Tuesday, August 31, 2010

You have a job to do so do it

It was big news that Arnold and Jerry Brown, gov. and Attorney General of Calif., decided not to defend the state's gay marriage ban as it went for appeal to the 9th Circuit Court. That court will likely dismiss the case because Arnold and Jerry aren't defending it. The Pacific Justice Institute has filed a suit against the two men to force them to do their jobs and defend the ban. The job of the AG is to defend all laws, in spite of his personal opinion of them. Otherwise the AG can overturn ballot initiatives simply by refusing to defend them.

A gay spokesman says not so fast guys. The AG is also required to uphold the state and federal constitutions and the gay marriage ban has been shown to violate that federal document. Therefore the AG is doing his job.

My free speech is louder than yours

Stuart Whatley, in an article in the Huffington Post and repeated in Truthdig, comments on campaign financing and democracy. It is obvious to the average American that the amount of money available has a big influence on the volume of one's free speech. That paid for by corporations can drown out so many other voices that the poor and middle class citizen is left feeling why bother? When the political contributions of the little guy amount to only 20% to 25% of a federal campaign's budget (Obama's campaign was remarkable that the small donations came up to 33% of what he raised) it is not surprising that legislation (health care, lack of carbon restrictions) favors corporations.

So how does one implement finance reform? Not the way it has been done, which has been a battle of piling on spending regulations which only get shot down on Free Speech grounds. It seems John Roberts has decided Free Speech trumps everything, including reducing corruption and promoting of democracy (I wonder if that would hold true for speech Roberts personally finds offensive).

The goal of publicly funded campaigns hasn't gotten far (at least at the federal level) because politicians have spent so much effort grooming donors they don't want to risk those lucrative ties (they're also afraid they might lose under any new system).

So if we can't fight the problem by reducing the money of the big players, can we fight it from the bottom by enhancing the effect of the little guy? Alas, the current system drives the little guy out of politics and it would take effort to re-engage him. Here are some ways that might be done:

* If you make a small donation the government will multiply it by five. Instead, a small donor could get a tax writeoff. Either way the small donor gets his voice amplified.

* Have the government subsidize broadcast time so it takes less money to compete. Shift focus from broadcast engagement to online, where the cost is much less. Alas, broadband isn't as readily available as one would think for such a rich company. Blame that on broadband monopolies.

The majority is looking over its shoulders

Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, puts the recent Beck/Palin rally at the Lincoln Memorial in context. He sees it as conservative leaders realizing that whites will probably not be in the majority sometime in the next few decades. American is certainly not getting swarms of immigrants from England. Conservatives want to "take back America" but one must ask "From whom?" While liberals are an obvious reply, non-white immigrants are also a big part of it. Hitchens also notes that many conservatives are carefully not commenting on the color of Obama's skin -- that would be blatantly racist and would bring harsh criticism. The attacks are instead about his place of birth and religion. That shows up the prevalent fears -- the white majority will be submerged by immigrants and challenged by a religion that is mostly Third World. Beck's message this time was rather wimpy. It probably won't stay that way.

The problems behind friendly comments

Though more GOP members are declaring that their party should not be against gays and gay marriage, as I've noted before they are not yet our friends.

It's nice to hear Steve Schmidt, who was McCain's 2008 campaign chief give the conservative case for gays: "And more conservatives are making the case that no more do you want big government conservatives in the bedroom than big government liberals telling you how to live your life."

But there are two big problems hidden by statements like that:

1. They aren't being said by politicians actually running for office this fall. And they're not being said because the GOP base wouldn't vote for them.

2. Even those who do say nice things about gays are still donating money to help elect candidates who not only say but believe nasty things about gays.

The second problem is the same one that plagues the Dems. Even gays are willing to donate money to candidates who work against their rights.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reality based public policy

About ten days ago I had a debate with a guy who left a comment on my blog. I don't want to repeat his name because I'm sure he has a Google Alert to tell him who is talking about him on the web. I don't want to open that debate again. However, his last debate mentioned he was reading a book by Thomas Sowell. I looked Sowell up in Wikipedia and read the entire article. It's a long one and took a while.

Much to my surprise, Sowell is not a toe-the-line conservative, as that prior debate had led me to suspect. He doesn't much like liberals and does like smaller government, but he is skeptical of the typical conservative as well. Here are some of the major points of Sowell's writing. Please note you are reading my summary, which is based on the Wikipedia article and that is a summary of Sowell's writing, not done by him. One hopes that with cloud-sourcing the errors have been caught and the article reasonably accurately portrays Sowell's major points.

Too often liberals (well, conservatives too) do not base their social policies on actual empirical evidence -- what works and what processes and methods actually bring about the stated goal. This lack of evidence is most striking around issues of race. Instead, a great deal of government policy is based on what the advocates wish were true. Many times the policy produces the opposite of the stated goal, leaving the intended beneficiary worse off. All of this is based on the assumption that the advocate knows better than the actual beneficiary what is needed. In addition, the advocate is rarely held responsible if his ideas are wrong. This is the central complaint against "elite liberals."

Put another way -- the liberal's compassion for the disadvantaged is admirable (much better than the conservative's disdain). But is a particular policy actually helping that poor person to become a more functioning member of society? We don't have a way of finding out. The liberal has his interpretation of the way the poor live (perhaps even has claims of how the liberal is specially qualified to be the expert) and constructs policy around it without going back to see the effects of the policy and taking his lumps if that grand interpretation was actually boneheaded. The one on the receiving end of the policy sees the elite imposing values, not allowing the beneficiary to make his own choices.

All-purpose explanations of racism and sexism are wrong. There are too many other factors that influence a person's eventual education and income levels in this country or any other. Faulty explanations include genetic superiority, remains of colonialism, and inherent culture.

Sowell describes many ways in which blacks were better off before the rise of welfare and affirmative action. Compared to current conditions, black families were more stable with more fathers at home, black communities had less crime and made progress in reducing poverty, and many black schools were as excellent as nearby white schools. Welfare was supposed to be a way to pull blacks out of poverty and did just the opposite. This description of Sowell's writing doesn't say whether the "welfare fix" the GOP pushed through under Clinton is any better at achieving the desired goal.

As for affirmative action, the beneficiary is rarely the poor black person. Instead, the benefit goes to the rich black (who don't really need it) or to other ethnic minorities, who need it even less. The poor black person is worse off than before.

While I am a progressive interested in making sure the disadvantaged are able to fully join into the opportunities of society I agree with Sowell that policies to make that happen need to be grounded in reality, that a policy must achieve its goal or be changed. Though my descriptions above (and much of this description of Sowell's work) focuses on the failings of liberal policy, I don't see much conservative policy as doing any better. Does No Child Left Behind actually improve understanding in students? Do GOP tax cuts for the rich boost the economy? Does the lack of bank regulation help the poor? This list is surely as long as the list of sins against liberals. At least liberals have compassion, even if their efforts are as misguided.

Mixed message

Rev. Jane Spahr of the Presbyterian Church violated denomination rules by officiating at actual same-sex marriages in Calif. during the window when they were legal. She would have been within the rules if she had only blessed the union rather than be the presiding pastor.

Her church trial just concluded. The presiding commission, a mix of clergy and laity, ruled by essentially saying, "We're really sorry about all this. Since you did break the rules, we'll have to convict you of the charges. However, we really like the witness you offer to the rest of the denomination and wish we didn't have to punish you for it."

The response was as expected. Those on the right were happy unity and purity were upheld. The pro-gay side was annoyed with the mixed message.

A green adventure

I took a field trip today. My city has a Mission Green program, the part of city government given the task of helping the city become more environmentally responsible -- and who put together our wonderful curbside single-bin recycling program. Mission Green and the city senior center occasionally have a tour of the plant that processes what the recycle trucks take from my street. That's where I went this morning. The plant is on Huron Rd. just off I-275 in New Boston.

We saw… The big scales that weigh the trucks before and after to determine how much trash they are carrying (and how much city residents on that route will be credited for their recycling efforts). The gigantic room where trucks unload and a guy in an earth mover scoops up the trash and drops it into the hopper. The first sorting station where five people pull out the stuff that can't be recycled (garden hoses, window fans) and cardboard (which is recycled). The machines and manual sorters that separate out the paper, aluminum, and the various kinds of plastic. The giant baling machine that compresses one kind of material into a bale which is carted into the back warehouse where it waits for a company to come purchase it. I took a few pictures, but they're on film and I can't share.

Along the way I learned that I can stick in the recycle bin all kinds of plastic material (such as bread wrappers) even if they don't have a recycle symbol on them. I used to take landfill trash out every other week. Then I went to reusable grocery bags and I could set trash out every three weeks. Add recycling and composting and I only need to set it out every four weeks. Perhaps by recycling every last bread bag and cheese wrapper I can get it down to every five or six weeks.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Are they our friends?

