Friday, January 29, 2010

Meticulous and complete

Some of those who witnessed the Calif. trial fielded questions from interested parties about related issues and what the chances are before the Supremes. Some of the comments:

* One big reason why the anti-gay side had so much trouble with its witnesses is that credible scholars no longer support the arguments of the anti-gay side.

* The Supremes could rule narrowly, affecting only Calif. because it had legal gay marriage for a while and the voters took it away. Even if Calif. voters change their minds before this case gets to the Supremes, there is a huge amount of information in the transcripts and evidence that people will be mining for years.

* The anti-gay side is, of course, trumpeting how unfairly they have been treated in the trial to hide that their side has such a weak case. Besides, they claim, the case only touches on legal issues, not ethical ones.

* The pro-gay side has been so meticulous and complete in preparing the case it will be impossible for the Supremes to rule against gays without torching the constitution. Alas, we've recently seen they are willing to do that.

Are they a teensy bit more friendly?

Are GOP views of gays softening? Timothy Kincaid offers these observations that the GOP is shifting from Official Party Positions on gays to positions held by individual GOP lawmakers:

* Obama mentioned repealing the military ban on gays in the State of the Union address and the GOP response was silent on the issue.

* The effort to impose a 10 point values test on candidates in order to get party funding has failed. The party wants to be able to run candidates in moderate and progressive areas of the country.

* Cindy and Meghan McCain, wife and daughter of the prez. candidate) participated in an ad campaign supporting gay marriage and were not loudly condemned by the party. John did go on record as disagreeing with his family.

* Only 29 legislatures have signed on to oppose gay marriage in DC.

But don't run out and vote GOP any time soon.

* GOP senators in Indiana just tried again to get a marriage amendment before the voters. It passed the senate, but the house is Dem controlled.

* In the marriage vote in New York last December the GOP was unanimously against it (though they worked real hard to be silent during debate).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Overwhelmingly one-sided

Both sides in the trial over the Calif. gay marriage ban have now presented all of their evidence. The judge wants to review the evidence (over a few weeks or couple months) before asking the lawyers back to give their closing arguments. There will be more waiting after that for the verdict. Along the way there is a battle over whether more evidence of a certain kind should be introduced. The anti-gay guys were forced to reveal a great deal of the workings of their campaign and now want to force the pro-gay campaign to do the same. Never mind the pro-gay stuff has nothing to do with whether gay marriage should be outlawed or whether gays have been treated with animosity. I wonder if the pro-gay lawyers would say, "Fine. Here it is. We have nothing to hide."

Here is a link to the last of the daily summaries of the trial. It includes links to all previous days. If you are really curious and have lots of time you can even read the daily transcripts. Just be aware that includes everything said in the courtroom over the course of a working day and there are 12 days worth.

Shannon Minter, who has been providing the daily digests, summed up the whole trial in his last posting. What he says is worth reading, though too long for me to quote. A condensation:

The evidence has been overwhelmingly one-sided. The pro-gay side presented the top researchers in gay issues. They used the inflammatory words of the campaign to show it included a huge component of hostility and fear-mongering. The gay witnesses showed the inability to marry causes real and great harm to couples and their children.

The anti-gay side could only offer testimony from two people who were not qualified to testify -- the judge told one of them that he was so poorly qualified that if the trial was before a jury the witness would have been prevented from speaking. Neither witness offered reasons why gays shouldn't marry and both offered many reasons why they should. A few commenters wondered if such a weak presentation was intentional. Are they saving the big guns for the Supremes? How is pulling out the big guns later rather than now an advantage? Are they merely using the whole exercise as a fund-raising venture? "See how the activist judges are against us! Send cash now!"

In summary, there is no reason why gays should not be able to marry and the reasons why gay marriage laws keep losing in popular votes is the ability of the anti-gay crowd to generate and fan all that hostility and fear-mongering. Before a judge who demands evidence they have nothing to say.

This is, of course, only the first step. The case will be appealed, first to the 9th Circuit Court, then to the Supremes. Don't plan a California wedding just yet.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mental wanderings at 3:00 am

I didn't sleep very well last night, which was annoying because I had to get up early this morning to run though a bell solo with the church pianist before the service. During the times I was awake I thought a lot about what I wrote yesterday on the Supremes granting unlimited political speech to corporations. The consequences were quite unsettling, especially since I'm a member of a group that is likely targeted.

Since this sounds like the way fascism develops in a country (which I've written about before, mostly last August and September) here is a reminder of the description. See my earlier writing for references and a more complete description.

The whole process begins when the conservative political party, backed by business interests, develops a belief that it has the right to rule, yet, because its message has become extreme, it loses at the ballot box and sees no way back into power. Yes, liberals might develop the same belief, but the outcome is called communism, not fascism. This party concludes that democracy is a hindrance, not an ideal to uphold. We've seen the modern GOP do some highly undemocratic things over the last few decades.

The second part of the process is a disaffected working class, whose social contract has been broken -- they no longer see the ability work towards a better life. The social contract is dismantled by the conservative party, yet that same party is able to harness the anger of the working class and convince it that democracy itself is the problem. Along the way there is lots of talk of victimization and the need for national purity. Sound familiar yet? These hopeless workers become the thugs that intimidate the rest of society in an attempt to clean out the impurities, whatever is causing the working class to stagnate or lose ground. The recently formed Tea Party movement appears to fit this role quite well.

If the home-grown terror escalates far enough these two groups are able to convince enough others to abandon the constitution.

