Saturday, April 30, 2011

A welcoming church in Toledo

Central United Methodist Church in Toledo, a small congregation, has attracted attention. They put up a billboard with the slogan, "Being Gay is a Gift from God."

Who ya calling a wimp?

Peter Griggs, who is gay, felt excluded from many sports that project a strong straight vibe, such as hockey. Several years ago, after a rough life, he had the idea of writing a screenplay about a gay boxer. That prompted him to take up the sport. It took a while but he found a trainer who didn't care if he was gay. The screenplay turned into a stage play and its success at promoting self-esteem has prompted the creation of a community center with a goal to train gay kids to be boxers and eventually turn pro.

Monks in a Muslim town

Yeah, it has been a crazy week. Grades have been computed, but not posted yet. I've created a to-do list for the summer. And I've been trying to get in a few cultural events I didn't have time for during the semester.

One of those cultural events was to go see the movie Of Gods and Men. It is in limited release so may be hard to find. A monastery of only 8 monks sits on the hill above a town where all the inhabitants are Muslim. Since there is complaints about remnants of French colonial rule my guess the town is somewhere in Algeria, but it is never named. Even with the religious divide, the monks are seen as the foundation of the community. They provide medical care and counseling and the town helps in their farm and buys their honey. But members of a terrorist organization visit the town and the monastery. The movie isn't much about the conflict between monks and terrorists (who aren't on screen all that much) but about how the monks should deal with the situation. Leave? Ask for army protection when their mission is peace? Remain unprotected and likely become martyrs?

It wasn't until close to the end of the movie that I realized there was no background music. There is a lot of music -- all of it chanted by the monks -- until close to the end when one monk turns on a cassette of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. I kept wondering what that particular piece had to do with the story.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tax cuts are theft

Yeah, I said I was going to look at the budget battle from the GOP side of things. I didn't say it would be pleasant. And, yes, that is a prejudicial statement. It's also true.

Boehner and the GOP House leadership may say they are glad they avoided a government shutdown, but many GOP members are itching for that shutdown, looking for any excuse to do so. This time, they say, we'll do it right, get away with it, and make sure we don't get the blame. They even has a slogan: "Gut or Shut." There is no third option. This posting has a long list of conservative pundits and GOP politicians vowing to gut or shut.

Dave Johnson of Campaign for America's Future wrote about the GOP threat way back at the beginning of January. I didn't read about it until I followed the link in the post I reference above. Johnson says the shutdown threat is intentional and is part of the GOP plan stretching back 30 years. Yes, that means the Bush deficits after the Clinton surpluses were intentional.

The reason for all this -- for running up these huge deficits? Engineer gutting everything the US government does for anyone other than the richest people. The excuse, as we've heard, is "We can't afford it." In particular, they aim to gut anything that protects us from the power of predatory corporate wealth. And what might that include? Environmental protection, worker safety, health care, consumer protections, retirement, and anything a corporation has to shell out that doesn't benefit the top management. What won't get cut is corporate subsidies of any kind, including bailouts.

Back before the 2010 elections the GOP wrestled Obama to a compromise to trim Medicare. Their election campaign right after that was, "Obama cut a half trillion out of Medicare." It was quite effective. The GOP is aiming for the same sort of compromise over Social Security -- force him to cut then blame him for those same cuts to drive him from office in 2012.

Obama has a way out of this mess. A debt default -- the next money battle -- won't harm the little guy (most of us) very much but would decimate Wall Street. The Fat Cats on Wall Street are playing a dangerous game. They support threatening to not raise the debt ceiling because they are betting that Obama will cave again (and why would they believe that?) and that the debt ceiling bill can be loaded up with all kinds of candy for Wall Street. But if they lose that bet, they lose big. So if Obama said, "I will only sign a clean debt ceiling bill," he could win this round. Social Security and other big issues should not be discussed at the point of a gun.

Not that you need more evidence of GOP crazy logic, here is more for you. The GOP House passed a budget (the one that essentially guts Medicare) that includes a $1.9 trillion deficit. They are threatening to refuse to pass a bill that will allow them to pay for that deficit.

To help their PR campaign to gut or shut, the GOP has a wide array of catchy explanations describe taxes. Here are a few:

* Taxes are theft.

* Tax me and I won't work. Sounds like a 5 year old asked to do chores.

* The rich already pay most of the taxes (a claim that ignores sales, property, vehicle, phone, and utility taxes).

* Rich people create jobs.

* If you tax us we'll leave. Are these the people who tell us "Love it or leave it"?

* The rich will find loopholes and won't pay anyway.

* The rich don't have enough to pay off the entire debt, so don't tax them at all.

* Taxes are just a liberal attempt to punish the rich.

In response Terrence Heath has gathered together a list of things we know about taxes. There is a difference between ideology and proof. He has a link for each item.

* The wealthy don't leave (well, some do, but good tax policy makes more wealthy, who like what a sensible government does for them).

* Tax cuts don't stimulate the economy.

* The rich don't spend their tax cuts.