I noted recently that the GOP (or at least the vocal parts of it) seems to be softening its stance on gays and gay marriage. A commentary by Timothy Kincaid lists the changes.

* Cindy McCain, wife of the failed prez. candidate, came out for marriage equality several months ago and nobody got on her case.

* A while later Laura Bush, wife of that most damaging prez., did the same thing. Again, not a peep out of the GOP.

* The Calif. gay marriage case came out and no reaction from GOP leaders.

* Most recently, Ken Melman came out as gay. For those who don't remember the players 6 years ago, Melman was in the thick of orchestrating gay marriage amendments on a dozen state ballots. He says now that it was only recently that he felt comfortable about being gay -- meaning back in 2004 he didn't like himself enough to stand up to Rove and Bush. But now that he's out, and starting to make amends for past damage, most in the GOP are praising him for his courage and the rest shrugging.

* The GOP is mostly silent about gays even though two federal court cases gave them as much ammunition as they had in 2004 in response to the Massachusetts Supremes.

* The Tea Party isn't saying much about gays.

* The National Organization for Marriage held a long tour to drum up support and had amazingly low attendance.

* Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter no longer rant against gays.

* Ken Blackwell, an anti-gay politician from Ohio, warned: "Disaster looms if the GOP changes course on gay marriage." That he had to say it is a sign that things are turning in our favor.

So is the GOP our friends now?

No. Or at least not soon.

Given the chance they will still stand in the way of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the repeal of allowing gays to serve openly in the military, and the Defense of Marriage Act. And they might succeed too -- votes on the first two may not happen before the election and if the GOP takes the House they will work real hard to keep the bills from passing in the lame-duck sessions and they will be dead for at least two more years.

Put it another way: The GOP is a bunch of bullies. Just because they aren't bullying us as much doesn't change the description. They've just found a better target for this election cycle in immigrants and Muslims. Even so, it will be a delight to watch the political animosity against us fade away.

Friday, August 27, 2010

It's just a cozy little neighborhood

Here's a shot of a sunspot up close and personal.

Back in 1980 astronomers knew of about 9000 asteroids, those large rocky bodies that are mostly between Mars and Jupiter. About then astronomers also realized that asteroids could do some nasty damage to the earth, so started seriously looking for them. In the 1990s the efforts became automated and also vastly improved this year. The current count of asteroids is over a half-million. And the discovery rate isn't slowing.

Here's a cool video someone made of all that data. The image shows the orbits of Mercury through Jupiter plus all the known asteroids from 1980 to today. When an asteroid is found it momentarily flashes white, then changes to red if it crosses earth orbit, yellow if it comes close to earth's orbit, otherwise it is green. By the end there is a huge amount of green and a scary amount of red. The information by the author is worth reading.

Achieving the summer's goal

I achieved one of this summer's goals today. I rode my bicycle along Hines Drive all the way to Northville, a round trip of 24 miles. That's my longest ride to date and I've now ridden my bike the entire 17.5 mile length of Hines Drive. It was definitely a workout -- there are a few sizable hills along the way. One reason for heading to Northville is because that's where Hines Drive ends. Another is there is a great bread store there and they give out free samples. I took along my backpack to be able to buy a loaf and bring it home.

My main desktop computer is getting cranky. It's now 5 years old. Today's annoyance came about when I accessed the college website for training in their new mail system. The tutorial download said my PDF reader needed to be updated. Alas, the update removed the old version and the new one failed to install. So I can't see PDF files -- including the computer's Owner Manual. I'm contemplating rebuilding my computer. Fortunately, the thing hasn't crashed, so I can make sure I know how to reinstall everything. If I disappear for a few days, this might be why.

You've been warned...

Living next door to the Lesters for nearly twelve years now, Mrs. Nestor, fully aware of her husband’s fondness for pulchritudinous posteriors, was unable to deter Chester Nestor’s constant quest for Mr. Lester’s sister Hester’s monster keister.
Jeff Flegel
Racine, WI

That's one of the Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions from this year's Bulwer-Lytton contest. It's also the one that got the biggest laugh out of me. Yeah, the contest awarded it's dubious prizes last April, but it was only today (while perusing my bookmarks) that I thought to check. The rest of this year's winners are here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Celebrating improvement across the country

The New York Times has created a chart showing the latest poll results of support for gay marriage by state. By their tally support is greater than 50% in 17 states. Michigan is at 46% support. Though some poll watcher think these numbers are high, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Maine, Hawaii, and Washington could have gay marriage as soon as their elected officials decide make it happen. The other interesting aspect of the chart is the change in support since 1994-96. Even Utah has improved from 12% to 22%.

I can be more cruel that you!

The Michigan state GOP will have it's convention this weekend to fill the last few slots on the ballot. Both candidates for Secretary of State are trying to outdo the other in how anti-gay they can be. At the moment their ire is directed at transgender people. In this case it isn't just words, the Sec'y of State is in charge of how transgender people can be identified on their drivers license. And at the moment, both candidates are being quite cruel in their comments.

Closing in on Game Over

That thorough ruling in the Calif. gay marriage case has had a beneficial side effect even before it gets in front of the 9th Circuit Court. Alas, it isn't that gays can marry yet. The effect is that various GOP leaders and pundits are dropping their opposition to gay marriage. Some are actually embracing our cause, others are quietly proclaiming it a non-issue.

The recent additions to the list of such leaders includes Ann Coulter (who will speak at a conference of conservative gays), and TV loudmouth Glenn Beck. Of course, True Believers are into conniptions over such betrayals. Alas, it's too soon to proclaim Game Over -- if the GOP takes the House in November there are predictions one of their first actions will be to pass a federal marriage amendment -- which the Senate will ignore.

Breaking up is so hard to do

At a meeting of about 400 Anglican Bishops in Africa have met to discuss their future. Rowan Williams, the head of all Anglicans was in attendance. The Africans have had enough. The Anglican Church, they say, has already split. All that's left is the paperwork. The African Church, they maintain, has been the only ones to hold true to the Bible, especially on teachings on homosexuality and perhaps it's time for Africans to send missionaries to Europe and America.

Williams was his usual spineless self, trying to appease the Africans to get them to stay in the worldwide Communion. Though, by the end, he conceded that perhaps the split is for the best. What was missing, however, was an effort to state why the African position was wrong. If the Africans are going to leave no matter what you do, why not do what's right?

In other church news, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) has allowed non-celibate gays to serve as pastors. Now leaders of 18 congregations (out of over 10,000 in the denomination) who have left the ELCA will soon vote whether to form a new denomination, the American Lutheran Church, one that will "follow scriptures more faithfully." Over 300 other congregations have, or soon will, complete the necessary actions to secede from the ELCA.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Keeping campaign promises we wish the politician would ignore

The Sept. 1 edition of The Washington Spectator (alas, no link) has a long article about Kenneth Cuccinelli, the GOP Attorney General of Virginia, elected last November. Cuccinelli -- to his credit -- is working diligently to fulfill his campaign promises. I suspect many in Virginia didn't think he was serious about what he campaigned on or didn't think he would be so vigorous in executing his agenda.

Cuccinelli came to my attention shortly after he took office. He said he didn't like gays. He proved it by telling all state funded universities they had to remove mention of gays from their anti-discrimination policies.

The dislike of Cuccinelli that caught the attention of Washington Spectator was over global warming science. He really doesn't like it. So much so that even after the Supremes said the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, Cuccinelli sued to block the EPA's work.

But the EPA is apparently small potatoes. The big target is Michael Mann, climate scientist at Penn State, but formerly of University of Virginia. Mr. C alleges that Mann falsified data in applying for grants that were awarded to UVa. It is through that hook that Mr. C subpoenaed all of Mann's work so it could be sifted through to find "evidence" that global warming is not caused by human activity. By "all" the subpoena requests everything Mann wrote to other climate scientists or to UVa staff over an 11 year period. This is a blatant and huge assault on academic freedom. UVa will spend lots to defend itself and Mann. Other institutions will pause when considering similar research, clearly Mr. C's goal.

Mr. C has filed a brief for the case in state court. It employs many lies -- or glaring errors -- to discredit Mann. The Union of Concerned Scientists have posted a point-by-point critique, so it may not get very far in an actual trial. Even so, if Mann's entire output becomes public record climate change deniers will sift through it for the slightest hint of doubt, controversy, or error to attack the scientific consensus of global warming. Of course, other GOP AGs will look to Mr. C for ways to attack scientists in their own states. It will also put Mr. C on the short list of GOP vice president candidates for 2012. This is frightening.

Another round of compassion

Robert A. Hall replied to my rebuttal. It took me a day to see it because it had been dumped in my spam folder. I'll copy it here for the benefit of those who get my postings through email. The reply mentions Dr. Thomas Sowell. I don't know a whole lot about him, so found him on Wikipedia. Beyond providing this link I'll let Mr. Hall speak for himself.