That scenario now appears to be interrupted, but not in a way that leads back to democracy. The conservatives, through business, have been handed a way back to power. This route may not exactly eliminate the progressive party, but might make the two parties indistinguishable (they're not?). The path to power may bypass the need for working class thugs to enforce compliance. Even so, there will be an appeal to the working class simply to get the votes and the poor will be agitated with the loss of the safety net. We may not get full fascism, complete with demands for ideological and racial purity. But the corporatocracy we get won't be democracy, either.

If we're headed towards fascism I'm convinced gays will be a target for purification. If we're merely headed toward corporate control of government then gays might be valued for their creativity.

But that leaves some questions running through my mind. How long will this take to develop? How much lead time will we have between the time we know gays will be a target and the time they come knocking? Toronto has possibilities, but Vancouver and Melbourne sound more appealing. How much time will I have to get my affairs in order and will I be able to shift my retirement accounts out of the control of a US management company without losing a huge chunk to taxes? A lot to think about at 3:00 am.

Back in August, while I was discussing fascism, I was guided to this poem by Martin Niemoeller:

When the Nazis came for the communists, I said nothing;
I was, of course, no communist.
When they locked up the Social Democrats, I said nothing;
I was, of course, no Social Democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I said nothing;
I was, of course, no trade unionist.
When they came for me, there was no one left who could protest.

Another thought at 3:00 am.: If Niemoeller had protested to the Nazis about the disappearance of communists and unionists, it seems to me the Nazis would have hauled him away then, rather than saving him for later. Would Niemoeller have gained anything with his protest? Even if quite a few others protested with him would it have made a difference?

Yes, there is a reason for me to make those points. I like to think I'd stand up for the little guy. But if America turns seriously thuggish is there any reason for me to stick around?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The chair recognizes the Senator from Exxon

I wrote before how the reasoning behind the big decision on corporate spending for elections didn't pass the smell test. The only way out of it is a constitutional amendment. We may be to the point where impeachment won't help. Keith Olbermann on MSNBC (transcript found in the comments here) lays out the consequences. Is his warning too dire? Or on target? Some of his points:

* Legislators at all levels can and will be bought. It may take a while but not all of them need to be bought. When bought, they will erase any remaining checks and balances that currently prevent corporations from writing the laws. I heard one report that said compared to the profits of Big Oil in the last year, buying every single TV ad timeslot during a campaign season in a market such as Louisville, KY would be a pittance. The buyer wouldn't need to use them all for campaign ads. But the competitor would have no way to run any ads.

* No need for citizens in campaign fundraising, or involvement other than to vote.

* The law said unions can also spend freely. However, their bank accounts are no match for corporations. No matter because unions will be neutered through new laws.

* Reduction in taxes for at least corporations and the wealthy. This comes with elimination of social safety nets. I've written before how the destruction of such safety leads to the uprising of the working class (the start of fascism).

* Wars will be sold as products or reality shows because military industrial corporations need a reason to exist.

* Bans on gay marriage (and gays in general), abortion, evolution, separation of church and state. This will happen because the most rabid voters are against these things and throw them these bones and they won't care what else corporations want to do.

* Racial and religious tensions will be inflamed because somebody needs to be the scapegoat for the loss of the safety net and civil liberties and deflect the agitators away from corporations. But once the work of the agitators is done and they realize they've betrayed American freedom, they will be banned.

* The loss of independent news because once the need to inflame people to vote a particular way has passed the news will need to be "everything's great!" All rabble-rousers (like Limbaugh) will be silenced.

* The internet you say? Ask the Chinese how well that's working for them.

* Change the Supremes! Alas, by the time enough appointments could make a difference, the people who make and approve the appointment will have been bought off.

* There's still free speech! Um, no. See the point above. The irony is that this issue was decided on free speech grounds, that corporations have as much right to free speech as the rest of us.

On target? Overblown? When have the largest corporations shown anything like conscience or compassion? And who now has the ability to stop them?

Here's one reason (of probably many) why a corporation is not equivalent to a person (the basis for the Supremes' decision). They may be managed and controlled by non-residents, whose interests do not coincide with eligible voters.

Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida has proposed a few bills to perhaps lessen the damage of the ruling. One requires immediate public disclosure. Seeing the way the anti-gay forces are dragging their feet on disclosure, good luck with that. Another bill requires that corporations get prior approval from shareholders. Even with these bills it only slows down the time when corporations are the only ones with constitutional rights.

Members of Congress spend a lot of time raising money. A good deal of that time is calling corporate executives. Some of them, who don’t quite lead the giant corporations, are complaining, saying, "Stop hitting us up for cash!" Since that complaint came so closely after the Supremes' ruling it has left some government watchers wondering if this was a ruse to say, "See, we aren't really out to take over the world."

If corporations get First Amendment rights, will they get Second Amendment rights too? Will they have the right to arm themselves?

Injustice or misfortune?

Is the lack of health care for so many millions of people an injustice or merely unfortunate? Blogger/Essayist Terrence Heath explores this question. Your answer is probably based on whether you think health care is a right. If it is a right then, in the same manner as women's rights, civil rights, and gay rights, delaying health care for all is equivalent to saying (in the words of Martin Luther King) that justice delayed is justice denied. And moderates wanting progressives to slow down and allow the rest of society to catch up is only fueling the injustice. These moderates are for justice, but we just can't be rushed into things.

That means the health care bill (currently in doubt) has already been watered down and compromised and sliced-and-diced (from the progressive perspective) and still moderates say we are moving too fast. Are they immune to the stories of insurance nightmares? This is an issue of justice! Another MLK phrase comes to mind, "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice." The next sentence should be, "Because countless hands reach up and bend it sooner rather than later."

