Thursday, November 29, 2012

Persecution as distraction

A "Kill the Gays" bill has been floating around the Ugandan Parliament since early 2009. But it appears they mean business this time. The Speaker has promised it to Christian leaders as a "Christmas Gift." It has been through committee (though no one will produce evidence whether the death penalty has been removed) and is listed next on the agenda.

Box Turtle Bulletin has been reporting on the bill since it first appeared. It has done an extensive analysis of the bill's many nasty clauses -- including one that says a person can be imprisoned for suggesting the bill should be repealed.

Jim Burroway of BTB has noticed something -- every time the Ugandan Parliament needs to deal with the nation's oil wealth, the anti-gay bill suddenly gets a lot of attention. Including this time. Uganda has the reputation for the most corrupt country in eastern Africa (and there is stiff competition for the title) and the Oil Bills are all about how the ruling elite can skim the profits from oil exports, leaving the people just as poor. To hide that theft what is needed is a distraction. And in a highly homophobic country they found a beaut. Burroway concludes with:
Which means that Uganda’s oil policy can be summed up this way: yes, we’re going to steal your oil wealth — but look over there! Homosexuals!!!
Burroway wonders why the only American Christian leaders who have said anything about the Ugandan bill are the ones who are delighted it is about to pass. The rest of them are missing in action.

I know commitment

A week ago I noted a posting by Rob Tisinai that gays should have the rights of marriage because we already shoulder the responsibilities. At the end of the post Tisinai asked readers to share their stories. Over this past week they did. The stories tell of one pulling the other through financial difficulties or grave illness (for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health) many times battling bureaucracy that doesn't recognize their relationship. All of them spoke of doing it gladly. Commenter Steve concludes with, "So don’t talk to ME about commitment. I know what it is."

A crack in the tax pledge

Essayist Terrence Heath notes a few GOP senators and reps are allowing that some revenue enhancements might be tolerated. With that some Dems are crowing that Grover Norquist and his no new taxes pledge are on the way out. But Norquiest himself appears quite unconcerned with all the commotion. Why?

It's all a bargaining ruse. With all that talk (and the GOP isn't offering much) they can portray themselves as conciliatory, ready to do some serious horse-trading. That way when they ask for huge cuts on Medicare and Medicaid it will be the Dems who look obstructionist. The GOP is betting the Dems blink first. Once they take a whack out of those two programs the money will never be restored.

Do Medicare and Medicaid need to be reformed? Word I've heard is yes -- they should be shifted from a fee-for-service model (which promotes excess tests and treatment) to one that rewards wellness. But it seems the GOP wants cuts, not changes in the funding model (which benefits their backers).

An example of the GOP tactic appeared tonight on NPR's All Things Considered. Host Robert Siegal talked to Dave Camp, the GOP chairman of the House Ways and Means committee (the one that makes sure all the relevant programs actually get funded). True to the script Heath outlined, Camp trumpeted the willingness to be flexible on revenue while demanding to see what programs the Dems were willing to cut. All the while he did an amazing dodge-and-weave of not answering Siegal's actual questions.

Jim Greer, former chairman of the Republican Party in Florida, has come right out and said it. All that stuff about laws to prevent voter fraud? A ruse. The real reason for it is voter suppression. Which has at least one commenter wondering where is the prosecution for treason?

Cut now, pay later

I recently wrote about the Free State Project centered in New Hampshire in which members declared that the gov't should not run assistance programs. Instead, those programs should be run by citizens and private organizations. The members backed up their claim by being active participants in such groups and seeing the benefits of community.

But I asked a series of questions about whether that idea could spread nationally, covering all the needs the gov't currently meets.

I had lunch yesterday with my friend and debate partner who said my questions are right on target. From research he has seen (no details provided and I didn't ask):

* Private organizations simply cannot raise enough money to meet all of the need.

