Monday, February 28, 2011

Lighting a fire

I wrote last week about Hawaii approving a civil union bill. Here's a bit of history why that is important. Only 20 years ago (1991) three same-sex couples sued for marriage licenses. Early court decisions were in our favor.

This lit a fire in gay minds. We hadn't thought such a thing was remotely possible. We hadn't considered our relationships could ever be equal in law to our straight counterparts. We were conditioned to our own inferiority. But the marriage equality movement was born.

Alas, it also lit the fire in the anti-gay activists. Catholics and Mormons were out front to get voter approval on the first state constitution amendment. This one said the legislature could define marriage. The anti-gay forces soon saw the loophole in that law and by the time of the big push against us in 2004 the ban was written into the amendment itself.

Incapable of defense

Last week I had written that Obama and the Department of Justice will no longer defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. Here is a list of all the cases challenging Section 3 along with an explanation of what Obama's announcement might mean.

Part of all that is a discussion of levels of scrutiny and the consequences. In rational basis scrutiny the government only need supply a rational reason for the discrimination. In heightened scrutiny the standards are higher. What Obama's announcement said is in gay rights cases heightened scrutiny must be used. Obama didn't say he doesn't want to defend the law. He said that under this level of scrutiny he is incapable of defending it because there were simply no arguments that would pass the standards.

Since that announcement…

John Boehner will decide by the end of the week whether the House will take over defense of DOMA from the DoJ. Many in his party are calling for it, even if, as he says, it benefits Obama. It is unclear whether the House can act on its own or needs authorization and funding with Senate approval and Obama's signature.

Obama's DoJ will no longer defend the constitutionality of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Since the policy isn't actually gone yet, there is a lawsuit proceeding through the courts to force its end. The DoJ is still taking part in it. However, they have asked the judge to change the question being considered. Is DADT unconstitutional, as a lower court has said? The DoJ agrees. Instead, the trial should be about whether the DADT repeal process (the one that requires certification and a 60 day wait) is constitutional. The DoJ will defend that. But it isn't clear the court will allow that kind of switch.

Maybe conceding the point just a little bit

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, offers a tiny whiff of fresh air:

“I think it’s clear that something like same-sex marriage is going to become normalized, legalized and recognized in the culture. It’s time for Christians to start thinking about how we’re going to deal with that,” he said Friday on the Focus on the Family radio program.

The Southern Baptist made it clear that he was not saying that they are giving up. Marriage is still an institution Christians need to save, particularly in their own community. But Christians also need to start learning how to deal with the shifting culture and even face the fact that they may lose a few from their flock.

“I think we’re going to be surprised and heartbroken over how many people are going to capitulate to the spirit of the age,” he noted. “We’re going to find now that there may not be as many of us as we thought.”

Of course, we're here only to create jobs

Since their takeover of the House the GOP has renewed its war on women. Some of the things in budget and related bills:

* Zero out funding for Planned Parenthood. This affects their ability to counsel women about birth control. This would increase the number of abortions.

* Zero out Title X funding, used to prevent, screen, and treat sexually transmitted diseases.

* Cut support for international family planning (opposite of what is needed to minimize the effects of global warming).

* Allow hospitals to refuse to terminate a pregnancy even if it would save the mother's life.

* Cut the WIC budget by about 10%. This pays for nutritional food for poor women with children.

Why is it moral and "pro-family" to put the needs of the unborn so highly over the mother to insist that a woman must carry a baby to term even if doing so will kill her. Then to cut funding on programs that would (1) prevent her from getting pregnant in the first place, (2) make sure she has enough nutrition so that the baby will be healthy, and (3) give the child enough nutrition and education to be a contributing member of society?

We were told the GOP was going to focus all their energy on fixing the economy. Instead we get a war on women, a war on the poor, a war on the middle class, a war on gays, and I'm sure I'm missing a few.

Gobbling cookies

Internet links can take one to all kinds of places. Richard Barry writes a blog he calls Lippman's Ghost. The author, according to his blogger profile, works in government in Toronto. Even so he seems to write about American conservatives. This particular article doesn't add much to what Rachel Maddow said when the Wisconsin protests started -- the Koch brothers are behind this attempt to bust unions and make sure there is no political opposition to earn as much cash in any way they see fit.

My reason for linking isn't because of what Barry wrote, but of what one of his commenters wrote. It explains the situation very well:

A unionized public employee, an ill-informed citizen, and a CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across and takes 11 cookies, looks at the ill-informed citizen and says, "Watch out for that union guy. He wants a piece of your cookie."

Doubt that Wis. governor Scott Walker is being controlled by the Koch brothers? Ian Murphy of the online newspaper BuffaloBeast called Walker, pretending to be David Koch. Yeah, if a major media journalist did it he'd lose his job over unethical behavior. But we're pleased to know more about who Walker thinks is important. The site has both audio (10 minutes) and abbreviated transcript.

Some of the shenanigans mentioned:

* Walker wants to change the senate pay system. Instead of direct deposit, checks will be printed and locked in senator's desks.

* Accuse unions of paying for Democratic senator's expenses while out of state.

* Tell the missing senate Democrats he willing to negotiate with all of them in the senate chambers. Once they show up, refuse to negotiate and demand a vote on the bill to bust unions.

* Discuss which other new state governors would be ready to follow Walker's lead, including Snyder of Michigan [Snyder has since declared he would not attempt union busting].

* Consider, but reject, the idea that thugs be sent to infiltrate, then disrupt, the protesters.

Terrence Heath writes again about what GOP policies are doing to concentrate the wealth into the top sliver of Americans. This is just one of several charts he uses along the way. The tactics include, as we have seen in Wisconsin, an attempt to bust unions.

So what is next? It is becoming increasingly obvious to a lot of people that GOP policies are not designed to lift Americans out of the recession. That will lead to two possible responses. Either poor, and more importantly middle class, Americans will resist and fight back. Or Americans will feel crushed and hopeless and conclude that Washington will do what it wants and we can do nothing.

The choice Americans take may depend on what the Dems choose. Will Dems clearly say they are on the side of the poor and middle class? Or will they concede the field to the GOP and only try to slow down the dismantling of the middle class? A business tip is to find a parade and get in front of it. The parade has begun in Madison. If the Dems don't jump in front of the parade many Americans may decide nobody is on their side and changing Washington is hopeless.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Demonize and discredit

The second anonymous writer responded again through email. I may have to come up with a descriptive phrase as a name. He replied to my posting about the increase in hate groups and has interesting and important points, which I'll summarize:

* The report talked about the number of groups, but is group membership growing? Is it growing faster or slower than the national population as a whole? The report doesn't say.

* Is it fair to list each chapter of such organizations as the Klan as a separate hate group?

* Anecdotes of recent activity (such as arresting a man at a Dearborn mosque with a trunk load of explosives) do not provide evidence of whether such incidents are increasing.

Yes, some of these groups spout scary words. But the SPLC report doesn't tell the whole story.

Another person replied directly to my blog. He essentially said the sole purpose of the SPLC is to raise money. To keep the bucks rolling in the level of threat has to increase. Odd, gays say the same thing about many anti-gay groups. He added the term hate group is meaningless, so much so the FBI doesn't use the term. The original is attached to the posting, link above.

I won't agree the term hate group is meaningless. The SPLC defined it quite well in the articles I've seen about it. I just took a look at the SPLC website and didn't find it, though the definition might be in one of their publications. The definition is something like this: A hate group is an organization that uses false or misleading information to demonize a particular class of people.

As a gay man I am quite aware of the many organizations that use false information to demonize gays. I'm pleased that an outside group (meaning non-gay) is able to make the case that several anti-gay organizations fit the definition of a hate group. We can't do it ourselves because those claims would simply be dismissed. When the SPLC designations came out many gay blogs noted the various anti-gay groups mentioned did not refute what the SPLC said. They only tried to discredit the SPLC.