* Tax cuts don't create jobs.

* Tax cuts don't spur growth enough to pay for themselves.

* Tax cuts for the rich benefit only the rich.

* Tax cuts don't spread prosperity.

* Taxes for the rich (compared to everyone else) are really low.

Heath itemizes the misconceptions. Dave Johnson (again) delves into the detail, with analysis and charts, meaning actual science instead of ideology. This is an interesting one to delve into. Johnson makes an important point. The data correlating prosperity with higher taxes does not prove causation, but does disprove the GOP claim that tax cuts stimulate the economy. Johnson concludes by saying tax cuts break the social contract. Taxes are theft? Nope. Tax cuts are theft.

So how does the GOP convince the rest of us (middle class, working class, and poor) to vote for them when their policies are working mighty hard to destroy us? It takes a convoluted PR campaign. Some of the items in their list.

* Convince us that the debt is the most important and urgent problem and the only one that matters, outweighing unemployment, poverty, illness, and needs of the elderly. How many times have you heard "Financial Armageddon" lately?

* Convince us that spending is the problem, not tax cuts or two unfunded wars.

* Tell us that low taxes for the wealthy are simply a political reality.

* Lie about Social Security's future and Medicare's true problems.

* Create bogus economic theories to give it all a scientific veneer.

* Move the debate so far right that the social contract that even the GOP supported for 50 years is "impractical."

* Create a "theology of compromise" that values consensus over results.

* Fund conservative think tanks to run talking points past focus groups and figure out ways to misuse economic data.

How have they been doing? Quite successfully so far.

Paul Ryan, the representative who came up with the House GOP budget that was passed with great fanfare, is a fan of author Ayn Rand. Jonathan Chait of Newsweek tells us a bit of what that means.

Karl Marx said that workers produce the wealth of a society and corporate owners are nothing more than parasites. I'm not a Marx or socialist scholar so I may not have that correct. Rand turns that upside down. The capitalists produce wealth and the workers are parasites.

One big thing to note. Marx created his philosophy based on evidence (even if just empirical) of the world around him. Rand wrote fiction, which doesn't need to have much basis in reality. Ryan is now basing real world policy on the fiction of Rand.

And that policy can be devastating. Ryan's plan does two things: hurt the poor and help the rich. As Ryan puts it he wants incentives for the poor to get off their lazy butts. Welfare reform (which put limits on handouts) was apparently not enough of an incentive. Time to take away food and health care too.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Center-right perspective when hungry for center-left solutions

Almost two weeks ago I lamented that there weren't any Democrats explaining what was in the federal budget and why it was important. Such a Dem was needed to counteract the GOP attempts to gut federal spending and all the help it provides for the middle class and the poor.

I'd love to say -- but know it isn't true -- that my plea inspired the prez. A few days later in his much discussed "Fiscal Policy" speech to the nation he said a great deal of what I was hoping a Dem would say. Alas, it is only now (more than a week later) that I have time to comment on it.

It took a bit of time to find the text of the speech on the White House website. I finally did and read through it. I thought he did a good job of explaining the situation to the common person in language they are likely to understand. He also upheld progressive ideals fairly well. However, the test will be whether he bargains it all away with an intransigent GOP or he can keep explaining his position to get the average American on his side, as he did during the campaign. His recent road trips suggest the latter, but at the moment he isn't across the table from Boehner (yes, I have reasons of being skeptical -- see my posts of last December).

One reaction I have to the speech is why didn't he start saying this last December, before he gave up a trillion dollar tax cut to the rich? Why hasn't he been saying something similar over the last two years? The GOP mantra of cutting taxes and cutting spending is not new -- they've been at it for 30 years now. Why hasn't any Dem been saying this loudly and repeatedly in the last 30 years? But I try not to dwell in the past.

However, I'm not the best one to review the speech.

William Galston, in an article at the Huffington Post, called it "forceful." He also provides a chart of six different budget proposals, one by the Fiscal Commission, the Bipartisan Policy Center, one apparently put out by Galston himself (though how it came to be are not explained), the House Republican Plan, the budget Obama released last February, and what can be inferred from this speech. I haven't waded through the chart.

Robert Borosage of Campaign for America's Future (a progressive group) rated the speech against a Citizen's Guide to the Budget Debate. This guide was posted the day before Obama's speech as a way of evaluating both Obama's remarks and the House GOP budget. Also appearing are budgets from the "Gang of Six" and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. A lot to wade through. The essential points of the guide:

* As Joseph Stiglitz said (and I quoted somewhere recently) "The best way to reduce the deficit is to put people to work."

* Tax them that's got it. As I've said before, we have enough money to do a lot in this country. It's in the pockets of the rich.

* Don't spare Defense.

* If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The big entitlement programs are targeted through a fake crisis.

* We don't have a broken Medicare and Medicaid system. We have a broken health care system. Fix what is actually broken.

* We have an infrastructure deficit, investment deficit, education deficit, research and development deficit, among others. We can't cut our way to prosperity. We must invest in our future.