* Many important needs, currently met by gov't, would not be met by private orgs. because citizens would tend to gravitate towards certain orgs. and ignore others.

My friend said people in the Free State Project believe: We're talking about my money and I'll make sure it is spent properly. In contrast he (and I) believe in community and it is important for the broad spectrum of needs to be met. All of us have an interest in all of the needs being met. The decision-making bodies that are designed to make sure all those needs are met is our various levels of elected government.

As I made my way to class today I saw some big posters in the hall. The college is the home site for a social justice organization (they offer a strong social justice degree). Alas, I don't remember which organization and the posters were gone when I headed home. Alas again, I don't remember the exact slogan (though I think this version is pretty good), but it was something like this…

One poster showed a pregnant teen in which the head was replaced with a photo of a toddler's head. The words beside the head were "Cut now…" and beside the swollen teen's belly, "Pay later." In another poster the heavily tattooed torso of a gang-banger had a similarly replaced head with the same words by the head and torso.

That makes for a fine introduction to a posting by Dave of the blog 4 Quarters, 10 Dimes. I wrote about his opinions of the GOP, which brought huzzahs from my friend and debate partner. In a previous post (which I haven't read) Dave had a short section saying he is a fiscal conservative, with not much explanation beyond that. Since that seemed at odds with his previous posts (including the one I mentioned) Dave wrote a full post to explain exactly what he meant. What follows is my summary of his thoughts.

If you aren't willing to create a way of paying for a program, it isn't worth doing. Note that the wars of the last decade were fought without a way to pay for them. The flip side: if it is worth doing, pay for it. The budget does not have to be balanced in any given year. Sometimes a deficit is needed to improve the overall economy. But an allocation of money does need a payment plan.

We live in a democracy. We may not approve of all the things our leaders put in the budget. Deal with it -- shut up or work to get the laws changed.

We must spend money to make money. Stretch that a bit: We must spend money to improve our circumstances and not all of our improvement will be in a fatter wallet. The definition of whether it is worth doing is that the improvement is worth more than the money.

When I pay taxes for good roads and I get good roads to drive on and perhaps avoid a front-end alignment on my car.

When I pay taxes to my city I get a stronger community. I pay federal taxes that are given to cities across the country because my country is stronger when all of its cities are strong, not just the one I live in.

I pay taxes for job training programs so others are well off, are in a more stable situation, and stay out of mischief. I pay taxes for education so that others can share the burden of upholding the community so that it can come to my aid when my resource fail. I pay taxes for after-school sports because they are less expensive than crimes and prison and make my community less dangerous, even if I'm not the one shooting hoops. I pay taxes for education because the kid I see getting off the school bus may someday treat me for cancer. I pay taxes for education because knowledge is better protection than armies.

What about waste and fraud? That must be rooted out and eliminated -- as is done in a corporation. And programs must be periodically evaluated for effectiveness and modified accordingly.

Says Dave, "People are an investment. You invest money and resources into them, and you get a functioning society out of them."

All that is in my own self-interest. Which is sharply different from greed.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Community based charity

The "cover story" for NPR's All Things Considered this evening was about giving, and in particular giving to help others after a disaster, such as Sandy. Dan Shea, managing editor of New Orleans Times-Picayune during and after Katrina, notes that we as a nation are pretty good about responding to a disaster and its immediate needs. We're not so good at maintaining that giving through the months and years needed to completely rebuild.

One of the important organizations helping in New York is Occupy Sandy, a part of Occupy Wall Street. They had spent a few months camping in a park, feeding thousands from camp stoves, and building bicycle-powered generators when police confiscated the gas-powered kind. All that was training for disaster relief work. However, they are clear they are not a charity, but a community building organization.

If the government doesn't handle care for the poor and disaster recovery work, who does? There are so many poor people and disaster relief requires so much in resources our current system of charities would be swamped, simply unable to handle the load. Would we expect private citizens to donate enough (and to a diverse list of organizations) to cover all the need? At the current rate of giving, no, there wouldn't be enough.