The author of that comment to my blog is not anonymous -- his name is included in the comment. I don't know him. His name provided a link to his own blog. I am not at all surprised that every post on the main page, going back to last August, is a criticism of SPLC.

As I said, I don't know this writer. I have no way to judge the veracity of his claims. I do know that a lot of people who work to demonize me also work to discredit the SPLC.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The hate is growing

According to the quarterly report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in the country has topped 1000, up 7.5% in the last year and up 66% since 2000. 35 of these groups are in Michigan. There are three broad categories of groups:

* General hate groups that target race (Klan, neo-Nazi, white nationalist, neo-Confederalist, black separatists), ethnicity, sexual minorities, and immigrants. It also includes those who deny the Holocaust.

* Patriot groups who see the federal government as their enemy based on conspiracy theories. This category has grown the fastest.

* Nativist Extremist groups that go beyond advocating for tough immigration laws to harassing suspected immigrants.

A lot of the ideas of these groups have been pulled into the mainstream (want to guess by who?). In the past that has reduced the number of these groups and their level of violence. That hasn't happened this time. The violence level has increased.


Governor Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii has signed the civil union bill! I think it is one of these everything but the name marriage bills, but I'm not sure. The gov. said some nice things in the signing ceremony, but blew it when he said, "The legalization of civil unions in Hawaii represents in my mind equal rights for all people." Sorry, gov., separate but equal is not equal. Even so, this is much better than what the state had before and, in contrast to their last governor, Abercrombie signed it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bake sales v. billionaires

As is typical lately, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that news media -- including NPR -- don't say much about. The latest example is the protests in Wisconsin. We all hear about Gov. Walker insisting the state is broke and the only way to balance the books is on the backs of state workers and city. And the only way to accomplish that is to break the union. Other states are taking up the tactic. But there are details not getting a lot of airplay.

* The Wisconsin state budget is not close to a collapse. The part of the state gov't that tracks such things says the state would actually have a surplus.

* Much of that surplus (though not all) appears to be headed to corporate tax cuts.

* So where did the numbers claiming a deficit come from? Apparently from one of those corporations benefiting from the tax cuts. Compared to the budget problems in Michigan this amount is peanuts.

* Gov't workers are not overpaid in comparison to private sector workers.

* Corporate taxes have been dropping in comparison to individual taxes. Corporations are not paying for the government that benefits everyone.

* Corporations, especially the Koch brothers, financed Walkers campaign. Many corporations are very good at distraction messaging. Many also want the precedent of union busting.

I've written about the Koch brothers before. They're a nasty piece of work with no care for anything other than the size of the stash of dollars in their pockets, already in the billions. From a few other things going on in Wisconsin, it appears Walker is working for the Koch brothers, not for the citizens of Wisconsin. It is good to see citizens fighting back.

Rachel Maddow has a lengthy and enlightening discussion (14 minutes) of what is going on. The link also has an interview with one of the senators who fled the state. Who do unions support? Democrats. Well, except for police and firefighters. Strangely, their unions are exempt from the union busting bill. This is about the GOP eliminating the financing of their competition. Only union money comes anywhere close to matching what Rove can pull from corporations. Take away union money and what do Dems have? Bake sales. This affects both advertising and get-out-the-vote drives. The GOP is seizing the chance to put the Dems out of existence. Do it in Wisconsin and they can do it anywhere. Bake sales cannot compete with billionaires.

Yes, this is a gay issue. Most of the benefits, such as partner health care, gays enjoy were won through collective bargaining.

No longer running defense

Quite a while ago, referring to another issue, my friend and debate partner said he was sure that Obama had to defend all laws, even those he didn't like. I'll only mention such an idea probably had little impact on the Bush Department of Justice before moving on.

The big news of today is that Obama has instructed his DoJ to no longer defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. That's the part that says the federal government cannot recognize gay couples. Obama's reason is that section has been declared unconstitutional.

The law has been the target of court cases in Massachusetts, and up to this point the DoJ has defended DOMA on repeal. At the time Obama said the gov't need only have a rational reason for the law.

Now Obama is saying gov't needs a reason that passes heightened scrutiny to discriminate against gays. The government's interest in discrimination must be an important one and the remedy must be related to that interest. Since there is no such reason, Section 3 (as determined by a district court) is unconstitutional. Finally he is acting on his promises.

This does not mean DOMA is dead. The DoJ has notified Congress, which may choose to defend the statute. Obama is only stating what his DoJ will do. It will influence what a court does (in this case the 2nd Circuit), but the court still has to come up with its own ruling. And whatever a Circuit Court decides the underlying cases will go on to the Supremes.

Even so, there are significant political consequences to such a move. Civil union the same as marriage except in name? Not if federal benefits are denied. More analysis here.

Thank you Mr. President for doing the right thing. Alas, we're left wondering couldn't you have done the same with Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

The DoJ announcing that the defense of the law is up to Congress has prompted Senator Dianne Feinstein to introduce a bill to overturn the law. While we're all grateful for the show of support some are wondering why didn't she do this last year,

Monday, February 21, 2011

Young advocates for our cause

I learned last week the Ruth Ellis Center, where I volunteer, has been sponsoring the Out & Up Front Project. Staff coordinators have been teaching the kids how to be advocates for gay causes. The kids (along with the staff) had their first big adventures and were successful in both!

The team went to a Detroit Public School board meeting, requesting the board specifically include sexual minorities in the district's anti-bullying policy. One of the speakers was Brendan, age 16, who occasionally helps serve the evening meal at REC. Brendan testified that he is sometimes afraid to go to school because of the constant anti-gay bullying.

Brendan's story prompted the board president, Anthony Adams, to tell about his transgender daughter who committed suicide 4 years ago. Adams and the board requested Laura Hughes, REC director for specific wording to add to the policy. Of course, Hughes had that ready before stepping through the door.

The team also went before the Detroit City Council to get their support for a city-wide anti-bullying policy. A City Council staffer suggested a joint ceremony where the city and the schools both announce updated policies at the same time.

The adventures got a nice article in the local gay newspaper.

Using job loss as a threat

Terrence Heath has noticed that Democrats and the GOP talk about jobs in completely different ways. Dems say the things one would expect a progressive politician to say -- the country needs to invest so we have more jobs for all those people without one.

But the GOP don't use arguments for increasing the number of jobs. Their usage is more of a threat -- Let us do away with all this regulation that prevents pollution. If you don't jobs will go overseas where they don't have all these pollution regulations.

Stirring up trouble that others have to live with

Maggie Gallagher and her National Organization for Marriage were in Maryland to try to "prove" the locals don't want gay marriage and New Hampshire to claim the marriage law should be rescinded in spite of overwhelming support.

That prompted Clarknt67 (his real name is floating around the internet somewhere) of the blog Pam's House Blend to comment on how nonsensical her bleatings are and also document the damage her bullying has been doing around the country.

NOM meddled in the Iowa Supreme Court confirmation vote. Iowans, not Maggie, have to live with the decisions that no longer have the influence of three level-headed justices.

NOM refuses to follow campaign finance reporting laws, forcing every state they've worked in to spend money to prosecute them. NOM just lost a case in Maine. Expect failure to comply.

Maggie stirs up trouble in state after state, but then she doesn't have to live with the consequences.

NOM's vitriol is damaging to the psyches of gay people across the country.

On the good side, one Maryland state senator took a good look at Maggie's tactics, comments, and record. He decided he didn't want to be associated with demonizers and bullies and switched to support marriage equality.

Does Maggie personally hate gays? Does that question matter? She gets paid well.

