Monday, April 30, 2012

Arriving at General Conference

I'm now at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Committee work was done last week to work through 1200 petitions for changes to the Book of Discipline. This week is the plenary sessions when the entire 988 delegates consider all those petitions.

To get an early flight from Detroit I set my alarm for 4:30. Alas, I woke up at 3:00 and couldn't go back to sleep. Checkin at the airport wasn't much of a problem at such an early hour. The flight, alas, was turbulent.

Once to the hotel I met my roommate and the communications team. I asked about writing about the results of last week's committee work. They said finding out would take a great deal of research, given the conference petition tracking system. That's why they haven't done it. They welcome original content for the blog, but didn't want anything negative at the moment to avoid it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can understand that. I quickly figured out I don't need to cover official coalition events because those will be covered in the newspaper. Besides, they have video cameras and I don't. So, stories that don't make it into the official blogs will end up here. It also might mean I'm here simply because I want to be a part of a historical moment.

I ad lunch at the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle, the tent set up across from the Convention Center. They have a series of lunchh time speakers. I wasn't able to take complete notes because my netbook computer decided to have trouble booting. I pulled the battery and tried again. A Palestinian pastor spoke in favor of divestment from three companies seen as supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. He said he sees the horrors of the occupation every day. He said people ask him why not speak in the positive? Why not ask for investment in Palestine? Countries invested in a port in Gaza. Israelis blockaded it. Countries invested in an airport. The Israelis bombed it. What he is asking for is disinvestment.

The next speakers detailed the reasons why we have been asking for disinvestment. Caterpillar sells a bulldozer that is armored and can be remote controlled. The bulldozer is used to raze Palestinian villages to make room for Israeli settlements.

One division of Motorola creates the scanners that are used at Israeli checkpoints. Hewlett Packard is the third company. I don't remember why. I'll have to look in tomorrow's newspaper.

The speaker announced that the Quakers have divested in Caterpillar! They refuse to invest in weapons.

In committee the petition to divest was watered down to remove all mention of action, all mention of individual companies, of all mention of timeline. That made it meaningless. MFSA requests voting to approve the minority report. This isn't an economic action. This is a moral action.

The lunch menu was beans, rice, and pulled pork. The delegates recessed at 12:45 and many came over for lunch. There were many African and Filipino delegates present. I wonder if these were leaning towards this kind of message when they walked into the tent.

George Jonte, a legislative observer, whom I know from Detroit, says the removal of the incompatibility clause (the big reason why I'm here) was defeated in committee. They have asked a “big name” pastor to introduce the minority report in plenary. George hadn't seen the African delegates so vociferous in their opposition. He says he heard a rumor that many African delegates were threatened – if the incompatibility clause is removed, when you return to Africa you will be killed. This is only a rumor. There is no way to tell how a particular delegate voted when voting machine used, which is why the threat is based on passage and not on individual votes.

I talked to volunteers in the tabernacle to get the coalition schedule. That looks like a good place to start each day.

I sat in on the plenary session. Apparently one needs a code book to know what is going on. All petitions are referred by number and page in the delegate book. Very formal, very dry most of the time.

During a break the youth of the coalition performed a flash mob, a song and dance. For those born in the last century, a flash mob is a public performance that seems to spontaneously arise from people in the crowd. The only words that stick in my mind are “You can't stop the ocean.” The enthusiasm contrasted sharply with the stodginess of the proceedings in the hall.

At the end of the afternoon plenary session we staged a “die-in” – some participants lay on the floor as we stood over them. This was at the exit of the conference hall, so the delegates had to pass us. I was surprised how moving it was. I took a couple pictures, then joined the protest, standing silently. I had on my colorful “gay” stole. The session just ending was by the commission on higher education to be followed by receptions by various Methodist colleges. An African choir sang delegates out of the room, a big contrast to the die-in.

I had supper with the executive director of MFSA, a woman I know from Detroit. During the course of the conversation she said MFSA is spending $60,000 for the tent, the communication team, legislative observers, food, etc. The money spent by other coalition partners is much higher. General Conference costs about $6 million for the denomination to put on and the head of MFSA says the system is about as dumb as we could get. Bring in a thousand delegates from around the world and do it only once every four years and expect them in two weeks to make reasonable legislative decisions on 1200 petitions. That amount of work in that short a time does not allow for the kinds of conversations that need to happen to resolve things properly.

The first part of the evening was for Holy Conversations by Continental Gathering. I sat in on an introduction by the Coalition group on cross cultural exchange. Several of us attended the Africa session as an observer or a “listener.”

The topic of discussion was about what it means to be a worldwide church. The leader was part of the Worldwide Nature Study Committee. He went to several countries in Africa, and Philippines. There is a strong desire to remain in connection and lots of common ground. But also serious issues. Many are looking for some change in the structure of the church, yet remain in connection.

There were four questions for small group discussion (which was done in native languages).

What are the advantages of being a worldwide church?

What needs to be strengthened to maximize our fruitfulness and faithfulness?

How can we honor each other's differences while strengthening our unity?

How can we move toward more equitable sharing of power and representation around the world?

These discussions were done in small groups around tables and took more than a half hour. But the answers were not shared to the group as a whole. There went my coalition blog post.

The evening worship service featured an African choir singing in English, an American choir singing in an African dialect, and the scripture read in German.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Harm was done

I've head that several of the United Methodist Annual (regional) Conferences are trying what is called Holy Conferencing. It is a time for delegates to discuss a hot issue in a respectful and calm manner. I haven't experienced it myself and neither has my father, who has attended many Annual Conference sessions.

A Holy Conferencing session was included in the General Conference to discuss issues of human sexuality (though the only big issue in that vast topic is what to do with gay people). Due to other Conference business the Holy Conferencing session started late so there wasn't enough time for (apparently) sufficient instruction to the participants nor enough time for everyone to be heard.

So some delegates took that time to dump all over gay people, saying the usual vile things -- we are prostitutes, alcoholics, drug addicts and dealers, we practice of bestiality, etc. They didn't conceive of the possibility that the delegate sitting across from them might be gay. Or if they did, intentionally turned their back or "unintentionally" kept hitting the gay person. Those gay delegates felt bullied.

