Thursday, September 30, 2010

Being at peace with your neighbors

The organization Visions of Humanity has released its 2010 Global Peace Index. It rated 149 nations on a 5 point scale for 23 areas that include:

* Number of jailed per 100K, number of homicides per 100K, number of police per 100K.

* Perceptions of criminality, accessibility of weapons of minor destruction.

* Number of deaths from organized conflict (internal and external)

* Military capability & sophistication, military expenditure as percentage of GDP.

* Relations with neighboring countries.

Top of the list: New Zealand (score 1.18), Iceland, Japan, Austria, Norway, Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Finland, Sweden.

Bottom: Congo, Chad, Georgia, Russia, Israel, Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq (score 3.40).

USA? It's at 85th place with a score of 2.06. Nice colorful map at the link.

Unsuitable for age

It's Banned Books Week! This link has the list of the top 10 books challenged in 2009. Three books list homosexuality for the reason (though a commenter says one of them has all of two sentences about a minor gay character). All the others include sexually explicit in the reasons and many were banned for several reasons.

If those ancient Greeks didn't do it

It seems every organization (and some people on their own) that hates gay people wants to make sure the 9th Circuit Court knows how wrong they think the lower court is with its ruling on gay marriage. So they all filed briefs with the court. I reported on some before. I haven't read all of this new crop myself (I try to have a life), and am relying on a summary by Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin. Some of the crazy ideas (without the legal language):

* The state really does have an interest in enforcing private moral behavior. Besides a relationship between a man and a woman is just so much better than between two men or two women (heterosexual supremacy).

* Since a lot of gay men have reported having straight sex it means orientation is fluid. Thus gays shouldn't have rights.

* The ancient Greeks and Romans didn't allow gay marriage. We must honor the wisdom of the ages.

* The Attorneys General of 13 states (including Michigan -- boo! hiss!) say that marriage is a state issue so federal courts have no jurisdiction.

* The people who backed the ban really do have standing to take it to the Circuit Court when the Governor and AG don't. And if they don't, there's no case and the lower court ruling should be thrown out.

* Gay equality is incompatible with religious liberty.

* Gays are so rich and have such powerful allies (anybody been watching the inaction by congress and president?) discrimination against them shouldn't be held to such high levels of scrutiny.

* Children need a mommy and a daddy!

* When society weakens the ideal that a child needs both a mommy and a daddy then men will stop supporting their kids.

* Allow gay marriage and we'll have to allow polygamy.

* Massachusetts has already proven that when the state allows gay marriage the citizens stop condemning it.

* Though "homosexual" can be defined three ways (attractions, behavior, identity), there are people who are exceptions to the definitions. Therefore homosexuality can't be defined and same-sex marriage can't be allowed.

* There is no gay gene.

* Having kids is so expensive the state benefits by subsidizing heterosexuality to perpetuate the human race (which seems to be having no problem doing so).

* Fundamental rights are only for those deeply rooted in American history and tradition.

* God's definition of marriage pre-exists any state recognition.

* If you treat gay people equally, those of us who want to treat them as inferior will be called bigots.

Thus proving the point that the whole case is built on ignorance and prejudice, meaning they just hate gay people.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In this paragraph I stir up controversy

Ever wonder how to write a news article about a scientific development? I'll let you read the original because the author explains it so well.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Emphasizing the racial divide

Eric Fischer created maps of ethnic distribution for many metropolitan areas. He used the census data from 2000 and placed a dot on the map for every 25 people, coloring the dot according to race -- red for whites, blue for blacks, orange for Hispanic, etc. The map for Detroit is stark with most of the city in blue and most of the surrounding metro area in red The city boundary is easy to follow. I know the area is highly racist. A map like this demonstrates it very well. Rolling your mouse over the map will highlight rectangles, and once in a rectangle it will identify the region. Southfield, Inkster, Mexicantown, Pontiac, and Hamtramck are easily identifiable. Those of Middle-East descent were not given a distinct category in the 2000 census (nor in 2010) which would have given Dearborn a distinct color. There are links to the other hundred cities in the set.

Tax cuts are theft

I had been following Sara Robinson through the blog Orcinus, and through that site I commented on her views and research on the way America might be heading towards fascism. That blog hasn't had an update since April, and I was afraid that Robinson had dropped out because of health issues, which she had written about. It is good to see she is now a contributor to the blog Campaign for America's Future. This is a progressive voice debunking the noise from the conservative machine. In this entry from last August (which I just found) she is as insightful as before.

Consider the life of someone born into one of the rich, aristocratic houses, such as Rothschild, Mountbatten, Windsor, … or Bush. You have a deep well of resources, developed over centuries of careful tending. You will always have a house over your head, a place to spend your vacation, cars to get you wherever you need to go, family connections to open any door, retainers to advise you on money and law. Every need and desire could be met. This gave you astonishing advantages and opportunities, and you had no excuses to make good on your talent to expand your wealth.

Starting about the time our country was founded being born American was similar to being born into the richest, most powerful family on the planet. Each generation created more public infrastructure it bequeathed to the next. The family wealth was so vast that by the middle of the 20th century we began to believe that no member of our extended national family needed to do without. Housing? Basic living expenses? The family could cover it. Need doors opened, even overseas? We've got friends. Education? Best universities in the world. Vacation? Glorious national parks. Travel? Safe transportation networks. Need help or advice? Trusted public servants were on retainer. The American clan had a moral duty to be there for each other and maximize the opportunities of its members.

Yes, had is the right word. Our vast national public infrastructure is being stolen. Bridges aren't being carted off, but they are being allowed to crumble into uselessness. Universities are being defunded, as are national parks. Our international standing is falling, our opportunities are being foreclosed, we're committed to endless debt. The legacy for our children is growing smaller, not larger.