I have compassion for individuals, not groups. I have compassion, for example, for the black kids who are so often the victims of the black gang bangers in the cities, and for all blacks who are kept in poverty by victim hood fostered by white liberals who need to keep blacks poor to maintain their power base.

I have compassion for the peaceful Muslims who are most often the victims of the fanatics, but not for the millions who want to impose Shari'a law here by force so they can hang gays, marry 9 year old girls and stone women for adultery. I'm fine with Islam as a religion, but it is also a political system that seeks to impose itself on the world by force and to that extent, we must fight it.

And, yes, I have compassion for latte liberals who were born mentally defective and unable to reason from facts and history as opposed to how they wish things were.

I suggest books like "Basic Economics," "Applied Economics" "Race and Culture" "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" and "A Conflict of Visions" (which I'm reading now) by the brilliant economist Dr. Thomas Sowell. ~Bob Hall

Monday, August 23, 2010

Endless summer

The Pentagon has started to survey the spouses of military personnel about their views of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell ban on gays serving openly in the military. The Pentagon apparently learned nothing from the uproar over the survey sent to the soldiers that recently concluded. This one panders just as much to homophobia. That leaves the military open to the charge, "They asked for our opinion and then they didn't follow it!" It also hands fuel to our opponents. A few of the questions are listed in the posting.

Richard Just of the New Republic has some strong criticism for Obama's position on gay marriage. When the Calif. ruling was released many hoped Obama would see the need to affirm what the court said. The Prez. did respond, but in a rather wimpy fashion. Obama has said, "I am not in favor of gay marriage, but when you’re playing around with constitutions, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that that is not what America is about."

So states can ban gay marriage as long as they don't use their constitutions to do so?

Obama has also said that marriage is a religious institution and civil unions are an acceptable alternative. But marriage licenses are handed out by government and civil unions institute a Separate But Equal mentality.

Alas, Obama and his staff seem unaware that such narrowly shaved pronouncements are a problem.

Here's a neat interactive map that shows how support for gay marriage has changed since 1994, when support was 25% nationwide. It's now above 45%. You can cycle through the images automatically or step through them to study the changes -- especially how support dipped in 2004 when all those marriage protection amendments were passed.

There is a spacecraft named Messenger that is exploring the area between Mercury and the Sun, One part of it's mission is to look for vulcanoids -- asteroids that might exist in that area. As part of that effort Messenger took a picture that includes earth and moon. This is the view of home from 114 million miles.

Yesterday's edition of the comic strip Frazz offers a way of making summer last forever. With Labor Day only two weeks away (and given that this summer in Michigan has been quite pleasant) this sounds mighty nice. For those who don't get it, this should help.

One reason why endless summer is appealing is that I am going back to work after 3 years of retirement. I'll be teaching music theory at one of the small colleges in Detroit. It's a part-time job, only Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and in the ways of adjunct faculty I'll be paid peanuts. I've spent much of the summer preparing lesson plans. If my rate of blog postings slows down this will be a contributing reason. I'll be on campus tomorrow morning to hear the college president's address to the faculty.

Drying out

I've now lived in my house 18 years. The house was built 50 years ago. It needed a lot of work when I moved in, most of which got done in the first few years I lived here. I've uncovered other problems in the last couple years, but that's another story.

When I moved in the bathroom fan made huge amounts of noise and took many minutes to get up to speed. So I avoided using it. As a result I had to have the ceiling replaced 14 years ago. A new fan was installed at the time.

A decade ago I and a nephew removed a partial wall above the edge of the tub. This extended down from the ceiling to near the shower doors and allowed steam make a mess of the ceiling over the tub. We also removed plastic paneling (if I have any future houses I will ask why paneling was installed and what's under it), and installed drywall on the walls and in the ceiling where the partial wall was.

Since then some of the drywall mud has bubbled and mold has grown near the ceiling. I had a guy give me a quote a year ago, but when I called to go ahead with the job he didn't return my messages.

A new home improvement guy was here today, recommended by a person from my church. He spotted the source of the problem quite quickly -- that fan installed 14 years ago was way too small for the job (they don't make them that small anymore) and was not vented correctly. He thinks a "spot" in my roof (where shingles waver a bit) is caused by moisture from that fan. So, a new fan, new drywall in the ceiling -- again -- and a new coat of primer and paint.

Perhaps I should be glad the guy a year ago didn't do the job. He wouldn't have solved the problem. Then again, he charged only a quarter of what the job will cost now.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A nice bit of symbolism sets off fireworks

California has done something that will delight my friend and debate partner. A bill has passed the State Assembly that goes through the marriage law replacing all instances of the word "marriage" with the words "civil marriage". They've also (unnecessarily) added sentences to say a religious group may refuse to marry a couple that is contrary to their doctrine and that a refusal does not jeopardize the group's legal standing. Some observers note the bill doesn't actually do anything -- it's only a name change and the religious provisions exist through other laws -- but the symbolism is nice.

All this sounds good!

The anti-gay crowd is furious.

Say what? Wouldn't they want protections for their clergy? Nope, because the bill eliminates their big scare tactic. They get a lot of mileage out of the lie that churches will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages and that religious freedom is at risk. Anything that makes it more difficult to deceive voters is a threat to the already dwindling power that anti-gay groups have. And they want to be able to deceive voters if the state's gay marriage ban is reinstated by the 9th Circuit or the Supremes and a ballot question comes up in 2012.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Constitutional tyranny

Now that the anti-gay forces have lost the Calif. gay marriage case, the pro-gay side is asking the court to force the losers to pay the legal fees of the winners. This could be in the millions. You say you wanted to take the case over from the state? This is it's cost.

Fed up with judicial tyranny? Don't blame the judges or the Supremes. Blame the Constitution. A transgender woman, who is part of a "frequently murdered minority" seeing so many people pack heat can be terrifying. But gun ownership is protected by the Constitution. And that fine document is all-or-nothing. Some of its provisions -- a representative democracy, a government not bound by religion, freedom of speech, and equal protection are definitely worth keeping. Tyranny worth keeping.

Here's a humorous and snide guide to the arguments against gay marriage.

The policy is working! Let's count the cost

The Palm Center has a new report on the total costs of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the military ban on open gays. The reports says that dismissing gay service members:

* Wastes the talents of critical personnel.

* Hurts unit cohesion by breaking up cohesive fighting teams (DADT was sold because it was supposed to help cohesion).

* Hurts recruitment and retention.

* Lowers quality of military personnel by kicking out gays and then having to admit felons.

* Reduces the morale of the gay troops because they must serve in dishonesty and fear.

* Hurts the readiness of gay partners (and thus the soldiers) because the military can't know about them.

* Invades the privacy of all service members by being suspicious of everyone's private lives.

* Increases harassment, which soldiers cannot safely report, and make it harder to investigate because honest information cannot be gathered.

* Embarrasses the military through bad press. They're seen as out of touch.

* Costs of hundreds of millions to replace troops, enforce the policy, and defend it in court.

* Uses up officer time in investigation and discharge of gay troops.

The policy has the opposite of the intended effect.

Limits to compassion?

I commented a couple days ago on a rant titled "I'm Tired" written by Robert A. Hall. To my surprise, Robert Hall himself left a comment on that post. Since several of you get your entries through email and don't see comments, here it is:

Thank you for posting part of my piece “I’m Tired.” People who wish to comment on it or other pieces can find links to them below. [The large list of links are in the original post and not included here.]

I’m sorry you find that I have “no compassion.” Given the title of your blog, you might be interested to know that I believe I was the first state legislator in the country to speak in favor of Gay rights on the floor of a legislative body when I agreed in 1973 to be floor manager in the Massachusetts Senate for then-Rep. Barney Frank’s anti-discrimination bills. None of the liberal democrats would touch them. I was single, straight and representing a 4-1 Democrat district after defeating a Democrat incumbent by 9 votes out of 60,000 cast. The seat was last won by a Republican in 1938. It was assumed that with that vote, I couldn’t be re-elected. When I won by 10,000 in 1974, carrying every city and town in the district, it made it safe in Massachusetts to vote for the bills, which are now law there.

As to my “privileged background,” my dad was a school teacher who always worked two jobs to feed the family, mom worked in a dental office. I worked all through college to afford it, as they couldn’t help, beyond providing a bed and meals when I was home.

What little I have, I’ve earned. I’m still working full time, despite having pulmonary fibrosis, an eventually terminal disease that kills more people than breast cancer, as I have to pay for our 1,300 SF 2 bedroom place here and support a 35-year-old step daughter and recovering heroin addict, who has never worked a 40-hour week, because we want to help our granddaughter, 9, have a decent life. So I drag an oxygen tank to work and pay all her bills, though she steals from us, recently forged her name on a voided check and got our credit card number and used it to pay traffic tickets. But she has a hostage in the little girl, so we pay. Oh, did I mention she’s an Obama voter? Or had you figured that out?