During the next plenary session Mark Miller, a gay delegate from New Jersey asked for a moment to speak. He told the whole Conference about the harm he and fellow gay delegates felt. Many of them stood with him. The presiding bishop didn't let Miller finish, but at Miller's request did pray for the situation. The bishop also acknowledged that things had gone wrong at the Holy Conferencing sessions and apologized. Miller and other gay delegates also met with several church officials.

Even so, perhaps 300 members of the Common Witness Coalition stood in silent protest as delegates left the Convention Center that evening.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hardworking, uncomplaining, and non-mooching

Quite a while ago my father gave me the March/April issue of Washington Monthly. I've been reading it when my computer gets bogged down. That means I've read a lot of it (though I'm not done yet) but mostly only a couple paragraphs at a time. There are a couple articles to bring to your attention.

Steven Teles reviews the book The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism by Skocpol and Williamson. My comments are based on the review, not on the book. Teles (as well as the authors) think we should accurately understand the Tea Party because they are creating structures so that they will stick around for a while. The authors spent time visiting Tea Party meetings to get the unfiltered story of what the members really want.

Though the Koch brother have dumped a lot of money into the national Tea Party, the local chapters don't see that money and aren't beholden to Koch influence. They should be able to stick around when the Koch money disappears.

Most Tea Party members are white, older, and middle class. A basic principle in their politics is government is great when it helps people like them -- hard working, uncomplaining, non-mooching, patriotic and such -- with programs such as Social Security and Medicare that are "earned" through paying taxes. But government is a threat when it helps people who have not worked and thus don't taxpayer support.

That may not be racist (and the members say they aren't) but it can easily come across that way -- government benefits are for us (white, middle class) and not for you (black, poor). This sounds a lot like conservative principles that Terrence Heath talks about in which your moral worth depends on your wealth and government services are only for the morally worthy.

Many Tea Party members treat the Constitution the same way they treat the Bible. The text is inerrant and any person should be able to read it and understand the literal meaning.

Back in the Bush II years the GOP talked about limited government, then betrayed those principles with continued pork-barrel spending, expansion of Medicare through Part D, massive regulatory programs, and "compassionate conservatism" outreach to minorities and immigrants. Add to that the economic collapse as Bush was leaving office left Tea Party members with no trust in the GOP leadership. That led to their demands that those they elect to Congress shall not compromise. Alas, they don't understand how government works, even just the dry mechanics of getting a bill passed -- or truly understanding what is in most bills.

Teles suggests the local Tea Party chapters would have greatest effect by turning a watchful gaze on local government to examine where the mayor and council throw needless regulations in the way of business and violate personal liberty and property. They might get liberals to help.

The Washington Monthly cover article discusses what Obama has accomplished in three years and why Obama isn't getting the credit. The article was written by Paul Glastris. There is also a list of Obama's top 50 accomplishments (though I don't see a link).

Some of Obama's accomplishments will only be appreciated many years from now. Part of it is because what Obama did is only a kernel of something that will grow into great benefit. An example is the Affordable Care Act. Many provisions don't kick in for another couple years. And the Act is only the first step in a big change in how we do health care. Obama is derided for not being able to make it all happen at once. Another example is the American Recovery Act, better known as the stimulus. Yeah, the amount of money was too small, but other provisions -- such as the way money was rewarded -- will have long lasting effects.

Another reason why Obama doesn't get the credit is he didn't implement solutions the way his base wanted him to. Obama's bank rescue didn't include prosecution of Wall Street tycoons, but did get the banking industry working again and put regulations in place to lessen the chance of it happening again (though I wonder if the recently signed JOBS act undid some of that work). Another example is the auto bailouts. Those came with lots of restrictions, such as improved gas mileage goals, which mean car companies might actually make small cars at a profit. The article gives several more examples.

A third reason why Obama doesn't get much credit is because he is very reluctant (or perhaps not very good at) tooting his own horn. He could very easily do that by putting his accomplishments in context with his long-term vision.

Has Obama made mistakes? There have been no scandals (until recently with the Secret Service and that is minor). His policies have had no horrible unintended consequences (even saintly Washington had the Whiskey Rebellion). He has taken huge risks when warranted, such as the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. But Obama has let the GOP roll over him too many times and has neither mastered the political games of Washington or been able to change them.

Obama's place in history? Looks pretty good. Maybe within the top ten presidents. But his legacy is very much dependent on being reelected. If he fails at that the GOP will expend a great deal of effort undoing what he has done and there will be no long-term benefits.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Forgiveness for the pain

To coincide with General Conference, now in session in Tampa, Ambrosia Neldon wrote an article that appeared in the Kalamazoo section of MLive online newspaper. The article is about John Fisher, who is pastor of First United Methodist Church of South Haven.

Fisher says the denomination's stand on homosexuality is "outdated." He proposed changing the key phrase, "the United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." He wants it to read:
The United Methodist Church now recognizes that the historical Christian teaching that condemned the practice of homosexuality, is flawed, and we repent of such teachings and ask for forgiveness for the pain and suffering such teachings have caused and are causing."
I like his thinking. That's what I'm going to Tampa to promote.

I see the Love Your Neighbor blog is in full swing now. This is probably what I'll be writing for next week. It looks to be general news articles at this point. Alas, all the entries are posted by "admin" so you will have to open them to tell which postings are mine.

Some of the things from the blog:
* The Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle, a huge tent outside the convention center, is in full swing. It is proving to be the place to be, especially since food is served (to 400 people when they expected to serve 300). Hundreds of prayer ribbons (one of them mine) were tied to the fence surrounding the Tabernacle.

* The blog linked to an article in the Religious News Service that explains the debate. It includes why each side claims momentum is on their side. The pro-gay side cites Amy DeLong, who wasn't punished very much for performing a gay commitment ceremony and the 1200 current and retired pastors who have pledged to defy church law and marry gay couples anyway.