So how did Obama's speech stack up against this guide?

* Obama started from the premise that any effort to boost jobs won't get through Congress. We need to lay out a plan to reduce the deficit now, but this is the wrong time to actually be making cuts.

* Obama did talk about raising taxes on the rich, but his spending cuts are bigger than the tax hikes.

* His proposed cuts in Defense don't go deep enough.

* Obama did a good job of protecting Social Security and saying discussions for long-term health should start now. Alas, the GOP is opposed to the best solution of raising (or eliminating) the cap on payroll taxes.

* Obama got health care right -- fix the whole system, not eliminate Medicare and Medicaid.

* He said the right things on investing in our future, but his cuts to the budget means the GOP has actually won this debate.

My summary: Obama has already conceded too many important points.

Borosage went into more detail in a posting the day after the speech. Obama stood firmly against the nastiness of the House GOP budget. However, he did so from a center-right perspective in a country hungry for center-left solutions. And that is before starting negotiations with the GOP. A few of Borosage's points:

* With this premature embrace of austerity and no effort to stimulate jobs, mass unemployment may become the new normal. Wages stagnate, the middle class will decline. Obama expressed sympathy but said budget deficits will cause "real damage to the economy." And 25 million un- and underemployed won't?

* Obama was too timid on several needed items, such as deeper cuts to defense, progressive tax reform, and a financial transaction tax to reduce financial speculation. As a result he will cut the domestic programs we need the most.

It is understandable that Obama started with a center-right perspective. The rich have mobilized big time to protect their privileges.

That leaves America's future in our hands.

The House Congressional Progressive Caucus has outlined a budget with these features.

* Raise taxes on the rich, including taxing capital gains as regular income.

* Maintain Medicare and allow it to bargain with drug companies for bulk rates.

* Spend $1.45 trillion on investments in our future.

* Raise the payroll tax to cover Social Security.

Result: a balanced budget by 2021 at about 22% of GDP, a much more realistic number than the 15% of the House GOP budget.

Sometime soon (hopefully) I'll look at articles and postings about the GOP budget.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The wedge is losing its edge

An intrepid reporter went to a Tea Party Tax Day event in New Hampshire and asked participants if gay marriage in that state has changed anything. Nope. What was heard was a lot of indifference to the issue.

Which got others thinking. There is lots of news about John Boehner hiring a legal firm to defend the Defense of Marriage Act as it goes through the courts, now that Obama and the DoJ won't. But in authorizing that contract (up to a half million), Boehner didn't ask the full house for a vote. That's because a bill to do that only got 93 sponsors. Which means 143 House GOP declined to sponsor it. It wasn't going to pass. So Boehner and the senior GOP in the House met with the senior Dems and authorized the expense on a party-line 3-2 vote.

What's going on? Essentially 143 GOP House members did not want to go on record as voting against gay marriage. The GOP has used gays and especially gay marriage as a rallying cry for a couple decades now. It is no longer working for them. So they are trying to quietly back away from the issue. Fortunately, the Dems are not letting them slink away from the issue without notice.

Religious viewpoint at the zoo

The children's book And Tango Makes Three about gay penguins is again at the top of the frequently challenged library books. It has been in the 1st or 2nd position for 5 years now. Here is a list of the top 10 books along with the reasons why they are challenged.

The reasons why the gay penguin book is challenged includes "Religious Viewpoint." A couple other books are also tagged with that reason. I haven't read the book, but can't imagine a story of Central Park Zoo penguins mention much, if any, religion. Does it mean it is targeted because anything gay is automatically a viewpoint against Fundie Christianity?

Barbara Jones, director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, put it this way, "While we firmly support the right of every reader to choose or reject a book for themselves or their families, those objecting to a particular book should not be given the power to restrict other readers’ right to access and read that book."

Blog shakedown

One of the gay news blogs I read daily is Pam's House Blend. As is done by many progressive blogs, Pam and the other major writers will quote a bit of a story published elsewhere, add a photo or two, provide a link to the original, and perhaps add some commentary. I do a bit of that myself, though I don't use many pictures and my readership is in the 10s while Pam's is somewhere north of 100,000. As far as gay blogs go, Pam is rather influential. But blogging, even with ads on the site, doesn't pay well. Pam and other contributors keep day jobs and must interrupt those jobs when covering an event or take part in a conference. Travel expenses are barely covered by ad revenue.

There is a conservative organization out there (which I'm reluctant to name to avoid popping up on their Google Alert) that targets progressive blogs and recently hit the Blend. They file a suit of copyright infringement, asking for a penalty greater than what most blogs can afford, but small enough it's too expensive to hire a lawyer to protest the suit. They don't warn the blog owners to stop infringing on copyrighted material, they go straight for the suit. In addition they ask the court, not just compensation for the infringement, but to seize the site's domain name. That makes the risk of a trial even higher. The real goal is, of course, to shut the blog down. It is essentially a shakedown.

