Friday, December 30, 2011

Changing hearts and minds as well as laws

A week ago I wrote, "Litigation can be more successful than disorganized political activism." A few days later my friend and debate partner responded. Yes, he said, litigation has brought many progressive victories. He listed several examples.
But there is a problem: Legal decisions do not change opponents' hearts or minds; instead opponents experience defeat and resentment of "activist judges". Long bitter fights can ensue, as we have so painfully seen in the case of abortion. The Michigan legislature displayed its anger and bigotry toward gays in the recently enacted law that took away unmarried partner benefits. It may well be overturned in court... but the anger and bigotry will deepen and reappear in other forms.

The ACLU (a very conservative organization -- its sole mission is to conserve the Bill of Rights and other dimensions of the rule of law) has a very negative public reputation, especially among conservatives (!) because it just sues and wins, doing little to persuade the public to appreciate and support its mission.

One way to address this problem is "progress one funeral at a time" -- keep the pressure for progress up, wait for elderly bigots to die off.

The best solution is to create a constituency for progress, fairness and human rights. This must include creating a large public commitment to the Constitution as a document to be interpreted in keeping with modern problems and issues. The Occupy movement is the closest thing to that opportunity I have seen since the sixties.
I agree that hearts and minds must be changed along with the laws. Many gay rights organizations, for example the marriage equality organization in Oregon, are doing exactly that. Thank you, friend, for your insight.

However, I disagree with "progress one funeral at a time." (1) There are a lot of elderly bigots out there and it could take a while for enough to die off. (2) If we followed that method for churches the youth would simply stay away and those churches would die. I'd rather see the churches reform and attract the youth. (3) Polls have shown that elderly bigots do change their minds. Their support for marriage equality has increased.

God v. Gays is fading

Just a few short years ago the general impression in America was "God v. Gays." Joseph Ward III of the Believe Out Loud organization and writing in the Huffington Post saw a big change in that equation, in spite claims by Rick Perry. Believe Out Loud is an effort to have gay-friendly pastors actually say as much so gays and parents of gays won't think their church is against them. Ward lists the top ten things in 2011 that show at least some Christians welcome gays. The webpage is a slideshow, so worthwhile to visit for the pictures.

10. A Believe Out Loud video was rejected by Sojourners. The incident prompted lots of attention to the issue and Sojourners got a lot of response.

9. Rick Perry's "Strong" video dissing gay military personnel got a firestorm of criticism from Christians.

8. When the Michigan Legislature attempted to put a religious exemption into their anti-bullying bill they got a lot of pressure to change. Lutherans Concerned has anti-bullying curriculum for churches.

7. In October the United Church for Christ reached 971 congregations that welcome gays and expect that number to top 1000 this coming spring.

6. The Association for Welcoming and Affirming Baptists took a petition with 10,000 names urging the Southern Baptist Convention to apologize for the way they have harmed gay people.

5. 1,000 United Methodist Clergy have declared to make an Alter for All, saying they will officiate or bless same-sex couples in spite of denomination prohibitions.

4. The Presbyterian Church now allows gay pastors.

3. The military ban against gays is gone (though the blurb doesn't say what this has to do with religion).

2. Marriage Equality came to New York with 700 church leaders actively pushing for the new law.

1. Hillary Clinton's UN speech on gay rights are human rights included comments about how religious traditions can be sources of compassion and inspiration.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

100% genuine content

Quote of the week:

The trouble with quotes on the internet is that people pass them along without ensuring that they're genuine.
--- Abraham Lincoln

Small government close to the people, except…

Newt's failure to qualify for the Virginia GOP primary has been in the news all week. Perry, Bachmann, Santorum, Huntsman, and I don't remember who else didn't qualify either, leaving only Romney and Paul on the ballot.

Of course, lots of reasons are offered. Tea Party people blame voter fraud on Obama and unions. Though it is amazing unions had such power to take over the state GOP.

To qualify a candidate needed at least 400 signatures from each congressional district and 10K overall. Perhaps Newt let it slip until the last moment and then didn't have enough of an organization to get it done.

Or perhaps part of the GOP backed Voter ID law came around and bit them in the butt.

A new law required each signature be compared against voter rolls. If the address didn't match the signature wasn't counted. Don't expect the GOP (and much of the mainstream media) to say anything about this little problem.

Back in the 1990s Ron Paul produced a newsletter trumpeting his ideas. A lot of what was said in them is very homophobic, anti-semitic, and racist. Some of the worst are excerpted here (the list is long). Paul is trying to dismiss the mess but Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin isn't buying. There are a few scenarios and only one of them is in Paul's favor. And it isn't the one Paul is claiming.

Option 1, the one Paul is pushing: Hey, I was an absentee landlord. I didn't approve every last word in those newsletters.

Burroway responds: His name is in the banner, his signature is at the bottom. The newsletter was written to raise money for his campaign. The letters said some vile stuff, though is congressional constituents happened to agree with him. The letters said this stuff for over a decade to they didn't just happen to escape an editor's notice. Absentee landlord doesn't wash.

Option 2: Paul didn't agree with the vile statements but stuck with them because they were good for his campaign. Burroway says this is the kind of cynicism that Paul is running against this year.

Option 3: Paul really did believe that stuff then and doesn't now. He has matured. He would be a man of his word then and now (a campaign theme). Burroway responds: But that's not what he's saying.

The mess prompted a writer named Bluegal aka Fran of the blog Crooks and Liars to sum it up this way: "Can't manage a newsletter. Can't manage a country."

Rom Paul opposes the Supreme Court ruling that struck down laws that banned gay sex between consenting adults. His reason: such a thing should be up to states to decide. That has made Paul the darling of some Dominionists, those who believe Christ will return once we (they) have made the world (or at least America) pure enough to be acceptable to Christ. And one of those Dominionists beliefs is that gays should be executed by the government. That will certainly restore the remaining gays (at least until they cross the Canadian border). The description of their theology is quite scary and nothing like the Christianity I know. At least Paul has the sense to hide such an effusive endorsement.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin (yes, I refer to the site a lot -- they do good work debunking the anti-gay noise) of a bit of hypocrisy in the Michigan GOP (yeesh, only a little bit?).

The state party's statement of principles say:
I BELIEVE the proper role of government is to provide for the people only those critical functions that cannot be performed by individuals or private organizations, and that the best government is that which governs least.

I BELIEVE the most effective, responsible and responsive government is government closest to the people.
And yet, with the recent bills outlawing domestic partner benefits, they have violated both of those principles. The new law doesn't govern least -- it demands that the entire state follow the moral principles of a small population (perhaps only 25% want to get rid of DP benefits). The new law is not government closest to the people -- it overrides DP benefit laws of many cities and school districts.

At least the law doesn't try to hide saying, "We simply don't like gay people."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Take the loneliness out of the sting of life

I've been reading books by Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. He has some important criticisms of some of the core pieces of doctrine of Christianity. However, I'm not going to get into that. Instead, I want to share Spong's vision of what he thinks the church should be. It is a vision that resonates with me and I wish its implementation could happen quickly. Alas, too many church leaders are heavily invested in the way things work now.

A vision for the church from the book A New Christianity for a New World:

A place where people are called out of prejudice and brokenness and into a community. This community will celebrate its members for why they are and learn what it means to be fully human. The journey will be towards wholeness instead of goodness. This is not something one does in private.

The community will be agents of life. It will celebrate all life -- plant, animal, and human -- and the ways life interconnects.

We will reach beyond the tribe to solve the needs of the whole earth and of future generations. We will challenge our excessive ways of living, our spiraling birthrate, our disregard for the environment.

We will reach to each other to heal the scars of prejudice and income inequality. The variety of faith stories will be honored, not be a source of condemnation.

We will continue to mark the stages of life, such as birth, puberty, marriage, parenthood, sickness, and death. We may perhaps honor the difficult decisions to end a pregnancy or end life-support.

Guilt will not be a weapon of control. We will call people to be free to be themselves. The church will shift the basic story from estrangement from God to evolutionary incompleteness. The self-centeredness that increased the chances of survival of our ancestors must give way to a love that reaches beyond our own needs.

We will not insist the way our ancestors understood their God must be the way we understand God. Even so, there is much to learn from the faith struggles of our ancestors.

We will dedicate ourselves to the search for truth, never insisting we have all the answers.

We will be a center of caring. We may not take the sting from life, but can take the loneliness from the sting.

We will be a place of justice, calling for justice for all people in a way that leads to reconciliation. We will confront racism, patriarchy, heterosupremacy, the economically powerful.

The church leaders will have positions of service, not of hierarchy.

We will bring life, not death. Love, not oppression. Community, not destruction.

Leading the bullying

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin takes a look at the recent lawsuit brought by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of a student and parent in Howell, Michigan. I won't go into the details of the case, only saying the student appears to be a bully and uses religion as justification. The lawsuit is of much more interest and not simply because TMLC is taking the side of the bully. Even perpetrators need legal defense.