The anti-gay side says church membership has declined in the US and risen in conservative Africa. Because of that there are 100 fewer US delegates this year and 100 more African delegates. In addition, the balance in the US has shifted from the liberal north and west to the conservative southeast.

If you are really interested in following General Conference, today's Coalition News has an 8 page section listing all of the petitions the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) has an interest in. Some are tagged as one to be supported, others to be opposed. The broad categories are church restructuring, equitable worldwide connection, clergy effectiveness, death penalty, peace in Palestine/Israel, economic justice, making peace, full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, beginning and end of life health care. Background information on each category is included. This publication has a very important purpose -- have something concrete delegates can take to their legislative committees this week.

I can see I could become overwhelmed with reading.

Oh, the contradictions!

Rob Tisinai has noticed that the anti-gay crowd throws ideas into the public arena, hoping something -- anything -- sticks and grows. It is like seeding a lawn (his image) or simply casting seed. However, that means some of the ideas contradict some of the other ideas they toss about. There are enough contradictions that Tisinai has started a series to highlight these contradictions.

1. (A) We can't let gays get married because that dampens the marriage culture and straight couples are more likely to separate. (B) Gay couples are too unstable to deserve marriage. But wait! Allowing gays to marry would stabilize their relationships and stabilize marriage in general.

2. (A) Science proves that straight couples are the best parents. (B) There are no scientific studies to show whether gay couples are good parents. Science is terrible and proves us right. Actually, the first is unproven and the second has been disproven my many studies.

3. (A) We must pass laws to prevent homosexuals to do (fill in the blank). (B) Homosexuals don't exist. The second idea is trotted out when gays ask for protections.

4. We must destroy liberty to save it.

There are two parts to this contradiction. Part 1:

(A) Allow gays to serve in the military is a threat to the religious freedom of military chaplains. (B) We must prevent military chaplains from performing same-sex weddings. Even those who claim religious freedom to do so.

Part 2, as Cardinal Timothy Dolan put it:
We cherish true freedom, not as the license to do whatever we want, but the liberty to do what we ought.
Tisinai interprets it this way:
The government must destroy the freedom to live according to your own conscience in order to save your freedom to live according to theirs.
More contradictions sure to come.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The future of the denomination

The General Conference of the United Methodist Church begins tomorrow in Tampa. The Common Witness Coalition is made up of the groups trying to make the denomination more gay-friendly and to prevent a conservative takeover. The Coalition has an at-home toolkit to monitor their various methods of communication -- Facebook, Twitter, and blogging. They will also tell our stories at the Coalition site, and two sites maintained by the Methodist Federation for Social Action, one of the leaders in the Coalition.

I head to Tampa next Monday to work with the Coalition during the second week of General Conference. I'll be on the blogging team. If that doesn't keep me busy I'll lend a hand with the hospitality team and their Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle set up across from the Convention Center. I'll try to post here how you can find my posts there. I'm sure I'll have plenty of stories when I return.

Delightful mix of meanings

Sorry, Rick Santorum, you can't abort your campaign after 20 weeks. You will be forced to carry it to term.

Beyond acceptance to reconciliation

I'm not sure why an event that happened during the summer of 2010 is being commented on in the Huffington Post this week. No matter. It's a good story.

We start with Nathan, who used to be a "Bible-banging homophobe." I'm sure there's a good story in the phrase "used to be" but that wasn't included. Nathan and like-minded friends went to the Chicago's Pride parade with shirts proclaiming, "I'm Sorry" and signs that said, "I'm sorry for how the church has treated you." They worked their way to the front of the crowd so their signs could be read from the parade participants.

The story shifts to Tristan. He was on one of the floats in the parade. He was dancing and wearing only white shorts. Tristan saw the shirts and wondered what they had to be sorry about. Then he saw the signs and that was enough to interrupt his dance. By then his float had passed Nathan. Even so, Tristan jumped off the float, bounded over to the group and gave Nathan a big hug.

Nathan wrote about the encounter later. The post includes a photo of the hug. Nathan wrote:
Acceptance is one thing. Reconciliation is another. Sure at Pride, everyone is accepted (except perhaps the protestors). There are churches that say they accept all. There are business that say the accept everyone. But acceptance isn’t enough. Reconciliation is.

But there isn’t always reconciliation. And when there isn’t reconciliation, there isn’t full acceptance. Reconciliation is more painful; it’s more difficult. Reconciliation forces one to remember the wrongs committed and relive constant pain. Yet it’s more powerful and transformational because two parties that should not be together and have every right to hate one another come together for the good of one another, for forgiveness, reconciliation, unity.

What I saw and experienced at Pride 2010 was the beginning of reconciliation. It was in the shocked faces of gay men and women who did not ever think Christians would apologize to them.

Later, Tristan told Nathan about himself, which Nathan posted on his blog.

I found Nathan's most recent post. He contrasts two types of Christians. One type mistakenly believes they are worthy of acceptance because of what they have personally done. Therefore they become prideful -- See how good I am! -- and they do all they can to deflect criticism to make sure their worthiness can't be questioned. Their opponents aren't simply mistaken, they are "dishonest sellouts." These are the kind who don't like gay people.

The other type of Christian understands he or she is worthy simply by being. When they encounter conflict, they are respectful, gracious, and take the meeting as an opportunity to learn something.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Greed leads to lie, cheat, and steal

Daisy Grewel, in an article for Scientific American reposted on Common Dreams, poses and answers the question:
Who is more likely to lie, cheat, and steal—the poor person or the rich one?
After watching what our economy has been doing for the last decade I'm not surprised her answer is the rich one. She then proceeds to cite various studies to support that answer. Drivers of expensive cars were more likely to cut off other drivers or whiz past pedestrians on a crosswalk. Test subjects who went through an exercise that compared them as superior to others took more of a jar of candy. The richer a person is the less likely he or she is to show compassion.

But why? Wouldn't a person who has lots be more willing to share?

I had heard a while back that the richer one becomes the less likely one feels the riches are deserved, so must construct narratives to prove that he or she is actually better than everyone else and really does deserve these riches. It is self-delusion and a mental illness.