If it went to trial, Pam might have won based a couple facts. First, she (and other contributors) stay within "fair use" of copyrighted material, meaning short quotes are permitted, reproductions of whole articles are not. Second, as is now being revealed, the leeches do not actually own the copyrighted material they mention in their suit. That means they are not the ones being harmed and thus have no legal standing to bring the suit. More info here.

Pam is quite annoyed that both previously targeted blogs and mainstream medial has been mighty quiet on this extortion. Perhaps that is beginning to change.

The usefulness of a dead law

I gave my last lecture of the semester today (a review session). Next is writing the final exams and administering them next week. I'm way behind on interesting ideas and articles to share with you. We'll see how far I get before visiting family for the weekend.

Back in 2003 anti-sodomy laws were repealed by the Supremes in the Lawrence v. Texas case. However, there are still 14 states (here's a map) that have the law still on the books (one of them is Michigan), though on 4 of those states the law only applies to gays. Montana is the most recent state where an attempt to repeal fizzled, which was just a couple months ago.

So why is the law still there if it can't be enforced? The GOP in these states wants gays to make sure that gays know their place and in Texas, in particular, there is a lot of noise about disregarding the ruling. Put another way, GOP legislators in these states know reelection is more likely if they keep a law that can't be enforced.

There's another reason for keeping the law, one I've heard is practiced in Michigan (alas, no link). With the law on the books, cops can arrest gays for violating it. The lawyers say that law can't be enforced and the gays are released. So what's the problem? Being arrested and kept in not-very-friendly police custody can by itself by traumatic. The police (and their political backers) like having that threat over gays.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Extortions willingly accepted

A quote for today:

A shrewd victor will, if possible, always present his demands to the vanquished in installments. And then, with a nation that has lost its character-and this is the case of every one which voluntarily submits-he can be sure that it will not regard one more of these individual oppressions as an adequate reason for taking up arms again. 'The more extortions are willingly accepted in this way, the more unjustified it strikes people finally to take up the defensive against a new, apparently isolated, though constantly recurring, oppression, especially when, all in all, so much more and greater misfortune has already been borne in patient silence.

It seems to me, and I hope to you, an accurate description of what the GOP has been doing for the last 10 years (if not the last 30).

So who wrote that little piece of the GOP playbook?

Adolph Hitler. Mein Kampf, and if I read the link correctly, volume 2 chapter 15.

No, I'm not about to link directly to something named hitler-dot-org, but the site I'm linking to has no such qualms. And sorry to run into the rule that the first one to mention Hitler loses the debate.

I got this from a blog written by NTodd, who also quotes Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman. By giving into the GOP on a few small items that make life for the poor and middle class a little worse the Dems signaled they will allow more. By allowing the GOP to dictate the District of Columbia can't use its own voter approved taxes to fund abortions (a last minute concession by the prez.) the Dems signaled more giveaways on abortion rights are possible (and thus likely). The Dems compounded the problem by then celebrating their submissiveness as "historic." That was not something to celebrate.

Richard (RJ) Eskow wrote in the Huffington Post about why the Tea Party, a minority, keeps winning. They are certainly much more effective than any group on the left. Eskow lists these reasons:

* Money. The Tea Party is well funded by the Koch brothers and the new law that allows corporations unlimited campaign spending. This won't change without campaign finance reform.

* Obama misrepresented himself on the campaign trail or reversed himself once elected (examples listed in the article). This is actually a small reason why the Tea Party comes out on top.

* The media shies away from issues labeled "progressive" (such as reducing poverty) even though they are very popular. Again, this isn't a top reason.

* There is a big difference between supporting the Democratic Party and supporting every last candidate that runs as a Democrat. Progressives seem satisfied with the "D" after the name, no matter how conservative they person actually is. The Tea Party has shown that policy positions matter to them, even if the person is an otherwise good Republican. Challenging incumbents helps the Democratic Party to clarify its brand. So, will someone be challenging Obama?

* Dems are too concerned about "what's politically possible." Yet, when true progressive ideas get past Dem gatekeepers and into open debate they draw a few GOP lawmakers. In the same way Dems cheer over little crumbs (even before the vote is taken) rather than insisting on the whole thing. And those who insist on the whole thing are accused of undermining the prez.

* We keep waiting for a charismatic leader like JFK or RFK. We thought Obama would be that person. But such a leader doesn't exist and the Tea Party proves one isn't necessary.

* The GOP offers a vision. It's not a good one, but it's more than the Dems offer (well, until Obama's speech yesterday -- I'll comment more once I've found a transcript). Eskow offers this vision: Bump up the payroll tax cap (which goes to Social Security). Add a financial transactions tax. Increase the income tax on the rich. Increase the capital gains tax. Increase Social Security benefits (by 15%!). Stimulate the economy by a half trillion every year until unemployment is down to 4%. Provide "Medicare for all." So what if we don't get it all the first time. It should be what we strive for.