The TMLC brief, which lays out the case, talks repeatedly of the gay "lifestyle" and how damaging and abusive it is. That means the TMLC plan of action is for Christian kids to bully gay kids until the gay kids give up on the lifestyle.

Kincaid goes into detail about how [in]effective that is.

Kincaid reminds us of 10 kids who have committed suicide over the last three years, kids who were bullied for being gay. These kids were as young as 11 and 13. Some were gay. Some hadn't said. But at age 11 and 13 it is clear these kids had not taken part in any kind of "lifestyle" according to the definition of many Fundies (orientation doesn't exist, their definition is based entirely on actions).

Which means, says Kincaid, that TMLC isn't just defending bullies. From the language in their brief they are participating in the bullying.

You can't tell me what to do

Laura Sessions Stepp of CNN Opinion reports on a problem of many Fundie churches. Once the kids are out on their own, they leave the church. There is a 43% drop in attendance by young adults. Many of this age do leave the church (and not just Fundie denominations), only to return 2-3 years later when they have kids of their own. But many are now marrying much later (if at all) so the gap could be 10 years. And with such a gap they are unlikely to return.

The reason for the big exodus is the young adults don't like the way the church is telling them to live their lives. They don't like being condemned for being gay, having sex outside of marriage, living with a partner, being a single mom, or opting for an abortion. This condemnation is much stronger than the sense of community they get within the church, so they leave.

Having heard of enough studies about kids doing better with two parents (the studies that get misused by Fundies who insist those parents must be of different genders) I think having kids within a marriage is a very good thing for the church to teach. However, I don't like the harsh condemnation for violating that rule.

That makes me wonder if the youth are rejecting the teachings on sex because they also reject the teaching on gays. Stepp doesn't provide any data. Of course, it is quite possible the culture's teaching on sex is much louder than the church's and that may be enough for the youth to reject the church's teaching.

All I want for Christmas is equality

Randi Reitan, mother of gay activist Jacob Reitan, has written a sweet Christmas letter to her son. She wishes she could give him one important Christmas gift: equality.

Won't keep you from getting elected

Denis Dison of the blog Gay Politics reports that 48 states now have openly gay elected officials. The two that don't are South Dakota and Alaska (and that means every state in the South does). Dison says even these two most likely have gay officials, just not out.

I wondered for a moment about the gay elected officials in Michigan, though when I saw the list from the Victory Institute database, several names did, indeed, look familiar -- David Coulter, Mayor of Ferndale; Craig Covey, Oakland County Commissioner; Charles Pugh, president of Detroit City Council; and Chris Swope, City Clerk of Lansing. In all, there are 16 openly gay elected officials in Michigan.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A problem if he wins, a problem if he doesn't

Terrence Heath notes the GOP is backing itself into a no-win situation with Ron Paul surging in the polls as Newt fades. The problem is because Paul's backers are of the True Believer variety who won't vote for anyone else.

Paul might also be helped by what Theo Anderson calls the new Confederacy. Those of us not in the new Confederacy are pragmatic, look for verification in science, and want solutions that work in the real world. Progressives invested in educational and governmental institutions that were built around how the world actually works.

But conservatives built parallel institutions to preserve The Truth (as they saw it). So the current battle isn't just about the size of government. It is whose definition of truth will the nation accept. One believes the Truth, one doesn't test it against experience. So, as Anderson says, "For these leaders and their followers, faith justifies–and verifies–itself. You don’t believe an idea because it’s true. It’s true because you believe it."
This is why, in the “real America” of Bachmann, Palin and Perry, it is self-evident that cutting taxes increases revenues; the founders were evangelical Christians; evolution is bunk; climate change is a hoax; the United States has the best healthcare system in the world; we can transform the Middle East into a garden of democracy; Kenya native Barack Obama has slashed the military budget; the war on drugs is worth the cost; and so on. These are all leaps of faith. The new Confederates flat-out reject or ignore any counter-evidence, because they have their own fount of truth.
Ron Paul appears to be Libertarian except on social issues important to the Fundies and just might appeal to enough of the new Confederacy to be a player in the upcoming primary season.

Heath's summary:
The problem for the GOP is that, if the party wants to have a hope of winning the White House in 2012, Paul can’t be the nominee. As much as his views might endear him to increasingly vocal and powerful (witness the debt deal debacle and the recent payroll tax cut fiasco) factions within the party, they would doom his candidacy in the general election. (At least, that’s what one hopes.)

The even bigger problem for the GOP is, that Paul won’t be he nominee. With no other candidate that has a base as passionate and loyal as Paul’s, even a second place spot in Iowa leaves him in a position to be a spoiler throughout the primaries and on in the general election. If he follows through on his threat not to endorse any of other GOP hopefuls, the mad doctor of the GOP just might slice a significant number off any potential margin of victory for the GOP.

Confronting claims of disruption

Lots of conservatives of various kids issued dire warnings about what would happen if gays were allowed to serve openly in the military. Those dire warnings were also issued against blacks (integration of the military, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act), immigrants, and women. "Disruption" is the easiest claim to make when the religious and moral reasons for prejudice fall flat.

But it has been three months since the DADT repeal went into effect and Western Civilization is still standing.

Dr. Nathaniel Frank says it is now time to gather up all those claims made against gays in the military and hold the speakers accountable with how wrong their predictions were.

The need for this accountability is simple -- those "disruption" arguments are still trotted out against marriage equality.

A responder notes the anti-gay industry is changing their tune a little bit. Massachusetts has, after all, had gay marriage for seven years now. The tune now is, well, nothing has happened yet but a couple generations from now things like religious liberty will be gone.

Self-focused and myopic

Amy Koch was a leader in the Minnesota state Senate and was instrumental in getting the marriage protection amendment onto next year's ballot. She's now out of the Senate after it was revealed she had an affair with a senior staffer who is not her husband (which means the staffer cheated on his wife). So much for protecting marriage.

John Madeiros sent Koch a letter on behalf of all gays and lesbians apologizing for destroying her marriage. It is worthy of Mark Twain (say some responders) in its sly snarkiness. I'll quote only a sample, the whole delicious thing is worth a read.
It is now clear to us that if we were not so self-focused and myopic, we would have been able to see that the time you wasted diligently writing legislation that would forever seal the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, could have been more usefully spent reshaping the legal definition of "adultery."

We like lists

We're closing in on the end of the year so the best/worst lists are appearing. I'll feature a great one -- 40 Reasons Why 2011 Was a Great Year For Gays created by Matt Stopera of Buzzfeed. I won't reproduce it here because the list comes with great photos.

Ari Ezra Waldman's list is about the legal aspects (he's a lawyer) of gay rights. He starts off with the lessons learned:

* Obama has been the "fierce advocate" he said he would be.

* Litigation can be more successful than disorganized political activism.

* The gay rights institutions sometimes called "Gay, Inc." can be relevant if they adapt to what gay people are actually like today.

An example of the success of litigation is the ongoing battle over Prop. 8, the Calif. gay marriage ban. The case has created several other rulings in our favor. Waldman wrote:
Still, look how far we have come: The Prop 8 litigation -- thanks to the American Foundation of Equal Rights (AFER), its legal team run by Ted Olson and David Boies -- gave us the first federal court decision declaring gay judges can be impartial on gay rights cases, and it gave us a federal court's declaration that no evidence exists to suggest that natural procreation was ever a purpose of marriage, that no rational reason exist for keeping gays and lesbians out of the institution of marriage, and that marriage discrimination is an example of state action that classifies individuals on the basis on sexual orientation, which merits heightened scrutiny. And, let us not forget that Perry gave us a forum to say that marriage discrimination is unconstitutional.
Marriage equality came to New York due to the efforts of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the local and national Gay, Inc.

The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (signed into law last year, but went into effect only last September) was an example of Democratic leadership, both by the Prez. and Congress. It is also an example of the need to pursue both a legal and political solution -- Congress didn't act until a legal case declared DADT to be unconstitutional.

Examples of Obama's leadership include his refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, his declaration that court cases on gay rights must face heightened scrutiny, his emphasis on gay rights being human rights and a part of foreign policy, his stopping deportations of foreign spouses of married gay couples, and the extension of federal benefits to gay people.

Remember who our allies are when the election comes.

Alas, we must contrast all that good news with Michigan. Yes, indeed, Gov. Snyder signed the bill that prevents any level of government from offering domestic partner benefits. Snyder says the new law doesn't cover state university employees and doesn't affect classified state civil service. Analysts in the House agree with Snyder. Analysts in the Senate say it would affect all gov't employees, no exceptions. It appears Snyder signed it for purely economic reasons (save the cash-strapped state a few bucks), not out of actual malice to gays.