And it's being done by the people who understand the advantages of carefully tended, multi-generational wealth. They have benefited by being part of a dynasty. And they will make sure their own descendants share in that benefit.

And the rest of us? We're not really part of the Great American Family. We're bastards, so it is permissible to steal from us. There are too many of us who don't deserve to be part of the family. And we don't deserve to govern ourselves either.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Nostalgic, resentful, and reality-challenged

Who are the Tea Party folks? More importantly, how are they different from other conservative (or liberal) populist uprisings that want to subvert the established order? Jacob Weisberg went looking. Some things he found:

* They're mostly middle-age, mostly middle-class, mostly white, mostly male. But that describes several conservative uprisings. It also describes the GOP they rail against.

* There is a strong anarchist streak -- antagonism towards authority, belligerent self-expression, and no alternatives to what they condemn.

* They're not looking forward, but back. They want to "take back" America. How far back can be debated, though what they have nostalgia for never existed.

* They resent and blame those above and below them in the social hierarchy (though this makes me think of the attitude of some people I know: "It's not my fault.").

* They choose their own reality -- the Obama birther movement is still going, in spite of media insistence (but then again, they don't trust the media).

All these are symptoms of one basic idea, says Weisberg. The Tea Party folks see themselves losing their place in American society to someone else -- they have "status anxiety."

Can the GOP incorporate this energy? It would be difficult because they are about venting anger against change they don't like, not about fixing what's broken.

To me, this sounds very much like what the GOP as a whole seems to be saying -- "We're supposed to be Top Dog!" If the GOP is able to make its move to overturn democracy in this country, it is these Tea Party people who will be the party's willing foot soldiers. The Tea Party people may not know what the GOP has in store for them, but the GOP knows what role the Tea Party is to play, has been coaching them in that role, and providing behind-the-scenes coordination and support for more than a year. And if the scenario plays out as some predict, when the crunch comes the Tea Party member will wonder what hit them.

In related crazyness…

The Liberty Institute has filed a brief with the 9th Circuit Court to make sure the court knows their views on the Calif. gay marriage case now before that court. They are only one of several anti-gay groups to file such briefs, but theirs is the one with either the most comedy or the most fear. First they rant about activist judges -- not a wise thing to do in a brief to be read by judges who you want on your side but if they don't rule your way you will accuse of them of being activist. Then they make that threat more explicit by invoking the Declaration of Independence and its words about the right and duty of the colonists to overthrow a tyrannical government. Thus proving the point that the whole exercise is because they hate gay people. What a way to influence friends.

Fundies are ranting that the new Pledge to America put out by the GOP isn't sufficiently anti-gay (well, they say "pro-family" but we've been there before).

Michael Tomasky of The Guardian reports on some poking around with the numbers the GOP provided with their Pledge to America. We're going to balance the budget by 2020, they say (maybe my musings yesterday were wrong). But don't fret, we won't touch the military, Social Security, Medicare, and debt service.

Which means they have pledged not to touch 70% of the budget. So what must be cut to make it all balance? Everything else -- national parks, small business loans, export subsidies, highway construction, unemployment benefits, recession stimulus, Medicaid (not protected because it's for poor people), National Institute for Health, federal courts, Departments of Commerce, Education, Homeland Security, State, Justice, Treasury, Agriculture, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, and Veterans Affairs. And no money to pay for Congress.

I think a few people will be miffed at some of those disappearances.

If I did my math right, the numbers above mean that taxes pay for only 70% of the federal budget. And 30% is financed by more debt. Yes, that is scary and reason for concern.

Hmm. If the GOP did away with democracy they probably could do without all those federal departments. Except for Homeland Security, which would expand to include citizen compliance.

Carrots v. fries

Some guy (one I've never heard before) who makes his money stirring the water over "controversial" issues -- no, really, that fat will clean out your digestive system -- has found a new target. It's Michelle Obama's healthy eating program. His take? If you don't cook a healthy dinner the healthy eating police will report you to Mrs. Obama's kitchen. Nothing like a good (stupid) conspiracy theory we (as my friend and debate partner would say) would be wise to ignore.

Alas, this guy's nutty message has been taken up by Glenn Beck, conservative loudmouth. His goal is political -- make people think Mrs. Obama's advocacy for healthy eating is the same thing as the health care "They're after Granny" scare last summer. Another fearsome theft of liberty by the librull elites that only the GOP can save you from. Rachel Maddow has a 5 minute story.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Save the Earth!

George Will, in a Newsweek essay (they try to cover all sides), elaborates on an essay by Robert B. Laughlin titled, "What the Earth Knows" written in The American Scholar. It doesn't matter to the earth whether or not you drive a hybrid. In the long run -- geologic time measured in millions of years -- what mileage your car gets won't make any difference. The earth has had periods where it has been much colder and much hotter. Nothing to worry about. Therefore we don't need to worry about global warming.

Will's essay, and apparently Laughlin's, says nothing about the effects of global warming on the humans living on earth and the culture and society we have built, not to mention a multitude of our fellow species. Global warming will have devastating consequences to humans -- more extreme weather, crop failure, uninhabitable homes due to flooding or rising seas, and I'm sure my list is incomplete.

Party like it’s 2006

The GOP has issued it's campaign platform, this time called Pledge to America (perhaps because they already did Contract with America 16 years ago). It's the expected garbage, all the things that got us into this mess plus the desire to overturn what Obama has accomplished. Put it another way, they intend to party like it's 2006, but without the congressional losses.