Only a spectator to the process

My state senator, Glen Anderson, hosted a town hall meeting this evening to discuss the budget proposed by GOP governor Rick Snyder. He had a few of his House and Senate colleagues from nearby plus officials from area school districts. The primary speaker was Ellen Jeffries, director of the Senate Fiscal Agency, the non-partisan group that oversees the budget process (such as telling the budget committees, "According to projected revenue and the current laws, this is how much money you have to work with for next year's budget.").

I won't bore you with the details and the 20 charts she included in the handout. Here are the parts I found relevant. For the Fiscal year 2011-2012…

Eliminate the Michigan Business Tax removes $1,420 million from the budget. Everyone hates the MBT, so I'm not sorry to see it go. However…

New flat rate corporate income tax raises only 460 million. Yup, that's a difference of a billion dollars.

How is that difference made up? Michigan budgets are required to be balanced.

Personal income tax increases by $665 million.

School Aid Fund (separate revenue stream) shifted to include community colleges and state universities (so the general fund doesn't have to): $896 million. And that is after chopping 15% from universities.

The two add up to more than $1 billion because of various other adjustments.

The decrease in business tax and increase in personal tax is even bigger in FY 2012-2013.

Yes, the transfer of tax burden from corporations to individuals is huge.

Will allowing corporations to keep more money result in more corporations coming to Michigan or in more corporate hiring in Michigan? No.

Companies choose where to locate based on many factors. Tax environment is only one of them. Another big one is the health of the education system and we're doing our darnedest to gut that.

One of the other speakers was Sen. Phil Cavanaugh, who is the top ranking Dem on the Revenue Committee (the one that works out who gets taxed by how much). He asked several business leaders about the corporate tax cut. They all said it would be a bonus to them and would have no effect on whether they hire more people.

Sen. Anderson is the top ranking Dem on the Budget Committee. Since the committee (and the senate) has a GOP majority he isn’t much more than a spectator to what the committee does.

The rest of the meeting was to hear from the various school board representatives talk about how the K-12 cuts would affect them. I heard the guy from the Wayne-Westland School District (which isn't mine) get started and figured the rest would be about the same. So I didn't stay. The core of his message was, "We simply cannot cut that deep."

Snyder wants all school employees to pay 20% of their medical insurance. These cuts would require them to pay 50% and also put 40 students in each class.

Snyder has said he wants districts to implement efficiencies without spelling out what he means (combine districts?) or giving districts time to determine or implement the changes.

My area is mostly Democratic so the opening speechifying (thankfully short) about how each elected official thinks the gov's budget is wrong got loud applause. There was only a little bit of recognition that, alas, their disapproval won't have much effect in the final outcome. Tell my Rep. and Senator how displeased I am with the gov's budget? They were in the room telling me they agree. That leaves the governor himself.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

If you would just explain a few things

Rep. Paul Ryan, GOP from Wisconsin, has proposed a federal budget for 2012. His targets are Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. Eric Cantor, a head GOP honcho in the House, put it this way, "We’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be." And who is "we" in that sentence?

Essayist Terrence Heath uses the welfare reform battle of the mid 1990s to decode what Ryan, Cantor, and the GOP mean. The goal then (and now) was not to put programs into place so that fewer poor needed help because they were able to raise their economic standing. The goal was to simply stop people from getting help. Still didn't have a job after welfare ran out? Too bad. Welfare reform was a catastrophic success. It did exactly what the GOP wanted to be done, therefore it was a success. It was catastrophic to those affected. I'll let you read Heath's essay for the details and how it all applies to Medicare. I want to comment in a slightly different direction.

Heath notes that Medicaid covers elderly, disabled, poor adults, and poor children. It is only these last two categories that can be seen as "welfare." While poor children make up 49% of the enrollees, they make up only 20% of the costs. The biggest expenses are for elderly and disabled, many who are (or had been until they got sick) middle class. Yet, it is the "welfare queen" aspect that the GOP is pushing, saying essentially these people don't deserve to be cared for. The GOP is complaining about the poor to kill a program that mostly benefits the middle class. Again.

As the gay community has faced one ballot defeat after another our political leaders have learned there isn't enough time between when an issue is placed on the ballot and the vote to make our case. Leaders have started to organize and present our issues between proposals. Then we have time to show others who is affected and how.

The GOP is very good at this tactic, especially in the area of taxes and spending. They have been loud and consistent for a long time about how taxes and government spending are a bad thing (though they got rather quiet about the spending part while Bush II was in office). They have been so successful at it that even Democrats have now essentially conceded the basic point of both issues.

I'll put it another way. Very few Democrats, including the prez. (the only one that comes to mind is Bernie Sanders of Vermont who gave that day long filibuster last December in attempt to stop extending the Bush tax cuts), have said anything in support of their spending priorities. No one is saying, "This is where your tax dollars go. This is why we need these programs. This is what happens when those programs disappear. These programs, of course, cost money. You, as a citizen (and including corporations), benefit from these programs these ways. Even if the benefit doesn't go into your pocket, the society as a whole benefits in these ways. We believe in fiscal responsibility and will tax accordingly. Taxes have to come from the rich and here is why. Let's at least have a debate about these programs rather than the simplistic Taxes are bad. Spending is bad." Such discussions with citizens must be ongoing, even part of the election campaign, and as relentless as the GOP chant.