A few years ago Mike Ruff moved to New Hampshire, famous for its "Live Free or Die" motto. He joined the Free State Project, working for a smaller government and one that leaves charity work to the private sector. He wants to make happen what I think can't work.

I looked up the Free State Project. Its declaration is that "government exists at most to protect people's rights, and should neither provide for people nor punish them for activities that interfere with no one else." They are asking 20,000 like-minded people to move to New Hampshire, "enough to make a real difference!" -- meaning enough to make a difference in elections, voting in legislators who favor minimal gov't.

For Mike Ruff and others in the movement, it also means active civic engagement, including charity work. They feel interpersonal gov't organizations can't meet the needs of the needy, those big groups are too big, too impersonal, and can't really figure out the needs of the community. Local groups of 150 people or so can do what the gov't can't. All that is something to consider. The participants also discover a genuine community where both workers and clients feel well cared for and everyone is able to use their creativity.

I could see great benefit if this kind of charity work spread around the nation. We are all desperate for a greater sense of community. We would all benefit from such close civic engagement.

But I’m left with some big questions:

* What happens if this community based system doesn't raise enough money to meet all the needs for which the gov't used to provide?

* Suppose our gov't cuts services to the needy by lowering taxes and citizens see that money in their paychecks. Will be able to encourage citizens to invest that money into community organizations? Since our society is so self-centered at the moment that is an important concern.

* How do we convince citizens that their time, talents, and efforts are also needed?

* Does anyone coordinate the giving (of both money and labor) so that all the various needs are met? Or does the needs of immediate disaster relief have to compete for dollars with long-term disaster relief and both of those compete with the everyday needs of the poor? Doesn't that increase overhead?

* Will charities in Montana adequately respond to disasters (like Sandy) that happen in New Jersey?

The Free State people don't trust gov't to protect them and take care of the needy. They may have a point, especially if the gov't is an oppressive power (though I acknowledge by their definition it already is). But while community based charity sounds wonderful, I don't yet believe it can take care of the needy in the same way a government can.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Complicit in oppression

A book I read last spring talked about systems of power, how they oppress, and how they get others to be complicit in their oppression. All that was on display yesterday.

Walmart is an oppressive power (which is why I only shop there when I absolutely have to and I think it has been 8 years since I had to). It inflicts economic violence on its workforce (many earn so little they qualify for Medicaid -- and Walmart saves on the expense of providing health care) so that the owners can reap huge profits. It lowers its prices enough so that customers willingly shop there, which makes the shopper complicit in its oppression.

Lots of Walmart employees chose Black Friday (actually, late Thursday) as an appropriate time to picket the store. Doing that in front of the crowds would call attention to the plight of the workers and hopefully put a dent in Walmart's revenue.

Many customers saw the protests and could sympathize. They're poor too. But did that keep them from entering Walmart? No. Because they're poor they have to go where the sales are. Thus Walmart makes them complicit in its oppression. And sets records for its Black Friday sales -- nearly 10 million register transactions between 8 pm. and midnight (or 5000 transactions a second).

There were rallies at 100 Walmart stores across the country. The largest rally was 1000 people at the store in Paramount, Calif. Nine were arrested for civil disobedience, including an retired United Methodist pastor.

The society people want

Conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly has complained that Obama's reelection means the end of Traditional America (and traditional families as seen in Leave it to Beaver). Mark O'Connell, a psychotherapist who is also gay and writing in the Huffington Post, says yup, O'Reilly is right. And let's rejoice that the diversity of the modern family is on display. While we do that let's also support the family configurations we have, rather support the only configuration -- Dad married to Mom with two healthy kids -- that "should be." O'Connell spends must of this article showing how much the modern family has changed from the Leave it to Beaver ideal.