I wrote a couple days ago about Tom Krattenmaker's view that Fundies have a choice of abandoning their anti-gay battles or be branded has haters (though a bit late for that…). Clarknt67 responds by saying don't hold your breath. There's too much money in it.

Theology might provide the foundation for their side of the debate. But being rabidly anti-gay is big business. Who would they demonize if not gays?

"A large part of their business model is built on ginning up fear, hatred and outrage about the gay agenda, and then of course, asking the hateful and ignorant for funds to help stop it. They are in the fortunate position to be able to manufacture a market for the very product they are selling."

Alas, these groups -- NOM, Family Research Council -- are frequently called to provide "balance" whenever a TV commentator runs a story about gays. They're certainly a lot more entertaining than bland pronouncements from spineless lawmakers.

"And in this way, Maggie Gallagher wins, even when she loses. Sure, Maryland may pass marriage equality anyway, despite her appearance before the Senate to argue against it. And we may scuttle the effort to repeal equality in New Hampshire. But she now has something to report back to her fans and followers. She went and fought the good fight. She got an audience with the decision makers, even in a state she doesn't reside! She's a real player! She could really stop gay marriage next time, if you just open up your wallet and give more. Please give more." (emphasis in the original)

They'll give up when their position is no longer financially viable. Just remember it is still financially viable for the anti-abortion crowd to do the same thing 40 years after Roe v. Wade.

Decried as socialist

New Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced his new state budget last week. Thus, the Detroit Free Press Sunday edition has a couple pages of the Viewpoint section devoted to it. In the middle of it all is an interview with Snyder.

Warning, links to the Freep may be free for only a couple weeks.

There are a few good things mentioned throughout the commentary. Snyder himself said it well. Consider if the state fiscal policy were a blank slate. What would be the ideal mix of what kind of taxes along with what kind of expenditures? Considering the state budgetary mess and the dysfunctional legislative process, this is a good way to think about it. Previous legislatures gave out tax credits to attract business, but those don't show up as expenses in that year. The state still has several millions in outstanding credits to play havoc with budgeting. Better to have appropriations that are paid this year. If you want some of that money, stand in line and convince us.

Ah, but Snyder is GOP. So up next is some criticism of the budget. Stephen Henderson, editor of the editorial page for the Freep, takes on Snyder's claim that the budget will call for equal sacrifice. Snyder proposes getting rid of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps poor families. That leaves only the state income tax, which by the constitution must be the same for all taxpayers. But any changes in the income tax (remember, he is GOP) benefit the rich more than the poor. For the poor, the loss of the EITC means what kind and how much food gets put on the table. That affects the viability of small businesses. For the rich, a lower tax rate means a difference in discretionary spending. "It is a redistribution that is decried as socialist when it's applied in the other direction."

Jill Alper, former campaign strategist for former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, takes on Snyder's tax cuts. Granholm cut taxes 99 times hoping for job growth. Michigan boosted its image in business climate. But we were still last in job growth.

In the last couple years there was a great deal of investment to save the auto industry and create a battery industry (among many other things). Unemployment fell six times faster than the national rate. Tax cuts don't create jobs. Investments do.

Mitch Albom is annoyed that Snyder wants to severely cut the tax credits offered to the film industry. That has been a bright spot in our economy over the last couple years -- actual jobs. With a looming cut, film production will stop coming. Nothing like killing off a promising industry that prompts the younger generations to stick around.

The budget goes next to the -- GOP controlled -- Senate and, um, the -- GOP controlled -- House.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Quixotic and damaging battle

Congress repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The Southern Poverty Law Center has tagged several Fundie organizations as hate groups because they demonize gay people using false information. The ex-gay group Exodus International has ended its support of "Day of Truth," which was designed to counteract the gay "Day of Silence," so that it can better support the Golden Rule. All are signs of increasing acceptance of gay people and their relationships.

Which means those anti-gay Fundie organizations have a choice, says Tom Krattenmaker of USA Today. Do they continue to fight gays to the bitter end or turn their attention to other issues?

If they take the first choice their battle looks increasingly quixotic and damages both the reputation of the fighters and of Christianity as a whole. Since so many people know and are friends with gays the talking points are increasingly seen as not matching reality. Even young Evangelical leaders don't want their gay friends to be demonized.

But we have the Truth about the Bible! many Fundies claim. Not so fast, say modern biblical scholars. More on this below.

Those Fundie leaders insisting that being Christian means continuing the fight are defining Christianity as a hate group. And that is a ticket to infamy, similar to that of Bull Connor and George Wallace.

Those modern scholars produced two new books: Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire by Jennifer Wright Knust and God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says by Michael Coogan.

The conservative view of the Bible -- including the view that it roundly condemns all sex outside of a lifelong straight marriage -- has lead many Americans to conclude the Bible doesn't speak for them.

Here are a few of the arguments Knust and Coogan write about, as reported by Lisa Miller of Newsweek. I've heard some of them before.

* The Bible is an ancient text and its particulars don't apply to the modern world. It is a "record of the beginning of a continuous movement toward the goal of full freedom and quality for all persons," writes Coogan.

* Sex in the Bible is sometimes hidden and is much more prevalent in the Bible than most believe. References to sex organs are sometimes disguised as "hands" or "feet" -- Ruth lies down next to Boaz and "uncovers his feet."

* That which is forbidden is also allowed. Tamar, a widow, poses as a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law so that she will have children. David loved Jonathan, "Your love for me was wonderful, passing the love of women." The Old Testament approves of divorce, but Jesus does not. The message is contradictory.

* Accepted interpretations are sometimes wrong. Top example is insisting the story of Sodom is about homosexuality rather than hospitality.

The purpose of these two books, and others like them, is to fight against the "official" interpretation of the Bible. With these books providing healthy skepticism to balance our faith, we can read the Bible for ourselves.

Which is exactly what conservatives don't want us to do. Our reading and study should be supervised by proper authorities. They say not everyone is qualified to read the Bible. We may come to the wrong conclusions. The Bible has been used to support slavery, wife-beating, kidnapping, child abuse, racism, and polygamy. That particular argument seems ironic because many (if not all) of those supposedly wrong conclusions were supported by the official church, the ones who are telling us we need their guidance to read the Bible correctly.

I do need the input of scholars who have come before me. But when issues of sexual morality are this divisive (and when I'm at the center of the storm) we should not simply cede the field without debating what the Bible actually says.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Substantiating claims

My recent marking of the horror of the Reagan legacy prompted an anonymous response which I included in a second article. That one prompted a second anonymous response (I had better call this one A2) objecting to something in the second article.

I wrote:

Vast corruption -- An extraordinary number of Reagan appointees went to prison or resigned under pressure because of corruption of many kinds. Republicans conducted a feast of public looting during the Reagan years.

A2 responded:

I dislike seeing you just forward unsubstantiated charges. For many of the charges against Ronnie, I accept as reasonable arguing point.

However, the charge of "Vast Corruption"? I know of no good measure. In fact, the only attempts at measuring I've seen fail. Charging the Republicans with corruption immediately struck me as such foolish rhetoric as to prompt me to write. When you use such an unsubstantiated argument, you allow the reverse. Far too many Americans believe the reverse, that Democrats are already vastly corrupt. Passing it on as you have only perpetuates the gulf of misunderstanding.

I find myself is a strange space defending someone I loath. Please understand that I agree is principle. My issue is with some of the sloppy arguments you've accumulated in your posts.

In that second post I had condensed what A1 wrote. The posting was long enough without it. This is the full point A1 wrote:

Vast corruption -- An extraordinary number of Reagan appointees went to prison or resigned under pressure because of corruption of many kinds. Republicans conducted a feast of public looting during the Reagan years. The largest and most destructive example was IranGate -- the diversion of foreign aid from its legislated purpose of propping up the Shah of Iran's corrupt dictatorship to purchase weapons for a right-wing counterinsurgency in Nicaragua -- truly shocking and amoral political chicanery.