Is any Democrat actually doing that? The silence is deafening.

Which is why independent and even Democratic voters look at the current government and say, "The GOP represents the rich. But the Democrats don't represent the poor, working class, and middle class. Therefore neither party represents me. Why vote?"

Jill at the blog Brilliant at Breakfast (from an Oscar Wilde quote) asks the question, How much do the rich have to accumulate before they have enough? A related question, from Nicole Sandler, is "What does this country look like when they get everything they want?" We've seen glimpses, but really don't want to contemplate it. No answer to those questions is available.

I mention these questions because the blog entry included The Economic Policy Institute's chart of wealth distribution (as of 2009).

My pie chart skills aren't as good, but here is one showing the relative population sizes mentioned in that first chart. The darker blue is 80%, maroon is 15%, yellow is 4% and aqua is 1%. Compare to the previous chart.

Economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz lists some common sense ways to reduce our federal debt.

1. "The best way to reduce the deficit is to put America back to work."

2. This is the best time to improve America's infrastructure. We can put people to work and finance projects for remarkably low costs and boost the economy.

3. One percent of the population captures 25% of income, so tax the top.

4. Fixing the health care system will solve a lot of our monetary problems. Capping Medicare and Medicaid does not "fix" them.

5. Look for waste in the Pentagon budget (where items are in the budget based on what district builds the item), subsidies to drug companies, and other corporate welfare.

Of course, none of these ideas are discussed in today's Washington.

A bit of good news from another essay Terrence Heath reports that the louder the Tea Party gets the lower their overall approval rating. Heath shared this sign.

My rights are not up for a vote

Equality California is asking its supporters and querying a whole host of others about whether to push to put the gay marriage question on the ballot in 2012. The current constitution amendment was overturned by a district court and is now before the 9th Circuit. They recently decided the stay of the lower court decision must be maintained. It may be the end of this year before the 9th Circuit decides, then it will surely go on to the Supremes. All that means we might not get a decision before the 2012 election. So, should EQCA try for the ballot box as the fastest way to restore marriage? Ari Ezra Waldman and his readers explore the issue.

* Putting a repeal on the ballot might indeed be the fastest way to get gay marriage restored to Calif.

* Going for a vote in 2012 means our rights will be a ping pong ball between opposing groups. Many responders were quite insistent that our rights should not be up for a vote.

* Putting the issue before the voters again (and again, as long as it takes) shows our opponents how serious we are. It keeps us and the issue visible.

* But relying solely on the judicial solution is also risky. Courts may rule against us or may not want to rule for us until several other states have passed marriage equality. Our chances before the current Supremes are iffy.

* Political and judicial efforts support each other. Courts can pressure politicians (or at least provide them cover) and several political victories can pressure courts.

* A ballot victory means the legal case dies. A favorable ruling by the 9th Circuit can affect all states in the circuit. A favorable ruling by the Supremes can affect the whole country. The ballot victory affects only Calif.

* Putting the issue on the ballot might draw out more Fundie voters and affect Obama's reelection. Or it might draw out more of our allies and help Obama's reelection. Or Obama's reelection might help the marriage equality vote.

* All this is over the word "marriage" -- Calif. law already gives gays the equivalent (though separate is never equal) so is the word worth $80 million?

Stand up for your friends

The group Belong To: Ireland's National Service for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Young People has created a video for teens that says, "Don't stand for homophobic bullying. Stand up for your lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender friends." It seems a bit padded (even at just 4.5 minutes) but shows a very nice solution. This is a community acting like one.

We don't care until we know how many

A new study about an estimate of the number of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBT) has been released by The Williams Institute and researcher Dr. Gary Gates. It is, of course, getting lots of notice on gay blogs. One reason for doing it is that in American political system we don't seem to care much for a minority group until we know how many there are.

So, enough of the suspense. The study came up with 9 million, or about 3.5% of the population. That's way under what the Kinsey institute estimated several decades ago (10%) and a bit under other estimates (5%). The number is probably low because many sexual minorities are not out to a person with a clipboard.

Our advocates and opponents are already spinning the numbers. However, Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin looked under the hood and is skeptical of the methodology.

Friday, April 8, 2011

But it should have been obvious

I know the story I'm about to tell would not have happened if I had a cell phone, even one I only use for traveling. But I don't. Yet.

When I came back from Texas about a month ago I called my friend to say the flight arrived. Alas, it took 3 calls and I only had quarters for two. I checked over the instructions posted on the phone, then used my credit card. Instead of $.50, the entry on the statement was $7.19! That entry gave a phone number, which I checked online before calling. I didn't get a corporate website from Google, but lots of complaints about high charges using pay phones.