~Bob Hall

I'll only add a few brief comments.

Thank you, Mr. Hall, for your courageous action -- way back in 1973! -- in support of gay rights. I'm pleased you made the stand and I'm grateful the voters awarded your courage.

Yes, Mr. Hall, your background was privileged, simply because you were born white and male. "White Privilege" is well documented on the web. Though you worked hard for what you have, and I commend you for your perseverance and effort, many minorities find the obstacles in their way so high they are unable to get to where you are.

Though I am pleased to see you have some compassion within you, I wonder how far it extends. Do you feel compassion for the desperately poor, Blacks, Muslims, illegal immigrants, and latte liberals?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I'm tired of rants from people with no compassion

A couple days ago I received a rant written by Robert A. Hall, one of those things endlessly forwarded. I checked it on snopes.com, which says it was indeed written in February 2009 by Robert A. Hall, a former Massachusetts state senator. The email confuses him with Robert David Hall, a TV actor. The snopes website does not comment on the veracity of the claims Hall makes.

On to the rant itself. The opening paragraph is:

"I'm tired of being told that I have to 'spread the wealth' to people who don't have my work ethic. I'm tired of being told the government will take the money I earned, by force if necessary, and give it to people too lazy to earn it."

I doubt many of the 8 million people currently out of work want to be. They aren't lazy, they're just out of work -- and desperately searching for it. As for the rest, who on welfare before this economic mess hit, I also doubt many of them are intentionally lazy. Kept from completing adequate education, perhaps. Faced with daunting societal challenges that Hall, a privileged white guy, never faced. Never learned the skills of responsibility, definitely. But lazy? At least not until society offered no alternative. I note that Hall and many in state governments (even in wealthy and progressive Mass.) never offered that "lazy" person much of a chance to escape being a burden to the rest of us.

I'm tired of being told that I have to pay more taxes to "keep people in their homes." Sure, if they lost their jobs or got sick, I'm willing to help. But if they bought McMansions at three times the price of our paid-off, $250,000 condo, on one-third of my salary, then let the left-wing Congress-critters who passed Fannie and Freddie and the Community Reinvestment Act that created the bubble help them with their own money.

The housing bubble was not caused by the Community Reinvestment Act. That program required participants to prove they could repay their loans. However, the CRA is frequently blamed because it helped mostly Black people and many complainers like to grab onto the racist angle. The rest sound like an overgeneralization.

Hall's rant goes on, aiming at such targets as Islam, race, media complaining about Bush and praising Obama, global warming demanding he accept a lower standard of living, drug addicts, illegal aliens, latte liberals who trash the military.

It's all so much conservative blather and I don't trust what conservatives say these days. He sounds like a privileged person who has no compassion for other people, or even for getting his story straight.

Regaining what was never lost

Dr. Laura Schlessinger of the long-running Dr. Laura radio show said some derogatory things on the air a few days ago. The blowback prompted her to decide not to renew her contract, which ends at the end of the year. The reason she gave was, "I want to regain my First Amendment rights."

Listen, dearie, you never lost them. Terrence Heath does a fine job with the takedown (though my friend and debate partner will note there is nothing said about responsible listening).

The difference between empathy and compassion

In the second of three essays about conservatism Terrence Heath looks at the question "Should we?" In the first essay he asked, "Can we?" He noted that progressives answer with "Yes, we can!" and conservatives answer, "No, we can't."

The answer to the question "Should we?" falls along similar lines. Looking over the challenges and crises of the last year Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "I wish we had been able to obstruct more."

As with the previous essay it comes down to deciding if a problem is an injustice or merely unfortunate. Is having 8 million people out of work a crisis and an injustice, demanding action? Or is it unfortunate, a problem that will correct itself in time, and something we should simply do nothing and wait?

If it is merely unfortunate we should do nothing because doing anything would be an overreaction.

This attitude points out the difference between:

Empathy -- intellectual identification with the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes of another

Compassion -- feeling deep sympathy or sorrow for another’s misfortune, accompanied by the strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Members of the GOP say they have lots of empathy. Jesus taught compassion.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Candidates for sale

I've written (or implied) several times now that one goal of the GOP is to convince the working class and the poor that democracy doesn't work. One step along the way got some attention by NPR this morning. Special interest money is pouring into state supreme court races. As in millions of dollars. It's a whole lot cheaper to buy a supreme court than to buy a state legislature. It isn't just business interests spending the cash, though they have the deepest pockets. Trial lawyers and unions also spend heavily. The effect is that public confidence in the courts is undermined. This has become especially true in Michigan.

No wedding bells yet

As part of the ruling in the Calif. gay marriage case Judge Walker wrote:

Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.

This was part of the answer to the claim that marriage must have a man and a woman. Naturally, the sentence above doesn't sit well with the anti-gay foes. Gender, they claim, is what makes marriage different from a friendship.

Yes, marriage used to have traditional roles for the man and for the woman. Marriage also used to mean that a woman had no legal existence apart from her husband. But in a time when wives can own property and husbands can be prosecuted for raping their wives, then gender truly no longer forms an essential part of marriage and those who claim otherwise are only insisting the supremacy of patriarchy.

A 3 judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court has issued a stay in gay marriages until after that court hears the appeals case. They gave no reason for the stay. So no gay weddings this week. However, the court rearranged its schedule to expedite the case and hear it in early December (good news for us). The first question before the court at that time is the one on standing -- do the people appealing the case have standing to do so? Those 3 judges expressed skepticism that they do. Possibilities at this point: The 9th Circuit decides those appealing don't have standing and dismiss the case. Then it is up to the Supremes to decide if a stay is appropriate while they decide whether the dismissal is appropriate. Or the 9th Circuit hears the case and issues an opinion sometime late winter or early spring.

There are some in the anti-gay crowd who are beginning to say the appeal is a bad idea. Cut the losses and protect the rest. Their thinking is that the case is so well written (though against them) that if the Calif. case does go to the Supremes Kennedy will swing to permitting gay marriage across the country. That would overturn all 31 states where anti-gay voting has succeeded. Better to let one go than lose the other 30.

A gay movie that just is

I went to see the movie The Kids Are All Right last night, now that it is showing at the megaplex rather than just the art houses. The difference is 15 minutes of travel time. I got there plenty early, but didn't want to sit in the theater and be subjected to ads, so I took a seat only 5 minutes before the previews started. To my surprise I was the only one there. Another half dozen came as the previews started. Not a good showing for a Sunday evening. That may mean you should consider attending a showing soon. Yahoo movies allow one to check what's showing in any city. For my sister and her partner, I didn't see it listed in Saginaw (or Bay City or Midland), but it is showing in Flint (I-75 at Corunna?).

This is the movie about a lesbian couple and their two teenage kids. The son wants to know about his biological father, the sperm donor. His older sister makes the call because he's not yet 18. I'll let you see it for the rest.

The acting is excellent, though it was sometimes hard to see the male teen lead as only 15. The relationship between the two moms was quite natural, showing we're just like everyone else. However, it wasn't really my kind of movie. The plot is thin because the emphasis is on the characters and how they change. Then again, I paid full price and didn't think my money was wasted. Warning: it definitely earns it's R rating.

Friday, August 13, 2010

But that's not logical

I've long been annoyed that the anti-gay crowd repeats the same lies long after they've been disproven. They latch onto faulty research that "proves" their point. They twist research to mean something the authors didn't discover. The list goes on. What happened to reason and rational thought?

Sharon Begley in Newsweek reports on new understanding of the mind. One researcher of this idea is psychologist Hugo Mercier of the University of Pennsylvania. Our way of thinking isn't designed to uncover the truth but to persuade others to accept our point of view. Because of this we are highly susceptible to confirmation bias -- we latch on to examples that bolster our position and are blind to counterexamples. We look much harder for flaws in a study when it undermines our position. We design our case to get emotional responses rather than use cold logic. That helps us win arguments but misleads us in determining what is true and real.

What! You relied on actual testimony?

The anti-gay reactions to the denial of a stay in the Calif. gay marriage case are coming in. Much of it can be dismissed by saying Judge Walker already debunked that notion in the case itself. Only a few are worth mentioning.

* The judge relied only on testimony and excluded "legislative facts." The definition of that phrase is not clear. The judge refused to acknowledge that 7 million people voted for the ban? The judge refused to consider social presumption or facts found in books? Perhaps the phrase means the reams of "facts" a legislator uses in determining how to write a law and how to vote on it -- which doesn't exist in a voter-led initiative.

* The judge scared away all credible witnesses on the anti-gay side.

* Overturning the ban that 7 million people voted for labels them as bigots and defames them as homophobes. That's cruel. And ironic, since these same voters are behind the most progressive gay-rights protections. (Never mind that 6.5 million people voted to permit gay marriage.)