Does that help?

Now, for a bit of confession: I personally know both A1 and A2. As I am anonymous, so shall responses by email be. From my knowledge of A1 I trust whatever he says he is able to back up. If he wishes to provide more details I will post them. I personally don't have the time or desire to independently substantiate his claims. But I wouldn't call those claims unsubstantiated.

As for the rest of what I write, I try as much as possible to provide a link for any claim I include. Readers are able to see if the originator can substantiate any claims. Any claims I make myself I try to label as such and provide my reasoning. However, I am aware I am not writing scholarly papers (yes, I've written a few). I'm more interested in discussing ideas than getting all the details correct.

Will you help pay for it?

The massive federal budget landed with a thud, with complaints incoming from all sides. The White House has provided a nifty interactive graphic of where the money goes (in 31 categories). Run your mouse over a box to see its percentage of the total. Yes, Social Security, Health Care (Medicare & Medicaid), National Security, and Income Security are the biggest parts of the budget. It's cool that the White House provided it.

Some commentary:

Ari Ezra Waldman, law professor, notes that all (at least American) federal budgets incentivize -- coerce -- behavior. Even the ones put out by Tea Party members, though they may try to deny it. Yes, the behavior outcomes will be different in each case.

Coercion comes in several forms: Farm supports to plant this crop or that one. Reduced taxes for buying a house. Reduced taxes for marriage. Support for clean energy (or the GOP support for coal).

We've long ago established that the American federal budget can coerce behavior. The questions now before us: Are we incentivizing the right things? Yes, that depends on who you ask. Does the incentive achieve the desired goal at an acceptable cost?

It appears that in this budget Obama is taking that last question seriously, something presidents haven't done before. For example, Obama is funding the Ryan White Act, a drug treatment and HIV/AIDS program that is known to work. He is also getting a lot of change for his buck through the Race to the Top and similar programs. 40 states changed education policies though only 12 states received grants. Similar programs are proposed for electric vehicle infrastructure, juvenile justice, and a host of other goals.

I agree this is a good way to guide the country.

Scott Horsley of NPR reports on studies by the Pew Research Center of American's views of the federal budget. On questions something like, "Do you think the government should do ____?" The answer was frequently yes. On questions like, "Do you think the government should do _____ and you help pay for it?" The answer was much more likely to be no. Which means: We like what the government does for us. We don't want to pay for it. That makes me wonder. Is the public aversion to taxes because the GOP has trumpeted low taxes for the last 25 years? Would the public opinion be different if our leaders preached fiscal responsibility that while these various programs are great we citizens must do our part for the common good and pay taxes to cover these expenses? Was that how it was done before Reagan?

I was annoyed to hear that Obama is proposing to chop programs from the discretionary part of the budget, in particular the home heating credit. It seems the GOP has convinced him that the poor should take the hit for the sake of a balanced budget. Is there a more effective way to do the same thing? Obama hasn't said loud enough for me to hear.

Steve Inskeep of NPR interviewed Alan Simpson, who headed the commission to find ways to reduce the budget. He is also annoyed with Obama's plan. According to the commission's report, cutting the all those discretionary programs that help the poor and keep the government running won't ever be enough to fix the deficit. If the big ones -- Medicare, Medicaid, defense, Social Security -- are addressed, then all those other little programs won't need to be touched (revising them for effectiveness is another matter).

I am pleased to see the GOP in the House agreed with Obama, Sec. Defense Gates, and the Joint Chiefs to kill an expensive alternate engine for a fighter plane. Even better, they did it even though Boehner's district would benefit.

American business without American workers

A proposal coming from the City Hall in Nashville wants to make it easier on gay people. The city wants its contractors to abide by its own non-discrimination policy.

A proposal coming from the State Capitol in Nashville would prohibit cities within the state from enacting their own non-discrimination policies. Yup, that would strip gay protections from the Nashville city policy.

The Calif. marriage case has been tossed to the state Supremes to for them to decide if the anti-gay forces are allowed to bring the case before the 9th Circuit when the state attorney general declines to do so. The Calif. Supremes have now decided to take that question and won't have an answer before November. Which means the 9th Circuit case is on hold until then.

At the same time bills are being introduced in the Calif. Assembly to (1) require the AG to support a law being challenge, even if the AG thinks the law is bad and, (2) allow the groups who get a citizen's initiative approved by voters to take it before higher courts if the initiative is overturned. Alas, I don't have a link.

Can't find work? Robert Kuttner in Huffington Post says it is because American corporations no longer need American workers. The big guys are hiring -- overseas. Some of the reasons:

* The American economy is still floundering, but the GOP is out to make sure there is no more stimulus of any kind and Obama, with his recent budget is apparently conceding the point.

* Though German companies insist on producing things at home (and their economy is doing just dandy), Obama wants to play nice with American companies and won't propose any policies against shipping jobs overseas.

* The Chinese government has made American businesses an offer they won't refuse. They get government subsidies and docile workers, even if they have to give up trade secrets which allow Chinese companies to replace the Americans. But the Americans have adapted just fine.

* The service economy that is replacing manufacturing pays lousy wages.

Kuttner says the Dems lost in 2010 because they are unwilling to challenge the corporate business model that doesn't like American workers.

Yikes! A bill introduced into the South Dakota House would redefine justifiable homicide to include causing death while resisting an attempt to murder an unborn child. Need a translation? Killing an abortion provider is just fine with us.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A couple blossoms for Valentine's Day

Gay love, in spite of modern impressions, did not suddenly spring into being with the Stonewall riots of the late 1960s. The site has a short slide show of vintage photos of gay love. These are more than photos that happen to have two men or two women. There is something about each one that unmistakably depicts a loving relationship.

A bill for full same-sex marriage has been introduced in both houses of the Washington state legislature. The state currently offers civil unions that are equivalent in all but name. Those of you in Washington should get involved on Equality Day on March 22 to have a chat with your representative and senator.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jobs v. regulations

The Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (at least that is what I think CPAC stands for) is wrapping up. I've got just a few things to note about what was said.

Grover Norquist is Anti-Tax and also a member of gay GOProud, the group that prompted other conservatives to boycott this year's conference. According to Norquist the left is made up of "takers," those that believe the role of government is to take things from some people and give it to others. They're a bunch of competing parasites and if the government won't feed them they'll gnaw on each other. This guy has flunked the class on community, that we're all in this together, especially the command from Jesus about we're all our brother's keeper.

The Right has been trumpeting the need to get rid of "job-killing regulations." Robert Reich notes there wasn't a flurry of new regulations just before the financial crash of 2007. He's annoyed at Obama for legitimizing the phrase by saying there are perhaps nonsensical regulations that should be rooted out.

There has always been a cat-and-mouse game between regulators and business. Lawyers and lobbyists for business seek out any ambiguity and vagueness in the laws that Congress writes. Regulators work to plug the holes.

A tradeoff between regulations and jobs? Better to rephrase the question. What are the tradeoffs between jobs and the consequences of no regulations. We all benefit from regulations that keep our rivers clear and air breathable even if we could gain jobs by letting companies pollute.

Several GOP senators are proposing their own budgets as Obama presents his. Some, like the one from Rand Paul of Kentucky, call for the evisceration of entire government departments (while only making miniscule dents in the deficit). These proposals are all silent on one important aspect: the consequences of such deep cuts. Say goodbye to affordable college, affordable housing, consumer protections, drug safety, and more. But the America that resulted from those cuts would not be one we would want our children to live in.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Please scrap that nomination for sainthood

I wrote a few days ago about a few reasons why the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan is not a joyous occasion. I'll expand on that some more.

I got an anonymous email response to the first post. What I have here is condensed because the writer is lengthy, though can rant well.

