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.