The request for appeal is in the hands of the 9th Circuit. Requests are to be kept to 20 pages or less. This one is 95 pages. Not the way one wants to endear themselves to a judge. I'll post news as I hear it.

Obstructive and self-serving

Yesterday, I wrote about an essay by Terrence Heath which describes the difference between conservatives and progressives. That brought a thorough response from my friend and debate partner.

I'm not quite sure whose ideas are being presented here -- Terence Heath's, I suppose.

Ummmm, NO, he's all wrong. To be specific, he's way, way out of date.

There was a time, maybe 1900 or even 1920 -- think Teddy Roosevelt -- when conservativism meant conserving things because they were worthwhile and preferable (to and for whom?, we should ask) and progressives were interested in change to make things better (again, for whom?). This extended through all of life, not just politics. For example, conservatives wanted students to study Latin because it was good for them and a model for grammar, while progressives wanted their religion in a language they could understand. Or conservatives objected to women wearing trousers or smoking because they romanticized ladylike behavior (and sought to control women) while progressives wanted to get women out of that closet. There are many examples. Today we see that attitude in people who bemoan the end of the charming practice of letter writing and cannot see the power of email.

In politics, these classic conservatives sought to preserve the privileges that wealthy white males built into the Constitution and legal system (I'll limit my comments to this country) at a time when wealthy white males ruled the roost because the French Revolution and the Enlightenment had not yet fully taken hold. They were conserving what was good for them. They welcomed and invested in changes they could adopt, control and benefit from --- steamships, railroads, the cotton gin, machine-made textiles, sewers, fresh land to be cleared and farmed -- or at least (eventually) accepted and welcomed the white males who became wealthy through these welcome and productive changes. They participated fully in conquering the wilderness (and its natives), slaughtering the buffalo and settling this country because that was a profitable way for new generations to expand their family empires. Lots of poorer people also achieved success by helping to conquer the American wilderness. "Conservative" values pervaded and pervade today the agrarian countryside.

But conservatives also faced changes they could not control and found threatening -- freed slaves and the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, Darwinian evolution, liberal religion, socialism and communism, uppity behavior such as smoking and drinking by women in public, Elvis Presley's hips -- I could go on (gays out of the closet is near the recent-times extreme end of a long list). Here they dug in their heels and changed the meaning of "conservative". The new meaning is "denying and obstructing new ideas, no matter the value or cost".

Before the French Revolution and the Enlightenment, the word "progressives" could refer only to the rare rebels who fought the established feudal order. Robin Hood (I mean the myth) and the Marquis de Sade come to mind. They were (to the conservatives) thieves and perverted madmen. De Sade was in fact legally sent to a mental asylum.

The French Revolution and the Enlightenment brought new currents of thought that gave rise to a new class of activists and artists (some of them wealthy and educated) who actually thought that the new liberal ideas meant the world should change. If everyone was equal, had human rights and dignity, should their lives not reflect that? This led the early progressives, who fomented labor movements, women's suffrage, universal public education, public libraries, social welfare programs, public health measures, public parks, who painted radical murals (Diego Rivera) and wrote modern plays (Shaw, Noel Coward). Who sought and seek economic and political and social justice.

To conservatives, they were pretty much still thieves and mad perverts, rabble rousers and a danger to all -- conservatives. The French Revolution had not treated the nobility pleasantly nor humanely. Robert Moses bulldozed public highways and built the first state parks on land taken by eminent domain from wealthy estates.

Educators carried forward these new ideas and persuaded many of the educated of their value. Progressive ideas were and still are city ideas -- and cities had grown up on all parts of the conquered frontier to complement the old cities on the coasts. Students (and many professors) were often the radical leaders who promoted the new ideas. We find conservatives and progressives in all parts of the conquered wilderness that is now modern America.

By World War Two, progressives had made a lot of inroads and created a lot of change. Women won the vote (and the sky did not fall). Unions somehow increased the wealth of everybody in the industry. The rise of a large (white) middle class enriched everyone as well and changed the balance of class power (within strictly racial lines). Racial justice and the genuine integration of African cultures into the Melting Pot was (and is) still to come.

Government was a fundamental tool of progressive success -- notice how much of what we call progressive today (recall my list in the previous paragraph) is accomplished through governmental power. It was government that stood up to industrial monopolies -- the breakup of U.S. Steel was in 1912. A Constitutional Amendment brought women the right to vote. I mentioned eminent domain. The courts are well ahead of much of the population in finding same-sex marriage a necessity to overcome discrimination. Not all the new ideas were wise -- witness prohibition. But many were winners that changed the world very fundamentally and greatly reduced the domination of the wealthy few.

City governments were also centers of corruption. The progressive cause remains tainted by that to this day. My barber avers that all politicians are crooks and none are to be trusted, even as his well-being as a merchant and licensed technician is fundamentally in the hands of politicians -- and his real interests lie much more closely with the whole population than with the wealthy and powerful few.

By the time progressive changes came to maturity, American politics had frozen into the modern two-party system. Republicans began as liberals whose cause was to end slavery. But they were the winners when the Civil War ended and stayed (for the most part) in power for decades. We know what power does: The party evolved quickly into the representative of the wealthy and powerful few and of agrarian and small town society, where change was slowest and traditions (including religions traditions) strongest and most functional. They became the nay-sayers to change, determined to enter each new decade of progress only by being dragged. They "conserve" only the past. They do not conserve peace, land, clean water, wilderness habitats or wild species. Instead they exploit everything they can, because their focus is themselves and today. Their today is supposed to be like the yesterday that got them the privileges they enjoy. They fight to keep women from joining their all-male preserves, like the Augusta Golf Club.

Democrats had the cities as their power centers -- that is true to this day -- and immigration made the cities dynamic New cultures were repeatedly woven into a changing public social tapestry. Public education grew first and more deeply in the cities and made equality and social mixing common -- and privileged circles less dominant (although they did not go away).

Conservative came to mean obstructive and self-serving, wherein nothing of broad public / societal value is conserved. They hate government, because it alone has the power to wreak change upon them in the interests of the whole and against their narrow interests. Conservatives are the haves who do not value the whole.

Progressive meant change-embracing -- until prospective changes included threats to the benefits that the early progressives won. Then progressives showed a fatal tendency to behave like conservatives, keeping the ways of the (recent) past that benefit themselves while forgetting their original ideals. Newer industries tend not to unionize, because the labor movement, which once embraced so much that was truly progressive, is today (wrongly -- witness the UAW) seen as fossilized.

Most Americans, come in great numbers to prosperity, share conservative "give me mine, don't ask me to pay for his or hers or theirs" fixations and also have progressive views, favoring (successful) education, fairness and equality when they understand them. The words "conservative" and "progressive" are both corrupted and cheapened from their original meanings.

Terence Heath is talking about 1920, not today. No one who understands today rather than 1920 will understand him.

We need new words and new ideas, a fresh start.

Jefferson was right -- every twenty years a revolution!

Thanks for the history lesson!

Yes, the ideas I presented in my blog posting had their origin in Terrence Heath's blog. Some of them are from him and some of them are adapted from other sources. What you saw in my blog is my condensation of what Heath wrote. I hope my words did not change Heath's original meaning.

I say that because my sense of Heath's writing is quite different from that of my friend. I am aware that I have read a lot of what Heath has written and my friend's view of Heath's writing is through my reports of various essays.

I believe Heath is writing very much about today's conservatives, not those of 1920. Heath has written numerous times about conservative's narrow interests, how those interests are at odds with the welfare of the country and the world, and how destructive today's crop can be when they don't get their way.

Since my friend doesn't object to a particular passage I'm not sure what prompted his historical essay. I have a guess -- the definition of progressives as those "who cleared the forests, tamed the prairies, built heavier-than-air flying machines, and fought off fascism and communism." Other than that I see my condensation of Heath's definition of conservative to match my friend's definition: There are poor people, but I don't care. I have health care and you don't and while that's unfortunate I'm not going to let my money be spent on your health. The world may isn't perfect but it suits my needs just fine.

I am thankful to my friend for one particular insight: Today's conservatives hate government because it alone can wreak havoc with their plans. That explains a lot.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The world is good enough as it is

At the end of July I discussed an essay by Terence Heath about how the current GOP response to the financial mess is fostering hopelessness. I asked the questions, is the GOP doing it intentionally? To what end?

Heath saw my discussion and question and left a comment that I had caught him circling around an idea. It was time to explore it directly. So he has. At least he's started (and, no, Terrence, I'm not muttering with impatience. Take your time and do it right.).

His first of three essays in response looks at the question, "Can we?" The answer to that question is different for conservatives and progressives.

Start with definitions:
Progressive: one who advocates or implements social reform or new, liberal ideas.