Ah, Reagan... how much time do I have to write about the worst president I've ever experienced?

The core sources of my deep disgust with him and his presidency are:

Conscious preparation for warmongering -- Reagan spent freely to enlarge and refit the U.S. military, which I will admit had been neglected somewhat in the aftermath of its humiliating defeat in Vietnam. Reagan deliberately and consciously prepared our military to be the insensitive and inept hammer in foreign affairs that we have seen since. Bush I and II followed that legacy with 6 wars: Grenada (1989), Panama (1990), then the Gulf War in 1991, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In between, Clinton maintained the peace. All six of these wars are Republican misadventures that trace clearly back to Reagan.

Vast corruption -- An extraordinary number of Reagan appointees went to prison or resigned under pressure because of corruption of many kinds. Republicans conducted a feast of public looting during the Reagan years.

Enormous and irresponsible increases in the federal debt -- Reagan tax cuts combined with unbridled military spending vastly increased the country's debt.

• I could go on...

Reagan was a terrible President. The Reagan years taught me all I have come to understand about the real values and "principles" of the Republican Party.

We've named so many things for Reagan (starting with that airport in DC), perhaps we can add one more -- The Ronald Reagan Memorial National Debt.

I had mentioned that Reagan had done nothing when the AIDS crisis hit. Here's a bit more. This link contains a photo of the first Names Project, an AIDS memorial in which the dead were remembered with quilt panels. The first display of quilts was in the National Mall in October 1987 and the 1,920 panels fill the area between the Capitol and the Washington Monument.

By the time Reagan mentioned AIDS in public in 1987 20,000 people had died. If the victims weren't mostly gay people the president would have surely said something immediately after the CDC declared it to be an epidemic after 413 cases and perhaps 130 deaths. But that mention wasn't because he was about to do something to help the situation. It was to say (in part), "After all, when it comes to preventing AIDS, don't medicine and morality teach the same lessons." Meaning, AIDS was a judgment from God and it was "killing all the right people." (I don't think that quote was from Reagan). And why did Reagan allow this? He was cozying up to the Religious Right.

I was asked, so what could have Reagan done about AIDS?

*Provide desperately needed leadership, give a hint he at least was concerned about the suffering of the gay community, treat gays as human. Though all those names quilts were outside Reagan's door, he did not appear among them.

* Directed the vast resources of the government towards at least (1) comforting the victims, (2) spreading the word how to prevent the disease from spreading, (3) helping find a cure or at least a treatment program.

That post about Reagan and AIDS points up another reason for disgust with him. He was the one who invited the Religious Right into politics. We're still trying to mollify them, 30 years later.

Here's a summary the legacy. I'll leave it to the reader to note how many of these policies are cherished by the current GOP.

* Declared government to be the problem, implying a government that doesn't meet the needs of the people is the best kind of government.

* Broke the connection between government income and expenses resulting in enormous increases in national debt.

* Encouraged the rich to feast on the poor.

* Pushed for deregulation in which the taxpayer gets stuck with the bill.

* Preparation for warmongering.

* Vast corruption.

* Invited the Religious Right into politics.

* Was pleased at the deaths of so many gays due to AIDS.

Saint Ronnie? Nope.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


I forgot to note an important bit of news last Monday. Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois signed a civil union bill! No, it isn't marriage or even equal to marriage. But it is a hard fought step forward. Congratulations Illinois! There are now five states, plus DC, that permit gays to marry and ten states that offer civil unions. Coming up soon are Maryland and Rhode Island. The law takes effect on June 1.

A job only half done

The repeal of the law behind Don't Ask, Don't Tell means that gays will soon be able to serve in the military without the threat of discharge looming over their heads. However, Obama and the Pentagon are making it very clear that if a gay soldier comes out and then experiences harassment, or simply no longer gets promotions, there is no legal recourse available. The discrimination protection was bartered away to make sure the basic repeal passed. The job is only half done.

I've fallen behind in my recruiting

Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin pulls out an old hoary argument sometimes used by Fundies: "If everyone were gay the human race would die out."

Yeah, we know the argument is stupid. But many Fundies actually believe we have the recruitment tools to turn the whole world gay and that we're evil enough to make the attempt. And they're quaking in their boots. All that based on the fallacy that being gay is a choice and that conversion therapy works.

So what does one do with such a silly claim? First, keep in mind the part of the argument that is assumed, "Therefore being gay is bad."

Tisinai gets the comeback lines going with, "If everyone spent their days finding a cure for cancer, nobody would have time to grow food and the human race would die out. Therefore finding a cure for cancer is bad."

The responders added a few more.

* If everyone was celibate, as St. Paul recommends, then the human race (or at least Christianity) would die out. Therefore being celibate is bad. What, Christians would have to recruit?

* If everyone were gay the human race would be just fine because being gay doesn't mean infertile. Elton John is now a father. In addition, all those kids would be wanted. There wouldn't be any little accidents running around.

Still dealing with the legacy

A lot of politicians, especially those in the GOP, continuously say we need to keep the policies of Ronald Reagan alive. Since tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of his birth it is as good a time as any to review what the old guy has given us. I'll warn you right now this is not a essay in praise.

Terrence Heath starts off our list.

* In famously saying, "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," Reagan told us the government was no longer our government and we no longer had much control over it (growing corporate influence has proved him right). That phrase also told us that there were some problems that are too big for anyone to solve (the current one is global warming), which made us all feel a bit hopeless.

* Reagan broke the connection between government income and expenditures. Very few politicians pay attention to government debt -- unless it is politically expedient to do so. Government budgets went from surplus to deficit on his watch.

* The rest of his economic policies resulted in the common worker's compensation staying essentially flat (though adjusted for inflation) while the richest saw their income nearly quadruple. Gains in productivity did not help the working class.

* In firing the air traffic controllers and disbanding their union in 1981 Reagan told business it was acceptable to stick it to unionized workers and ship jobs overseas.

* His push for deregulation resulted in several financial calamities, including the latest one, for which the taxpayer got stuck with the bill. It also resulted in weakened consumer protections of all kinds.

And one from me:

* By ignoring the AIDS crisis, because it was primarily a "gay disease," he allowed the disease to spread a lot farther and faster than it would have with government intervention.

But he sure made you feel good when listening to him.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Twisting words for personal political ends

I was surprised that I got a response so quickly to the message I sent to my senators and representative about climate change. That was the letter at the bottom of the big post of a couple days ago (that post has had 23 direct pageviews and I'm sure more have read it from the main page of my blog).

The response was from Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, who is GOP and a strong opponent of gay rights. I'm quite annoyed my district was constructed with a 55% GOP majority, though in the last election that dropped to 52%. I hope to be rid of him after redistricting next year, but since the GOP controls the Michigan House, Senate, Governor's office, and Supreme Court, I won't hold my breath.

It is rare that what I wrote is so thoroughly ignored and the reply about what the other person wants me to say and not what I said. I wrote about lessening the damage of climate change. He took my one sentence comment about eliminating bottled water and wrote how he is championing reducing congressional operational spending, partly by not allowing members to purchase bottled water.

Come to think of it, the last person to do such a bait and switch was … McCotter.

This is what he wrote:

Dear _________;

Thank you for informing me of your support for cutting Congress' budget by prohibiting the use of the Member Representational Allowance (MRA) to purchase bottled water. Your thoughts on this important matter are most welcome and appreciated.

As you know, encouraging fiscal responsibility, decreasing government taxation and spending is a national imperative. Critically, we must strive to ensure hard working people keep their hard earned money, with better spending restraint and low taxes. To personally limit government spending, I did not submit any Fiscal Year 2011 (FY11) earmark appropriations requests and will continue to support earmark reform in the House. Only in this manner can we raise Michigan up to the level of the national economy, rather than lower the national economy to Michigan's level.