That malice came for the legislature. Between the Lines declares the legislature in 2011 to be the most hostile to gays in state history. That includes the partner benefits already mentioned plus proposals (as BTL calls them, which I don't think passed) to eliminate local anti-discrimination laws and do damage to programs for HIV/AIDS.

A big culprit, according to BTL, is term limits. Since frequent turnover is assured, legislators must go to the extremes of the party to get funding.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Avoiding being a Scrooge

Tina Dupuy reposts a commentary she wrote last year. Why do we spend so much money on Christmas, especially in years when we don’t have much? We've been told that "not giving on Christmas is a moral shortcoming." We don't want to be accused of being a Scrooge. Because of that, "We’re a nation of Bob Cratchits who are terrified of being Scrooges."

But Dupuy reminds us, "Scrooge is rich."

So don't be hard on yourself and send yourself deeper into debt if you can't give a lot at Christmas.

Never intended to promote thinking

I've been reading the blog of Steve Miranda, who is a high school teacher in Seattle. He decries the "factory" method of teaching and he and his school work to first take care of the student, then teach to the student's passions. Yeah, that sounds mighty simplistic. Miranda's blog fleshes out those ideas. Alas, I'm not yet sure how to apply them in my own teaching.

In a recent post, Miranda talks about how schools in low-income areas stress drills and discipline. This is the wrong idea he says. The teacher must make it real for the student. He then quotes Alfie Kohn.
Is racism to blame here—or perhaps behaviorism? Or could it be that, at its core, the corporate version of “school reform” was never intended to promote thinking—let alone interest in learning—but merely to improve test results? That pressure is highest in the inner cities, where the scores are lowest. And the pedagogy of poverty can sometimes “work” to raise those scores, which makes everyone happy and inclined to reward those teachers.

Unfortunately, that result is often at the expense of real learning, the sort that more privileged students enjoy, because the tests measure what matters least. Thus, it’s possible for the accountability movement to simultaneously narrow the test-score gap and widen the learning gap.

That emphasis on tests is a big part of the Bush era law No Child Left Behind, which Obama has, alas, endorsed and expanded. Jeff Bryant of Campaign for America's Future wonders if we'll learn from that law's "train wreck."

Yeah, some math scores have gone up, but many teachers have also cut back significantly on other subjects, such as science, art, and social studies. And in spite of some score increases nearly half of our public schools are defined as "failing" under the law.

The big problem is the standards are defective because the standards are based on standardized test score data that is defective.

Michael Winerip of the New York Times wonders about data that can go from "dismal" to "record levels" to "ridiculously inflated" to "statistically significant declines" without any particular reason. Joy Resmovits of Huffington Post notes comparing the test scores of this year's fourth graders to last year's fourth graders is showing the variation in the students, not the difference in the education they've been getting. A US News and World Report notes that schools can lump together regular high school students with those in special ed, night school, and GED programs. "The data" will show a sudden dropout crisis because of the new way of computing it.

We're building public policy on bogus numbers. And the biggest problem of all that data is that learning can't be condensed into "data outputs."

A kiss for equality

When a Navy ship pulls into port, one sailor is selected to be the first off the ship to give their significant other a symbolic welcome home kiss. Sometimes that selection is done by a raffle. So Marissa Gaeta won the raffle and was given the honor of kissing her partner Citlalic Snell. Quite appropriate for the day before the first anniversary of Obama signing the bill that eventually resulted in the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell last September.

Defining the success of austerity

Terrence Heath takes a look at the austerity that is being imposed on several nations around the world (and the GOP would like to impose on America to combat the Scary Deficit Monster). Is austerity successful? Depends on your definition of success.

I've already discussed Ireland, where people are fleeing in search of jobs elsewhere. Here, success is being defined by the 1%.

When Communism collapsed in Russia, Yeltsin made things safe for the Oligarchs (the 17 people who because sudden billionaires), then turned the government over to Putin. But for the average Russian, things were much better under Communism. Most people are so desperate to survive they can't spare any effort to see how their neighbor is doing and the sense of community has collapsed. We can do nothing is true because "we" no longer exists.

That's why, when Russians protested the recent election, the chant was "We exist!"

Iceland was hit hard by the financial collapse in 2008. But they took a different route. The let the banks fail. They bailed out the citizens. They kept the social contract intact. They severed ties between corporations and the government, rewriting the constitution to do so. And they are doing just fine today. Success was defined by the 99%.

Hunter of DailyKos discusses austerity.
The current fad is to declare that austerity, in the form of slashed budgets, slashed jobs, a slashed tax based and so on will magically produce the opposite of all those things, as wealthy benefactors rush in to spend all the new money you have given them, create jobs creating new products nobody can afford to buy, and, I don’t know, start rebuilding infrastructure out of the goodness of their hearts. It is never clear, and nor is it honest: it is predicated on the danger of the Scary Deficit Monster, who was not at all scary during the time he was being fed by these same politicians and think-tank prophets, but who, like any false god, just happens to hate all the same things that his worshippers do.
As long as "we" -- a vibrant community -- exists there is a way out.

The Occupy movement is about to make a big splash -- they will enter a "human float" in the Rose Parade and might get 1-4 thousand participants. Why Occupy the Rose Parade? 50 million viewers in America, 200 million worldwide. In addition, the parade has become too corporatized (note how many corporations sponsor floats) and militarized (this year's Grand Marshall is an Iraq vet).

Critics have said the Occupy movement had no goals or demands. The Occupy the Rose Parade spells out 5 specific demands.

* Ban corporate cash from the election process.

* Separate investment and commercial banking functions (restore "Glass-Steagal").

* Punish the CEOs and banks that caused the dot-com bust and the 2008 economic collapse.

* Restore the Capital Gains Tax to 30% as it was before Bush II.

* Foreclosure relief.

A reminder -- because New Year's Day is a Sunday the parade will be on Monday.

A big settlement with Bank of America has been announced. It says that Countrywide, now a subsidiary of BofA, discriminated against blacks and Latinos by pushing them into costlier mortgages. Richard Eskow of Campaign for America's Future pulls it apart.

* Yes, the deal requires that a third-party settlement administrator distribute the money to those affected. That's good. Alas, BofA gets to choose the administrator.

* The pot of money $335 million isn't big enough. Countrywide made millions of loans and sucked perhaps an extra $10,000 out of each one. The pot may reimburse 35,000 victims, not millions.

* The deal doesn't require admitting wrongdoing and shields the bank from investigation.

* The deal requires Countrywide to not discriminate in its lending practices -- for 4 years. It does not require BofA to change its practices.

* This is only one small type of fraud committed by Countrywide and BofA.

* The settlement amount is peanuts to BofA. In the bailout BofA made $1.5 billion from the loans from the government. The settlement pot is 1/5 of that.

* The bank is still too big to fail -- or to prosecute. There are six such banks and BofA is reportedly the worst of the bunch, still run by the perpetrators and still able to bring down the economy.

Unpaid celebrity endorser in a made-up war

Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network discusses why Christians should avoid The War on Christmas. He gives several reasons.

* There are many holidays in December. Wishing people a generic "Happy Holidays" includes them too. It is respectful of non-Christians.

* Forcing people to refer to an event centered on Jesus when they don't believe in him is like taking God's name in vain (and there is a Top Ten against that).

* Jesus is not an unpaid celebrity endorser for Wal-Mart, so it is better to leave him out of a secular practice -- what does buying a flat-screen TV have to do with Christmas anyway?

* So many Christian traditions (the date, the tree, etc.) had pagan beginnings, so Jesus isn't entirely the "reason for the season."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Is there a bell player in the house?

This evening was the Christmas party at the Ruth Ellis Center. The Michigan Gay Rodeo Association brought and served a fine dinner. They also brought a Santa Sack and raffled off the various gifts. Most were DVDs of gay movies (such as Milk) or CDs of artists the kids liked. There were also lots of bags from Meijer which, I think, held canned food. Each kid got one. There were also fleece blankets for all.

The featured entertainment was a brass quintet from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. During December various small ensembles of the orchestra visit homeless shelters on the metro area. They played arrangements of Christmas carols. One of them asked Jessie, our program coordinator, if there was someone who could play the jingle bells. She immediately nominated me. The arrangement assumed one of the trumpeters would play the bells, so I was handed a copy of the trumpet part. Off we went. I handled the first bell entrance just fine, but the second was after 14 measures of rest. I was thrown off my count because the other trumpet player turned to me and said something, but that seemed early. The first trumpeter said something, but I didn't catch it. The horn player then said, "Just play." So I did. Not exactly an auspicious ending. Even so, I played with members of the DSO!

Well after the official festivities when the kids were dancing Jessie suddenly said we had to close early. Something inappropriate (drugs?) was found in the restroom. That left the volunteers scrambling to package up the leftover food for the kids to take with them.