The document (I've only scanned summaries, no use killing brain cells over 21 pages) says one reason why they are doing it is because of "self-appointed elites making decisions, issues mandates and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many." I think this broke my irony alarm. Aren't the members of the GOP the ones acting like they are supposed to rule and democracy is an annoying hindrance?

One item of the platform is summarized this way:
* Require congressional approval for any new federal regulation that would add to the deficit

Doesn't Congress approve all federal spending anyway? I notice it doesn't say anything about actually trying to reduce the deficit.

Ezra Klein in Newsweek explains why that campaign promise is missing, even though that's what the Tea Party is running on. First he notes that the nominees the Tea Party favors attack the deficit the usual ways, Rand Paul: he "couldn't spell out a proposal to do that before the Nov. 2 election." Christine O'Donnell: "Waste." Yup.

Back in 2006 William Niskanen of the Cato Institute wrote a paper titled, "Limiting Government: The Failure of 'Starve the Beast.'" For a good long time the GOP mantra was that cutting taxes would "starve" the government of revenue, forcing it to reduce spending. Worked well, hasn't it. Go look at how many digits are in the federal debt. Niskanen's point is that the opposite happened. Politicians found out they could cut taxes without cutting spending. Then they found out they could increase spending without penalty. The result: more spending, not less. The GOP stopped being a party of fiscal responsibility.

Yes, that gets the Tea Party riled up. But think about what happens when (if) these candidates sit in Congress. Politicians don't love deficits. Politicians love even less the anger of voters when favorite entitlements are threatened.

We're not cynical, are we?

Maybe not cynical enough -- Lily Tomlin: "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

Surprising nobody and annoying many, Sen. Harry Reid, who played a big role in sending the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy to defeat, is using the issue in his campaign. He's for repeal and being attacked by the GOP for doing so. Send money.

Jon Stewart has the reply. The 8 minute video has all the expletives properly bleeped out.

Speaking of Stewart… Jon Stewart has announced that he will be holding a rally on the Washington Mall on October 30. He has titled it "Rally to Restore Sanity." America should take it down a notch. Stephen Colbert responded by holding a "March to Keep Fear Alive" for the same space and time. Stewart's announcement is 11 minutes, Colbert's is 8.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Defining standard of living

Father and son David and Benjamin Crumm spent August circling (litarally!) the country talking to people they met about what they think of America. I've been reading their reports, though am only about halfway through. In Berkeley, Calif. they met Rafael Jesus Gonzales, a poet who writes in both English and Spanish. Gonzales disputes the claim that America has the highest standard of living in the world. He thinks we are basing that claim on all the wrong things and we actually have the lowest. His reasoning:

Our culture measures worth in dollars and consumption. That also means our culture is based on anxiety. One reason for that is the absence of universal health care which means a comfortably middle-class family is one catastrophic illness away from poverty.

When a culture is based on consumption it is also based on competition. We're not a kind culture and the culture itself is abusive to many. A culture of consumption is not a culture of wellbeing. We don't have national celebrations that have so much meaning people are dancing in the streets. We don't even sing in the streets. Everybody has their private music. We don't teach love.

We've screwed up paradise. The way back is to cherish the arts, stress the importance of love, and celebrate our joy together.

Peering into a 220 year old head

Antonin Scalia, the most conservative of the Supremes, gave a little speech a the UC Hastings College of Law. He defined what was meant by "originalism" -- the idea that guides him that says we must follow the original intent of the Constitution. He makes that a bit clearer. It doesn't matter what the actual words in the Constitution say. What does matter is what was going on in the heads of the guys writing it.

For example, the Constitution says, "…nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Obviously, that meant white Protestant landowners and certainly not women or gays. Therefore legal protections cannot be extended to women and gays. Strange that Scalia was part of the gang that decided Halliburton was in the minds of the founders and can spend freely on campaigns as a person.

This was apparently partly in response to Justice Stephen Breyer, who has written a book about how the Constitution cannot remain an 18th Century document. It must either evolve with the society or that society will see the court as irrelevant. Definitely not "originalism" thinking. This is apparently Breyer's second book.

An outcome every senator can love

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) ban on gays serving openly in the military and the defense spending bill it was a part of came before the Senate yesterday for a vote. This wasn't to pass it, but a vote whether it should come up for debate, so it needed 60 votes. It failed -- 56 to 43.

Naturally, the politics are being dissected and the entrails examined. Here's some of what's being said:

The bill wasn't just defense money and DADT. There was also a provision to allow abortions to be performed in government hospitals. There was the Dream Act, which allows children of illegal immigrants to gain citizenship through high school graduation or military service. Finally, there were provisions that Obama saw as wasteful military spending -- Congress demanding the military buy weapons systems the military doesn't want.

Obama threatened a veto over the spending issues. Nobody has been mentioning the abortion issue. Some speculate the whole bill was done in by the Dream Act because it allows the naturalized kids sponsor their parents for citizenship. But in news articles DADT gets the blame.

More speculation is aimed at the procedural move Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled. Many Senate watchers said there were 60 votes -- until Reid declared that only three amendments would be allowed between this vote and the final one. All three blatantly benefited Dems and all would have failed. That was enough to annoy the GOP and a couple Dems, who voted no.

So instead of money for the troops (why does that work when the GOP says it and it fails when the Dems do?) and the end of a policy that weakens the military we get political theater. Reid was apparently never serious about letting DADT pass and getting rid of a nasty policy. As theater goes, all sides played their parts with gusto. The audience is the voters who have to make choices in just a few weeks.