To reduce Congress' operational spending, on January 6, 2011, Representative Greg Walden (OR) introduced H.Res.22, reducing the amount authorized for salaries and expenses of Member, committee, and leadership offices for 2011 and 2012. As adopted, this legislation reduces Member allowances, leadership expenses, and committee expenses for 2011 and 2012 by five percent (5%) from 2010 levels. Further, H.Res.22 subjects the House Appropriations Committee to a nine percent (9%) reduction from 2010 levels for salaries and expenses for 2011 and 2012. On January 6, 2011, with my support the House passed H.Res.22 by a bi-partisan vote of 410-13.

Regarding the use of the MRA to purchase bottled water, my office does not purchase bottled water, but rather uses a water filtration system to cut costs and be more environmentally conscious. Presently, no legislation regarding this issue has been introduced during the 112th Congress.

Ultimately, Congress must practice the same spending restraint and fiscal responsibility it encourages nationwide. Reducing Congress' operational budget is a critical first step in demonstrating a genuine commitment to building a stable economy by reigning in previously unchecked government spending.

Rest assured, your thoughts on this important matter will be remembered during the 112th Congress.

This is what I wrote in reply:

Dear Rep. McCotter;

I'm pleased you are environmentally conscious enough to use a filtration system in your office instead of using bottled water. I'm also pleased there is a hint of encouraging fellow members to also forgo bottled water.

However, other than that your reply completely mischaracterized the intent of my letter to you. I wrote about the dire need to take action to prevent a climate catastrophe, listing several steps that need political solutions. Yes, one of those was eliminating bottled water, but that needs to happen throughout the nation, not just on Capitol Hill.

In response you wrote about reducing government spending. I believe that there are many aspects of governmental spending that should be increased to help us out of the current economic slump. That makes it sound like you are twisting my words to your own political ends. For an elected official to do that to one of his constituents I find shameful.

Such word twisting doesn't happen to me all that often. The last one to do it was … you.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sneaking around something so important

One day after I posted a long article about a looming environmental catastrophe I heard on NPR about progress. Sort of. Last night Obama gave a speech saying we need to switch our electrical production to 80% clean sources -- Yay! -- by 2035. Um, dude, that's not going to make it. The Earth Policy Institute says we must do that by 2020. Meaning, in 9 years, not 24.

The story went on to say Obama is pushing this as a jobs creation bill. He and his admin are being very quiet about the environmental aspects. Has the GOP so poisoned the debate that we have to sneak around the most important issue of our civilization? Apparently so. That letter I sent to Congresscritters needed a bit of tweaking before being sent to one more person. Perhaps you can do the same. Alas, the White House website requires messages to be less than 2500 characters, so I had to do some trimming.

Unusual musical inspiration

About a week ago the Boston Modern Orchestra Project gave a concert that included a piece featuring two solo bassoons. While rather cool, that isn't enough reason to write about it. This is: It takes its title from and musically describes the Full Faith and Credit section of the US Constitution, the one that means each state must honor the marriages from other states (among other things). I'll let a reviewer take it from here:

The title reflects Harold Meltzer’s background as a lawyer as well as a composer, and refers to Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution, stipulating that laws and judgments enacted in one US state or territory must be respected by the others. The concept may seem arcane, but it is rather crucial at a time when a few states allow gay marriage and many more do not. The composer writes:

The seven sections of Full Faith and Credit were conceived originally as program music about gay weddings and the subsequent reception of the married couples in parts of the country perhaps less friendly to homosexuality. Different aspects of Americana appear in veiled and not-so-veiled ways throughout the piece. The double concerto… scrambles the order of the ‘program’ into abstract music.

Each movement has a descriptive title: Rugged, Homespun, Blistering, Viscous, Genteel, Hymn, and Rugged (an abbreviated recap of the first movement).

The review is by Miss Music Nerd.

What happens when one feels like scum

Are you doing what you love? I am fortunate that in both of my careers (and in writing this blog) I love what I do. When I took part in a practice job interview after I ended my first career the other participants remarked how my face lit up when I talked about music. I also love my volunteer work, both music related and not.

This post isn't to brag about my good fortune, but to explore what can happen when a person doesn't do what they love or isn't being who they are because they've been bullied into doing something else. These thoughts are based on a posting by someone who calls himself Joshalot. Alas, he doesn't explain why he knows so much about this topic, he doesn't give his professional credentials.

Everyone needs validation -- someone who says they appreciate who we are and what we do. With authentic (positive) validation we can reach our life goals with confidence and can be a contributing member of society. With inauthentic (negative) validation we feel like scum. And those feelings can last a long time.

Many gay kids (among others) get a lot of negative validation. Some have a home that provides enough positive validation to withstand the hassles of school, some do not. Many of these gay kids do what they can to hide their orientation. They do things, not because they love them, but because those things provide camouflage for their gayness and reduce the hassles. They end up both condemned for who they are and also cut off from what they do and forced to do things that aren't rewarding.

That conflict between who they are (and want validation for being) and who they are forced to be leads to inner conflict which can lead to much grief. It can take two forms. "I am so unacceptably flawed that I can't bear to live any longer." Or "I may be flawed, but at least I'm better than this other guy. See, I have power over him, I can make him feel like scum." The first commits suicide. The second becomes a bully.

Granted, not all bullies are gay kids looking for validation, though many times our harshest opponents are closeted gays. But, no matter the source, bullies do their bullying because they need to feel superior to someone else. And one way to do that is to make the other person feel like scum.

This brings me back to my own observation that the teachings of Jesus are about promoting mental health and community. With both of these there is little negative validation, little need to bully, and a strong community to step in when bullying does happen. Alas, many Fundies take their religion as an excuse to be the bully.

Precedence for the new health care law

Sigh. Another United Methodist Church trial over a lesbian pastor. This one will be held in April in Appleton, Wisconsin. The committee that investigated the pastor and forwarded the bill of charges noted a conflict between the denomination's Social Principles and the Book of Discipline (church law). The law says a practicing homosexual cannot be a pastor. The Social Principles say to treat all pastors equally. The church law is unjust.

Tea Party types complaining about socialized medicine and the government requiring citizens to buy insurance? Too late. It's been done. Back in 1798. By the Founding Fathers, no less. The act authorized the creation of government run hospitals at all the major ports. Sailors of private ships had to pay a tax (of 1%) to the ship's owner. The ship could not enter or leave port until the owner paid the government. If the sailor needed medical attention the government would verify he had paid the tax, then give him a voucher for treatment at one of the hospitals.

Swimmer magazine published an article about a gay athlete. A reader sent a letter objecting to the promotion of a deviant lifestyle. The magazine published it along with several others praising them for the article. Many readers objected to the offensive letter, noting that such a letter about blacks wouldn't get published. The magazine apologized, saying "we should have used better judgment."

Ari Ezra Waldman, constitutional scholar, poses this question: What role should the law play here?

The answer: None. As the First Amendment requires.

The law is incapable of definitively deciding what letters are offensive. Market forces are adequate in resolving the situation -- either the magazine wants to stay in business and will avoid such letters in the future, or it will expand its editorial policies to adequately debate the issue, or it will redefine its business plan to cater to such discriminatory viewpoints.

Matt Osborne of the blog Crooks and Liars wrote (several weeks ago) after the Arizona shooting that he sees hope ahead. Last May he began to see progressive action to counter the Tea Party. Progressives are stepping up their own protests, this time against real concerns (like BP, general environmental damage, and war) with signs spelled correctly. Even better, these protests have featured civil disobedience and actual arrests. It appears the tide has turned.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Plan A is leading us to catastrophe

Yes, this post is a long one. It is also important. Please read it, link to it, and pass it around.