I suspect next Wednesday will be the New Year party.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The bad and good within us

I've been a fan of the books written by Tracy Kidder since his first, The Soul of a New Machine, came out 30 years ago. That classic documents how a new computer was designed and built. He also watched a house being built, sat in a 5th grade classroom for a year, observed a small town for a year, and traveled with Dr. Paul Farmer while he worked on community health issues in Haiti, Peru, and Russia. All of them are well worth the read.

Kidder's latest is Strength in What Remains. It is the story of Deo, who grew up in Burundi and was a medical student in 1993. To jog your memory a bit, Burundi is just south of Rwanda, shared the same colonial history, and is also populated with Hutus and Tutsis. Sound familiar yet? The slaughter in Burundi started six months before it started in Rwanda -- time enough for Deo to get to Rwanda as a refugee. Deo eventually gets to New York where he slowly rebuilds his life. While at Columbia University he studies medicine, but also takes every philosophy class because he wants someone to explain what happened in his homeland.

Yes, parts of the story are gruesome. Kidder includes a thorough explanation of why the genocide happened. However, the story ends with a hopeful and uplifting chapter. Deo has survived and is now flourishing. I highly recommend it.

War on Christmas

I want to say with this little skirmish conservatives have sunk to a new low or have reached a new level of idiocy. But it is actually small potatoes compared to what the GOP is doing to the country as a whole and especially to the poor. Even so, when I heard it on the radio my reaction was only "Grrrr!"

We can all name the product promoted with the slogans, "It's what's for dinner." "The fabric of our lives." "Got milk?" These and 15 other commodities are promoted through partnerships with producers and the Dept. of Agriculture. The producers agree to give a certain amount (such as a dollar per bale of cotton) to the DoA, who then runs an advertising campaign for the product. From the slogans above we see it can work very well.

Since sales of artificial Christmas trees now top sales of real trees the tree grower association agreed to the same kind of deal with the DoA. Conservatives quickly branded it as "Obama's Christmas tree tax," even though it is nothing of the sort. The program is on hold. Such infantile behavior to grasp at everything for partisan advantage.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A new twist to the battle

Nancy Hass of Newsweek has a report on the next phase of the abortion battle that neither side wants to embrace. Jennie McCormack used the RU-486 abortion pill to end a pregnancy. She got the pills through the Internet. In Idaho, where she lives, terminating a pregnancy, no matter who does it, is illegal. That law is being challenged.

The anti-abortion (yeah, I know they want to be known as pro-life) side doesn't like the case because they've built their campaign around demonizing abortion providers while holding the woman blameless.

The pro-choice side is wary of the case because McCormack ended a pregnancy that was further along than Roe v. Wade allows. They don't want the case to go to the Supremes while the court is so conservative.

Alas, McCormick, living in a Mormon area of Idaho, has been thoroughly ostracized by her family and community.

The big to-do list

Can progressives declare victory when something doesn't happen? Yes, when that something is the GOP To-Do list. But will voters care that the bad stuff didn’t happen? Terrence Heath lists several items that the House has been trying to get into the latest budget and tax cut deals with a few more items that are being saved for the next battle. I'll let Heath explain in detail why each of these is a bad idea.
• Extending a pay freeze for federal workers.
• Cuts in federal workforce
• Means testing of retirement benefits
• Accelerated approval of the Keystone XL pipeline
• Slashing unemployment benefits
• Allowing states to bar people from receiving unemployment unless they submit to drug testing
• Requiring the unemployed to be enrolled in GED or training programs.
• Stop the EPA from regulating incinerators
• Stripping $8 billion in preventative care funding out of the Affordable Care Act

Don't want to fix poverty

Essayist Terrence Heath takes another look at the way the rich view the poor. I've already shared (but would have a difficult time finding the link) the conservative view that the rich see the poor as a moral issue -- if you are poor it is because you are immoral. Yep, the amount of money equals personal level of morality. In particular, a person is poor because he deserves to be. The matching statement is just as bad: a person is rich because he deserves to be. Heath explores that idea some more, then gets into the why (something I'm always interested in).

Heath starts of by saying all those programs proposed by the GOP to fix poverty won't work -- "because conservatives don't want to fix poverty". Heath continues with a quote from an article by James Thindwa:
Actually, there is a self-serving logic to the Right’s aversion to a systemic approach to poverty mitigation. Really serious anti-poverty strategies would require its corporate benefactors to raise wages, dispense with unionbusting, support minimum-wage hikes, embrace national healthcare, and stop discriminating on the basis of race, gender, age and disability. This burdensome outlook is what angers conservatives. The truth threatens their worldview.
Heath expands on that:
Its easier to ignore that the economy really one big system that we’re all a part of. It’s a system that privileges some of us, and disadvantages other. It’s harder to consider that our status within that system —privileged or disadvantaged —may be partly or wholly unearned. It’s harder to consider that our privilege might result in and even depend on someone else being disadvantaged, because it shifts moral responsibility to us to do something about it. Or not.

If you can rationalize your privilege, and rationalize related inequities on the flip-side, then you don’t have to change how you are in the world; because all is right with the world, no matter how bad it is for somebody else.

In fact, your privilege — whether it stems from your race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, etc. — doesn’t even exit. The whole world is suddenly a meritocracy. What you have, you deserve, basically because you have it. And the “have-nots”? Well, if they deserved it, they’d have it.
I've commented on privilege before (this link is easier to find) and I note (as have others before me) those who have privilege are convinced there is no such thing, yet when their privileges are threatened, the claws come out. Heath agrees:
If you ask why, without settling for simplistic answers, you might conclude that inequity an injustice do not exist in a vacuum and do not persist according to some law of nature, but because they serve as the basis for the privileges of some, and thus the privileged perpetuate them in order to preserve their privileges. You might be inclined to believe, then, that inequities and injustices are not “inevitable” or “natural” and you might also choose to do something about them. Or, even knowing all of this, not to. Either way, it’s a choice.

It’s not that conservatives don’t can’t fix poverty. Conservatives don’t want to fix poverty. Given would require of them a lot of hard work — both intellectual and political — that they just don’t want to do.
An entire worldview based on, "I'm better than you."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Feeling hopeful

See a post on my brother blog.

A second offender registry

I heard in Michigan news about the sting operation in Kent County (Grand Rapids) in which undercover cops would approach men in parks and ask if they were interested in gay sex. The gay men would then be hauled in for indecent behavior, even though only words were exchanged.

They cops say they are making sure the parks remain family-friendly. And if the action is actually illegal, well, officers and their superiors are rarely reprimanded. Alas, the cost to the victims can be huge, including being placed on a Sex Offender Registry.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin is sick of it. Too much police brutality. Not enough accountability of the cops. Kincaid proposed a Police Brutality Offenders Registry. If you are surly at a citizen, if someone dies, if an officer claims an action that would land someone else in jail is "justifiable" they go on the Registry. People considering moving into an area can check the PBOR and decide if the rate of brutality is too high.

The party of the 1% no longer hiding

Obama sent another Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to the Senate for confirmation. He already sent Elizabeth Warren and the GOP soundly rejected her. That time they said they had problems with Warren. But this time the GOP said they had no problems with the nominee, Richard Cordray. They don't like the CFPB. Proving the GOP is no longer hiding they are the party of the 1%.

Mitch McConnell said America doesn't need another "unelected czar." But the head of the CFPB is not a "czar" but a presidential appointee (which there are lots of in Washington) to run an agency created by a democratically elected Congress and signed by a democratically elected president. And thwarting a law on behalf of the 1% is thwarting democracy.

We knew that is what the GOP is doing. It is good to hear the GOP actually admit it.

Paul Begala in Newsweek ponders why, if the GOP is so in favor of cutting taxes (which seems to have been their only goal for, um, maybe a decade), the bill to extend the payroll tax cut that benefits the middle class is having such a tough slog. Class Warfare! shout the GOP. Heh, this isn't even class spitballs, counters Begala.

But why not go for a middle class tax cut and do it so quietly that nobody gets any credit? Because it appears the GOP goal is to make sure the economy tanks, which would take down Obama next year. But this tax cut would only generate maybe 2 million jobs over two years in an economy that needs 14 million jobs.

A tiny problem with this GOP strategy. They have to pursue it in broad daylight. Voters are likely to blame them rather than Obama next fall. By killing Obama's jobs plans they may save his presidency.

The poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich

Time Magazine has announced its Person of the Year. This year it is the protester.

Along with that is the top 40 protest signs of 2011. Was there such a category in 2010?

Here is a map of the Occupy sites in America. It includes the number of people that have taken part in each protest and the number of arrested. You may have to click on the map to enlarge it to read it.