If the lack of health care is a misfortune there is no urgency. Misfortunes are not something we can do much about. Not only is there no urgency, there is no responsibility to act. We can easily justify our inaction (except if we take the words of Jesus seriously…).

Democrats have not chosen the side of justice and are now groveling merely to get a bill -- any bill -- passed. Have we bent the curve towards justice? Hard to tell.

Injustice or misfortune?

The same question can be applied to the earthquake in Haiti and what seems to be an almost annual megadisaster over the last several years. David Rothkopf of Newsweek has a few things to say about it. 100,000 -- likely more -- dead in Haiti, not to mention those now homeless and unemployed. 70,000 dead from an earthquake in Sichuan, China in 2008. 150,000 dead from cyclone Nagris in Myanmar. 90,000 dead from an earthquake in Kashmir. 250,000 dead from the Indian Ocean tsunami. And we get bent out of shape when someone threatens 250 people on an airplane or when hundreds (have we gotten that many?) die from the H1N1 flu virus.

There are a few things these megadisasters have in common.

* The victims are the world's most vulnerable, reduced to living on treacherous soil.

* Scientists warned the area was precarious.

* Local governments didn't enforce building codes or provide infrastructure for warning, escape, or rescue.

* International aid is only enough to buy peace of mind, to get the incident out of the news.

But these are all disasters that can be managed in the same way that pandemics can be managed. We can promote those building codes and the building of infrastructure to prevent an Act of God from killing so many. Expensive? Compared to what? The cost of all this emergency aid? A standard Wall Street bailout? The cost of lives lost? Injustice or misfortune? With the threat of climate change and the likelihood of more violent weather, Haiti won't be the last megadisaster. Perhaps the international community can use Haiti as an example of how to make the necessary changes.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The best government money can buy

Justice Kennedy, in a ruling issued today, said:

"The appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy."

I read that and laughed. It's so blatantly wrong. The voters have looked at the amount of money poured into campaigns from wealthy interests and have *already* lost faith in our democracy. Obama's ability to raise tons of money from the common man restored some hope, but he seems to be squandering that.

The ruling (in case you haven't heard), is that corporations may spend freely in campaigns for president and Congress. Their reasoning is that free speech extends to corporations.

Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor strongly dissented, saying:

"The court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation."

Senator Bernie Sanders, independent from Vermont, called for public funding of elections. So has Chellie Pingree, Democrat of Maine, a state that already has a successful public financing of campaigns. Other states have similar laws and it's about time it happens nationwide. Can Sanders interest his money-hungry colleagues and dodge calls that the federal budget can't afford it just now? 50 of them have signed on.

Is there a way to get a candidate elected without tons of money? Let's put some good minds on it.

You're not going to get away that easily

I wrote that the marriage trial in Calif. will be reenacted for video. At least the trailer is available now. Day-to-day videos of the reenactment will be ready soon. The daily transcripts are also available (if you want the gritty details), which should make the reenactments more accurate.

I had previously commented that witnesses for the anti-gay side were dropping out. When witnesses first agreed to take part they made deposition tapes, describing how they would testify in the trial. The pro-gay side showed a couple of those anti-gay tapes and the testimony was much more favorable to gays than it was against. No wonder they dropped out. So it wasn't threat of harassment by voters. Up today (and in tonight's report) is one of the defendants who had dropped out of the case. It seems he won't be able to get clean away. The pro-gay side will use him to demonstrate the deep-seated animosity that gays face.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Man v. Mouse

As mentioned before, I've been dealing with mice in my kitchen. Last week I bought two live traps and put them on the counter. I did capture two mice (safely released in the golf course next door) but over the course of six days there were four days where the traps were triggered without a mouse being inside. Not a good success rate.

Last Monday I bought a different style of live trap it is a long tube that is carefully balanced. The "lid" rests on the floor and when a mouse enters to get the bait at the other end the tube rocks back and the lid slides into place. I had bought two, so placed one on the counter, the other under the sink.

At 3:15 am, I heard an occasional noise (I don't know if it woke me). After a while I got up to investigate and confirmed it was coming from under the sink and the new trap there had been triggered. I didn't want to take a mouse outside at that hour, so returned to bed. The noise continued. I figured it was the mouse pacing the length of the tube.

I took the trap outside Tuesday morning -- and found it empty. On closer inspection I figured out what had happened. A mouse apparently bumped the bait end of the trap, causing it to trigger. The mouse could smell the bait through the end cap (which allows loading the bait) and proceeded to do a great deal of chewing of the trap to get at the bait. It didn't succeed and the bottom of the cupboard was littered with chewings. What I heard was not a mouse trying to get out but a mouse trying to get in.

I reset the trap and put the second one beneath the sink. I checked them after rehearsal last night. One was triggered when I returned, with a mouse in it. I took it to the golf course. The other trap had a mouse in it this morning. Four mice now evicted. I'll reset traps again before going out this evening in hopes of catching any that remain.

Today was my time to clean much of the kitchen and reclaim it for my own use. In an earlier round of cleaning I discovered that a mouse had crawled through my toaster, so I bought a new one. I haven't unpacked it yet, waiting to be sure the mice are gone.

A morsel of support

Golly, the Obama Justice Department is actually intervening in a gay case! They're even using a novel argument to do it. Gay teens in Mohawk, NY wanted to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at the high school. They were refused. The Justice Department says the school board is in violation of Title IX, the law that protects students from gender discrimination (and requires equivalent sport outlets for men and women students). The JD says that the law also covers gender stereotypes -- such as boys who are bullied for being effeminate.