Preserve Marriage Washington, the anti-gay side of the marriage equality campaign in that state, repeatedly said they needed $4 million to make sure their side won. They received only $1.3 million from Washington residents. National organizations pumped in $1.1 million with perhaps $0.1 million from other out-of-state donors. Which means they raised under $2.6 million, or fell 36% short of their goal.

Anti-gay pastor Joe Fuiton put it this way.
I respect elections. That’s what’s so painful here — it shows this is the society people want.
Yup, we do.

The GOP wants women and minority voters to like them. But why should they? The GOP doesn't like them. Even if the GOP tones down the rough edges, they still won't walk the walk. And voters notice. Terrence Heath explains it all in detail.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Marriage as politics

I wrote a couple days ago about the research that went into what message was best to win marriage equality at the ballot box. I've now read the full report and saw an underlying message. The anti-gay side has been quick to portray gay marriage as a political statement in which gays were out to trash (or, at best, "redefine") marriage, or a statement to tell religious organizations that their beliefs (especially beliefs about gays) were stupid. When our messages reassured voters that two gay people marrying was because they loved each other and not because they wanted to trash religion, then those anti-gay portrayals lost their bite.

Rob Tisinai adds to the discussion by saying we want the rights of marriage -- the public commitment and all that -- because we already accept the responsibilities of marriage. Rob explains how he has accepted the responsibility to take care of his partner Will and Will has done the same. They have already committed to each other.

Let all corporations speak

I had a pretty good Thanksgiving Day yesterday. I visited Mom and Dad and Sis and Niece and other Sis and her partner were also there. When I go to visit on holidays my dad and I have been enjoying putting jigsaw puzzles together. So while in Italy this summer I bought a puzzle showing the Birth of Venus by Bottecelli. We opened it yesterday and started assembly. It didn't take long to find something disconcerting.

American puzzles are designed so if one went strictly by shape one could assemble it accurately. There are stories of expert puzzlers turning all the pieces upside down (only the gray backing showing) before assembly and when done they turn it over to see the picture. In addition each piece is roughly rectangular and whether the tab on any side went in or out was independent of the other sides.

But in Italian puzzles (at least this puzzle) the tabs on a piece are all the same, they either all go in or all go out. There are only two basic shapes. It is also possible sometimes for one piece to fit in another piece's place. I was frequently bending close to make sure that, yes, the woman's floral pattern gown accurately aligned between pieces. We had a big problem trying to get the pieces for that gown together. I picked up one piece which was half gown and half background and saw it must go between her legs. But there wasn't room for it. Then I realized the legs were too close together, which meant the pieces along the puzzle's edge were not in the right order.

Which means my purchase of a puzzle mat and tube to wrap it around was a good investment. Dad will be able to take the puzzle off the dining room table and I'll be able to work with him on it at Christmas … and Easter.

And with Thanksgiving over with I have time to get to an article from last Sunday's Free Press. Supreme Justice Alito recently spoke at a dinner of the Federalist Society (described as "overwhelmingly conservative"). One item in his speech was the Citizens United ruling that allowed SuperPACs and extended free speech rights to corporations. Alito said:
The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely, media corporations. Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech.
Put another way, if any corporation is allowed free speech, then all corporations must be allowed free speech.

Apparently Alito can't tell the difference between a corporation we pay to analyze a candidate's position and voice an opinion on how well that position fits with the needs of the city, state, and nation and a corporation we pay to refine, transport, and sell oil which would only express a political opinion that would benefit itself.

Indiana isn't paying attention

Sigh. Aren't they paying any attention to the news? The GOP increased its hold on Indiana and is talking loudly about having a go at a marriage protection amendment. Never mind three states just voted for marriage equality and a fourth rejected such an amendment. If such an amendment gets through the state legislature it won't go before voters until 2014.

Rick Sutton of Indiana Equality Action is saving their group's energy for the public campaign, letting the legislators play their games. Likely a wise move, especially since they may have as much as 18 months to get ready.