The GOP gets to claim yeah, we want to repeal DADT (sure you do) but we had to stand up to that evil Democratic Machine. They wouldn't let us introduce a few harmless (sure they are) amendments that would improve the bill. The Dems get to claim that if it wasn't for the evil GOP Machine we would end a policy that three-fourths of Americans agree should end.

Even gay activists have a role in this stage epic. We're the dancers behind the scene (and our dance moves are fabulous!). It's a role we play well.

And Obama? He issued the perfunctory statement about how he doesn't like the policy, but didn't make any effort to campaign against it.

All 100 Senators got what they wanted, especially Reid himself: a campaign issue. Gay soldiers still get thrown out. Politics at its worst.

The fate of the DADT policy now rests with two possible ways forward. First is the court case in which it was ruled unconstitutional. Obama has until tomorrow to file an appeal. Alas, that allows lawmakers to shirk their responsibility. Second, Reid voted against the bill in a procedural move that lets him bring it back after the elections. And if he doesn't we won't see any action for a couple years.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Clumsy and ignorant over-reactions

Yesterday I wrote about the opinion of Fareed Zakaria that we are a lot safer than we think we are. My friend and debate partner takes strong objection to what I wrote.

The plain fact is that we are MUCH LESS SAFE now than we were after the attacks of 9/11/2001 and our ignorance of that makes us all the more unsafe. Three reasons; I'm sure there are more:

1) Through our clumsy and ignorant over-reactions, we have angered and alienated many, many people around the world. Many but not all of them are Islamic. This has swollen and motivated the ranks of the Muslim extremists who intend us harm. The fight is vastly bigger now than any terrorist group could have made it. We have demonstrated through repeated immorality -- think Abu Gharaib, 100,000+ Iraqis needlessly killed, acquiescence and participation in torture around the world, corruption among our puppet allies -- that are not worthy of respect. Instead, we seek to be feared and as a result are hated.

2) By sacrificing much of our freedom (but not yet all) and accepting many trappings of dictatorship -- torture, imposed searches, abuses of our Constitution, shabby judicial procedures for prisoners, propaganda, etc. -- we have a much weaker moral defense to support us than we had before. We feel and know our own culpability in this mess (see item 1) and this weakens our self-confidence and determination to resist. We are also much more internally divided than we were in 2001 and this division is growing.

3) These ultra-costly wars have taken a great toll on our economic resources as well, moving us all toward poverty and increasing our vulnerability to future troubles.

What a way to make a guy feel good!

In the parts of the article I didn't mention, Zakaria was mostly talking about Al Qaeda, which is much smaller and less powerless than 9 years ago. But, yeah, the title of his article implies we are much safer overall.

A large point of Zakaria's article was that we have, and are continuing to, overreact to the threat of Al Qaeda, which is similar to my friend's first point. I see the second and third points above fitting right in with the general plan of the conservatives to install themselves in power, regardless of the consequences.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Honor it before it's ripped to shreds

Happy Constitution Day! Here are a few issues that involve the Constitution today:

* Bradley Manning is being detained for whistleblowing -- giving Pentagon videos and documents to Wikileaks.

* The Dream Act comes up for a vote soon. This act deals with children who, at a young age, came with their parents to America illegally and grew up as Americans, yet who are still illegal.

* The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy has been declared unconstitutional yet is still in force.

* The Patriot Act gets renewed sometime (I don't know how soon).

I've written before how the Fundies don't like adoption and are taking it out on gays. In another attempt at reproduction control Fundies are speaking out against sperm donors and are beginning to try to pass laws regulating or banning the practice. They work real hard not to say it, but it's no coincidence that gays and lesbians tend to have children through sperm donation. Once laws are on the books to regulate sperm and eggs it isn't that far to regulate what sperm and eggs create.

Three gay "warrior angels" lined the route the pope took through northern England today. They were there quietly protesting his anti-gay pronouncements. I love their, um, … wings.

So what if our judiciary is broken

We're definitely into the silly season. Part of me wants to dig a hole and crawl in it until the election, when I'll emerge and cast my vote (against the GOP) and hope the media nonsense has blown over (nah, we'll hear endless rounds of explaining what happened). I'm tired of every media bobble-head dissecting up, down, and sideways the Democrat's problems and their supposed imminent collapse (though no votes have been cast yet). I'm also tired of such stories as the one I heard on NPR this morning (or maybe yesterday morning -- I don't want to bother looking for the link). The story was about how, in a tossup district, the GOP candidate was able to talk freely while the incumbent Dem candidate actually had to work in Washington. As part of the story listeners heard every one of the GOP distorted talking points without any commentary about the ways they were distorted. Thanks, NPR, for the free publicity! I turned it off.

Enough. I will be studiously ignoring such stories from now on. I'll only note that the GOP gains in state legislatures will affect the makeup of Congress starting in 2012. It is state legislatures, not Congress, that draws district lines on the basis of this year's census. Vote wisely.

I'm wondering if I should explicitly connect stories to the reasons I listed as proof the GOP wants to stay in power and will do away with democracy if necessary to do so. There are two stories in Newsweek that fall under that category. No sign from the magazine that they make the connection.

The first is from Fareed Zakaria. Observing the anniversary of 9/11 he notes we as a nation are much safer than when the towers fell. I'll let him document the details. He adds that, of course, we aren't 100% safe. We can't be without interfering with the freedom we value.

But in the last 9 years we appear to have overreacted with tremendous increases in government powers and bureaucracies. Yet in spite of the reduced risk the GOP still trumpets that we are in imminent danger. They're also making Muslims out to be worse bogeyman than 9 years ago. Zakaria's point is that Al Qaeda weakened America, not by destroying a couple buildings, but by provoking American to overreact. My point is that the GOP is using fear to claim that it is the only party that can keep us safe and thus should be in power.