I must hasten to follow

The Calif. gay marriage trial may not be broadcast, but there are other ways to get the trial before the public. filmmaker John Ireland will spend the next several days very busy. He and his team are creating a script based on those blogging and tweeting inside the courtroom. They have already hired actors to portray the various participants and they have filmed a reenactment of the first day of the trial. That should be on YouTube by now. Additional days of the trial will be posted promptly thereafter. Alas, without an actual transcript it will be criticized by Fundies ("I didn't say that!").

The judge in this case has kept the cameras rolling even though the proceedings won't be broadcast. The judge says he wants to refer to them while he deliberates. The anti-gay side now says the tapes must be destroyed when the judge is done with them. Nothing but thorough. Charles Bouley of the Huffington Post works through the implications of that request for the defendant lawyers and the Supreme Court Justices who agreed the trial should not be televised.

* The right of witnesses not to be harassed are more important than the victims of discrimination and more important than the First Amendment while what they are protecting violates the Fourteenth Amendment and the Church/State separation.

* The defendants (the anti-gay side) must know how empty and bigoted their arguments are if they fear those arguments might be exposed.

* The Supremes banned TV from the lower court because they know how they are going to vote when the issue gets to them and they don't want their own bigoted empty reasons to be known. They have abandoned the document they are sworn to uphold.

* The job of the Supremes is to determine if the constitution has been violated. Nothing else. In this case it is obvious (even to school kids) that the 14th is being violated. If the Supremes don't rule in favor of gays it is a breach of ethics and justices can be impeached.

* Would impeachment of Supremes happen? Alas, no. We might impeach a president over sex, but there aren't enough people, certainly not enough politicians, who love the constitution. The politicians will abandon anything for a vote. Justice and equality must wait for a death or retirement.

Dahlia Lithwick in Newsweek points out a discrepancy in the anti-gay side hiding in a pivotal question. As Fundies put it, who is supposed to decide an issue this big? Judges shouldn't impose their values on the people, they claim. Lithwick responds if the voter is to decide it is absurd to ban the voter from seeing the proceedings. The ballot fight in 2008 cost both sides $74 million, most of that to buy TV time to educate the voters. It's too late to claim there is no place for the TV now. If they claim that a judge is too elitist they can't turn around and claim the voter is so thuggish he would terrorize the witnesses. Of course, we know the real reason is that before the judge they can't use the scare tactics that are so effective in swaying the voter, and the reasons they are left with don't hold much water.

One of the pro-gay lawyers in the Calif. marriage case denounced politicians, especially Obama, on gay issues in general. He says politicians say, "I must hasten to follow them, for I am their leader."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

One for my debate partner

I've been sitting on a response from my friend and debate partner. I'll claim my excuse has been a lack of time to tend to this blog.

My debate partner lives up to his name in response to my posting about the Berkeley, Calif. schools and their attempts to help their minority students by eliminating the science department. I'll let him tell it:
The site you reference for the posting below only says science labs are being considered for elimination, not all science classes or the whole dept. But I doubt the Berkeley story is true. The post you reference is from Monday and the story failed to make national news in a week of very little news. In an age of fundie attacks on science, this news from liberal Berkeley would be a national story. Maybe its fundie propaganda.

My efforts to Google and raise a Berkeley public schools web site failed -- maybe their computers are shut down while school is out for the holidays.

As an indication of how long I've been sitting on this one, the holiday mentioned was New Year. In addition, I apologize for the error in my reporting and thank my debate partner for delving into the accuracy of my source.

Just put that crystal ball away

I get weary of political reporters pontificating on What It All Means. There's lots of talk about the 2010 elections (10 months away) and the 2012 election and what this or that little detail implies for Congress, Obama, and the nation. It's not just election politics that gets the pundits gazing at crystal balls. Since the Calif. gay marriage ban before a district court in San Francisco will likely end up before the federal Supremes, there is lots of speculation of what those Supremes will do with the case (all wrapped, of course, in cries of "this case is too soon!"). Alas, this case is more personal than most. Since the Supremes weighed in on whether the district court should be allowed to televise, we have a perhaps cloudy view of what the high court is thinking about the case. This view is based on three insights that were gained from what the Supremes said.

* They are watching the case closely, and even intervening ahead of time (rather than on appeal).

* The conservatives on the high court don't trust the judge handling the case. They say his reasons for wanting the cameras kept changing.

* The court's conservatives are distinctly sympathetic to the anti-gay side, buying their claims of threats of harassment without substantial proof.

So the image in the crystal ball is: it doesn't look good for gays. And yet… Justice Kennedy is the deciding vote and has rejected discrimination against gays in the past.

Terrorism without terror

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek noted the panicky responses to last month's underwear bomber. Since the goal of terrorism is terror and panic no wonder the Al Qaeda branch responsible claimed credit even if the explosives didn't go off. Zakaria proposes something radical -- don't panic. That may be difficult to do with the GOP ready to pass judgment on Obama for any hint of trouble. But we have an example to follow. When any kind of airplane accident occurs the National Transportation Safety Board calmly and quietly figures out what went wrong and issues regulations to keep it from happening again. Death from air travel is now rare. Think of how much calmer we would handle things if, when terrorists strike, the NTSB (or TSA) calmly figures out what went wrong and issues regulations to keep that method of terrorism from working again. Along the way we might get airport screening procedures that actually address real situations instead of the current mess that leaves us wondering what they were thinking. No panic, no terrorism. And no political finger pointing.


A gay teen reads Leviticus and begins to wonder if he's a closeted fundamentalist Christian. This is a wonderful inversion and spoof from The Onion.