Grewel doesn't go there. She puts it this way:
[Psychologist Paul] Piff and his colleagues suspect that the answer may have something to do with how wealth and abundance give us a sense of freedom and independence from others. The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings. This leads us towards being more self-focused. Another reason has to do with our attitudes towards greed. Like Gordon Gekko, upper-class people may be more likely to endorse the idea that “greed is good.” Piff and his colleagues found that wealthier people are more likely to agree with statements that greed is justified, beneficial, and morally defensible. These attitudes ended up predicting participants’ likelihood of engaging in unethical behavior.

Given the growing income inequality in the United States, the relationship between wealth and compassion has important implications. Those who hold most of the power in this country, political and otherwise, tend to come from privileged backgrounds. If social class influences how much we care about others, then the most powerful among us may be the least likely to make decisions that help the needy and the poor. They may also be the most likely to engage in unethical behavior. Keltner and Piff recently speculated in the New York Times about how their research helps explain why Goldman Sachs and other high-powered financial corporations are breeding grounds for greedy behavior. Although greed is a universal human emotion, it may have the strongest pull over those of who already have the most.

Paul Buchheit, writing for Common Dreams, gives five reasons why the 1% haven't earned their money.

* The middle class workers have tripled productivity since 1980. Their pay has remained flat. The 1% has tripled its share of income.

* The 1% hasn't earned that money through top-notch management. They have mismanaged key industries. Our health care is the most expensive. Banks needed bailout. They are heavy polluters. They are sitting on cash while millions are unemployed. College tuition and student loans are at record levels. Even underperforming companies give huge bonuses to their bosses.

* They have built their fortunes on public research. For example, computer chips and the Internet were developed with public research dollars.

* Their income is high because their taxes are low.

* They show little regard for the majority of Americans who depend on sound financial management for their own economic security.

This goes beyond fraud into the realms of human rights and environmental abuse.

Michael Sandel has written the book What Money Can't Buy. Michael Fitzgerald reviewed it for Newsweek. The basic idea is that economic solutions have been pushed for so many things that we now use economics to answer questions that markets were not meant to answer. It is an impoverished way of looking at the world and displaces human values.

An example Sandel uses is the University of Michigan Stadium. It was renovated a couple years ago and skyboxes were added. Before then, everyone -- rich and poor -- sat on those narrow benches and cheered or groaned together. Those skybox people no longer share a common life and a common purpose and are less invested in democracy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Taxes on the rich are necessary

Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under Clinton, had a commentary piece on the Marketplace radio program heard on NPR. He reviewed post-war history, noting that high taxes on the rich corresponded with a robust economy and a well-to-do middle class. High taxes allow for more investments in infrastructure and lower taxes on the middle class. It is spending by the middle class -- not the rich -- that gets the economy humming.

It is very easy to guess the political party affiliation of each of the commenters. The only negative comment that had any resonance with me was about correlation is not causation. I'll let my friend and debate partner determine if that has any bearing. It all could be as simple as not having the space in a two minute commentary to describe the actual causation. Even if there is no causation, what we're doing now isn't working (and I could spend the day describing how it isn't working) so I'm very willing to give higher taxes on the rich a try.

Another commenter essentially said that facts have a liberal bias.

Incentives for more people in prison

A company that runs prisons has "suggested" to Gov. Snyder that Michigan privatize its prison system. I was alerted to this by the Church and Society board of my denomination. This is one of many areas that the GOP will consider turning over to private enterprise to "save" money. The big problem is that the only way for this company to boost profits is to incarcerate more people, which is bad news all around. In addition, I don't want a corporation advocating for harsher sentencing laws to benefit their bottom line and I don't want more people excluded from voting because of a jail record. You may contact Snyder here (yeah, that is a request for help, not a box to submit an opinion, but that's where the link took me).

Here is a link to the background supplied by Church and Society.

I took part in my first protest today

The protest was on behalf of a disabled man living in his own house in Inkster which had been modified for his use. Part of the mortgage had been guaranteed and paid for by a government program, but that program has dropped him, leaving him unable to pay the whole mortgage bill. He has been in the house eight years. The bank has started foreclosure proceedings.

The start time for the protest was listed as 2:00, but that was for the time of the court proceedings. The protest actually began before then. I'll remember that for future protests.

I counted 35 in the protest line. I'm sure I missed a few. We walked back and forth on the sidewalk near the court, chanting a few slogans. Some had signs. I may have to bring my own. After I had been there about 10 minutes, we moved closer to the main entrance to the court and the man's lawyer came out to give us an update. He said the court's morning docket didn't finish, so this case was postponed. He'll ask for a jury trial.

A policeman showed up (from the station next door) and asked to see the leader. He seemed satisfied that permits were in order then kindly suggested we disperse since the court action was delayed.

A disabled woman talked to us. She described the Inkster District Court as a foreclosure factory. She also said Gov. Snyder created a commission on housing (I think that's it). The commission has representatives from Livonia and Birmingham, not Detroit, Pontiac, Inkster, or Benton Harbor. For those who don't live in Michigan, I'm sure you can guess who lives in Livonia and who lives in Inkster.

It took me longer to drive to Inkster than I spent protesting.

Monday, April 16, 2012

If not government, who?

At times I shake my head at the determination to misinterpret the message of Jesus and want to growl back at the radio. NPR had a report this morning on many Fundie churches pushing the idea that yeah, Jesus said to take care of the poor, but not through the government. They say such things as the Bible is about freedom, one of the Ten Commandments is "Thou shall not steal," and "the Bible tells us that socialism and neosocialism never worked." Huh? I'll let you read the full report, including the spirited response from progressive Christians.

In yesterday's Sunday Free Press the cover story took up half the front page and four interior pages. It is about how the huge number (tens of thousands) of abandoned homes in Detroit, 33,000 of them classified as dangerous, threatens students walking to and from school. The students walk because the bus service is too unreliable. Their trek frequently starts before sunrise and ends after sunset. A third of the streetlights don't work. Abandoned homes shield criminals and gang members who have attacked, robbed, and raped students. The city can't afford enough police to deter attacks. There aren't enough neighborhood watch volunteers. The city must spend $8 thousand to demolish a home and fill in the hole. The city simply does not have the millions of dollars demolition on this scale would take. If the mayor can scrounge the money he might be able to deal with 1% of the problem buildings this year.