So I called. First, the background noise at the other end was so bad I had a hard time hearing the customer rep and had to talk loudly so he could hear me. That and knowing their practices were shady had me on edge from the start of the call. He told me the prices on the phone didn't apply to credit cards and I should have called an operator for charges if I wanted to know ahead of time. But the sign on the phone gave no indication the charge would not be $.50. I demanded to speak to the supervisor. She said that since the placard on the phone did not say the fees were the same I should have assumed they were different. I didn't buy that line either. She offered a refund of $2.40. I took it. Moral: Pay phones and credit cards don't play well together.

A gay old time

Has same-sex attraction been recognized for a long time? Bones from about 2500 BC found in a site near Prague suggest that might be true. The society at the time buried males one way and females another (see the article for details). But what about the male that was buried with some features of the male tradition and some of the female?

The real gay agenda

Louis Marinelli has said some nasty stuff about gays, worked hard against our rights, and even developed and drove the bus for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) bus tour last summer that got abysmal attendance.

But -- thankfully -- Marinelli's story doesn't end there. Jeremy Hooper of Good As You documents Marinelli's original nasty words then includes an email interview. By the end of that tour Marinelli began to see the tour's protesters (who outnumbered the people he was trying to attract) as real people wanting to fit into the American Dream, not destroy it. He wrestled with the issue over the next several months. He now repudiates many things he has said and now supports civil gay marriage. Yay! Along the way he says churches are free to follow their doctrine about who can receive official blessings. He's not yet convinced homosexuality is not a health threat nor a mental disease (nor moral) but says these should not impede gay rights. He also understands why so many people call NOM a hate group.

Next is the hard part of atoning for his sins. At least he recognizes that.

During Marinelli's months of wrestling a writer named RJ who writes the blog Fighting for Cake responded to one of Marinelli's tirades against gays. Marinelli credits the response for being a major point in his change of thinking. RJ replied to several of Marinelli's points, then offered his personal 10-point gay agenda. I summarize:

1. Repeal of the military ban.

2. A world in which gay youth are not harassed and assaulted (the word "bully" is way too polite).

3. A world in which he is not assaulted for public displays of affection with his boyfriend, which has happened.

4. Gays are not fired from jobs for being gay.

5. Gays are permitted to donate blood (his own mother would benefit).

6. Routine HIV testing for everyone, not just gays, and other efforts to eliminate the disease.

7. A government that treats him and his boyfriend as more than glorified roommates.

8. A society free from religious persecution.

9. A society free of unnecessary social conflict such as the current debate over marriage equality.

10. A society and government that takes equal protection seriously.

Speaking of NOM…
Marriage equality has been delayed in Maryland in part because NOM promised serious money for any legislator who opposed gay marriage and for the opponent of one who voted for equality. Yes, that sounds like a bribe.

The effort also fell short in Colorado. Tim Gill has said he will give serious money to pro-equality candidates in the 2012 election cycle.

NOM is not pleased that someone is using their tactics against them.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Turning liberation into a career path

Sadie Ryaane Vashti has been working in various non-profit organizations that lobby for gay and transgender issues. Even so, she offers a critical look of the Non Profit Industrial Complex (surely the name chosen to echo Eisenhower's rebuke of the Military Industrial Complex).

Vashti spent much of her youth as an anarchist, one who protested just about everything in hopes that her actions and those of her peers would inspire the oppressed to rise up and build a more egalitarian world. It didn't happen. After being disillusioned and tired of being homeless, she got a job with a nonprofit organization. She hoped she could help as many people as possible.

She borrows a definition from INCITE:

The non-profit industrial complex (or the NPIC) is a system of relationships between the State (or local and federal governments), the owning classes, foundations, and non-profit/NGO social service & social justice organizations that results in the surveillance, control, derailment, and everyday management of political movements.

Organizations dedicated to social justice have, of course, been around for a very long time. But during the 1980s there was a shift from economic justice for all (engaged in class struggles) to "multicultural capitalism" in which cultural equality was the goal. This gave way to identity politics. The underground movements reached for government funding. Which meant the real power behind the government would share only so much power.

Nonprofits were defanged in several different ways.

* To receive funding organizations had to adopt a corporate structure. They were no longer grass-roots organizations able to create real change. Asking for and receiving money compromises power.

* These organizations became career paths for the educated activist instead of agents of change by the oppressed for the oppressed.

* Corporations and other donors, in donating to non profits, are able to say, "We care about …" This gave them cover to maintaining the oppression that is so profitable.

* Organizations are accountable to funders, not the oppressed they are to liberate.

* Organization leaders, to get funding, must write reports about the "realistically achievable" goals. They stop dreaming of grand goals to transform society and instead limit themselves to pleasing board members.

* Thus funders are able to manage and control dissent to make sure the world is safe for capitalism.

* Each organization is isolated into its single issue and can't easily band together with others for broader change.

Commenter Azerica added a couple more ways nonprofits are defanged.

* Taking on this corporate structure is considered the standard of legitimacy, even though it takes the focus of a grass-roots organization away from the people it is to serve.

* The organization shifts from service to self-preservation.