By November of 2014 the Supremes will surely have acted (in some way) on the Defense of Marriage Act and on Calif. marriage equality. Both will surely change public opinion. And might make the whole exercise in Indiana moot.

All this prompted me to look up some of my blog entries from April 2009 when Nate Silver predicted when the voters of each state would first vote against a gay marriage ban (which is far different than when each state would approve -- or have a chance to vote for -- marriage equality or when a state would actually get marriage equality through a ruling on its Supreme Court).

So I checked Silver's post about which year a state's voters would reject discrimination and -- yikes! -- Indiana is projected to turn down an amendment in 2015.

Then again, Silver predicted Minnesota would first reject a gay marriage ban next year and they did it this year. As Silver states at the end of his predictions:
It is entirely possible, of course, that past trends will not be predictive of future results. There could be a backlash against gay marriage, somewhat as there was a backlash against drug legalization in the 1980s. Alternatively, there could be a paradigmatic shift in favor of permitting gay marriage, which might make these projections too conservative.

Overall, however, marriage bans appear unlikely to be an electoral winner for very much longer, and soon the opposite may prove to be true.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Commitment, values, home

Back in 2008 when Calif. put marriage equality on the ballot the anti-gay side carefully researched (with focus groups, among other techniques) what kinds of messages would turn opinions away from allowing gays to marry. They found it best to pull in tangential issues -- gays are gonna git yer kids (in other words, lie). But it was enough to sway the vote in their favor. Those ads were so effective they used them again in Maine in 2009, in North Carolina last May, and in all four states this fall. And I mean they literally used the same ads, only changing the name of the state and the date as necessary. Not too surprising -- they used the same campaign manager. They also used the same technique of bombing the airwaves close enough to the election the pro-gay side didn't have time to effectively respond (and it took a while for the Calif. campaign to figure out they needed to respond).

When the nasty ads began running in late October one gay analysis blog commented (rather snidely, I thought) that the pro-gay side surely knew those ads would be coming, had prepared a response, and it would be fantastic.

Turns out that's exactly what happened.

Back in September 2011 Third Way, a Dem think tank, did all the research for the best way to counter the anti-gay ads. They then shared their findings with the four states running such ads and helped them do the research to make the message state specific. All four states had plenty of time to raise lots of money (unlike in Michigan in 2004 when we barely had 4 months), refine the message, and get a big lead on the anti-gay side. The antidote to the poisonous messages had already been running for a while by the time the poison began to appear. It also helped that we had a huge money advantage so there wasn't as much poison.

Here are some of the things the research found:

* Don't talk about your right to be married. Talk about your commitment to each other.

* Recognize parents fear loss of control over their kids.

* Don't emphasize the kids. Actual preteens don't care whether gay couples marry.

* Emphasize that values are taught in the home, not the school. Even stage the ad there.

* Emphasize messengers who have changed their mind.

* Reaffirm religious liberty.

This sample message was rated highly and includes most of these points, though individual ads didn't include all points.
My name is Bill Stevens. I was brought up thinking that marriage was between a man and a woman, but I came to realize that gay and lesbian people are just born that way. After all, who would choose that harder path? I also know the value of my marriage and the vows we made, so I understand why gays and lesbians would want to make that unique and important commitment, too. I teach my children not to judge others and to practice the Golden Rule. I feel confident that they learn their values from my wife and me and legalizing gay marriage is not going to change that, nor does it threaten my marriage. For all these reasons, I’ve now decided to support marriage for gays and lesbians.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Political homophobia is dead

After the election I noted that Puerto Rico voted for statehood. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin is used to misleading polls showing how much mainstream America still despise gay people. So he took a look at the results of that Puerto Rico election and found something similar. I'm not sure I can explain it, so I'll leave it to him.

Political homophobia is when a politician is for gay rights, but feels he/she can't actually do anything because it would upset the voters and he/she would be booted out of office. Dana Beyer of Gender Rights Maryland says this election marks the death of political homophobia.