The austerity budget problems now hitting Greece and Italy hit Ireland some time ago. We can see how well it is working. In a word: not. Because the economy isn't growing the budget problems are getting worse. The Irish are voting with their feet and leaving (40K so far), producing a brain drain that is taking the country's future with them. Those left behind are settling in for long-term resignation. There is a glimmer of hope: the Occupy protests are starting to take hold in Dublin.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Destroying the customer base

Nick Hanauer, a member of the 1%, chatted with Guy Raz on All Things Considered this evening because he wrote an opinion piece for Bloomberg News saying, "Please tax me more." He isn't doing this because he is a good person.
"Let me just be very clear: I do not love you. I value you as a potential customer, and we have rigged the economic system in a way to destroy my customer base."
Raz and Hanauer then discuss the various ways in which the rich avoid paying taxes. Most of the rich don't earn salaries (income tax, top tax rate of 35%), but get money from stocks and bonds (capital gains tax, top rate of 15%). There are also ways to "sell" investments at low rates to avoid paying any capital gains taxes on the sale.

A business man does two things: create sales and contain costs. A business only creates jobs when the sales require it -- when the middle class generates enough sales.

Because of the form the rich receive their income, raising the income tax rates won't make much difference. The way taxes are raised makes a difference and that means tax reform.

Hanauer says starting a big business in Africa doesn't make much sense -- there would be nobody to buy the product.
"The difference here is the American middle class, which is by every measure the most extraordinary economic achievement in the history of the world — and there is only one of those."

It is that American middle class that Hanauer calls "incredibly precious," not just for the American economy, but for the world's economy.

Terrence Heath looks at the latest GOP tax proposal and claims it stinks. The rich don't spend their money and don't create jobs with it. He then tackles the idea that the rich could simply donate money for deficit reduction.

The government should hold telethons to convince the 1% to contribute? Even the millionaires who want higher taxes find that idea laughable. Government, say the Patriotic Millionaires, is a shared responsibility. The "1 percent wouldn’t have its wealth without the benefit of the social contract that the rest of us support.
What’s needed from them is not a 'donation.' It’s payment due."

Under no circumstances is it every okay

The Onion is known for using satire to tell the truth, but every so often they create a story that steps well beyond satire. The news source made up a story about a coalition of 10 year old boys holding a news conference outside the Penn State football stadium. Their message was simple.
"It doesn't matter who the boy being raped is, and it doesn't matter who is doing the raping, just please, please alert law enforcement. And by the way, under no circumstances is it ever okay for an adult to rape a 10-year-old boy, so you really can't go wrong by calling the police when something like that happens."
Don't even wait until after lunch.

If a church leader or lawmaker pushes for stringent laws against gay people (perhaps, as is proposed in Uganda, including death) they might find their efforts backfire. Their opponents may accuse them of being gay just to get rid of them.

That may have happened to Bishop John Atherton in 1640. He pushed hard for the death penalty for the crime of homosexuality and then was the second person hanged for that offense. He may have been gay (not enough evidence) or his opponents may have found a way to get him out of the way.

Jay Michaelson wrote an article for The Jewish Daily Forward highlighting the ideas in his book God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality. He says that all Biblical passages can be interpreted in a variety of ways. To be ordained a lawyer-rabbi was once required to be able to argue both sides of an issue.

So does that make all interpretations equally valid? Not at all. The proper interpretation is the one that matches the fundamental values of the Bible, building life, living honestly (which I see as the same as living with high mental health), and sanctifying love.

We grow as religious people because the Bible allows for reinterpretation. If it didn't we would remain ethical infants.

Retired Army captain and atheist Jason Torpy says that atheists need chaplains too. In addition to religious duties, chaplains also advise and counsel the soldiers under their care. Atheist soldiers need that counseling too, preferably from an atheist chaplain. Torpy has made a request for such chaplains. The Chaplain Corps hasn't said no, but isn't pursuing the idea very quickly.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gay rights are human rights

A couple days ago Obama issued a memo that all government agencies that do work outside of the country are to "promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons." It is a lengthy memo and lists a wide variety of ways American agencies should do this work: Combat criminalization, protect asylum seekers, use foreign aid to build respect for LGBT people, respond swiftly to abuse of gay people, and help organizations that fight against LGBT discrimination. All good to see.

The same day Hillary Clinton gave a speech as part of International Human Rights Day. Her 30 minute speech was all about how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to LGBT people. Find both video and transcript here.

Response was as expected. Rick Perry spouted off about how much Obama is out of step with America. He followed it up with a new campaign ad claiming it is wrong for gays to serve in the military while kids aren't allowed to pray in public school. That prompted an essay about how deeply Perry hates gay people.

And, while I don't want to go digging for every last link, Rick Santorum, Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, Matt Barber of the Liberty Council, and Pat Robertson weighed in condemning the policy, as expected. Actually, Robertson has a point. He says Obama is making a big deal about other countries persecuting gay people but is silent about other countries persecuting Christians. Well, yeah, all persecution is wrong.

Obama's policy and Clinton's announcement didn't get much notice in American TV news.

In response, Nigeria told us to get our noses out of its business and a draconian anti-gay bill was introduced to its House of Representatives (having already passed the Senate barely the day before). And Cameroon is talking of increasing the penalties of its anti-gay laws.

Shoppers more important than tax breaks

Jeremy Hooper, writing in his personal blog, looks forward to Newt Gingrich being the GOP prez. nominee. Newt, on his third, marriage, would put the Fundies and the GOP into such a conniption that it would advance the cause of marriage equality.

Way back in June when New York legalized gay marriage, Janice Daniels put a derogatory sentence on her Facebook page. Not many people noticed and she was elected to be mayor of Troy (one of the nice suburbs outside of Detroit). It is only now that bad sentence is getting airtime. Ms. Daniels is upset over the firestorm (annoyed that gays won't forgive her), but has not apologized. That made for some tense times in a recent city council meeting where 80 residents -- including lots of students -- lined up to speak in protest. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin provides some insight.

Last Monday Andrea Seabrook of NPR talked to people in Cincinnati about what they think of Congress and its abysmally low approval rating. One comment caught my attention. She talked to Danny Korman, who owns a small business and is supposed to be someone who doesn't want his taxes raised. Seabrook's summary of Korman's comments:
"It's more important to Korman that lots and lots of shoppers have money in their pockets to spend, than that he gets a tax break."

The United Health Foundation has released a ranking of states according to how healthy their citizens are. Top 5: Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Massachusetts. What attracted my attention (and that of Rob Tisinai) to the list? Four of the five are marriage equality states. The other two states, New York and Iowa, are in the top ten. Hawaii has civil unions that are gay marriage in all but the name.

Yes, Tisinai warns, correlation is not causation. There could be other factors at work. But there is a reason for bringing it up. The National Organization for marriage has been trumpeting a different list to make the claim that anti-gay laws don't impact business in a state. Of the top 5 states for income growth -- Wyoming, North Dakota, Louisiana, Montana, and Oklahoma -- four have marriage protection amendments and the fifth doesn't have gay marriage.

And that claim is just as bogus as the first one.

The German magazine Der Spiegel has an article describing the GOP prez. candidates. Run it through Google Translator and the fractured English has just about the right absurdity to capture the bunch. "Even Cain is a caricature of content." Then scroll down to comment #4.

Moving inside for the winter

The cover story in this week's Metro Times (Detroit's alternative newspaper) is on the state of Occupy Detroit, now that it has vacated the downtown park where it started. It has not gone away.

Detroit has had a long history of protests (see labor battles with the Detroit automakers in the 1930s), but this one is different. Previous protests were about a particular group and their supporters -- factory workers, blacks, women, gays -- fighting for particular rights. The Occupy group is everyone and the slogan "99%" is brilliant branding. This protest has issues, such as denying alleged terrorists a right to trial, in which liberals, Tea Party members, libertarians, and communists all agree on.

Alas, Occupy Detroit, as does much here is Southeast Michigan, has racial overtones. City residents, more than 80% black, don't trust whites taking over their issues and the OD campers were mostly white. Fortunately, various OD working groups are reaching out to black organizations.

Yes, OD is still protesting. A recent cause is the closure of a few branches of the Detroit Public Library. The group also meets twice a week at a small downtown theater, that has been made available for their use. And a Southwest Detroit businessman has donated space that was to be a café until the economy soured a few years ago. That businessman is mighty pissed at the 1%.

A related organization, Occupy the Hood, is starting to rehab houses that became vacant from the housing bust.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Choices in helping the poor

My current view of the Salvation Army was formed back in 2001. That's when Bush II proposed funding faith-based charities. The Salvation Army asked that religious charities be exempt from local laws that bar anti-gay discrimination. I haven't dropped any money into the red kettles since.

Since then the SA view of gays may have softened somewhat. As news stories circulate about the gay community declaring a boycott of SA, Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin takes a closer look.

Back in 2001 the concern was not that the SA wanted to discriminate against gay people, but that they would be required to provide domestic partner benefits to their gay employees.

Yeah, I said they don't want to discriminate… In contrast to the Fundies, they don't deny gays exist. They don't force gays into harmful ex-gay ministries. They don't deny membership to gays. They don't deny leadership positions to gays. They don't deny their charitable services to gays. In some ways they do better than my own United Methodist Church.