For example, Gay Liberation used to be run by gender non-conformists of all varieties who wanted to remake society over the issues of family, sexism, religion, normative masculine/feminine, and do so with allies of other librations struggles. Now the NPIC is run by wealthy, white, straight-acting men who have the goal of gays fitting into the existing capitalist, patriarchal power structure and assimilating into straight culture. They try to distance themselves from transgenders, gays of color, and those who refuse to fit into gender norms. We get "gay-friendly shopping" instead of liberation.

Will this system improve the lives of gays and transgender people dealing with current conditions? Yes. Will it bring about a radically different society in which all people treat each other with love and respect? No.

So reform within the system, rather than a revolution to replace the system, isn't all bad, as some revolutionaries would like to claim. We need both reform and revolution.

Vashti wrote:

Lobbying to change laws is useful and important. But the really revolutionary act is bringing together a group of people who have been historically silenced, institutionally discriminated against, and culturally marginalized to speak out and demand to be heard. So many of us have internalized messages of our own weakness and irrelevance that it truly is powerful to demand any change -- even a small legislative reform.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Believing in God's punishment

The AIDS crisis began with the disease spreading through the gay community. It didn't take Fundies long to proclaim that the disease and high death rate was God's way of punishing gays. That horrible message has now stuck around for 25 years. And recent research has found it can work as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Researchers at the University of Miami found that if the patient, the one with AIDS, believes that God is punishing him, then the disease progresses much more quickly than in a person who has a positive view of God. The story has all the medical and statistical details.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been telling his GOP colleagues who control the legislature to leave social issues alone -- at least until the budget is settled, which is targeted for the end of May. The way the budget will savage the poor and middle class while benefiting the rich is enough of a political headache for now, even for the GOP. But social conservative legislators are forging ahead anyway, wanting to take maximum advantage of their lock on the legislature and governor's signature.

Donald Verrilli, Obama's nominee for Solicitor General (the person who argues government cases before the Supremes), had problems during his senate confirmation hearings. The problem is that Obama won't defend DOMA in the courts anymore. GOP senators want someone with enough spine to defy his bosses (the prez. and Attorney General) and defend duly enacted laws, no matter how much they disagree with said laws or at least resign in protest.

Three years ago, Crystal Dixon was working in Human Resources at the University of Toledo. An editorial appeared lamenting the Medical University of Ohio, newly acquired by UT, didn't offer domestic partner benefits while UT itself did. Dixon took offense, not at the discrepancy, but that the editorial dared to suggest the gay struggle for rights was anything like her struggle, as a black woman, for rights. The letter was sufficiently nasty that within a month she was fired from UT. Of course, she became the darling of the Fundies -- Fired for being a Christian!

Alas, Dixon is in the news again. She has been hired as the Human Relations Department for the City and County of Jackson, Michigan. Since Michigan's civil rights act doesn't yet include sexual orientation or gender expression she is free to fire any gay who happens to stick their nose out of their hole.

The consequences of a boring history class

Newsweek gave the citizenship test to 1000 people. This is the test foreigners must take to become citizens. It isn't require of us who were born here. The result of Newsweek's exploration: 38% failed -- they got less than 60%. Newsweek put 25 questions in the magazine (takers are only required to answer 10 questions randomly chosen from 100). I missed one (Name a writer of the Federalist Papers.) and happened to glance at the answer of one more before fully figuring it out (Who was president during World War I?).

As Andrew Romano explains, Newsweek did this for a reason. Our incuriosity is not new, other countries have outscored us on similar kinds of tests for quite a while. But it is having stronger consequences.

We got into this mess for a couple reasons. One is the complexity of our method of government. Another is the decentralization of our education system. And the third is the high income inequality with insufficient resources devoted to poor areas (something I see in my teaching).

And to the consequences.

We're in a much more connected world. What happens in China (or a Japanese nuclear plant) affects us. What happens in our government affects them. If we are ignorant, we will respond inappropriately. This didn't happen as much when the poor had institutions (such as unions) to look out for them.

Those who are ignorant are easily swayed by activists on either end of the political spectrum. For example, many are worked into a tizzy over aspects of the federal budget that simply aren't true. Cut foreign aid! It is already less than 1% of the budget. Smaller government! But don't touch my Medicare! We're arguing over short-term spending that would make the recovery take longer, if enacted.

What to do? James Fishkin of Stanford has been experimenting with deliberative democracy. Once someone explains the ins-and-outs of a situation, such as the budget (and does so with facts, not party talking points), citizens tend to agree on rational policy. We're ignorant, not stupid.

Niall Ferguson looks at one reason why Americans know so little about our government. History class is boring. It is usually presented as a succession of dry facts with a sense that the way it happened was the only way it could happen. We know that current events have a wide range of possible outcomes -- the terror of the unforeseen -- while we're living in the middle of them.

So how do we liven up history? First, replace phone-book size history books with interactive web content. Second, explore the interesting questions. Why did the American Revolution happen with a lower death toll and prove more enduring than the French Revolution? Why is George Washington's legacy better than Simon Bolivar's? What if the British had supported the Confederacy? What if FDR hadn't been president during WWII? Ah. That could get interesting.