Yesterday, I wrote that Dems won a majority of the House votes, but not a majority of the House seats. I lamented I couldn't remember where I read this discrepancy reduces John Boehner's hand in negotiations over the fiscal bluff. Well, I found it. Terrence Heath writes about what voters were voting for and how much that contradicts what the GOP is selling. It is definitely not a mandate, as Paul Ryan tries to spin it.

Fireworks in November

For six weeks from mid November to New Year the park behind my house hosts the Wayne County Festival of Lights. The park is long and skinny, taking up the river's floodplain. Drivers can follow the road along the river for almost 5 miles seeing various light displays, including something for Hanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. I can see bits of some of the displays and see the line of cars. I don't have photos of this year's show (I usually wait until after Christmas when the lines are much shorter). The entrance to the display is about a quarter-mile (as the crow flies) from my house and last Thursday was the celebratory opening, including 15 minutes of fireworks, and I do have a photo of that. Along the way I found how difficult it is to take photos of fireworks with my camera. Time to adjust the focus then actually take the picture is just too slow. Which means I found out how the delete function works.

I spent the afternoon at the Detroit Film Theater watching the current batch of winners of the British Television Advertising Awards. Yup, this is 80 minutes of commercials -- but with the British sense of sense of humor, quirkiness, and beauty. A few I remember:

* All the men, mostly old, participating in a footrace through the countryside, leaping (or not) over walls at the edges of fields, tripping down hills, stepping gingerly over the grates in the road that prevent cows from getting out, and falling in mud puddles. Competition makes for better products. The commercial is for a brand of bread.

* A fat naked man sits down in the steam room, only to discover he is in a restaurant kitchen. It is for an eyeglass company.

* The Aldi discount grocery chain had a series of commercials. In one a kid, whose head is about level with the kitchen counter, comments about and points to the boxes of dishwasher tablets, one a national brand, the other the house brand. But he says he would rather wash dishes this way: he reaches into the sink, pulls out a dirty plate, and licks it.

* Four hunky young men sing about the joys of farm life for an organic yogurt company. That one made the rounds of the gay blogs when it first came out.

* We see various scenes where every device is powered by a tiny gasoline motor with exhaust vents -- hair dryer, mixer, snack vending machine, and even the credit card reader brought to the table at a restaurant (the waiter has to top it off with a drop of gas). Message: We've turned to electricity to drive all kinds of devices. It's time we did the same with transportation. It was for an electric car.

* A young man passes a restaurant several times, catching the eye of a woman. Each time it inspires him into another round of self-improvement -- exercise, extra work, new clothes. He finally enters the bar, passes the woman, and orders a beer.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Happy Birthday dear blog!
Happy Birthday dear blog!
Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday dear blog!

Yup, I started blogging five years ago today. In that time I've written more than 1900 posts. On top of that this blog is an extension of the emails I had been sending out to family and friends for four years before I started posting my news notices and musings here.

Nate Silver and his accurate forecasting is replacing pundits pontificating about what their gut feeling is telling them about who will win the election. For me, that's a very good thing -- listening to someone's gut opinion was a waste of time and down at the bottom of things I wanted to know about the candidates. Andrew Romano in Newsweek considers what those pundits might do instead.

First possible topic of conversation is who should win the election. That means an analysis of the candidate's positions and whether this might help or hinder the country. Second possible topic is how is the candidate going about getting elected. The big news this year was the amount the campaigns (especially Obama's) did data mining to finely tune the message aimed at individual voters. Both of these topics would be a lot more interesting and useful for the country than gut feelings about who the victor might be.