I've finished the book Plan B 4.0; Mobilizing to Save Civilization by Lester R. Brown. As far as I can tell, the "4.0" business only means this is the 4th edition of the book, "substantially revised" from earlier editions so that all the research and proposed solutions are current as of 2009. It is definitely a scholarly book with 268 pages of text, more than 70 pages of source notes, and more than 20 pages of index.

The first chapter lays out the severity of our current situation:

* We are reaching the limits of being able to feed the world's population. The improvements in crop yield have been flat for decades and already approach the limits of photosynthesis efficiency.

* Soil erosion is reducing the amount of land that can be farmed and reducing yields on other plots. Deserts are advancing. A lot more land is being turned into suburbia.

* Many countries (including America) are depleting aquifers faster than they are naturally replenished. Farmers are finding it pays more to sell their water rights to nearby cities than to grow crops. As glaciers melt we are planning as if that increased water flow will continue, but that water will stop when the glaciers are gone. We're running out of water.

* Hotter temperatures reduce crop yield.

* Rising sea levels will inundate many coastal farming areas.

* As countries develop its citizens want to move up the food chain and eat more meat the way Americans do.

* We are foolishly diverting food to feed our automobile energy needs. I recently read that American law mandates that all gasoline must now contain a certain percentage of ethanol.

* Worldwide fish catch is declining.

The most important consequence of global warming will be hunger.

Because of these pressures several countries, notably China, are buying up land in other countries. This displaces local farmers and means the host country has less ability to feed itself.

The world economy cannot be sustained at this rate. We are selling our future.

As food insecurity increases more countries are becoming failed states. These are countries without effective central government and essentially cannot feed themselves. Failed states are the breeding ground of terrorists. At the top of the list of failed states (as of 2008) are Somalia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chad, Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Guinea, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, and Haiti.

There is hope. Plan B is ambitious, requiring more work and urgency than any war. However, all of the proposed technology currently exists. The major parts of the plan are:

* Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2020.

* Stabilize the world's population at 8 billion (it is coming up to 7 billion now).

* Eradicate poverty. Poor people, in their desperation, do not care for the environment. Poverty breeds terrorism.

* Restore the natural environment.

Chapters 2 and 3 spend 50 pages to go into the problems mentioned above (in detail!). These chapters add one more area of concern -- there could be as many as a half-billion environmental refugees. That's one in 16 worldwide.

On to the solutions. Much of this work has already started. There are several cities and countries around the world that can be used as a model for various solutions.

Chapter 4: Reduce energy needs.

* Reduce energy needed for lighting. CFLs and LEDs are making that revolution happen. Some countries (including America) are phasing out incandescent bulbs.

* Reduce energy needed by appliances. The law in Japan says that a couple years after an appliance builder makes a breakthrough in efficiency that new level is required by all appliances of that type. Set limits on the power consumption of idle appliances (otherwise known as vampire electronics).

* Build new and retrofit old buildings to be zero-carbon.

* Electrify the transportation system. This is more than electric cars. It includes more accessible public transportation, more accommodation of bicycle use, more shipping by rail which is electric powered, and more high speed rail travel to reduce the use of planes.

* Reduce the amount of virgin material in everything we make. Manufacturing for ease of recycling uses lots less energy than creating new materials.

* Make the electrical grid smarter so that generating plants don't have to be built to cover such a high peak usage. I've gotten a brochure from my own electric company on their plans to make this happen. With smarter grids come smarter appliances.

* Stop making useless things. And what is useless? Disposable shopping bags and bottled water. Another useless thing surprised me: gold jewelry. Most gold is made into jewelry and it takes 200,000 tons of ore to get one ton of gold (a ton of iron needs only 2 tons of ore) with a huge cost in energy and pollution.

The easiest way to make all that happen? Carbon tax. Yeah, in this political climate. Sigh.

Chapter 5: Shift to sustainable energy.

* Move away from oil and especially coal. A lot of what drives China's ventures into green energy is the realization of how damaging coal is to human health.

* The amount of wind farm development (completed and planned) worldwide is quite impressive.

* Solar photovoltaic cell installations have also grown rapidly. This allows electrification of rural areas without extending the power grid. Once the installation cost is taken care of the cells provide essentially free power. Solar water heaters are also becoming standard for new construction in many parts of the world.

* Some countries can harness geothermal energy.

* Energy can also be extracted from forest industry waste, crop waste (not crops), livestock waste, urban waste, and suburban yard waste. It is much more efficient to turn these sources into electricity and use that to power cars than to turn them into liquid fuel for cars.

* Energy from rivers (not necessarily from dams), tides, and waves.

All of these sources can provide enough energy for the whole world. However, conversion to them must be made with haste.

Chapter 6: Design cities for people.

Many cities are foul places and designed for the car, not the person. Tremendous amounts of energy are required to get huge amounts of water and food into a city and get the waste out.

* Improve urban transportation systems. Some cities add rail and bus systems. Some tax cars in the central area. Many work to be more bicycle friendly (which are a lot cheaper and healthier than cars).

* A toilet based on water only pollutes the water that flows through it. It also spreads disease. Composting toilets and waterless urinals are available and gaining use.

* Urban farming reduces the amount of energy needed to get food into the city and is great for individual an community health. It also uses up the product of those composting toilets.

* Upgrade the squatter settlements that spring up in many cities in developing countries.

Chapter 7: Eradicating poverty and stabilizing population

As noted above, poverty breeds terrorism. The sheer number of people affects how easy it is to feed everyone. Steps toward these goals:

* Educate everyone. The best way out of poverty is education. There are also other benefits. As female education rises, fertility falls and fewer infants die. Education boosts agricultural production. Education reduces the spread of behavior based disease, such as HIV. The best way to keep kids in school and to keep them learning is to provide lunch. In addition, adult literacy programs are needed.

* Provide basic health services, including vaccinations, instruction on how to care for common health issues such as diarrhea, sex education, and smoking cessation.

* Stabilize population through family planning services. Many poor women live in fear of their next pregnancy. When services are available family size drops quickly. Education through soap operas is quite effective.

* Rescue failed states. This will take a great deal of international effort and the rejuvenation of such programs as the Peace Corps.

Cost of these poverty eradication efforts: $77 billion a year.

Chapter 8: Feeding 8 billion people well

The population of the world is expected to pass 7 billion by the end of this year. If the population is stabilized it should level off at about 8 billion. We should be able to feed them all. Though crop yields haven't risen much in the last 20 years (after huge increases earlier in the last century. There are still things to be done.

* Raise land productivity through several techniques still not fully used. Breed crops more tolerant to drought and cold (corn in North Dakota). Where moisture permits grow multiple crops each year, such as winter wheat and corn. Grow both grain and trees that produce legumes. Give farmers clear title to their land so they have incentive to make long term improvements to it.

* Raise water productivity through efficiencies such as using sprinkler or drip technology, shift planting time to the rainy season, give water management to local boards who have an economic stake in doing it right, price water accurately according to its availability, reduce the amount of water used for livestock.

* Produce protein more efficiently. As economies become more affluent their citizens add more meat and dairy products to their diet. Alas, fish catch is leveling off. Beef raised in feedlots takes 7 kilograms of grain for one kilogram of meat. This is grain that could be eaten directly. The calculation is different for range-fed beef because that doesn't use grain that could be eaten and much of USA beef is range-fed. A kilogram of pork needs over 3 kilogram of grain. For poultry it is just over 2, for many farmed fish it is under 2. Alas, farmed salmon is inefficient because they feed on other fish. The more efficient the protein source the more grain is available for other uses. Grain efficiency is also a factor. It can be more efficient to feed corn to poultry than to grow soybeans instead of corn. Feed cattle with crop residue rather than grain.