Last Sunday's paper had a feature about the old churches in the city facing closure due to declining membership and money (alas, no link).

That leads to the question: If the government doesn't deal with this problem, who does?

I don't see churches in the rich suburbs donating any money to help with demolition, never mind getting street lights functioning and cops into the area. I don't see any charitable foundations stepping into the breach either. And considering the animosity between Detroit and suburban leaders, I'm not surprised. They can't even agree on one bus system to service the whole metro area.

Besides government, who has resources on the scale that could tackle the problem?

One of the comments about trying to claim that solutions should not come through government was about freedom. I understand what is going on there. The speaker is saying I do not want anybody telling me what I must do and especially I don't want the government telling me because they can force me to comply. I'll gladly contribute -- a tiny bit -- to help the poor, but it will be on my own terms. And if that doesn't solve the problem, hey, it isn't my problem.

Well, actually, according to the Bible, it is your problem. Mine too. It is the concept of being my brother's keeper. Back in January I wrote about the intentionally underfunded school systems in Alabama and the frequent pronouncements in the Bible about the rich should not take from the poor but should take care of the poor.

This claim to freedom sounds a lot like what corporations are saying. A big reason to take over the government is so the gov't can't tell them what they can and cannot do to make a profit.

It has been a long time since I've written about Dominionism, the Christian sect that declares a goal of imposing its values on everyone else. They plan to do this by taking over the "Seven Mountains" of civilization. When that happens they can't be opposed. (No, I'm not linking. Search for "Seven Mountains" if you want details.) These mountains are business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, religion, and family.

I don't see much threat from the Dominionist Christian cult these days, though they are definitely still out there. However, I see corporations taking over the seven mountains and doing a pretty good job of it. By my count they have infiltrated five of the seven. The article above shows their efforts in taking over religion. They may not take over education, but they are doing all they can to gut it. Media and gov't appear firmly in their grasp. And, of course, they are business.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Money v. Many

The Occupy movement is preparing for spring. As part of the 99% Spring organizers hope to train 100,000 activists this week. I haven't heard if they made their goal. The tally includes me. I attended training today at the big regional UAW center in Taylor.

I believe this is the first time I spent time in a union hall. When I worked in the auto industry I had an office job at the research center. When a new union contract was signed our benefits also got better, so I appreciated their collective bargaining, even if I didn't pay dues. Most of the crowd was union members. They were a friendly bunch. They already knew about building a community and looking out for each other. They are already on the lower end of the economic scale and already eager to do battle against the 1%.

We were given a 60 page Training Guide. I haven't read it yet. The training didn't follow it page-by-page. It has a long list of organizations supporting the training and the Occupy movement. One of them is the UAW.

The program started with a video of a history of non-violent actions. I was pleased to see the gay ACT-UP protests against the high cost of AIDS drugs was included. We then wrote our one-page stories of how we are part of the 99%. Some of these stories were heartbreaking: The son who got cancer as a teen and though he is in remission can't get insurance. The daughter who lost a job and then a house. Three generations living in one house. Three friends, each with kids, sharing a small house.

I was reminded I'm pretty well off. My house has dropped in value, but I won't lose it. My pension and part time job appear secure. My investments are doing well. About all I could share was that I teach at a college and my students come unprepared for college work and sometimes run out of money before they can finish. They are too poor to get loans.

We settled on a definition of the 1%. It isn't enough to be filthy rich. The 1% are those who wield power over the rest of us to get money to flow in their direction regardless of the consequences experienced by anyone else.

Then came the movie The Heist. What we saw was a 20 minute condensation of the feature length documentary. You can see that much on the movie's webpage and look for (or host) a showing of the whole thing in your area. There is even a DVD. The movie tells what happened to get us into the mess we're in now.

Corporations were caught off guard by the progressive advances of the 1960s, which included a big increase in worker safety and environmental protections. The Great Depression prompted government insurance of bank accounts, the Glass-Steagall Act which limited what banks could do with our money, and the Securities and Exchange Commission to police corporate finance. The big thing I learned was the corporate response began in 1971, earlier than I had thought. It started with the Powell Memorandum. Lewis Powell wrote out a strategy on how corporations could create a government and economy that would serve their interests. Shortly after Powell wrote that memo Nixon nominated him to the Supreme Court, where he was a moderate and a frequent swing voter.

That memo is still being followed. It has three main components.

* Attack unions. Find ways to make money off workers. Ship jobs overseas.

* Take control of government and attack democracy. Create a state of permanent war so defense corporations suck up money that would otherwise go to the 99%. Cut taxes on corporations and the rich. Gut regulations and social programs. Buy the government. Prevent people from voting. However, they (for the moment) still need our approval of the government they want.

* Divide and conquer. Make us battle each other. Convince workers that immigrants are taking their jobs. Oppose abortion rights, gay rights, women's rights, and affirmative action. Build up prisons and mandatory sentences to keep African-Americans locked out of the economy. Set false choices between jobs and clean environment.

This corporate takeover may have been championed by the GOP, but there were many willing Democrats involved, including Pres. Clinton. He signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

It is now Money v. Many. Through our numbers we have power.

We were asked to name the values important to us. We came up with: respect, dignity, family, justice, equality, future, integrity, freedom, improvement, kindness, community, compassion, love, commitment, empathy, optimism, patriotism, hard work, initiative, unity, putting others first. I love this list. These are definitely not values the 1% follow.

For the next exercise we went into another room and were assigned to tables without chairs. On the table was a large sheet of paper and a bunch of markers. We were asked to think of an ideal community, name it, and start drawing its features -- schools, churches, parks, shops, etc. -- on it. My group came up with Pleasantville. As others began drawing the buildings I started drawing a border of stick figures (I'm no artist) holding hands. A woman took a marker and drew condos over the golf course in one corner. It took us a few moments to realize she was not part of our original group and her nametag said "Mama 1% Warbucks." She tried grasping and tearing other parts of the paper and we soon linked arms to keep her out. Other workshop leaders were at other tables drawing factories on this page and offering money to allow drawing on that page. This was a good exercise to stir emotions and to prompt the group to resist the common enemy. As we were returning to our seats I drew a lake over those condos.