The disadvantages of a two-party system

A comprehensive look at how Dems take gay money and return very little for it. This article in the Advocate (the gay magazine, definitely not the Michigan Christian Advocate newsmagazine of United Methodists in Michigan) reviews why many gays are disenchanted with Obama and the Dems. Some are saying gays shouldn't be all that surprised or upset because Obama and the Dems are doing very little for progressives in general (the health care bill probably won't contain a Public Option).

Are gays making a strategic mistake in aligning with Dems? The NRA has shut down debate on gun rights by supporting Dems as much as to the GOP (more properly, appealing to the rural vote in both red and blue states). Can gays do the same? Alas, no (or not yet) because gays are still toxic to the GOP base. Gays are tired of the choice between one party that uses us for political gain and the other party that takes our money and ignores us. Many gays are now looking at bypassing party politics and directly funding supportive candidates, lobbying efforts (carefully avoiding those organizations closely aligned with Dems), and challenging state laws.

Obama seems quite willing to ignore laws he doesn't like (even more than Bush) -- except when those laws involve gays. Another call to not fund the Democratic Party, only individual Dems who actively support us. The party might be able to buy off the rich gays and the leaders of the various lobbying organizations, but it won't work for the regular folks anymore.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bailing out of a sinking ship

One of many reasons for not posting much lately: mice in the kitchen. One has been removed (unharmed to the golf course next door), but there is evidence of more. Holes between the basement and outside have been plugged.

Back before the Calif. gay marriage ban trial began there was an argument about broadcasting the trial or posting summaries on YouTube. The pro-gay side thought it was a marvelous idea. The anti-gay side said it would scare off their witnesses. That little tiff went before the federal Supremes and they decided broadcast wasn't a good idea. Two reasons were given. The first is that the district court where the trial is being held didn't go through the right procedures in permitting the broadcast. The second is that five justice bought into the issue of irreparable harm. Sotomayor strongly disagreed. What harm? Never mind irreparable. These were the people who were out front during the original campaign for the ban.

So the trial won't be broadcast. Funny thing -- anti-gay expert witnesses are bailing out anyway. Perhaps they are seeing how pro-gay witnesses are chewing through their arguments and don't want to sit through a cross-examination. It is one thing to whip up the anger of the masses, quite another to face down a skeptical prosecutor and judge.

Here's summary of each day's arguments (there is one more day to go on the pro-gay side) with postings of background commentary.

Ted Olson, the guy who represented Bush in the 2000 case Bush v. Gore, is one of the two lead lawyers arguing to end the Calif. gay marriage ban. He has an article in Newsweek about the conservative case for gay marriage. It's well worth reading. I note that the conservative case sounds a lot like the liberal case. There is also an introduction to the piece by Newsweek authors.

Here is an easily understood explanation of what a court does in determining if a law is discriminatory.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Has he spilled the beans?

Catholic Deacon Keith Fournier wrote against gay relationships by saying:
They want the State to treat homosexual partnerships as the equivalent of marriage, thereby denying real marriage and the family founded upon it, the favored legal place it has long held as the first society.

Ah, so it isn't about preserving tradition, upholding the age-old definition, or protecting kids. It's that straight marriages are special and therefore better than the gay kind. Glad we cleared that up.

Being held accountable for free speech

The big case that challenges the Calif. gay marriage ban begins on Monday in federal court in San Francisco. The challenge was filed soon after the Calif. Supremes decided last May the voters had approved a valid amendment, rather than an invalid revision, to the Calif. constitution.

There is some last-minute pre-trial wrangling because the pro-gay side wants to take advantage of new rules in federal courts that allow proceedings to be televised. The judge readily agreed. The anti-gay side is having conniptions, saying such exposure would have a chilling effect on its witnesses and subject their defense team to harassment by gays (oh, please!). The judge agreed to tape delay with segments released to YouTube hours later. The defendants say that isn't good enough and have asked Kennedy of the US Supremes to yank the plug on video. One wonders what they have to hide.

Here's a bit more detail about the Fundie conniptions. They claim that a televised trial (or one posted to YouTube) would intimidate witnesses or cause them to change their testimony. But aren't witnesses to tell the truth regardless of who is listening? Yeah, but saying something that will be buried in trial transcripts which nobody reads is different from saying something that will be watched worldwide for years to come. And that means they don't want to be held accountable for what they say -- they don't want video of their bigoted words to haunt them during the next "protect marriage" battle.

The idea of being held accountable has been way too real for one of the defendants of the ban. Hak-Shing William Tam saw the case being filed and asked to be included on the anti-gay side. Now he wants out. He is afraid of recognition and reprisals if there are cameras at the trial. He cites things that happened during the campaign: car tire punctured, someone tried to steal his yard sign, death threats (through YouTube, no less). No evidence that these incidents were perpetrated by gays, and they're mild compared to what many gays go through on a daily basis.

But leading up to the trial, those threats didn't stop him from giving interviews or participating in debates in favor of the ban. Or being added to the case last summer. So why is he terrified now?

He found out that by being part of the trial pro-gay lawyers have been sifting through everything he's written, some of it, of course, anti-gay. It's one thing to take part in a friendly debate, it’s quite another when your most virulent writing is unearthed. You want to shove your beliefs on us? We get to examine what those beliefs are. Free speech has consequences. There are people who will hold you accountable for what you say.

Margaret Talbot of the New Yorker has a lengthy article explaining all aspects of the trial. Some of the ideas that are new to me:

When the case was first filed many gay organizations said it was too soon. The makeup of the federal Supremes isn't in our favor yet and they don't like to get too far ahead of public opinion. The Loving v. Virginia of 40 years ago that overturned interracial marriage bans happened after more than three-quarters of the states already permitted such marriages. The feeling the case is too soon has intensified since the loss of gay marriage in Maine and the refusal of legislatures in New York and New Jersey to enact it.