Conservative: one who resists change and holds to traditional values and attitudes.

Put it another way, a progressive is one who says, "Yes, we can!" and it was progressives through our national history who cleared the forests, tamed the prairies, built heavier-than-air flying machines, and fought off fascism and communism.

Conservatism says, there will always be poor (even Jesus admitted as much), some children will be left behind, the races will never mix, the Middle East will never be at peace. The subtext is so why bother? You're never going to reach perfection. Note that the conservative knows what is wrong with the world. He just has no intention of fixing any of those issues. In the same way a conservative would not have tamed the prairies or built airplanes.

Expanding the definitions:
A conservative believes in myths that comfort him while perpetuating a world of inequality. The world is good enough as it is. Inequalities are unfortunate. A better world isn't possible.

A progressive believes in a critical-empirical approach to building a world that works for everyone, or at least as many as possible. The world can be made better. Inequalities are an injustice and basic rights should be extended to an ever wider spectrum of people. A better world is possible and we had better get off our lazy butts and make it happen.

The harm was only hypothetical

In legal terms, a stay is a delay in enforcing something. Judge Vaughn Walker in the Calif. gay marriage case issued a temporary one last week because he knew the appeals process needed to be sorted out. The anti-gay crowd asked him to extend it, pending appeal. Today, he issued his response: You've got one more week. If the 9th Circuit Court doesn't issue their own stay by then gay couples can start applying for marriage licenses.

Yesterday, Walker announced his ruling on the stay would come today. Gay couples started lining up at San Francisco City Hall, anticipating a favorable ruling. Alas, it wasn't as favorable as they had hoped for.

The details of today's ruling, as described by Ari Ezra Waldman, who sorted through the main decision last week.

* The damage to the ban's supporters -- which turned out to be hypothetical at the trial -- was tiny in comparison to the damage to gay couples in being denied a fundamental right.

* Another requirement for a stay is that the case would likely be overturned on appeal. But last week's ruling so completely demolished the anti-gay side there is no likelihood of successful appeal (then again, the guy who is evaluating the thoroughness of the ruling is the one who wrote it).

* There may not be any appeal. As I've noted, only those who were harmed have a right to an appeal. The state has said there is no harm to them. The anti-gay crowd wasn't able to prove they were harmed.

There simply isn't enough evidence to justify a stay.

Here are possible future scenarios, as described by Jon Davidson of Lambda Legal. You may want to create a map or flowchart.

* The appeal starts before a 3 judge panel at the 9th Circuit Court. They can decide the 9th Circuit should hear it or they can dismiss it.

* If the 3 judge panel dismisses, an appeal of the dismissal goes before all 27 judges of the 9th Circuit. If a majority want the case heard, it is randomly assigned to an 11 judge panel who will hear it.

* Those 11 judges could also dismiss it.

* The anti-gay crowd could take the case to the Supremes to answer a basic question: do they have the right to appeal?

* The Supremes could decline to hear the case. It's over.

* The Supremes could hear the case and decide there is no standing for appeal. It's over.

* The Supremes could decide the anti-gay crowd does have the right to bring an appeal. If so, it goes back to the 9th Circuit.

There is speculation that both the 9th Circuit and the Supremes will avoid ruling on a Constitutional question if they can. Avoiding the gay marriage issue by citing there is no standing for the appeal could save them a lot of trouble and confine the problem to Calif.

With so many unknowns one might wonder why I bother mapping it all out. I can only say that lately the whole process is becoming fascinating (and, no, I'm not going to give up music for law).

It's a tie!

Another poll out on gay marriage. I haven't mentioned it before now, but a look at the history and trends of such polls is worthwhile. The basics of the poll show 50% of the country is opposed to gay marriage and 49% is in favor. That's well within the margin of error. The interesting part is this: Support for gay marriage had been gaining about 1% to 1.5% a year. But in the last 16 months it has gained 4%! You can find a cool chart here. Links will guide you to more details.

There was enough of a storm over Target giving to an anti-gay candidate that other companies are hesitating before jumping into supporting candidates. Though the Supremes say they have the right, a new poll says that 88% of Democratic voters and 70% of GOP voters agree with the statement "Corporate election spending is an attempt to bribe politicians." Only 25% (of all people) agreed with the statement that corporate campaign spending is a "form of free speech."

Target is seen as the progressive's alternative to Wal-Mart. With Target's big donation progressives had a national name to go with their message. This mess is scaring off other campaign donors.

It's a face-off and I'm rooting for the dancers

In the little town of Warsaw, Ohio, the members of the New Beginnings Ministries church has "watched over" a nearby strip club for four year. They impede cars and use video cameras and bullhorns. They gather license plates and post them online. They exhort the dancers over how much they are disobeying God.

The dancers have had enough and have decided to take up the church's invitation. Not to go in, but to protest out front. They wear their most revealing outfits, sit in lawn chairs, and wave to cars passing by, ignoring the service going on behind them. Their signs say, "Matthew 7:15: Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing." The club's owner says someone is sinning and he'll let Americans decide who.

The pastor says these women are destroying families. The women respond saying their income keeps their families together.

Some of my readers may wonder why it appears I'm rooting for the wrong side. It's because these particular Christians, like so many I rant about, are ignoring the top commandment of Jesus to love people, not condemn or harass them. Put it another way, if I was doing something wrong (and in their eyes I am), this is not how I would want them to tell me about it.

Recognizing a losing strategy

While talking with my friend and debate partner yesterday, he commented about my post that the GOP apparently has found a new bogeyman in immigrants and is leaving gays alone, at least for this election cycle. Here's a bit more on the topic.

Yes, in contrast to the start of gay marriage in Mass. in 2004, the GOP has been amazingly quiet this year. Timothy Kincaid believes is beginning to recognize that having gays as their bogeyman is a long-term losing strategy and maybe a short term one too. His evidence is the phenomenally unsuccessful tour by the National Organization of Marriage that tends to draw crowds less than 50. Then there are the polls in which youth say they are pro-gay. And, finally, it appears that GOP women have abandoned anti-gay positions.

One of those GOP women is Margaret Hoover of Fox. She wrote a commentary telling fellow conservatives how Judge Walker is one of them, not a liberal who is bending laws to his view of an ideal world. Then she calls her colleagues to lay off. That's not because allowing gays to marry is the right thing to do, but because if they don't they will alienate the next generation of voters.

Some days we'll take what we can get.

Here's another reason why the GOP has been silent on the issue. Voters were asked which of 13 issues -- economy, jobs, health care, energy, terrorism, budget deficit, taxes, etc. -- were "very important." Republicans listed same-sex marriage last, very important only to 37% of voters. That's the good news. Alas, the bad news is that only 26% of Democrat voters listed same-sex marriage as very important. Put another way, the only ones who care are gays and the professional anti-gay crowd. We're on our own.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cross examine fear and prejudice

A couple days ago I included a link to an interview of Ted Olson, a lead lawyer on our side in the Calif. gay marriage case, in which he said voting to ban gay marriage is like voting to ban freedom of speech. That link included a video of his legal partner in the case David Boies. At the time I didn't watch it because the moderator puts Boies up against Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (their research is in how to smear gays). I didn't want to wade through all the nonsense. Though I did, you don't have to. In response to Perkins' nonsense Boies said it's easy to appeal to people's fear and prejudice in a campaign where one isn't cross-examined. It's quite another to do that in a court of law. And in this court of law the fear and prejudice were shown to be grounded on nothing but junk science. The whole worthwhile quote is here.

Here piggy piggy

My dad sent me this link without comment. He didn't say whether he wanted me to comment on it or just that I should be aware of the other viewpoints out there. The article is an opinion piece by Sam Schulman of the Christian Science Monitor. I don't know Schulman and I don't know the viewpoint of gays put forth either by the Monitor or Christian Science, so I don't know if this is representative.

Schulman says the ruling by Judge Walker that overturned the Calif. gay marriage ban is right in some respects. What the ruling says about gays and their relationships is correct, says Schulman. But when it comes to marriage he thinks Walker missed it.

Why? Schulman thinks confining marriage to opposite-sex couples is necessary for "sustaining the existence of the human species." Surprisingly, Schulman doesn't go on to assert that tired claim that marriage is for procreation. He does something worse.

His claim is that marriage is to defend women, to "protect female sexuality in order to assure ourselves of a future." And, "Marriage is a necessary defense of a woman’s sexuality and her human liberty from determined assault by men who would turn her into a slave, a concubine – something less than fully human."

I'm not going to bother with the rest of what he says, or even try to rebut this much. It's not worth the rant. I'll only describe it: pig slop. Though, perhaps, I'm referring to the wrong end of the pig.

Ah! Will no one come to my rescue?

Some clarification, this time from legal experts, on why the overturn of the Calif. gay marriage ban may not make it to appeal and why there may not be a stay. Which means gays may marry in Calif. real soon.