Civil Disobedience is a non-violent act of refusing an unjust law. Non-violent protests are twice as effective as violent campaigns. These protests accomplish several things:
* Stop an injustice
* Show refusal
* Sound the alarm
* Create a community solution

The purpose of a non-violent action is to highlight a conflict. Humans don't like conflict. That triggers the fight/flight response but we don't want to flee from the conflict and we don't want the conflict to become violent. This becomes a barrier to taking part in a non-violent action. We listed these ways that barrier manifests itself:
* Fear of police and pepper spray
* Uncertainty of what will happen (no matter how careful the planning it won't follow script)
* Feeling overwhelmed
* Fear of the consequences -- lost job, jail
* Lack of support
* Lack of resources
* Not getting others to help

Ways of overcoming those barriers include:
* Social networking
* Awareness of the reason for the protest
* Personal outreach
* Confidence in strategy and follow-through
* Overwhelming participation
* Clarity of message
* Practice
* Unity

A leader of one of the UAW locals talked about some of the foreclosure interventions the members have staged. They have prevented two. Another is being reconsidered. A protest of a fourth is planned for next week (I have date and location). The bank may be "too big to fail" but the homeowner is "too human to discard."

A couple other actions were mentioned. I'll see if I can fit them into my busy end-of-semester schedule. One of them is to show up at the GE shareholder meeting to complain that they earn billions in profits and the gov't pays them a bonus instead of them paying taxes. April 25 at 8:30 am. at Hart Plaza in Detroit.

I left at 4:00 even though the event was to go another 90 minutes. The focus shifted from general training to preparations for a specific event I can't attend. Next Tuesday, Scott Walker, the union-busting governor of Wisconsin, will be speaking at a GOP fundraising dinner in Troy. This group is planning a demonstration outside the restaurant timed so diners must walk past the demonstrators. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is scheduled to attend, but he has a habit of canceling out of events where protesters plan to show up.

I just checked the 99% Spring website. On the right side is a photo of the guy who sat next to me during the morning session. That was fast! It may not stay there long.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tacit approval to the silencing of minority voices

Maverick Couch attends high school in Waynesville, Ohio. The school principal told him he couldn't wear a t-shirt with the slogan, "Jesus is not a homophobe." Lambda Legal sued and the principal backed down. That leads Ari Ezra Waldman to ask if pro-gay t-shirts in a high school are permitted under free speech, are anti-gay shirts also protected?

Waldman says no. There is a difference between a slogan that is identity-affirming and one that is identity-harassment. The latter attacks communities and attaches social stigma to the victims.

Student free speech issues are affected by for rulings by the Supremes. One says speech is protected as long as it doesn't cause "substantial disruption" or "infringed on the rights of others." The other three cases define exceptions: if the speech could be seen as an official pronouncement by the school, if the speech promoted drugs, or if it was lewd. All could be banned.

Waldman says that an identity-harassment message does cause substantial disruption. It victimizes a class, interferes with teaching, classroom discipline, and school reputation.
Identity-based harassing speech differs from tolerant speech on controversial topics, then, because a school that countenances the former is a sick school, one that teaches hate and incivility, that gives tacit approval to the silencing of minority voices, and that fails to prepare students for a civic-minded adulthood in a republic.
My friend and debate partner has noted (more than once) that the answer to objectionable free speech is more free speech. A commenter mentioned this argument. Waldman says that is the classic liberal view of free speech. He continues (alas, without caps):
i disagree with that rationale. the first amendment was never an individual right, it was teleological, purpose-driven, meant by the framers as a simple limit on federal power, not the states power to make sure discourse aimed at achieving virtue in the body politic. this perspective does not think the right is in the person, instead the right is responsible to the group.
I'm not sure what that means, so I won't try to explain it to you.

Supporters feel just as strongly

Last summer four GOP members of the New York legislature voted for gay marriage. Some theorize the party wanted marriage equality to pass, even though they had to publicly oppose it, so made a deal with the four "mavericks" that they would be protected from anti-gay blowback. Bill Keller of the New York Times has the details and insight on how similar small town politics will play out across the country. Some of the things that happened:

* Mark Grisanti was redistricted into a safer seat.

* Gay donors are funneling money to the Republican Four, who now have mighty war chests for state Senate races.

* The GOP is discouraging other party members form challenging these four.

As for the GOP wanting the marriage equality bill to pass…
Adding to the inexorability [of the increase in support of marriage equality] is a factor pollsters refer to as “salience,” a measure of how much an issue means to you. It figures heavily in what politicians decide is safe to do. Most Americans favor restrictions on guns, for example, but gun control is stymied by salience: the people who want full gun rights care far more about the issue than those who oppose them. Opponents of gay marriage used to hold their opinion more passionately than supporters. But as more Americans have openly gay children, siblings, friends and neighbors, the supporters feel just as strongly. Another sign of seismic change: civil unions, once regarded by gay-marriage supporters as a best-we-can-hope-for compromise, have become a fallback position of the anti-marriage camp.

I love taxes

Catching up on all the news items that have accumulated in the last week.

Sixty years ago intelligence agencies considered gays to be a security risk because they could be easily blackmailed. Now these same agencies are recruiting gays, see them as assets, and hold discussions on how to be more accommodating of gay employees.

As part of an Easter celebration someone created a diorama of marshmallow peeps supporting marriage equality.

A recent study found a correlation found between existence of Wal Mart stores and of hate groups in the same area. There is now speculation of what big box stores do to small communities. Perhaps they decimate the leadership class and impoverish everyone else.

Last summer I drove through the town where I was born. The business district was a ghost-town. My aunt, who still lives in the area, says shoppers are attracted by low prices at malls in nearby big cities. The local leadership class was decimated. I don't know about hate groups in the area.