However, they do require gay members to be celibate. They won't provide partner benefits to gay employees. And there are stories that to get charitable services gay couples must split up (and I don't mean just separate bedrooms for the duration).

The SA do better than many (perhaps most) other Christian denominations in living out the "love your neighbor" commandment of Jesus. There is a lot of need out there and the SA works to meet as much of that need as they can. Your money in that kettle will help a lot. The SA is convenient -- donating to other charities requires more effort and thought than passing the kettle and dropping in the few dollars you haven't yet stuffed back in your wallet.

But, Kincaid says, there are lots of other charities that do the same work that don't have restrictions on their gay members, employees, and clients and don't follow up the soup and the soap with preaching about salvation. If the SA policies are troublesome there are lots of other places that will put your donations to work.

Kincaid's posting prompted a huge number of comments. A good number of them state their refusal to donate to the SA. Many cite the preaching aspect as much as the attitude for gays.

I won't change my position.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Feeling good about not being special

Matthew Phelps is a captain in the Marines and is also gay. In a long essay he talks about the pressure of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Then he talks about the pressure of its repeal -- everyone seems to be watching the gay guy, waiting for him to screw up, so they can pounce, "See, I told you allowing gays to serve openly was a bad idea!"

Then Phelps tells us about his experience of taking a date to the annual formal Birthday Ball, when the corps celebrates the date the Marine Corps was founded.
I introduced Brandon and they were all as nice as could be. My Regimental Commander, a colonel, asked him if it was his first Marine Birthday Ball, I think realizing as soon as the words left his mouth how silly the question must have sounded. The memorable part of that moment, however, wasn’t the potential embarrassment of asking the gay date of the gay Marine if he’d been to such an event before, but that he asked the same exact question he would have asked any Marine’s date. I wasn’t pretending to fit in any more, trying to disguise the unique part of me that I couldn’t tell anyone about, I was just another Marine celebrating the birthday, and Brandon was just another date. Never before in my life had it felt so good to be no one special.
There were lots of comments to this series of posts, some apparently from the Marines who serve under Phelps. I didn't read them all, but those I read were all supportive.

About love and commitment

Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum has a pledge for judges to sign. Yeah, various groups (usually Fundie in nature) have asked various politicians (usually GOP) to sign various types of pledges. I think this is a first for judges.

As far as I can make out the legal language it says that America is founded on Christian principles and because of that there really isn't a separation of church and state. The judge who signs it declares he supports the idea that Congress can tell courts they aren't allowed to review particular kinds of cases. These cases include displaying the Ten Commandments on public property or mentioning God in the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto (which, if you've forgotten is, "In God We Trust").

I note they define "God" as the deity of the Ten Commandments -- the God of Law -- not Jesus -- the God of Love.

Many commenters note that judges who sign this pledge are not fit to serve.

The big banks are getting antsy about Occupy Wall Street -- who'd a guessed? -- because the truth is gaining traction. So a lobbying firm the banks use is offering to opposition research on OWS and any Democrats who associate with them. For a fee, of course. Oppo research is usually sponsored by one political group wanting to find dirt on another group or candidate.

The Guardian created a 6 minute video to explain who the 99% are.

The group Get Up Australia has put together this wonderful video. We see a guy falling in love and only at the end do we see his lover is another man. As a commenter said, it isn't about a man and a woman, it is about love and commitment. This has been all over the gay blogs, all of them raving about it. It has been posted less than two weeks ago and already has over 3 million views. It is 2 minutes long.

AIDS appeared in America 30 years ago. The gay TV news show In the Life did a half hour program of the disease. The first half of the program was about the history (or about ITL's coverage of the history, alas, some was a bit too self-congratulatory). The second half was a long-time AIDS activist talking with a young transgender woman.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The rights of all people

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin notes that many in Uganda are mystified by things said in the West. Yeah, a draconian anti-gay bill is still in play there (one penalty is death) and the West is right to criticize it. But abuse of gays is only one of many human rights problems in Uganda. And the West isn't threatening sanctions over the denial of rights of other kinds of people.

This one-sided view of rights means:

Ugandans feel gays are seeking special rights that many ordinary citizens don't have.

The West's insistence only of the rights of gays when rights of so many others are violated means the West is out of touch with what is really going on in Uganda.

Such a narrow focus reinforces the false idea that homosexuality is a foreign import and we're only interested in protecting our own.

A luxury issue

The National Organization for Marriage poured a ton of money into Iowa for a special election in the state Senate. If the GOP candidate had won the balance of power would have been a tie. The GOP could have brought a marriage amendment to the floor, overturning the state's gay marriage law. In spite all of NOM's money, the Dem won.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal gets to say what bills will make it to the Senate floor. He has said that he will not allow any votes that would undermine marriage equality.

The state House is under GOP control and could pass all kinds of symbolic votes to keep their base happy. In response to Gronstal's declaration, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen -said the equivalent of, "Oh well."

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin says this is important. Inaction is speaking louder than action. The GOP knows that pressuring Gronstal won't work. "Sending a message" to the GOP base is a waste of time better spent on more important issues. The anti-gay base doesn't have the influence it used to. And anti-gay activism is a luxury issue for politicians.

The mainstream media may lob softballs at the GOP candidates (or accept dodging answers), so leave it to the teenagers to ask the tough ones. Jane Schmidt in Iowa asked Michele Bachmann about gay marriage. Sure, Bachmann said, a gay man can already get married -- to a woman. But she's not into special rights for gays. Schmidt went on to ask how to keep a Muslim student from being ostracized if Bachmann is pushing Christian prayer in public schools. I don't want to listen to the lady rant to hear her answer to that one.

Justice, fairness, and inclusiveness

It was a long drive with family to get to southern Kentucky and another long drive home. But it was an enjoyable two days with my brother, his wife, and grown kids. Once home I had a lot of stuff to do for my teaching job. I have lots I want to write about and doubt I'll get to some of it. So I'll get started.

My dad gave me reading material for the trip, the Nov./Dec. issue of Washington Monthly (hmm, it has Monthly in the title and is actually bimonthly?). He didn't say what article prompted him to share it with me, so I had to peruse it myself to see what caught my interest. The article that did that best featured both maps and why the Tea Party won't succeed -- A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party by Colin Woodard. The article is related to Woodard's recent book, A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.

Yes, he says, America is made up of regions that don't follow state lines. Some of them spill over into Canada and Mexico, though I'll only mention the important American ones here.

Yankeedom was founded by the Pilgrims and spread to the areas their descendants settled (New England, northern Midwest, and northern Plains). It emphasizes education, community, empowerment, and a government -- supported by participation by all -- that can make a difference in the lives of citizens.

Tidewater and Deep South are similar. Both were settled by aristocracy who believed that democracy isn't for everyone, certainly not the peasantry. There is an emphasis on authoritarianism. The biggest difference between the two is the Tidewater would have been satisfied with servants, while the Deep South thought slavery was natural.

Nearly all of the battles (real and merely about government) have been between Yankeedom and Deep South.

Greater Appalachia stretches all the way to the hills of East Texas. The emphasis is on individual liberty. They will align with others based on who is the greater threat to their freedom. If the South hadn't fired on Fort Sumter, Appalachia would have been happy to secede as well, perhaps forming a third country out of the union.

The Midlands are a narrow strip between Appalachia and Yankeedom and the Far West -- Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois are all divided between Yankeedom, Midlands, and Appalachia. A lot of people settled here, so there is no ideological purity. Local government should help ordinary people, but top-down solutions are intrusive. Politics are moderate or even apathetic.

Left Coast people combine Yankeedom faith in good government and Appalachia commitment to self-expression. They are the staunchest allies of Yankeedom.

El Norte spans the USA-Mexico border. The strong Hispanic culture is a hotbed of democratic reform. They are self-sufficient and adaptable.

Far West was colonized only through intervention of the federal government and corporations (rail and mines). There is a combination of speaking well of the benefactors and resenting their influence.

The Tea Party is a product of the Deep South. It has made inroads in Yankeedom (see Wisconsin) only to be soundly discredited. So again, it is a battle between the two ideological foes with other regions taking sides. Yankeedom can win out over the Tea Party …

Split the Midlands and Appalachia away from the Deep South by emphasizing how the citizens are being exploited by bankers, miners, health insurers, and monopolistic food processors. Then promise to make the corporate titans pay for the mess they created as a matter of justice. Close tax loopholes as a matter of fairness. Don't push new government programs. The gains may not be great, but in states, such as Ohio which straddles three regions, it would be enough to tip the balance of power.

Stress cultural inclusiveness to pull in El Norte. The Deep South (and the GOP) want white supremacy.

Are the Dems up to the challenge? A party platform based on justice, fairness, and inclusiveness sounds great to me.