David Frum, conservative columnist in Newsweek, discusses how much the GOP is stuck in the past: "Your answers are so old I've forgotten the questions." He then lists all the ways the country and world has changed since 1980, when conservative hero Ronald Reagan was elected. In 1980, USA and allies produced half the world's output. We were threatened by a great military adversary. The gap between rich and poor was at its narrowest for the entire 20th Century. Watergate era laws meant campaigns were publicly financed. The middle class saw economic progress as the norm. The country was overwhelmingly white. Young women were just entering the workforce (rather than young men exiting). Marriage for straights was the norm and for gays unimaginable. The top environmental concern was risk to individuals. 79% of Americans under 65 were covered by employer-provided health insurance.

There was a time when the Dems were stuck doing the same old thing. They needed a solid loss to get some fresh thinking. The recent Dem victory will hopefully jolt the GOP out of their rut to be a responsible voice for conservatism.

As the fiscal bluff battle began Obama said the country elected him because he promoted higher taxes on the rich. John Boehner responded by saying yeah, but they also elected a solid GOP majority in the House. Mother Jones has one word: gerrymandering.

The total vote for all House Dem candidates was 49% and 48.2% for GOP candidates. Yet the new House has the second biggest GOP majority in 60 years (I gather the biggest majority is for the Congress just ending). The GOP sweep in 2010 meant the redistricting in many states was done by the GOP. For example, in Michigan Dem. House candidates drew more votes than their GOP counterparts, yet Dems get 5 of the state's House seats and the GOP get 9. Which means we may have to get used to a GOP House until 2020. Sigh.

I don't remember where I read this next bit: John Boehner is hopefully aware that his party lost the popular vote, even though they hold more seats. That should strengthen Obama's hand in fiscal bluff and other negotiations.

Paul Waldman in an article for Salon and The American Prospect looks at the GOP's overblown response to the deaths of diplomats in Benghazi. Why is the GOP in such a tizzy? Because Obama, who they consider illegitimate, managed to go four whole years without a scandal. Nothing to impeach him on.

I mentioned the many secessionist petitions floating out there with lots of people signing on. I think the Texas petition notes the state has a huge economy and has balanced its books. Krysten Clark of Jack and Jill Politics notes the balanced budget was because Texas took more help from the federal gov't than it sent to the feds in taxes. And the 47% freeloaders? They mostly live in Red states. Yeah, they're free to sign petitions when their guy loses. But we're free to laugh at them.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Outspent and outvoted

Jon Stewart takes a look at the David Petraeus scandal. Along the way he talks to a military "advisor" who concludes that heterosexuals should be banned from the military because, "These people are incapable of monogamy." Six minutes of fun.

Now that Obama is firmly reelected (and some people just can't handle that idea) a slew of petitions have appeared asking for individual states be allowed to secede from the union. Yep, Michigan is in the list (there is a strong Militia movement in the farm country north of Detroit). If a particular petition gets over 25K signatures within a month, Obama is supposed to consider and respond. The petition for Texas has topped 73K.

David Badash of the New Civil Rights Movement notes there are such petitions in 42 states. He tries to make the claim that the states without such petitions are the ones with gay marriage, but he includes Alaska and Hawaii and leaves out New York and New Hampshire. Oops. But why not let them secede? he asks. Progressives can take their part of the country in the direction they want much more quickly, and conservatives can remake society in their own fashion without big battles. So, if you can, go for it. Except progressives know that the children, minorities, the old, and the poor won't fare well in the conservative parts. Badash ends this way:
But sadly, it’s probably not possible.

So, Tea Party “patriots” will need to become compatriots. They’ll need to lose the attitude. Lose the wing nuts. Lose the hats. Send the GOP to the dust bins of history. And send the anti-gay radical religious right straight back to the Hell from which it came.

Let’s start anew — by recognizing we are a nation of immigrants. And gay people. And Black people. And Women. And…

But God Almighty, cut the selfish, racist, anti-science, anti-evolution, anti-gay, anti-math, anti-education, anti-truth crap. Or get the hell out.