Back at the age of 14 Gabriel Arana was forced out to his mother. She enrolled him in an ex-gay program. Arana is now married to his husband. He has written an account of his time in ex-gay therapy. It didn't work. He also talks of the psychological toll such therapy had on his young life -- he felt like committing suicide while in college and checked himself into a psych ward.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight has rated the level of conservatism in the US Supremes over more than 70 years. He used a Martin-Quinn rating method based on the rulings in each year, then ranked the justices from most to least liberal. This method means that one line down the graph isn't always the same justice and when one retires there may be an abrupt jump to the left or right.

For 2010 (the most recent he was able to analyze) the lines show four liberal justices clustered near the liberal/conservative balance point. That means our liberal justices aren't all that liberal and are the most conservative liberals since about 1938. Yes, this court is the most conservative since the start of this data. There is a big gap between the liberals and the swing voter and another gap between the swing and the least conservative. That means he will be the deciding vote on most issues.

Back on April 2, Melissa Chadburn did a commentary aired on the NPR Marketplace program. She talked about why she loves taxes. She sees it as a way of telling the members of her community how much she values them. These people include the public transportation worker who got her to school and to job interviews, the public school teachers who set her on her career path, the nurses who attended her when she was exposed to tuberculosis, the military that helped many in her family escape poverty, and the firefighters who run into burning buildings to save strangers and who also visit homeless shelters.

Don't bother reading through the comment section.

Dr. Richard Ryan, professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester, conducted a series of studies that show that gay people who must repress their own orientation are more likely to be hostile homophobes. There is a reason why our loudest enemies turn out to be gay.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Overwhelming outpourings of support

I wrote yesterday about the success of the Thank You Starbucks campaign to counter the anti-gay Dump Starbucks effort along with the (supposed) disappointment that Microsoft and Apple were left out.

A couple more thoughts. Starbucks stock price has risen since the Dump Starbucks campaign began. Coincidence? Maybe. But the boycott didn't cause the stock price to fall.

Electronic Arts creates video games. In a couple recent game releases they added optional gay characters. The anti-gay crowd had a snit. The company didn't back down. That prompted Matt Kane of GLAAD to see a consistent pattern. Anti-gay attacks are now met with overwhelming outpourings of support for the corporation being attacked. Rallying Americans around messages of hate doesn't work anymore. Such sweet progress!

Wishes for a child that are loving and healthy

I wrote yesterday about the vehemence of some parents at the thought of a gay child. That was, in a sense, an update of an earlier post about the Family Acceptance Project.

Caitlin Ryan, the head of the Family Acceptance Project, was in Michigan for several days. A couple days after I met her she gave a presentation at Affirmations Gay and Lesbian Center in Ferndale. That meeting was written up in Between the Lines and provides more details than I did.

In response to my post yesterday, my friend and debate partner wrote:
We know that some people become parents without mindful preparation for the tremendous risk and commitment they chose, and some fail to adjust, earning well-deserved grades of F as parents. So, not all parents understand that wanting the best for their kids (never mind gender preference) is even part of the deal.

But I'm going to give the writers of those hateful wishes for hypothetical future children the benefit of the doubt and wish them a second chance. Very likely, they responded impetuously on Twitter, from childish bigotry without engaging their best adult selves. If they actually experience pregnancy and birth, hold their child in their arms, experience their child's responses and unconditional love... their wishes for that child could be much more loving and healthy.

If I can understand that, having never had the experience, so can almost all of them. The vast majority of kids are pretty well loved and mature well.
I've heard lots of stories of Fundie parents who have a change of heart because the love for their child is stronger than their religious beliefs. Here is such a story from the last month. Another is the story that Seething Mom tells about learning that her son is gay. The experience prompted her to dump her church, her political affiliation, and one brother. She can write eloquent rants on how the Fundies affect her son.

But, alas, some parents maintain the thought, If you're gay, I'll kill you. I've served supper to some of these kids at the Ruth Ellis Center. It is why the Ruth Ellis House is a residency program to provide a home for kids until they can set off on their own.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Us without them

I don't remember what prompted this conclusion. I've been thinking for a while now about evolution and survival of the fittest and how that relates to some people having the need to feel superiority over others. A white person in the South may be at the bottom of the economic and social ladder but they can think At least I'm better than those black people. (Yes, I do know what word the white person would have really said.) Fundies sneer at outsiders I'm saved and you're not! The rich change laws to suck up even more cash. Straight kids bully gay kids.

Apparently, I'm partly right. Newsweek has an excerpt from the book The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson. According to his research we have a very strong drive to form groups with the desire that our group dominates other groups. It isn't me v. him, but us v. them. We will even sacrifice for the group in ways that don't make evolutionary sense.

This drive to be in the dominant group can be satisfied by "symbolic victory on ritualized battlefields: that is, sports." Some fans are quite exuberant when their team wins. Whatever group we form (even when formed randomly for the sake of an experiment) there is almost an immediate bias for the group members and against non-members. There is hostility when the other groups appears to encroach on the in-group's territory.

So I'll update my conclusion above. People want to be in the winning group. Southern whites as a whole want to feel superior and feel hostile when their territory is taken over by blacks. Religious people feel threatened when their cultural superiority fades. Straights feel threatened when gays refuse to be closeted. Patriots appear everywhere when terrorism strikes. And strife between nations has been continuous. Yes, says Wilson, our drive to be in the dominant group may mean war won't end, though it might mean border skirmishes rather than world-wide conflagrations. The article ends this way:
Civilization appears to be the ultimate redeeming product of competition between groups. Because of it, we struggle on behalf of good and against evil, and reward generosity, compassion, and altruism while punishing or downplaying selfishness. Bit if group conflict created the best in us, it also created the deadliest. As humans, this is our greatest, and worst, genetic inheritance.
According to my religion and ethics I have a goal of working against this tendency. Even when I form groups I don't want it to be for domination. I want the us without the them.

The print edition has a series of six photos taken of fans outside a variety of music concerts. The fans look alarmingly similar, especially the spiked hair fans of Casualties, essentially highlighting the article's point. Alas, the online edition has only three of these photos, though the spiky hair is there.