But that's state law. Public opinion in favor of gay marriage (above 40% is much higher than the 20% in favor of interracial marriage 40 years ago).

This article contains an interesting discussion of choosing suitable people to be the plaintiffs in the case. It's not so simple. These are the people who will be the face of the case. They need to be able to speak well, be ordinary people (as in not activists), and have a secure relationship that will endure the scrutiny over the years the case will entail.

In the meantime various groups in Calif. are following the idea that voters are less likely to vote against gays if they know someone gay. Teams are spreading across the state, especially in conservative areas trying to engage people on their doorsteps in discussions about gays and gay marriage. Those canvassers have to be gutsy, considering how I tend to treat Fundies who come to my door.

Tell me something I don't already know

Back in late November I wrote a letter to the Michigan Christian Advocate in rebuttal to an opinion piece printed in the December issue. The writer was annoyed that the First United Methodist Church in Kalamazoo had declared themselves to be a Reconciling Congregation, one that is friendly to gays. For this letter I used my real name and church, though I didn't say I was gay.

My letter was printed in the January issue. I've gotten praise from several people, including from an unexpected man at church this morning. Thanks to you all.

I found an envelope in my church mailbox today. I opened it when I got home. Inside was a letter and a pamphlet. The letter was a rebuttal to my letter to the Advocate. Since I can't reply to the author I'll reply here. The letter and the pamphlet repeated all of the Fundie positions on homosexuality. I didn't read anything new. The letter included the usual stuff. Gays die young (the study was discredited and its author was thrown out of various psychological societies, but that doesn't prevent Fundies from dragging out his work when it suits their purposes). God never approves of homosexuality in the bible (he said that several times in various ways and underlined each time). Sin must always be opposed (well, no, God told us to love and to not judge).

The writer began by saying this wasn't just him speaking. He then described the number of books and articles in his library (thousands). No doubt every last one of them espoused the anti-gay side. The size of his library doesn't impress me (in the same way the claim that the definition of marriage is 5000 years old doesn't impress me). I kept wondering if he had ever met a gay couple in a loving relationship. Probably not. He gives off such a nasty vibe that I'm sure they stay away from his church.

I was a bit surprised that he signed the letter. However, he did not provide a return address (coward) and a Google search did not bring up his church (so how will net-savvy youth find his church?). Since he wrote only to me (and not the Advocate) and didn't provide a way to respond, I'll let the matter drop. I wasn't going to change his mind any more than he was going to change mine. Perhaps I should be claim a small victory that he wrote to me and not the Advocate. Perhaps he doesn't want his words out there for public debate.

The pamphlet was more of the same. It's title is When Passions are Confused; Understanding Homosexuality by Jeff Olson of RBC Ministries in Grand Rapids, MI. I can tell the contents just from the title. It does the usual Fundie view of the problem. Gays are regularly associated with alcohol, drugs, depression, and suicidal tendencies. I note it is careful to avoid confusing correlation with causation, though the average reader will miss the distinction. It doesn't say that these associations are caused by church condemnation and family rejection, not by homosexuality itself.

The pamphlet refutes the standard "myths" of homosexuality: We're born that way. Homosexuality is harmless (that same short lifetime study), especially to the spirit. The sin of Sodom has nothing to do with homosexuality (so why did God threaten to wipe out Sodom before the incident described in Genesis 19?). Biblical references to homosexual behavior do not refer to homosexuality as we know it today (lots of quoting of translations using the word "homosexual" though the concept wasn't known in biblical times). Homosexuals can't change (it refers to a mistranslated verse).

The standard causes of homosexuality are trotted out: bad parenting, is a misfit among same-sex peers, sexual abuse, a way to get the love and acceptance that didn't come from parents or peers, a way to express deep seated rage.

The pamphlet is honest in one way: as therapy progresses feelings for people of the same sex may not disappear. Note that little word "may" because the chances of gay feelings not disappearing are about 99.5%. But if you're a really good boy and pray really hard you might manage to become sexless. Sheesh. My recycle bin could use some more paper.

I closed the original letter with by saying because the United Methodist rejects gays the denomination membership is shrinking. My letter writer agrees that it is shrinking but says I have the cause wrong. He wrote:
People left when true Christianity (John Wesley wouldn't recognize the United Methodist Church today) was abandoned for perversions, abortion, evolution, and for having unsaved ministers in the pulpits who never preach and teach the truth.

I'll agree that gays, abortion, and evolution are reasons why the membership is shrinking. But again, I disagree with the writer. Young people got annoyed with the church insisting on outmoded dogma when the real message of Christianity -- loving the less fortunate and building community -- is ignored.

It doesn't take long to figure out what he means by an "unsaved" pastor. It's one who doesn't believe like he does.

I bought a button at the gay conference I attended last summer. It has a picture of John Wesley with a bit of rainbow color to his clerical collar. It has old John saying, "Dude, where's my church?" Be careful of attributing words to Mr. Wesley (or to God, for that matter).

Friday, January 8, 2010

What is authentic

A couple weeks ago I wrote about Bill Maher's comment in a Newsweek interview in which he said,

That's the problem with faith, Joe. What it does is kind of screw up your priorities. Your priorities shouldn't be about saving your own ass, which is the focus of Christianity. The focus should be, I'm a good person, and I do that just for the sake of being good.