The Tea Party may do lots of damage from their base in the Deep South. But they can't take over.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hug someone who is different

A couple things before I get to the main topic for today:

I paid Charlie on the completion of basement renovations. Getting all the stuff out of my den and back into the basement will be a long term project.

I'll be traveling over the next 4 days. Postings will resume sometime after that.

Dan Pearce, who blogs under the name Single Dad Laughing, wrote an entry that has become an internet sensation. Pearce wrote about a gay friend he calls Jacob, who was cut off when Jacob's other friends found out he is gay.

That gets Pearce to talking about the way we treat people who are different. Yeah, the way gay people are treated is at the top of the list, but Pearce doesn't stop there. People talk of the different with disdain and disgust and wrap it in pious words. Christians say those things believing they are speaking love. But Christians aren't the only ones who say these things. Believers in lots of religions say, "God hates…"

But the core beliefs from every one of these same religions say things like this: "A true Muslim is the one who does not defame or abuse others; but the truly righteous becomes a refuge for humankind, their lives and their properties." And: "Examine the contents, not the bottle."

Pearce discovers those who have no religion are sometimes the most Christ-like. And many who profess to follow Christ say I'll act like a Christian unless you are gay.

It all comes down to giving up the need to be better than others.

If you aren't able to put your arm around someone who is different you are being a bully. Whether you think the other person's behavior is sinful does not matter. Love them anyway.

So. Find someone different from you, who makes you feel uncomfortable, and give them a hug.

Six days later Pearce shared some of the response to his words. Nearly a half-million readers. Nearly 2000 comments (and two days later that is approaching 3000) plus direct emails. Pearce posted the most powerful comments. Two accused him of redefining the religion, branding him a heretic. Five more overwhelmed him: the estranged gay man who said the post prompted his mother to apologize, the worker who was prompted to apologize to a gay colleague, the mother of a bullied teen who shoved the column at a school official and found her daughter's life improve, the gay teen who read the column and warm responses and decided not to commit suicide, and a gay man who reconnected with his ex-wife and kids after she read the posting.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Benefits along the long, legal road

Many gays in Calif. are disappointed that gay marriage won't go before the voters in 2012. Ari Ezra Waldman, a law professor, says we should let the court case about the marriage ban proceed. The process may be slow, but we've already seen benefits.

* During the trial over the ban several key points were explicitly designated as facts. Those include: marriage isn't about procreation, there is no rational reason why gays and lesbians cannot marry.

* A federal court has declared a gay marriage ban to be unconstitutional based on the merits of the case.

* A side ruling declared that a gay judge is not inherently biased when dealing with gay issues.

* The legal case reaches much further than a ballot initiative. Even if it doesn't go to the Supremes, the case lays the groundwork for other federal court districts.

* A ballot initiative only allows our opponents to spew their venomous and false arguments and wastes millions of dollars better spent elsewhere.

A lot of commenters to Waldman's post disagree, saying we should be pursuing victory both in the courts and ballot box. The 9th Circuit Court will probably rule by June so working now to get the question on the ballot for November won't make the case meaningless. If we win the ballot measure, the case won't go to the Supremes, but winning there not a sure thing anyway.

Time to just get out of the way

Thomas L. Day, an alumnus of Penn State and 31 years old, decided that the pedophile scandal there was the last straw. Most generations leave the world a better place for their descendants. Not now. His parent's generation has screwed things up enough and it is time for them to get out of the way. He lists some of the screw-ups: Ruinous tax breaks for the rich, reckless response to 9/11, being sent to a war in which he was not greeted as a liberator, churches that tell him to fight against gay marriage instead of against poverty, crumbling infrastructure, downgraded national credit rating because a debt that exceeds the national wealth, and 3.3 million unemployed between the ages of 25 and 34. He forgot to mention the housing boom and bust.

I wonder if it is worthwhile commenting on the words and antics of the GOP prez. candidates. But every so often, grrr! One must call them out. The latest is from Newt Gingrich. I could have commented on any of the six (out of eight) who attended a forum in Iowa put on by the Family Forum. Yup, the main focus of the event was to get all the candidates to publicly declare how much they were against abortion and gay marriage (which is why Romney and Huntsman didn't attend). Newt went on to bash the Occupy Wall Street protesters. The first and last sentences:
All the Occupy movements start with the premise that we all owe them everything. … Go get a job, right after you take a bath.
Sorry, Newt, their protests start with the premise that you and your cronies corrupted the political and financial systems of America. No doubt you are trying to divert America's attention from your part in the mess. Besides, most protesters have jobs, and those that don't can't get one, thanks to you.

A phrase claimed by the Fundies is "religious liberty." It describes those "martyrs" who choose religious freedom over their livelihood, people like the town clerk who refuses to grant marriage licenses to gay couples in New York or the bakery owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

Alvin McEwen, of Pam's House Blend, pokes a few holes in that phrase. When someone claims religious liberty, there is someone else who has been discriminated against. The phrase has less to do with liberty, religious or not, than with wanting to tell gay people they are inferior.

Where rich and poor still mingle

Michigan Radio has been doing a series on the Culture of Class. I've heard a few of the segments, though not all. When I have more time…

I did hear the first segment in the series. While racial and ethnic segregation is less of a determinant of where we live than it was 40 years ago, economic segregation is on the rise. It used to be common for the poor and rich to see each other in downtown stores. But economic segregation is getting to be so bad that some kinds of workers, such as teachers, sales clerks, and auto repair mechanics, can't afford to live in the communities where they work.

The second one I heard noted a place where rich and poor still mingle -- on the dance floor of a gay bar. Actually, the example used in the report is the lesbian bar Stilettos in the suburb of Inkster. Sexual minorities are still discriminated against in the wider community, so they tend to create safe spaces and work to make sure all are welcome.

Some of the other reports in the series are: Why is class difficult to define? How does an economist define class? Who lives next to heavy industry? Does class determine who joins the military and does that allow class climbing? How does class determine investment in early childhood education? What are the differences between Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, sometimes called Twin Cities but have different rates of poverty? Is Upward Mobility a myth? Can the arts act as a hook to help kids out of poverty?

The series also includes an essay and since it doesn't have an "audio" button it apparently was not broadcast. Connie Schulz grew up in a working class family but many fellow high school students were from rich families. Their enthusiasm for college boosted her own desire to go and she became the first in her family to do so. A paid internship got her into a news reporter career.

But rich kids tend to no longer mingle with poor kids. The poor kids no longer hear of the rich kid's dreams and goals. Most internships are now unpaid, meaning only rich kids can afford to take them. Class segregation means social mobility becomes less likely for poor kids. Is pointing this out waging class warfare?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Raising a stink

Busy day yesterday. I welcomed Charlie and the basement crew, then dashed off to the college. I'm playing one of my pieces in the music department recital next week, so met with the dept. accompanist. After an afternoon of teaching it was off to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and their Festival of Flutes, featuring James Galway. One piece featured about 35 flute students from the area -- that was a marvelous sound!

So it was 10:30 when I got home. About 3/4 of the floor tile had been laid in the basement. However, the house stank! If it hadn't been so late I would have called a friend to inquire about an extra bed. I didn't sleep well.

The next morning Charlie determined it wasn't the glue from the floor tile, but the mineral spirits used to clean the glue from unwanted surfaces. Charlie didn't smell much downstairs but really noticed it when he came up. And, of course, this is the first time the overnight temperature was below 30.

I've been following the Weight Watchers program since May (as much as I can) and today marked the completion of one goal -- I've lost 10 pounds! Pants are getting loose.

This evening I attended the Transgender Day of Remembrance service. The rest of that story is on my other blog.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Please tax me!

Elspeth Gilmore inherited her wealth and is not part of the 99%. She did a commentary for Marketplace Radio on NPR in which she says she would be better off if she had less personal wealth and the community infrastructure and safety net were made stronger. She now leads an organization that is trying to convince other wealthy people under 35 that the common good is more important than personal wealth. This page has the transcript of what was heard on-air. The audio looks like it will be long (13 minutes), but it starts at the 10 minute mark.

Greedy Geezers

To be able to attack Social Security the GOP and its backers are pushing the "greedy Geezer" stereotype. All old people are rich. They just want more money. Supporting the rich geezers simply means generational "warfare" between them and the young whose taxes pay for those benefits.

Terrence Heath looks at a revised measure of poverty among the elderly and finds they're just as poor as everyone else. Those older than 55 were hit especially hard in this recession. The greedy geezer is a myth.

Heath takes a look at the 1% who actually deserve all we can do for them. These are our veterans, and they are very much a part of the 99%.

Intellectual integrity

I've written about Robert George before. He is the author of the long essay What is Marriage? that attempts to prove that marriage is only for straights. Rob Tisinai was able to pick it apart, showing George's reasoning is circular and illogical. Even so, George currently provides the intellectual heft behind a lot of anti-gay rhetoric. One way he does that is make sure his pronouncements include the name of his employer -- Princeton University. Definitely some heft there.