In the same issue of Newsweek Andrew Sullivan has the cover story about The Forgotten Jesus. Too many of us invoke Jesus to reinforce our position -- lay claim to being in the dominant group striving against some opponent. This is a misuse of what Jesus said and did.

Sullivan has two examples. The first is Thomas Jefferson who created what we know as the Jefferson Bible. Jefferson discarded all the claims of divinity because that got fused with power and created wars and pogroms. Instead, he focused on the words of Jesus: love your enemies, give up wealth. And definitely give up power because that is only effective under the threat of violence.

The second example is Francis of Assisi, who gave up wealth and power to serve others. While I admire that I found Francis suffered from the prevailing idea at the time that a person had to be self-loathing to be holy. Going that far strikes me as damaging to mental health.

This is the heart of Sullivan's comments:
The saints, after all, became known as saints not because of their success in fighting political battles, or winning a few news cycles, or funding an anti-abortion super PAC. They were saints purely and simply because of the way they lived.

What's best for the gay kid

A week ago I wrote about a project that tries to keep gay kids within their families. One of their working assumptions is that parents really want what is best for their kids and may not know how to make that happen.

One of the recent discussions on Twitter is for a parent to express wishes for a child not yet born. Most of the responses have been loving and hopeful.

Alas, some have been similar to: If you're a fag, I'll kill you.

I'm left wondering if some parents do not want what is best for their gay kids, they really would intentionally drive the gay kid from the house -- or worse.

The kids take on the adults

DeLaSalle High School, a Catholic school in Minneapolis, held an assembly for its seniors who will be old enough to vote in November. Representatives from the Archdiocese were there to talk to the teens about marriage -- in particular the approved way to vote on the marriage protection amendment which will be on the ballot.

Once it was obvious the direction the presentation was going the kids got upset. The cause wasn't helped when the speakers implied that families with single parents or adopted children were lesser families. Once the gay marriage issue came out the kids started taking on the speakers in respectful debate. Even so, school officials saw the kid's anger and ended the assembly. Score one for the kids.

Not gay enough

Maybe a week or two ago at a Starbucks shareholders meeting (sorry, I didn't save links) a member of National Organization for Marriage demanded Starbucks renounce their support for gay marriage. A Starbucks board member politely declined, prompting cheers from the audience.

NOM started a Dump Starbucks campaign and on their website got 25,000 signatures (no, I'm not linking).

Others started a Thank You Starbucks campaign, which has now blown past 640,000 signatures. You do the math.

Scott Wooledge, writing a comedy piece for Huffington Post, says that Microsoft and Apple (quite the strange bedfellows) are miffed. What, they say, we're not gay enough for you? Please boycott us too!

Microsoft says they were the first Fortune 500 company to offer domestic partner benefits (back in 1993)! Apple says even our CEO (Tim Cook) is gay!

But boycotting both Microsoft and Apple would leave NOM in a tough spot. NOM has a big social media and web presence. They'd have to give that up. Which would leave them communicating, hmm, on cave walls and with smoke signals.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

We'll only discriminate for 20 years

Writer Agence France-Presse of The Raw Story notes a conundrum facing the GOP. Moderates and independents (and those even further left) are turned off when GOP candidates talk about how they will implement their religion in government. But the Fundie GOP base won't engage with a candidate unless he does talk about it.

I've written about the easy explanation for the Ryan budget approved by the GOP House. Terrence Heath delves into it to show what the GOP is aiming for. Short answer: Government should be police, courts of law, armed services, and nothing else. The Ryan budget significantly trims (with hopes of eventually eliminating) such things as:

* Justice Department
* Corrections officers
* Border Agents
* Environmental Protection Agency
* Food safety inspectors
* Air traffic controllers
* TSA agents
* IRS agents looking for tax cheats
* Weather forecasters
* Agents to do background checks on gun purchasers
* Medicare and Medicaid
* Social Security
* Welfare programs
* Transportation
* Science research
* Education at all levels
* Environment, including national parks

If nobody can make a buck off it, it won't get done.

We've heard all this before. Heath mentions it because lots of people say gutting all those programs can't happen in America. But the House approved this budget and we may be one election from a Senate and a prez. willing to go along with it.

In just five weeks from today North Carolina will vote on a marriage protection amendment that also bans civil unions. Both sides are gearing up for the battle. The anti-gay side has the usual suspects (including the ad agency that worked so well in Calif. and Maine) and a budget of a million dollars.

State Rep. Thom Tillis, Speaker of the House, was instrumental in getting the question on the ballot. Tillis recognizes it is a generational issue and he now predicts that in a generation voters will overturn this amendment. That, of course, leads many to ask, so why bother? Apparently it is good policy to discriminate for 20 years.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

From our wallets to theirs

There are all sorts of ways for the 1% to extract dollars from our pockets. Here is one example, according to the Occupy Wall Street blog:

Reduce taxes on the 1% so the Metro Transportation Authority (I think that's what the initials stand for), the people who run the subways and busses, don't have enough money for basic services. The riders pay through higher fees and reduced service. The staff pays through layoffs and greater workload. Seniors and disabled pay because services for them are cut. Poor pay through having a harder time getting to any job they might have. This is supposed to be a service available to the entire public.

The MTA soon needs more money than they get through taxes. The money is needed for both upgrade projects (this underfunding has been going on for 20 years) and to meet standard operating costs. The available solution is to issue bonds. Interest on those bonds sucks a huge chunk out of the MTA budget. Who collects interest from those bonds? The 1%. Who pays the interest? Riders. From our wallets to theirs.

Last Wednesday Occupy Wall Street activists and Transport Workers Union put chains around turnstiles to hold them open, granting free rides to everyone. And in New York, that's a lot of lost revenue.

Newsflash! Goldman Sachs is running for president! No, not some schlub with that name. The investment bank. After all, it is a person. Slogan: "We don't need your money, we already have it." Qualifications: great business acumen, expertise in international relations, and knowledge of security with a proven track record. In addition, it already serves as a de facto government in Spain, Ireland, and Greece. And before this goes any further, check today's date.