In the letters column this week, Tom Brady of Middle Haddam Connecticut wrote,

Christianity's focus includes feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, welcoming the despised, and sometimes risking one's life to speak truth to power. When Bill Maher says the focus is, "saving your own ass," he demonstrates an appalling ignorance of authentic faith.

Gee, I wonder why Maher doesn't know about authentic faith? Might it be because those that trumpet their faith the loudest don't say anything about what Mr. Brady says is important to the faith?

This is not to condemn Tom Brady. His description of authentic faith is accurate. Alas, Christianity has been given a black eye by those loud voices who aren't describing authentic Christianity.

Some other things to mention from Newsweek:

Ellis Cose takes a look at the projection that sometime around 2050 there will be more people in minority groups than there will be people who are white. Cose, who is black, doubts that the projection will come to pass because we have a way of redefining white to include more people (Jews and Italians didn't used to be classified as white). Better yet, race will no longer imply destiny.

Jennie Yabroff discusses the latest trend among vegetarians -- bragging about how they are eating meat that has been grass-fed and sustainably raised. That allows them to maintain their ethics and still enjoy beef stew. But one wonders what is ethically different about a steak that was lovingly raised rather than one that wasn't.

I haven't been trying to reduce the amount of meat I eat because of the ethics of eating animals (sorry, dear niece). I've been doing because raising animals for food highly polluting and a major component of greenhouse gasses. And a lovingly raised cow gives off just as much as one that isn't.

Making the Democratic cause easier?

Is this the formation of a new political party? Sarah Palin will headline a Tea Party Convention in Nashville next month. All the luminaries of the extreme Right will be there. The question, which can't be answered yet, is whether they are going to remain in the GOP or will they decide the Old Guard is too stodgy?

Privatizing marriage

Robert Levy, Chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, wrote an op-ed for the New York Daily News. His main point is that denying marriage to gays is unconstitutional. Government may discriminate (no drivers licenses for pre-teens), but to do so it must (1) demonstrate a compelling need, (2) show the laws that implement that discrimination are effective, and (3) narrowly craft the laws so they don't reach more broadly than necessary.

Yet, in the case of gay marriage, no compelling reason has been offered. The stated goals of the discrimination (strengthening straight marriage, protecting kids, ensuring procreation) are not met by banning gays from it. Those goals might be served through banning no-fault divorce (which Karl Rove just took advantage of), banning premarital cohabitation, or banning infertile couples from getting married. Instead, most states and the feds heap benefits on straight couples and deny them from gay couples.

Government can choose what criteria prompt what benefits. This criteria doesn't have to be based on the word marriage, which can be turned over to private institutions.

For those with short memories… Karl Rove engineered a slew of marriage protection votes in 2004 (including here in Michigan) to prompt Fundies to reelect Bush. The big reason for the push was to protect marriage. Yet he sees no need to protect his own. Thus Between The Lines gives him the title of Creep of the Week.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sometimes you're obviously a bigot, sometimes you're not

Fundies, in this case the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission is whining again about being persecuted. The particulars in this case is the release of the top ten examples of persecution in 2009. I won't repeat them because most (probably all) have been proven false -- or the core incident has been wildly misinterpreted. Even the two murders in this list were due to mental illness and not specifically anti-Christian attacks. The rest appear to be Christians upset that other people have rights too.

At what point is a Fundie truly a bigot? In some cases it is obvious, such as when they say nasty (and untrue) things on their way to depriving us of rights. But what about the case of Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston? On one side he says gays are welcome, offers a heartfelt prayer at the swearing in of Houston's new lesbian mayor, refuses to call gays sinners, and refuses to get involved in politics -- especially in taking rights away from others. On the other he says homosexuality is not God's best. I disagree with this last bit, but that isn't enough to make him an enemy of gays. Alas, not all gays see the distinction.

In contrast, is there a difference between a religious person having a "principled opposition to homosexuality" and bigotry? If having a principled opposition means claiming homosexuality is psychologically harmful and a threat to society, despite all psychological organizations refuting these claims, then, yes, that's bigotry.

Civil rights should not be election fodder

The New Hampshire gay marriage law went into effect at the start of this month. Of course, there is opposition. But NH makes it very difficult to pass a marriage protection amendment (I wish it was this hard in other states, like Michigan).

A commenter reports on analysis of why the gay-marriage vote failed in Maine. There are 4 reasons given:

1. Civil rights activists are weakest outside urban areas and the financial clout of Fundies can dominate rural politics.

2. Obama and the Democratic Party sat on their hands (or have been hostile to gays) rather than being the fierce advocate they said they were.

3. The state-by-state process of securing gay rights isn't working. It's time to get the prez. and Congress to live up to the national constitution that has an equal protection clause. No matter what states do, marriage will be unequal until enacted at the federal level.

4. Civil rights should not be election fodder manipulated by well-financed bigots. Why should we have to reassert our rights in every state and city when those rights are given in the federal constitution? If we wait for public opinion we'll wait a long time. People are hurt by the current system.

The Rhode Island legislature overrode Gov. Donald Carcieri's veto of some pro-gay legislation. The override vote was quite sizable, 67-3 in the House and 29-3 in the Senate. As the only New England state that hasn't made an attempt at gay marriage (with most succeeding) what did RI toss to gays that got the gov. so stirred up? The right for one to make funeral arrangements for a deceased partner. Yup, that's it. But apparently enough to start the slippery slope towards the destruction of marriage.