The other article of interest is by Dahlia Lithwick. She notes the huge number of federal judicial seats that are vacant, waiting for the Senate to confirm the nominees. There are 102 vacancies out of 854 seats. Yeah, GOP and Dems are pointing fingers at each other, but the GOP reasons, while true, sound thin. The bigger issue is that America doesn't seem to care. That's not surprising after so many years of the GOP screaming about judicial activists -- a few less judges sounds like a fine idea. But in this hyper-partisan climate every issue is going to go before the courts. One party will pass legislation, the other will take it to court. In addition, the courts handle a great number of democracy-related issues and high vacancies delay actions on those issues, to the detriment of the common citizen.

Score a big one for those who want to dismantle democracy. A court system constantly denigrated and seen as highly politicized can become broken and nobody would care.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Redefining "loser"

A repeated topic in the essays of Terrence Heath is that conservatives equate wealth with morality -- the wealthier one is the more morally right one is. Heath has another essay on that topic as part of his Three Questions series, which was prompted by a question from me. His fourth essay (still on the second question) can be summarized with: Worldly success indicates moral strength. Dependency is immoral. Undisciplined people will be weak and poor, and deservedly so. There is a moral order (which ranks America above all other countries and straights above gays). Those who are moral deserve to be in power because the preservation or promotion of immorality is itself immoral. One more step to take -- immorality must be eradicated, using tough love where possible, punishment where necessary.

The idea of wealth equals morality is discussed by Julia Baird in Newsweek. I was surprised to find out how old that idea is -- it had been around long enough that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journal about it in 1842, "Nobody fails who ought not to fail. There is always a reason, in the man, for his good or bad fortune." The idea filtered into the entire American culture and stayed there.

That idea got it's starkest airing in the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, first produced in 1949 and made into a movie in 1951. The main character is Willy Loman. It's been a long time since I saw a version (starring Dustin Hoffman as Willy?) so I don't remember the details, only that Willy sees himself as a failure. And much of our culture agreed.

But, according to Baird, by today's (2010) standards, Willy actually did all right for himself and his family. The change? Our greater understanding of failure through the Great Recession.

One of the tragic aspects of the Great Depression of the 1930s was that as people lost jobs they could not make a distinction between losing a job and being morally destroyed. You lost your job? Well, you must have done something wrong. You must have committed a great moral error. Therefore you deserve what you got. The response was a remarkably high suicide rate.

But, thankfully, that foolish idea is under assault in the general culture, if not in the land of conservatism. It is clear to many of us that we didn't cause the mess. Those of the former middle class who lost jobs and houses had been doing every thing our culture told us was the right (moral) thing to do. Besides, the moral failings (such as greed) are on prominent display by the wealthy. Questions are being asked: Why should financial success define morality? Why is an ordinary life seen as having less worth? Why do we value careers and money over relationships? Why are there deathbed regrets about losing friends and not about "I didn't work hard enough"?

Thankfully, this time around we aren't so quick to toss the "loser" label on someone who has lost their job.

No, really, we're talking just about the economy

Back in June when the Calif. gay marriage ban was declared unconstitutional only the extreme "professional" anti-gay crowd had much to say. The GOP lawmakers kept quiet. Now that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell ban on gays in the military has also been declared unconstitutional the GOP lawmakers are again quiet. That's a good sign the policy is pretty much over -- except the GOP will still put on a good filibuster show when it comes before the Senate next week.

The Tea Party has long said to be (1) individual groups of concerned citizens who have spontaneously gathered together with no national organization to (2) change government economic policy. I also hear the Brooklyn Bridge is for sale.

Dick Armey spoke to the Christian Science Monitor a few days ago. I'm sure the name is familiar. His current job is Director of FreedomWorks, the group that provides the national organization and orchestration of the various Tea Party groups. So much for part 1 above. Armey said that once their planned takeover of Congress is complete they will switch from economic issues to social issues. And there goes part 2.

I'm sure we can all recite exactly which social issues the various Tea Party groups have been (not so) carefully silent about during this campaign season.

Michigan's Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell is showing that he isn't a nice man. Chris Armstrong is the first openly gay student body president at the University of Michigan and Shirvell doesn't like that one bit. Put it another way, Shirvell has created a personal blog with the purpose of bullying Armstrong. Shirvell's boss, AG Mike Cox, has essentially said, Gee Andy, that's not a wise thing to say. But, sorry folks, Andy's doing it on his own time and his free speech is protected.

Mike Cox will not be AG come January. I don't know if Shirvell's employment ends then as well. If the GOP candidate (I forget the name) wins, maybe not. The GOP candidate might just like an assistant who is a bully.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Credit where credit is due

As the War in Iraq "officially" ended -- even though we have 50K troops still there who don't think their mission has changed -- and Obama gave his Oval Office speech marking its end, GOP leaders demanded Obama give credit and thanks to his predecessor for making the "victory" possible. Rachel Maddow has the takedown. The only thing she missed is how many Iraqi's died in the process. Hearing her go through the reasons Bush & Cheney gave for the war made me wonder: We were that gullible? Or that afraid? It's a 10 minute video.

Government policy v. government interest

Judge Virginia Phillips of a US District Court in Riverside Calif. has ruled that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell ban on gays serving openly in the military is unconstitutional. Since this is only the first step in perhaps a long judicial battle, don't go telling your commanding officer you're gay just yet.

Ari Ezra Waldman pokes through the ruling to explain it all. I'll only give you the highlight reel. DADT violates two amendments of the Constitution.