* Localize agriculture. Make it more efficient for small producers to get their products to market. Plant a garden, even in the city. Let school children help tend the crops that feed the school.

* Reduce demand for food. US citizens eat 800 kilograms of grain a year (only 100 kg eaten directly). Italians eat 400 kilograms, Indians eat 200 kilograms. The healthiest are Italians (Indians don't get enough protein).

* Stop using food to power cars.

* Since food security is based on many issues (see everything above) the minister of agriculture should be head of state to coordinate it all.

Chapter 10: Can we mobilize fast enough?

The importance is urgent. Time is short. What must be done to get there?

* Adjust markets to tell the truth. Mr. Dahle of Norway said, "Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth."

* Shift taxes away from income (we want people to work) and onto environmentally destructive activities. Tax coal and oil according to the cost of their environmental damage. The true cost of a gallon of gas is $15. Thankfully, consumption drops quickly at about $4 a gallon. So start raising the gas tax by 40 cents a year with a matching reduction in income taxes. Even raise taxes on new cars. Taxes are better than cap-and-trade because we already have a tax infrastructure in place and the cost of the tax in the future can be known today.

* Stop subsidizing destruction. We currently subsidize fossil fuel burning, overpumping aquifers, clearcutting forests, overfishing, and airplane flights.

* Coal is already on the way out. The threat of carbon taxes and EPA regulation means there have been no new coal plants in the USA in the last couple years. As we use less electricity and more wind farms come online existing coal plants will be closed.

* Shift transportation to electricity. This includes replacing long-haul trucks with electrified rail.

Shifting away from fossil fuels, electrifying transportation, and sequestering carbon can give us the goal of 80% reduction in carbon emissions.

The best method of prompting social change is strong grass-roots movements coupled with strong political leaders. We need a mobilization similar to what got us through World War II. But we're working not just to save the Free World, but worldwide civilization.

The cost? About $187 billion a year. Sounds like a lot? Compare it to some other things we spend money on and it begins to look like peanuts. Then compare it to the cost of doing nothing.

This amount is less than a third of the current USA defense budget. But don't we need that much for protection against terrorists? If the current situation continues the conditions that breed terrorists will increase, so it makes sense to improve those conditions. Solving population, education, and food issues worldwide reduce the conditions that breed terrorists. A budgetary diversion well spent.

But the USA doesn't need to shoulder the entire amount itself. The cost of Plan B is about an eighth of worldwide defense spending.

The amount of money for Plan B is puny compared to what is being spent in Iraq and what will be spent on caring for soldiers mentally and physically damaged by the war. That total is about $3 trillion, about 16 times the cost of saving civilization. Not only did the war not fulfill it's stated reasons (because they were lies) the whole mess has distracted us from the looming environmental catastrophe.

I've heard the tax cut windfall for the rich in the last tax bill is about a trillion dollars over two years. The cost of Plan B is under two trillion over 10 years. The money needed for Plan B is hiding in the pockets of the rich. Again, American rich shouldn't have to pay for the whole thing ourselves.

Compared to numbers thrown around Washington these days the cost of Plan B is amazingly cheap.

The obvious question at this point is what is the average citizen to do? Recycling, composting, reducing meat consumption, driving an electric car, and even putting photovoltaic cells on the roof -- as important as they are -- isn't going to make it. Funding Plan B and changing the tax system to stop funding our destruction is going to, alas, require a political solution. And this at a time when a good chunk of Washington is doing all it can to turn its back on the problem.

Both federal and local representatives need to hear from us. The city council needs to hear about our desire for a city for people instead of cars. I did that this past fall when our city government hosted a picnic and I had a discussion with a city planner about making it possible to get all over the city on bicycle. I'm sure there are more ideas to share with him in the future.

As for your senator and representative, they need to hear about restructuring taxes so that the environmental costs of fossil fuels is included and that funding Plan B needs to be a priority. To do that one must be aware of the issues. So buy the book. And read it (it isn't dry).

And then look here for other things to do.

I will only ask you to do something I am doing myself. So, below is a sample letter that I sent to my own senators and representative. Feel free to copy it and send to your own Congresscritters. Find them through House and Senate websites. Parts of it should be sent to state legislators too.

To my non-American readers: This isn't just an American problem (even if we are the biggest part of it). There are things for you to do too. Please do your part.

Time is short.

Dear ________;

I am urgently concerned about the very real likelihood of an environmental catastrophe if we humans don't change our destructive ways. Because of that I have changed my light bulbs to CFLs, bought canvas shopping bags to avoid the paper/plastic choice, reduced my meat consumption, and started composting. I drive a high mileage car and my next one will be a hybrid or electric. I have also read the book "Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization" by Lester R. Brown of the Earth Policy Institute.

Alas, the issue is too great for me to do it on my own. There need to be political solutions as well. Here is a list of them:

* Raise environmental taxes, coupled with a reduction in income taxes. Capitalism, as currently practiced, does not take into account environmental damage. If it did, gasoline would be $15 a gallon instead of $3.

* Promote funding of wind and sun electrical generation, coupled with mandated improvements in appliance efficiency and smart grid technology.

* Change policies to urge the adoption of electric vehicles, electrified mass transportation, and electrified rail cargo systems.

* Support earth restoration through poverty eradication, education, family planning, reforestation, and conservation. The annual cost is $190 billion, which sounds tiny compared to the defense budget (or the tax cuts given to the rich) and leads to greater security.

* Block new nuclear power plants until the environmental impact of their waste is accounted for in the price of the electricity they produce.

* Tax bottled water (or at least the bottle). We shouldn't waste resources on something useless.

* Assist in redesigning cities for humans instead of cars and promote mass transit.

* Stop subsidizing the use of food for automobile fuel. Hungry people need all the food we can produce and the diversion to fuel only drives up prices.

* Urge recycling and rebuilding our economy around recycled material.

* Assist the shift from flood irrigation to drip irrigation to save water and also price water according to its availability, not just the cost of transporting and purifying it.

* Urge lawmakers around the world to do their part.

An environmental catastrophe will likely mean a half billion refugees and a severe food shortage. The cost of doing nothing is too high.

I highly recommend the Plan B book, where these ideas are from. It thoroughly explains the problems the whole world will face if we do nothing and lays out an action plan for us to follow. I urge you and your staff to read it and build a partnership with Mr. Brown and the Earth Policy Institute at


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Evidence disproving kids damaged by gay parents

The Iowa House passed an amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage and civil unions. The vote was 62-37. It goes to the Iowa Senate, which is Dem controlled and the Senate leader vows to prevent a vote. Even if passed, both House and Senate must approve it again in 2013 before it goes before voters.

A lot of people showed up for testimony, both for and against. It is several hours long so I didn't watch the whole thing. But the speech of one young man is making the internet rounds. He is Zach Wahls, 19 year old college student. He testified that he was raised by a lesbian couple. From how passionate and articulate he is one can easily see his mothers did a fine job raising him, disproving the claim that kids are damaged by having gay parents. Alas, 62 lawmakers heard the evidence and voted against him anyway. The video is 3 minutes long.

I've been annoyed by the way Newsweek has portrayed gays (or praised our opponents) lately. They just made up for most of those sins. The latest issue has a wonderful story by Andrew Solomon, a gay man, and his adventures in creating a modern family. Andrew's partner John was sperm donor for Laura and Tammy, producing Oliver and Lucy who are raised by the women. Andrew was sperm donor for Blaine, producing little Blaine. Blaine later married Richard. Laura agreed to be the surrogate for an embryo created from Andrew's sperm an a donated egg, producing George who lives with John and Andrew. One needs a diagram to keep them all straight (which the print version, at least, provides). Because Andrew grew up being told gays can't have kids, he is delighted to be raising George and be a papa to three others. A sweet story. Check out the photo gallery connected to the article.