The New Jersey Senate voted on the gay marriage bill -- and defeated it, 14-20. Since the incoming governor will veto any future bills it could be a while before gay marriage comes through the legislature. It appears the incoming governor was able to convince several senators to switch votes during the lame duck session (probably applying the same kind of pressure I sometimes wish Obama would apply to certain federal senators). The vote is disappointing in a secondary respect -- many pro-marriage legislators were easily elected and gay marriage was so much considered a done deal that it wasn't an issue in the campaign.

Garden State Equality will go back to the NJ Supremes. In 2006 that court said the NJ legislature must enact marriage for gays or provide an equivalent structure. The legislature chose civil unions. And those are proving not to be equivalent. The case is boosted by gay marriage opponents have been saying instead of gay marriage they want to "fix" civil unions -- an admission they aren't equivalent. Now the only battle is to convince the court that the only way the two structures can be equivalent is for both to have the same name.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Do you think our relationships are equivalent or inferior?

The New Jersey legislature is down to the last few days that a gay marriage bill can be passed so the outgoing gay-friendly governor can sign it. Yet, the Senate defers to the House and the House defers to the Senate. Both claim they don't have quite enough votes, so why bother? The reason to bother: so we can tell whether you think our relationships are inferior to yours and whether we should vote for you in the future. Which, from their point of view, is a good reason to not vote.

To nudge things along 120 clergy from 19 faiths have written a letter in favor of gay marriage. In addition to several mainstream Christian denominations the list include Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist, and several flavors of Judaism.

Actually behaving like Christians

American Fundies seem intent on trying to make gays disappear. I've written about various aspects of that many times. The same is not true in the Netherlands. A Christian Reformed high school system (about as Fundie as one gets in the Netherlands) has decided to conduct a series of three lessons called "Gay in the class" to teach kids what homosexuality is and that gays, teachers and fellow students, deserve understanding and respect. Alas, they don't quite go so far as saying the church approves of gay relationships, even though gay marriage is legal in that country. Even better, the curriculum was developed in-house (with input from a gay organization, who will supply speakers), and not imposed by any government. How wonderful!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Laying it out in orange and blue

Here is a map of laws concerning gays, all the way from granting marriage rights, to demanding the death penalty for gays. Alas, the large swaths of gray don't tell the whole story. On the positive side the colors only represent recognition of gay couples while on the negative side the colors represent whether gay acts are illegal. There's quite a bit in between that ended up gray, such as Michigan where there is no recognition of gay couples, no explicit ban on gay acts, yet gays are harassed by police and can be legally fired for being gay. Perhaps that's too many dimensions for one map to portray.

Congratulations to South Africa. On a continent where most countries have large penalties for gay acts (including death), South Africa allows gay marriage.

That end-of-year Top Ten thing

The Top Ten LGBT stories in 2009, plus an honorable mention. They stories are not all positive. They are, however, important.

Honorable Mention: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) did not pass, in spite of assurances that it would be. A vote is now expected in the House in February, making some watchers think that this being a mid-term year Dems in conservative districts might be scared off.

10: Three celebrities came out. Adam Lambert of American Idol highlighted the double standard of two men kissing was deemed scandalous but two women kissing raised no eyebrows. Lady Gaga came out with no detriment to her career. Chaz Bono, child of Cher, began transitioning from female to male and his story was told respectfully by the press.

9. Stonewall was repeated 40 years later. A gay bar was raided in Fort Worth with the patrons treated harshly. This was part of a story of increased police brutality. The result wasn't riots but investigations of police action. Alas, police still run sting operations on gays and ignore crimes where the victims are gay.

8. Calif. tries to overturn its marriage ban in the Supreme Court.

7. Obama's Justice Dept. used what was seen as nasty reasons for supporting the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Gay organizations exploded and the prez. didn't smooth things over. Gays were the first to end their honeymoon with the guy who said he was our fierce advocate.

6. Many gay newspapers folded. Many gay bookstores went out of business. Many gay blogs started receiving national attention and awards.

5. Congress lifted the HIV travel ban, decades after other countries did so.

4. The National Equality March was a success with over a quarter-million attendees. It was also organized in six months and cost a pittance compared to previous marches that took years and millions of dollars to plan.

3. We won in Kalamazoo and Washington state, while losing in Maine.

2. Gay marriage was added in Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and District of Columbia. And the mainstream media yawned.

1. Hate Crimes legislation passed.

Commenters added some thoughts:

Too many gays and transgenders are still victims of hate crimes. Many of those result in death. Too many gay teens commit suicide. Too many are pushed back into the closet and engage in risky behavior, resulting in higher caseloads of HIV.

A story to be explored in 2010: Why do the Fundie Christians lie about us?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Look me in the eye and say it

As the ball dropped on New Year's Eve New Hampshire began allowing gay couples to marry. Both Iowa and New Hampshire now allow gay marriage and both states start off the next race to the White House. By 2011 both states will have time to get many of their citizens used to the idea. And both are also small enough that candidates get grilled by lots of ordinary citizens rather than reporters. One wonders how they'll react when they look gay couples in the eye. Will they be able to say gays should be second-class citizens? Yeah, some will do it anyway.

I told you not to say that!

The Unicorn Hunters of Lake Superior State University have published their annual list of words and phrases that should be banished due to overuse and misuse. On this year's list are: shovel-ready, Obamacare and similar uses of Obama as a prefix, czar (actually been used in this manner since 1919), stimulus, toxic asset (isn't this simply a liability?), too big to fail, and more. In the category of verbing innocent nouns is friend, an action used in Facebook, when befriend would do just fine.

It appears the same media that reports on the list every year otherwise ignores it. Over the 34 years of publishing the list some words have had to be banned 2 and 3 times. And the phrase "for the children" was banned back in 2000, though it didn't have it's anti-gay connections.