* Free Speech. Gay soldiers are not allowed to speak about being gay and that is a restriction on speech based only on the content of the speech. That restriction is so pervasive that gay soldiers have trouble answering such basic questions as, "So, what did you do on leave?" This is not a restriction their straight colleagues face.

* Due process. The government claims to have a legitimate need to keep gays silent about their orientation, but the need doesn't stand up. The policy doesn't reflect a legitimate government interest. The policy doesn't achieve it's stated goal. It intrudes on solider liberty more than necessary to meet the stated interest. Evidence at trial showed the policy actually works against several government interests.

Even though this particular judge says DADT is unconstitutional it doesn't let Congress off the hook. If the Obama administration decides to appeal it could be years before the Supremes hear the case. A repeal bill might come before the Senate once it is back in session. It should be an easy victory since about 2/3 of Americans want the repeal. It should be "low hanging fruit" easily plucked. But somehow it isn't. Dan Savage said, if this fruit were hanging any lower it would be a potato.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cleaning up a mess in 2 years that took 8 years to create

In my recent post about how conservatives want to gain power through any means necessary I noted that one tactic is to flood campaigns with oodles of cash and doing it through organizations that don't have to disclose their donors. This effort is getting assistance through an unexpected ally.

The National Organization for Marriage spent their oodles of cash in recent anti-marriage efforts in Maine and Washington state. In both places they have defied local laws saying donors to such campaigns must be disclosed. Court cases have ensued, and so far NOM has lost each time the cases work their way up the appeals process. Of course, their goal is to overturn campaign finance transparency laws. Though NOM and the anti-gay crowd are the immediate beneficiary there are a large number of conservative causes (and conservative legal help) that will dive in if the laws are repealed.

Richard Lyon has been poking around the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national gay lobbying organization. He doesn't much like what he sees (neither do I -- I stopped contributing to them several years ago). Lyon wrote a multi-part essay looking at HRC's fund raising, the salaries of their top employees, and the political contributions it makes. His opinion is that HRC is operating on behalf of the Democratic Party, not on behalf of gays. The final installment asks the question, "What do we get for our money?" Lyon's conclusion: not much.

A commenter explains that HRC has no political bargaining power. The reason why it doesn't is because politicians are not afraid of HRC, and that's because they know HRC will donate to them whether or not they do what HRC wants. HRC doesn't know how to walk away, still clutching that donation check.

We're past Labor Day now and the political topic is the November elections, something like 55 days away. The Obama Admin is swinging into campaign mode in hopes of minimizing the predicted GOP tsunami. But they come up with this? David Axlerod says a GOP Congress could be "more extreme" that Bush.

That's the best you've got? What have you been doing the last two years? Progressives see the Obama gang ignoring them in hopes of garnering a phantom slice of the American public. The Obama initiative come across as so tepid that there is no campaign narrative and the only thing left to run on is the GOP is more evil.

In the meantime the GOP is crowing that they created such a gigantic mess under Bush that it has taken more than two years to clean up -- allowing them to blame Obama for not being able to undo the damage. Let that rattle around in your brain for a while.

Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado has filled a vacancy in that states Supreme Court. Monica Marquez, the new jurist, makes two firsts for that court -- first Latina and first lesbian. Hooray for Colorado!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Today's conservatives do have a particular end in mind

Now that Obama is gaining traction with his boasts that the GM and Chrysler bailouts were a good idea, the GOP is, of course, claiming that Obama had nothing to do with it. Never mind that if Obama hadn't stepped in neither company would have been bailed out. Never mind also that unemployment has remained so high those jobless automotive workers would not have been absorbed into other industries.

That is the starting point of Terrence Heath's third essay on the way conservatives look at the world. Listen to the way conservative media heads, office holders, and candidates have said about the unemployed: Giving out unemployment benefits will make these people not want to get a job. People are unemployed because they want to be. There are jobs available for all. The unemployed are too lazy or too busy using drugs to apply for jobs waiting for them. They should just go work at McDonald's. I'm sure you can count how many statements in that list are actually true.

Put it bluntly, conservatives claim the government should not help these people because to do so would be immoral.

Yes, I know part of that belief is because liberals are so good at messing up programs intended to help the poor, as I wrote recently.

Even so, I think the charge of immorality is masking another goal, and it is darker than what Heath has written about.

More than a month ago Heath wrote an essay about how it seems the GOP is fostering hopelessness throughout the American working class. In response to that essay I had asked, "Is the GOP intentionally fostering this helplessness? To what end?" Heath's three essays were written to answer those questions.

I've gone back to my original post and discovered that Heath has posted that first of three essays in several forums and that his link to my posting is included in all of them. Perhaps I'm getting wider exposure? Blogger, the site that hosts my blog, now can report reader stats, though when I click on it I don't get beyond "Loading Stats…" Sigh.

To be fair to Heath I have a pretty good idea of what end the GOP has in mind, and have written about it several times. The answer I posed above was only rhetorical, at least to me and my regular readers. Since I saw Heath's essays were likely not going to get to the same conclusion I reached I started writing my answer a few weeks ago. This has allowed me to be more complete in my answer and to include fresh examples.

I haven't documented the source of every detail in this posting. Previous posts in this topic are here. I hope Heath finds many of my points to be familiar.

Until at least the 1960s conservatives didn't particularly care which party was in power because it was always white Christian (Protestant) straight men. The parties also weren't clearly divided between progressive and conservative and which controlled which party changed through the years.

But beginning by at least 1980 and Reagan's Southern Strategy the white Christian male began to realize his hold on power might be slipping. That becomes more apparent as population projections show the white Christian will likely, in a few decades, no longer be in the majority in this country.