To seek a stay of a ruling a party in a case must:

* be the party that has been told they must do something,

* make a "strong showing" that they'll win on appeal,

* they will be irreparably harmed if there is no stay,

* other parties will be harmed,

* there is public benefit to the stay.

It was the Calif. government that was ordered to do something, not the gay marriage opponents. The gov't responded, "You want us to issue marriage licenses to gay couples? We'd be delighted to!" That takes care of two points above. As for the last two, the trial proved straight marriages are not harmed, there is no public benefit to withholding marriage licenses from gays, and much harm to gays.

The party pursuing an appeal must show that it has been injured in a concrete manner by the ruling against them and that injury is different from citizens at large. Again, a major finding of the trial was that the anti-gay crowd could show no harm. And the state has declined to appeal.

When cases before the Supremes involve voter initiatives, those that led the initiative drive generally do not have standing to represent it before the high court. Only the government affected by the drive has standing. The Supremes have avoided actually ruling on that question. Whether that same reasoning applies to the 9th Circuit is up to that court. So whether the case can be appealed without the state government's participation is an open question.

The upside: gays in Calif. may begin to marry soon. The downside: this is an excellently reasoned case that could be applied to all of the 9th Circuit (MT, ID, NV, AZ and west -- gay marriage in Idaho?) or perhaps to the entire country, but probably won't.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Let's put freedom of the press up for a vote

Yes, there's been a lot of noise since the overturn of the gay marriage ban about courts overturning the will of the people. However, there is precedent already created. Back in the early 1960s Calif. voters amended their constitution (sound familiar?) to say homeowners and apartment renters are allowed to refuse to sell or rent to anyone for any reason at all. The Supremes ruled in 1964 that it didn't matter if 100% of Californians voted for the state amendment, it was in conflict with the 14th Amendment.

Ted Olson, one of the lead lawyers working to overturn the gay marriage ban in Calif., went toe-to-toe with Christ Wallace of Fox News. Wallace lobbed several of the anti-gay legal talking points at Olson, who popped them rather easily. That judge is guilty of judicial activism! No, he fulfilled judicial responsibility. But 7 million voters approved it! Would you like it if we put your free speech and Fox's freedom of press up for a vote? No, some things are fundamental and should not be put up for a vote.

Here's a longer excerpt which includes a transcript of the part about judicial activism/responsibility.

There's a new wrinkle in the Calif. gay marriage case. Apparently, to appeal to the 9th Circuit Court one of the parties in the case must be a government entity. Arnold the Governator and Jerry Brown Attorney General very early on refused to defend the ban. Both of them have filed requests that Judge Walker, the one who just issued the ruling, not issue a stay, saying gay couples are being harmed by the ban and if the ban is reinstated we'll gladly deal with the mess of unmarrying them.

California's Imperial County saw that the anti-gay side needed a government sugar-daddy, so tried to get in on the case. Walker said no. Their reason for being included was lame and besides they were past the deadline.

Which means an appeal, even to the 9th Circuit, can't happen. And this ruling can only apply to Calif.

There's a lot of discussion now about whether that's a good thing or not. Some were hoping that such a thorough ruling would get applied to their state too. Others are saying the Supremes are too iffy in this particular case, there are better cases on the way.

One of those is out of Massachusetts and is a challenge to parts of the federal Defense of Marriage law. It's a smaller burden on the Supremes, asking them to overturn the federal position in states where marriage is already legal. Obama has about a month to decide if it should be appealed. This one puts the squeeze on him. Appeal it and he's seen as anti-gay. Don't appeal it and the decision is confined to Mass (then again, Obama could push for overturning the law, which is unlikely for him).

Washington state has Domestic Partnerships "everything but the word marriage" that survived a voter overturn last November. If the Dems in the state legislature maintain their hefty majorities it's likely they'll go for gay marriage. A challenge to that could be another route to the Supremes.

No matter the route, last week's decision sets a precedent that will be quoted in future cases.

And final word on the issue today goes to Stephen Colbert and his satire. If gays are going to ruin straight marriage it is up to straights to ruin gay marriage. He explains how that could be done. The video is under 9 minutes.

Be so very afraid -- of someone else

I've heard pundits say that the decision to overturn the Calif. gay marriage ban will (or at least could) be a big issue in November's election. Electing candidates favorable to a federal marriage amendment to the Constitution could be the draw to get Fundie voters to the polls. Shades of 2004 all over again.

GOP Rep. Peter King of NY says that won't happen. The GOP already has its wedge issue and bogeyman for this election cycle. And for something different since the collapse of the Soviet Empire it's not gays. It's immigrants. The issue is on the front burner thanks to the Arizona immigration law.

Alas. I'd be so very happy if we could have an election cycle not featuring the bogeyman of the day. Politics based on wedge issues and fear-mongering is so contrary to American ideals. And Christianity.

One commenter laments, "I sometimes wish my Iroquois ancestors had formulated a stronger immigration policy…"

Another points out a verse from Leviticus that appears between the two that are used to condemn gays:

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
Leviticus 19 vs. 33-34 (NIV)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Not that you need another example of GOP hypocrisy

Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek has pointed out a discrepancy that has annoyed me lately. It's good to see it in print and good to hear NPR make note of it as well. The GOP has been saying:

If we don't reduce the deficit the economy, bad as it is, will get even worse.

If we don't continue the Bush tax cuts the economy, bad as it is, will get even worse.

But, wait! Doesn't letting the Bush tax cuts expire help lower the deficit? It would be impossible for both statements to be true. Shh. Don't tell anyone. Though it is possible that both are false.

A few more things that Zakaria points out:

When Clinton left office he was running a budget surplus. Even before Bush said goodbye (even before the recession) he was running major deficits. There were three reasons for that difference: (1) the tax cuts, (2) the unfunded Medicare prescription drug program (there was no match in other cost reductions or tax increases), and (3) post 9/11 security spending, including Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The tax cuts were the biggest difference.

Clinton raised taxes in 1992 and we had a major economic boom for the next 8 years. Bush cut taxes and the economy when he left was about where it was when he took office with the addition of millions of unemployed.

I've said before there are additions to the deficit that are structural in nature and others that help us out of our current economic mess. The GOP has been working hard to make sure we don't address the structural problems and also don't help the economy recover.

The July jobs numbers came out today. They weren't good -- we're down 131K jobs. Lou Dubose of the Washington Spectator (alas, no link) puts things into perspective. Between the number of jobs lost in the last few years and the number of people fresh out of school and now in the labor pool we need 11.3 million jobs to get the unemployment rate back to where it was before the recession. In the best month of the last decade we added 208K jobs. If we kept that rate up consistently it would take us 136 months (11 years) to get us back to where we were. We gained 83K jobs in June. We lost 131K jobs in July. I've heard that a good number of people in their 40s & 50s have now been unemployed so long and thus look unattractive to employers that they may never work again. And the GOP says we can't afford to stimulate the economy? We can't afford not to. Voters give indications of rewarding the GOP for their obstructionist ways?

Pouring resources into solutions that won't work

The Human Development Report has created a Human Development Index that measures several factors related to how well people are doing economically. They created a map showing the HDI of all of the US counties and their Mexican equivalents along the border. The lowest score on the US side is 0.766, the highest score on the Mexican side is .757. Of course, there is going to be migration across that border and no amount of "strengthening the border" is going to stop the flow. What will work is economic development on the Mexican side (with some help with the drug war). I've heard economists say that helping raise the Mexicans out of poverty so they want to stay in Mexico is probably cheaper than all of our valiant and futile efforts to keep them from crossing the border. It would even more closely follow the teachings of Jesus. Alas, we're not even interested in helping the economically displaced in our own country.

Attack everything they can think of except…

David Boies was one of the top lawyers in the case to overturn the Calif. marriage ban that concluded (phase 1) two days ago. He attended and spoke at a rally in West Hollywood (the gay suburb Los Angeles, known as WeHo) to celebrate the victory. Part of what he said:

Most of what you’re going to hear from the other side is going to be a series of attacks. They’re going to attack the judge, they’re going to attack the judicial system, they’re going to attack everything they can think of to attack except the court’s opinion because I guarantee you… most of the people that are going to criticize the opinion will not have even read it.

I am, as I hope you've seen, contrarian enough to ask the question: So why haven't they read it? Perhaps because they can't refute it?

Pictures, videos (including one of Boies), and comments from that WeHo rally here.

And, of course, we need Jon Stewart's take on the ruling and the reaction to it. 8 minutes of fun.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Same-sex couples are just like opposite-sex couples

I've had two people send me news articles and links to make sure I knew about the Proposition 8 overturn. For those who don't keep track of their proposition numbers, this is the one that banned gay marriage in Calif. by putting the ban in the state constitution. Thanks for sending the links. Yes, I had already heard, both through my favorite gay news websites and through NPR reports this morning. Even so, please keep interesting links coming my way.