Scott Rose of Pam's House Blend says that makes Princeton complicit in George's anti-gay rants. Princeton, as do other universities, has a Code of Conduct that stresses intellectual integrity, that a professor's work observes basic honesty. Rose shows there are at least three cases where George's work is not honest. This is grounds for dismissal.

Yet, Princeton's administration hasn't taken action. The reason is the same as a lot of institutions that appear to be compromised -- money. Much of George's funding (and no doubt funding of maybe other professors, support staff, and a few grad students) is from the James Madison Program. A major goal of the program is to combat liberalism. Because of that a great deal of the money comes from conservative individuals and institutions. Get rid of George and Princeton loses a lot of money.

Yesterday's Non Sequitur comic my Wiley Miller would be appropriate right now.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The true cost

Now that Obama has announced the withdrawal of troops from Iraq John Tirman of the MIT Center for International Studies in an article for The Washington Spectator (alas, no link) says it is time to look at the true cost of the war, and he doesn't mean dollars. When we look back on a war we tend to rate its worth only in terms of cost to Americans. But that doesn't give us an idea of the sheer destructive cost of war, which allows us to ignore these costs when the next war comes up. Here are some of these costs.

* Dire levels of health care because doctors and nurses have fled or been killed. Poor hygiene cannot be maintained at many facilities.

* Perhaps up to 5 million Iraqis displaced. Those displaced yet still in Iraq are in settlements with poor conditions.

* Shortages of electricity, clean water, and sanitation.

* Thousands of women and girls forced in sexual slavery. 750,000 war widows living in poverty. Rising Islamic militancy (reaction to US occupation?) strips rights of women.

* More than half of all Iraqis live in slum conditions, up from 17% in 2000.

* Perhaps up to 650,000 have died because of the war.

* Perhaps a half million children died because of the 12 years of sanctions between the Gulf War and the Iraq War.

Why is this important? Because many conservatives are declaring the Iraq War a victory. This is a war that most Americans oppose and feel we got into it because conservatives lied to us. Because we are walking away from our responsibilities to account for our own destructiveness. Because we face "reputational costs" of being seen as reckless and callous. Because we won't have real consequences to stay our hand when the next crisis erupts.

Good to have a handyman around

I was out on my bike this afternoon, November 12th. It was sunny, but the temp was only 52. Add a sweatshirt and jacket and I'm ready.

The basement restoration is proceeding. The big foundation crack (not the source of the flood) has been filled. Old electrical fixtures removed (and also a large pile of wires that no longer connected anything). New wiring and light fixtures up. The fuse box has been replaced with circuit breakers. Waterproof barrier paint will start being applied to exterior walls tomorrow. Next week the shelves and floor will be installed.

The day Charlie started my digital thermostat went blank. Charlie said the batteries must be dead. I had forgotten it doesn't have a power line to it. But once the new batteries were in place the thermostat wouldn't recognize the furnace. I’d seen that display after furnace repairs and the repairman only needed to reset the furnace. But turning the furnace off and on didn't fix it and Charlie and his furnace friend had no idea what "reset" meant or knew of any buttons to push. Having a furnace guy come would cost as much as a new thermostat, so Charlie installed a new one. The old one was 18 years old.

A couple days later I woke up to a cold house. Fortunately, Charlie was there a couple hours and found the furnace switch off. He says he may have bumped it. It was snowing that afternoon when I left school.

When Charlie cleaned out the wet stuff in August he bumped the hose from the clothes washer. It wiggled enough that water sprayed onto the floor. I rerouted the hose to shoot into the laundry tub and not be susceptible to bumping. Shortly after that I began seeing trails of water from the tub to the floor drain. I figured water was splashing out of the tub. A couple days ago I was looking over the progress Charlie had made. There was the trail of water. But I hadn't run the clothes washer. I had just run the dishwasher just above it. I was able to track the water trail up the wall to the drainpipe coming from the dishwasher.

The next morning I told Charlie about it. He got a stool to stand on and reached up to investigate the rusty pipe. A piece of pipe came off in his hands. He was pleased that was the day his plumber friend was already scheduled to come to do a thorough job of cutting tree roots out of the drain tiles. No problem to ask him to bring a few extra pieces and replace the broken pipe.

I'm fortunate these problems appeared while Charlie is here.

Hearing from a former bully

I recently wrote about the Michigan anti-bullying bill and mistakenly said it had passed both the House and Senate. The really bad version had passed only the Senate.

The outcry from that version prompted Senator Gretchen Whitmer to make a couple videos, one condemning the provision that permitted bullying for religious reasons (apparently her floor speech) and the other featuring kids speaking out against bullying and Whitmer reading letters from kids who were bullied.

The House has now passed a version. This one doesn't have the religious exemption clause but appears to still have the other flaws of the Senate version. It passed by a wide margin with only a few GOP voting against it. No Dems pushing for a better bill?

Rap artist 50 Cent (yeah, that's his name) has written a novel Playground: The Mostly True Story of a Former Bully. Yes, he is the former bully. The story isn't completely about the rapper, it's about Butterball (named for his weight issues) and why he is a bully. Many thanks to 50 Cent for providing insight to the problem.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sorry, your toaster won't consent to marriage

Some more cool stuff from Tuesday's election:

North Carolina seems to be a hotbed of gay politicians, which is a great thing since the state will vote on a marriage protection amendment next May. I mentioned LaWana Mayfield in Charlotte and Mark Kleinschimdt in Chapel Hill. There is also Lee Storrow, only 22, now on the Chapel Hill city council and Lydia Lavelle back as an Alderwoman in Carrboro.

Dade County, Florida, voted in an equal benefits ordinance. An employer must give same-sex couples the same benefits as straight couples.

Here is a summary of why the argument that gay marriage leads to marrying your toaster (or a dog, or a corpse) is bogus.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. The vote was 10-8, along party lines. The fate of the bill before the whole Senate is unknown. Considering the House leadership is trying to defend DOMA, this bill won't get far there, even with 135 sponsors. This vote is hugely important, even if the bill goes no further.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gay agenda: win elections

Gay and progressive election results (at least the ones I know about, summarized on the blog Towleroad):

* The National Organization for Marriage heavily promoted a GOP candidate for a vacant state Senate seat in Iowa. Their candidate lost, preventing consideration of a marriage protection amendment.

* Adam Ebblin elected as first gay senator in the Virginia Senate.

* Lesbian Annise Parker kept the mayor job in Houston, barely avoiding a runoff.

* The anti-gay candidate for Largo, Fla. City Commission was defeated.

* LaWana Mayfield, lesbian, won a seat on the Charlotte, NC, city commission.

* Gay Chapel Hill, NC, mayor Mark Kleinschmidt reelected.

* Alex Morse, gay and only 22, became mayor of Holyoke, Mass.

* Tim Eustace won a seat in the NJ Assembly, becoming the second gay Assemblyman.

* Chris Seelbach is the first openly gay city council member in Cincinnati.

* Bruce Harris will become mayor of Chatham Borough, NJ, and is gay, black, and GOP.

* Lesbian Mary Doran will serve on the School Board in St. Paul, Minn.

* Pedro Segarra is back as mayor of Hartford, CT. He was unopposed. I got tired of saying they're all lesbian or gay. Just assume so.

* Zach Adamson is the first openly gay City Council member in Indianapolis.

* Caitlin Copple will join the City Council in Missoula, MT.

* Daniel Hernandez (famous from the Gabby Giffords shooting) was elected to the Tucson School Board.

* Traverse City, MI, kept it's anti-discrimination ordinance, approving it my 63%.

* Maine kept its same-day voter registration law despite nasty anti-gay tactics by the GOP.

* Mississippi rejected the "personhood at conception" amendment by 55%.

* Ohio overturned the nasty anti-union law rammed through last spring.

The bad news.

* Rose Marie Belforti made a stink in Ledyard, NY when, as town clerk, refused to grant gay marriage licenses after they were approved in the state. She won reelection by 62%.

* Manuel Rodriguez ran a nasty anti-gay campaign and won in the Houston school system (don't know the office).

More good news supplied by commenters:

* John Campbell will be Treasurer in Harrisburg, PA.

* New London, CT, has restored the office of mayor and its first occupant will be Daryl Justin Finizio, who is gay.

* Michael Sutphin elected to the town council of Blacksburg, VA.

* Palm Springs kept its gay mayor Steve Pougnet.

* Attleboro, MA, kept its gay mayor Kevin Dumas who was elected for a 5th term.

* More in Houston: Mike Laster elected to the city council.

* Council Bluffs, IA, elected GOP Nate Watson to city council.

* Dems regained control of the Wake County (Raleigh), NC, school board. This race was recently featured in NPR as a small race attracting big money. Can't win nationally? Fight locally.