Those who were concerned about who should be allowed to hold power in America drifted to the GOP, whose rhetoric attracted them. Some of them sound like an extremist fringe, but not all of them.

Now, a major goal of the GOP is: We're supposed to be in power. We're the ones the Founding Fathers had in mind. Our wealth is proof that we have the proper morals to be able to decide what you do. Your poverty is proof that you are morally inferior to hold power. Our god has anointed us to rule over you.

There are many ways they are going after that goal. Many of these points should be obvious. Terrence Heath has written about many of them.

* Make sure democracy doesn't work. The GOP realized, at least by 1990, that the time will soon come when they could not rely on the ballot to keep them in power. Obama proved it. Ways of undermining democracy:
* Point out how democracy has changed society: gay rights, abortion rights, no prayer in public schools, Protestant Christianity is no longer the de facto state religion, minorities hold office, Wall St. bailout took money from the poor to give to the rich, there is a "crushing" national debt that the GOP won't fix but uses as a reason why people can't be helped, health care reform that requires participation.

* Show that business is in control of government.

* Put elections in doubt. That both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were rigged in a key state has been well documented. But the shenanigans continue -- in Tennessee the GOP has sued to prevent the implementation of a law that would get rid of corrupt voting machines. Norm Coleman's loss to Al Franken in Minn. is "proof" that paper ballots are bad.

* Flood campaigns with cash, but do it through groups that don't have to disclose who donates the money, again showing that somebody else -- not the little guy -- controls government.

* Put obvious effort into electing GOP-friendly state supreme court justices so that the common man no longer trusts the justice they hand out. File suits against speech that works against GOP or business interests even though such a case would be dismissed on First Amendment grounds. Justice is only for those who can afford it.

* Insist judges must be elected and subjected to the will of the people. While this sounds like the ultimate in democracy it actually undermines it by allowing tyranny of the majority free rein. Nothing stands between rights that are supposed to apply to everyone and mob rule.

* Claim they are the only ones actually following the Constitution while also obscuring what it really says and claiming it needs to be changed.

* Constantly question Obama's right to be president.

* Claim all of Obama's actions will bring catastrophe -- make sure he fails even if it takes the country down too. A corollary is that the GOP is willing to (and sees advantage in) letting the country fail rather than let Obama have a success.

* Joke that lynching is the acceptable solution to the intransigence of fellow congressmen. Violence to protect ideology is acceptable.

* Make the congressional ethics committee inoperable.

* Make sure government doesn't work. It is done through obstruction, intentional mismanagement, and defunding of programs for the middle class, working class, and poor. The Katrina response is a prime example. The Gulf oil cleanup is another.

* Make the working class and poor feel helpless -- break the social contract, which says that if a person is willing to work he can supply basic necessities for him/herself and family and by working hard he/she can get ahead.

* Make the parts of government not in GOP control so small that it can't interfere with their plans. Government is the only thing with enough power to do that (in the same way that government is the only institution with enough power to fix our greatest problems, such as global warming).

* Reduce the availability and effectiveness of education, which allows the masses to be more easily led by emotion rather than logic. An ignorant populace is more easily led into extremism. Complain that teachers are paid too much, driving the better ones out of teaching. Witness the stink about spending to keep teachers while laying off military contractors. Also note the No Child Left Behind act focuses only on regimented testing, not on a well rounded education.

* Complain that school curricula is too liberal.

*Shift mainstream outlets from news to entertainment, which keeps them uneducated without them noticing.

* Attack scientists who don't support the party line. Ken Cuccinelli, AG of Virginia, is especially vicious against climatologist Michael Mann, working to discredit human involvement in global warming and intimidating other scientists along the way.

* Keep the fear high -- the masses need the GOP to keep them safe. The role of bogeyman has been placed upon Communists, gays, terrorists, immigrants, and Muslims (the Ground Zero Mosque). Push policies and attacks so that those attacked feel the need to fight back, reinforcing the GOP's claim. And, Black president aside, we still haven't gotten over racism. Imply the only solution for the bogeyman is elimination.

* Focus on national decline and victimhood. Claim the only way out is through national unity and purity.

* Get us used to more government invasion of privacy (airport TSA) even if the stated reason for that intervention is ineffective. This evening my friend and debate partner told me about border patrol agents on the Amtrak train from Chicago to Boston (no border involved) harassing riders in the middle of the night looking for illegal immigrants.

* Abandon civil liberties -- redefine torture, push surveillance, claim evildoers have no right to legal protections (Gitmo and underwear bomber), claim that a mosque can't be built anywhere near Ground Zero.

* Convince the rabble that the broken social contract and the ineffective government is the fault of the Dems.

* Overturn gun laws to make sure the rabble is well armed. Imply that the opposition is so evil that eliminating them is a good idea. At the height of the health care debate last August several Tea Party members interrupting congressmen were seen to carry guns. This implies you had better agree with me or you're next.

* Allow members of white supremacist groups to join the military, and thus be trained in weapons and explosives. Allow the military hierarchy to push the Fundamentalist Christian line. Glorify the military and military solutions. An example is soldiers being "forced" to attend an Evangelical Christian concert and sent to their barracks in lockdown when they refused.

* Push myths of the founding fathers -- that they really created a Christian nation.

* Pit the common man against the elites. Imply that all gains are zero-sum.

Some watchers, such as Sara Robinson of the blog Orcinus, have studied fascism and see many of these actions correspond to what happened when fascism arose in Germany and Italy in the 1930s. Their warnings became more than hypothetical with the rise of the Tea Party last August. Yes, that means in order to keep power the GOP is willing to turn America into a fascist state. So their goals have included:

* Make sure the public is confused about the definition of fascism.

