half their caucus last week. Even conservatives apparently didn't want them acting like the GOP. Because the Dems did such a rotten job of fulfilling the change they were elected to accomplish their base stayed home. The GOP won by forfeit.

Boehner and McConnell have been claiming all week that America wants the GOP agenda. Commentators have said about the Dems, "You can't sell what people don't want."

But the GOP agenda is identical to what they've been pushing since at least 2004. It didn't work and America knows it didn't work. Which is why they voted strongly for Dems in 2006 & 2008. We don't want what the GOP is selling. We don't want cut taxes and hope. We don't want a country that works for the top 1%. We do want what Dems campaigned on in those same years. But the Dems didn't deliver.

The GOP is not popular with Americans, their approval is below the Dems. Their policies are considered toxic to American life. Heath lists many GOP agenda items and the poll numbers to show how little support they have. So back to that forfeit.

There were 45 million fewer votes cast in 2010 compared to 2008. That's down by a third. So it is silly to say "The people have spoken!" in favor of GOP policies. Why is the voice considered louder than it was two years ago? The people have spoken, and continue to speak. But neither party is listening. The Dems listen too closely to (and are cowed by) what the GOP is saying and the GOP listens only to corporations.

The GOP cannot deliver on what America wants. The Tea Party can't either. And over the next two years they are likely to deliver nothing at all.

The Dems can, and we might even give them another chance to try to do the work we elected them to do in 2008. But only if they prove to us they mean it.

More commentary about why the Dems lost:
Sara Robinson points to an ongoing perception that has worked against Dems and is on bright display by Tea Party members. A complaint by the Tea Party is, "I've gotten where I am all on my own. No government help at all. Why should I pay taxes so the government can coddle those slackers?"

It's an amazing self-delusion. The list of government programs that help the middle class starts with public schools, goes through home mortgage interest deduction, and ends with Social Security and Medicare, with a slew of other programs in between. The problem is that many people don't see these as government programs. "Keep government out of my Social Security!"

The reason for that misperception is the programs for the poor (food stamps and minimum wage) are frequently debated in Congress. Programs for the middle class aren't -- Congress knows not to touch them. In addition, most of these programs don't have an obvious connection to government because a private company handles the transaction (like student loans) or it is something so small as a single line on a tax form.

So what do we do to counter that misleading narrative?

First, make the hand of government more visible. Obama started it by cutting out banks in the student loan process.

Then start saying that in America opportunity is a group effort. This affirms the social contract (which the GOP works hard to shred). It puts a stop to the politics of rage that says I pay taxes and get nothing in return. It demands they give credit to the sacrifice of others that made their personal and societal wealth possible. A true patriot would thank Uncle Sam.

Rachel Maddow has a 15 minutes segment on conservative lies. The conservative media machine is big, well funded, and self-contained. Something gets to be true because they use each other for reference and verification. These crazy stories can no longer be debunked because they no longer listen to anything outside their sphere. When challenged, they don't back down, they say, "I heard it somewhere." This is dangerous because some of these people are now in positions of power and basing important decisions on things that aren't true.

I (and others) doubt that media outside the conservative sphere don't spend a lot of time trying to debunk this junk. It could be because there is so much of it, but I wish for more important and dangerous lies they would at least try. This likely contributed to last week's Dem defeats.

We've heard "This time it's different" before

In the Calif. gay marriage case before the 9th Circuit Court the friends of the gay side had their turn to file briefs of support. There were lots of them. Some of who filed and what they wrote:

Professional organizations, such as the American Psychological Association wrote about how to evaluate research on gays who form families and also about the current state of knowledge of sexual orientation and families. Another related brief discussed the ramifications of discrimination.

Justice Donald B. King and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers wrote the choice isn't between a gay couple raising a child v. a straight couple raising that same child. No one is going to swoop in and take the child away. The choice is between whether the gay couple raises that child under a mark of inferiority.

Howard University School of Law -- this is one of the oldest and most revered of the traditionally black universities. Through the history of discrimination, starting with slaves not allowed to marry because it will destroy social order, we are told, "This time it's different." This time we really do face the downfall of civilization. We've heard it all before.

Legislators from Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts wrote they have not seen any of the predicted dire consequences in their states. The Mass. group also said the marriage rate in the state has remained stable and there has been greater acceptance of gays.

People of faith -- United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Churches, Episcopal Church, Progressive Jewish Alliance, Reform Rabbis, Unitarian Universalist Church -- all say they are being discriminated against and their religious liberty is violated because they cannot perform marriage ceremonies.

NAACP Legal Defense Fund wrote that the case that overturned interracial marriage was controversial at the time but now seems obvious. The principles of that case are not confined to race.

Ethnic organizations, such as the Asian American Justice Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense wrote that if the rights of a minority are taken away through a popular vote of the majority, then the rights of any minority may also disappear.

A thank you to all who filed.