So, in case you haven't heard… Judge Vaughn Walker has been presiding over this trial since January, when evidence was presented, with final arguments in June. He released his ruling yesterday and said that little addition to the Calif. constitution violates the USA Constitution and is therefore to be removed. Of course, the usual talking heads on both sides did the predictable pontificating, so I won't go into it. And, of course, the losing side has already appealed to the 9th Circuit Court. And because of the appeal a stay has been issued which will likely remain until after the 9th Circuit and the Supremes have their say.

What is of interest (at least to me) is the reasoning behind the ruling, which most news sources don't bother with. Ari Ezra Waldman, faculty member of the California Western School of Law, discussed all that. What I have is a summary of his summary. It is possible to read all 138 pages of the decision. I may do that some day.

I hadn't known that when a case goes before the Circuit Courts they look at the two parts of the ruling in different ways. First there is the findings of fact that make up the case. Then comes the judge's decision, the conclusions of law, built on top of those facts. The Circuit Court takes these facts at face value unless they are "clearly erroneous." The job of the CC is to verify the decision built on those facts is correct. The rules for facts and conclusions will be different once the case reaches the Supremes. They do things their own way.

Judge Walker knew the case would be appealed (since both sides said from the start that if they lost that's what they would do) so he was very careful in laying out those facts. Waldman has never seen that done with such detail and complete documentation. Here are the major points of fact that Walker laid out (details in Waldman's article and in the text of the decision).

* This case is about civil marriage. Religious belief has no place here.

* Marriage is a state of commitment, not a construct in which to have children.

* Same-sex couples are just like opposite-sex couples.

* Domestic partnerships insufficiently recognize those relationships.

While those are sufficient, Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic lists more:

* Marriage is an institution that has changed over time.

* California has eliminated marital obligations based on gender (the state used to have specific roles for the man and the woman).

* Gays and lesbians have always been around.

* Sexual orientation is a fundamental characteristic of a human being.

* There is no evidence that sexual orientation is chosen, nor than it can be changed.

* California has no interest in reducing the number of gays and lesbians in its population.

* Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals.

* Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages.

Based on those facts, Walker says that gays are discriminated against for no legitimate reason. There are legitimate reasons for some types of discrimination -- such as refusing a drivers license to a 14 year old -- but when the judge asked the anti-gay side for their reasons, all they could offer is the need to keep traditional marriage as it is.

The anti-gay side claimed that in wanting to marry gays are trying to establish a new right. Only straight couples have the right to marry whomever they wish (as was emphasized in Loving v. Virginia which eliminated the ban on interracial marriage). The only way gay and straight couples differ is in the natural ability to procreate. But since marriage isn't about procreation, but commitment, the existing fundamental right to marriage must be applied to gays.

Another part of the decision considers whether the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution has been violated by the marriage ban. To do that the judge can show equal protection was denied in either of two ways. The first uses a Rational Basis test. Does the law have a rational basis for its discrimination? The immaturity of 14 year olds is rational enough to deny them a drivers license. The second way is to use Strict Scrutiny, which involves higher hurdles, such as defining gays as a suspect class who are both persecuted and with insufficient political power to make changes on their own. That's saying the law is applied to a class of people, in the same way racial discrimination laws were applied to a class of people. There are probably a couple more criteria for Strict Scrutiny which I don't remember and weren't mentioned here.

Most judges use one or the other, depending on the case. Walker used both, describing how both methods show the law was enacted only because some people don't like gays. And that's not a legitimate reason to discriminate.

Here's a second analysis.

A bit of background, also from Ari Ezra Waldman, written the evening before the ruling was issued.

I'll give the closing words to George Washington (yup, that GW). He wrote them in a letter to the Jewish community in Newport, Rhode Island, who did not have full rights at the time. May it be true for gays soon.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The lie must be addressed

The LGBT Mentoring Project has produced a massive report (over 500 pages after analyzing over 10,000 pages) documenting why we lost the marriage vote in Calif. back in 2008. The most important reasons haunted us in Maine a year later. It's time to learn from the mistakes.

The top finding is that the false claim that gays are harmful to kids (we want either molest them or to kidnap them and turn them queer) resonated deeply with voters. There were even a half-million parents with minors at home who switched sides because of that message. And the pro-gay side avoided countering that claim. The second biggest problem was the anti-gay side was very disciplined in their message and the pro-gay message wandered, even avoiding the word "gay". On the plus side the pro-gay forces had record-breaking online fundraising and a record-breaking swarm of volunteers (alas, many volunteers were squandered on those already firmly on our side).

So how do we counter that false claim? We need to because it's been thrown at us in every gay-related vote since Anita Bryant did it in Florida in 1977. And though false, it wins every time. So, how?

Here's one idea. A lesbian schoolteacher got married and invited her young students. The anti-gay side had an ad running almost immediately showing that incident and lied, saying the parents were horrified. The response could have been (but wasn't):
Hey, those are my kids and I took them to that wedding. And how DARE these people tell me how I have to raise my children. And that’s what this initiative is all about. I want to raise my kids to value diversity and equality and they want to force us all to live by THEIR religion. Please vote with me to protect our rights to raise our families as we sit fit.

Why does this one detail cause such a problem?

Timothy Kincaid notes that according to the National Organization for Marriage he, as a gay man, can get married and have NOM recognize that marriage if he…

marries someone on death row
marries someone who has been divorced 8 times
marries someone he has never met
marries for wealth
marries in a ceremony with an Elvis impersonator presiding
(the list goes on with over 20 entries and readers add a few more)

except if the other person also has a penis.

Utter disrespect of families

Many anti-gay leaders who are black resent our comparison of our civil rights battles to theirs. That noise was loud a few years ago at the 40th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia case was decided by the Supremes saying it was unconstitutional to deny a black person from marrying a white person. Gay couples want the same right to marry that was given to interracial couples.

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic is no longer satisfied with the comparison between interracial and gay marriage. Before the Supremes acted blacks could not marry outside their race. However, in most states gays cannot marry any compatible partner. A better comparison is with black slaves of 1810, who were not permitted to marry at all.

All aspects of slavery are bad. Perhaps the worst, though, is its utter disrespect for black families. Owners could sever parent from child for a good price. Today, the inability of gay couples to legally marry disrespects their families.

Of course, a gay man in 2010 has a lot more rights than a slave in 1810. There is still one thing in common -- society and law disrespects their families.

Yup, the nonsense is insulting

My friend and debate partner did respond to my comments yesterday about a statement issued by Orthodox rabbis giving instructions on how to treat gays. He wrote:
I have no idea what Judaism of any stripe has ever said about sexual preference, although the usually cited gay-negative Biblical references are in the Torah. My (liberal Reform) Jewish development was completed (and abandoned) by the mid-1960s, when gays were in the closet and -- literally -- never mentioned.

Among Jews today, I expect one would find the broadest imaginable spectrum of opinion about this subject.

Many ideas presented as norms in the Torah are anathema today -- shall I mention polygamy, concubinage, slavery, animal sacrifice? None of that got any attention in my Jewish education either. Jewish and Christians fundamentalists suffer the same mind- and life-twisting schizophrenia in coping with ancient sacred texts.

Your source points [here] which describes these rabbis as "... mostly... Modern Orthodox rabbis, as well as educators and mental health professionals". The capital letters in "Modern Orthodox" suggest some organized movement that I know nothing about. "Modern Orthodox" needs explication to make sense of this "rabbinical statement". I did no work on that and won't bother, because...

I consider the whole bunch of them hypocrites. "Accepting" people on the condition that they never behave as themselves is the opposite of acceptance. It creates and demands mental illness. It criminalizes homosexuality (in religious law). We might as well welcome African Americans on the condition that they follow white norms of all kinds without fail (something we certainly don't ask of whites themselves). Gays living under these "Torah" strictures might feel like animals imprisoned in a zoo. This is just bigotry posing as religious "tolerance".

LGBTs and anyone who cares about human dignity should be insulted by such nonsense.

Of course, that these Jewish leaders think a loving gay couple is seen as sinful in the eyes of God is insulting to both gays and God. I heartily agree with my friend.

I had noted (in contrast to this statement says Jews shouldn't) that Fundie Christian denominations still think it appropriate to harass and demean gays, to demand the use of therapeutic approaches to become ex-gay in spite of the harm they cause and how ineffective they are, to shun gays from their religious community, and to coerce gays to marry a person of the opposite sex.

Even if Fundie churches changed their stance on any of these issues gays would be better off. There would be less harassment and less fiery language that inspires others to harass. There would be less pain from faulty therapy and from kids cast out by their parents. There would be less pain from families torn apart when a gay parent can no longer live with a straight spouse.

Is it all we need them to do? Of course not. But even these steps would be a help.