An open question is whether the GOP politicians are savvy enough to come up with this extensive of an agenda aimed at the specific goal of demolishing democracy. I have my doubts, especially since this effort appears to have gone on longer than the shelf life of any particular GOP grunt and since no GOP operative (other than perhaps Bush II) appears to have the leadership or charisma to make it happen.

It is more likely that the GOP members are the puppets whose strings are pulled and wallets filled by other forces, who are content to be the secret power behind the throne. A couple guesses who those forces are:

One is The Family, a Fundamentalist Christian group that is pushing for a "God-led government."

Another is the corporate empire of the Koch brothers, built on oil. Their goal is to make the government as friendly to their companies as possible. Their money appears to fund the organizations that are staffed by Rove protégés and coordinate Tea Party events.

To what end? Permanently put white Christian males in power, no matter the cost.

Free from the whim of the latest political trend

Since the Iowa Supremes said the state must provide for gay marriage the anti-gay crowd has been pushing to vote the pro-gay justices out of office. One small problem -- the justices are appointed, not elected, to set terms. The argument by the anti-gay activists is that because justices are appointed they are "unaccountable to the people." Judges should run a campaign, with partisan wrangling and empty campaign promises, just like any other politician.

We in Michigan know how well that works. My home state is tagged as one with a highly dysfunctional supreme court that is hyperpartisan in its rulings.

This week the Iowa State Bar Association will host a panel to discuss the process and retired Supreme Sandra Day O'Connor will participate. She'll call for a merit system, not an election system, for all state supreme courts. One branch of the government should be free from the whim of the latest political trend, deep pocket contributors, mob rule, and tyranny of the majority.

Trust me, we're handling it just fine

Gay and transgender school kids have long been the target of bullies. Many of these kids feel unsafe going to school and so drop out. Many others commit suicide, including three in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota over the last year. Which means an anti-bullying policy can be seen as an anti-suicide policy.

Also for a long time, anti-gay groups have opposed anti-bullying policies for schools. The Safe Schools bill has been held up in the Michigan Senate for many years. The Anoka-Hennepin School Board claims they take bullying seriously but has refused to implement anti-bullying policies.

That leads to the question: When does opposition to suicide prevention equal murder?

The failure to implement such a policy has the full backing of Focus on the Family. They claim the issue is being hijacked by homosexual activists who are politicizing and sexualizing the issue. These activists, claims FotF, want gay-themed curricula which is sexually graphic and full of anti-religion stereotypes. This should not to be confused with anti-gay stereotypes, which are apparently highly desired in school curricula. FotF portrays gays as full of abject misery.

FotF partner Alliance Defense Fund has a Model Anti-Bullying Policy they are pushing on schools. GLSEN -- Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network -- has the takedown on why this model policy won't actually do anything to protect gay kids. There are four major points to the rebuttal.

* Enumeration -- ADF wants policies that don't specifically say that gay kids (and other groups) are covered. GLSEN finds that when enumeration is left out the weakened policy is no more effective at stopping bullying than not having a policy at all. Much of that is because when gay kids are not mentioned administrators and teachers are reluctant to enforce anti-bullying policies because they are afraid parents will complain that straight Fundie kids are deprived of their free speech. In their reasoning for leaving out enumeration, ADF plays Oppression Olympics -- gays don't have it as bad as other groups of kids who are bullied, so shut up. That clearly misses the point that all bullying is bad.

* No training -- the ADF policy doesn't say how school administrators and teachers are to learn what bullying is, how to identify it, and how to effectively stop it. No training equals useless policy.

* Careful limits on the policy -- state the policy is in effect on school property and school busses. Which means all a bully has to do is wait until his target has left school grounds before attacking.

* Overemphasis on free speech -- The last line of the model policy states:

This policy shall not be interpreted to infringe upon the First Amendment rights of students, and is not intended to prohibit expression of religious, philosophical, or political views, provided that such expression does not cause an actual, material disruption of the work of the school. (emphasis added)

A Fundie church kid can torment a gay kid in the cafeteria and in the halls with threats of hellfire and brimstone as long as the work of the school is not disrupted.

Put another way, the ADF policy is designed to make sure Fundie kids are allowed to create hostile environments for gay kids while giving school officials a way of saying, "See! We're handling the bullying problem!"

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Go away, you're wasting our time

A few days ago I wrote about the Pacific Justice Institute filing a suit to force Arnold and Jerry Brown to defend the Calif. gay marriage ban in the 9th Circuit Court. The 3rd District Court for the state of Calif. was quick and terse in its response: denied.

Flipping left and right

Obama, who hasn't been the fierce advocate he said he would be, may find his careful and cautious approach to gay legislation backfire. The Dems calculated they didn't need to push all that hard on gay issues because gays didn't have any other political home -- the GOP was too antagonistic. Never mind the existence of Log Cabin Republicans or the newer GOProud.

But, as I've been writing over the last few days, many in the GOP are saying some rather nice things about gays. Many of them are from the libertarian branch of the party and are farther left on gay issues than Obama. That's making a few outspoken gays think they may soon have a better chance of making progress through the GOP, abandoning the Dems.

Here's an example. The GOP in Utah noticed that one of their preferred candidates for a state senate seat was going to miss the deadline to file for candidacy. So they contacted Melvin Nimer, the Utah president of Log Cabin Republicans, who completed his filing within a day. The contest will feature a gay-friendly Democrat against an actual gay Republican. The choice isn't so simply anymore. And this is in Utah!