Fred Karger, one-time gay GOP candidate for prez., ponders the invisibility of the Mormon Church in the recent four-state battle over gay marriage for an article in the Huffington Post. That church has been heavily involved in all such battles since the one in Hawaii back in 1998. They were also in the thick of it during the Calif. battle in 2008. The backlash from that battle gave the Mormons a very public black eye.

Karger is the one to talk about all this because he was the one in 2008 who documented and exposed how much money and effort the Mormon Church put into the battle.

Karger says the reason why the Mormons sat out these four battles (actually, five -- they sat out North Carolina last spring) is simple. One of their guys was a candidate for prez. and they didn't want their reputation of bullying gays to hurt Romney's chances.

But will they sit out the next marriage battle? They lost a lot of members over the Calif. fight, so perhaps they will.

In Karger's article I found that Mormon science fiction author Orson Scott Card is on the board of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM -- who were very much our opponents this year). I already knew Card was anti-gay. Now I have an even bigger reason to avoid his books.

NOM is whining they were outspent in the four marriage equality battles this fall. And not by a little, but by 3-4 times. Actually, NOM has been outspent starting with the Calif. battle in 2008. Even so, it leads to a couple questions. Would NOM have still lost if they weren't outspent? See the amount of money spent on the Romney campaign. And why weren't they able to raise as much money as the pro-gay side? Perhaps the Catholic Church is tapped out and nobody else wants to fund a losing cause.

Michelangelo Signorile, also writing in the Huffington Post, notes the shrinking influence of the Christian Right and lists some reasons why that is happening.

* There just aren't enough of them anymore.

* Reaching out to Latinos and Blacks isn't going to fix that demographic problem -- these two groups are changing their views of social issues, especially marriage equality, as fast as the rest of the country.

* Catholic Church members (not the leadership) can no longer be counted on as a reliable conservative vote on social issues.

* Single women (and there are a lot more of them) don't like politicians who want to control their wombs.

* Nine states now have marriage equality.

Signorile says that means the Fundies are getting desperate and their rhetoric is becoming more violent. We dare not dismiss them.

Joe Sudbay, again of the Huffington Post, looks over the last eight years. The string of marriage equality losses in 2004 were quite scary for gay people. It is a different world now, and feels much safer.

Janesville, Wisconsin City Council has extended domestic partner benefits to city and library employees. Lots of towns are doing that now (such as Grand Island, Nebraska, of all places), so why mention this one? It's Paul Ryan's home town.

From the crazy to the cute. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stopped in to Sesame Street to talk to Abby Cadaby about careers.

And Sesame Street deals with a hurricane. This is in three parts. The first part (15 minutes) is all about preparing for the storm and riding it out. The second (15 minutes) deals with Big Bird trying to rebuild his nest, though it is only a small part of the episode. The third (10 minutes) features the actual nest building but is also just a part of the episode. I'm sure lots of East Coast kids had to deal with Sandy, so seeing their beloved characters deal with it would be a help. Beyond noting this episode exists, I'm not exactly recommending you watch it all -- unless you are a fan Sesame Street.

Moral hazard

A few days ago I wrote about the Occupy movement and their Rollover Jubilee program to buy up debt and forgive it. The Marketplace Radio program, which reports on economic news, did a feature on the Jubilee. They noted the term did indeed come from the Old Testament. Then they talked about moral hazard. If people know they can take out loans and not have to pay them back, they won't.

I'm so tired with that argument. So I replied. This is what I sent to the show:

If the Rolling Jubilee is buying debt for pennies on the dollar it isn't a case of the borrower won't pay back the debt, but can't pay back the debt. So it is right to forgive it, clear the books, and move on. Moral hazard, you insist? Let's talk about the moral hazard of putting people into mortgages there is no hope of repaying, ruining their credit score in the process. How about the moral hazard of betting on the economy to crash and reaping millions (maybe billions) from the misery of others. Perhaps we talk about the moral hazard of messing up the refinance process and foreclosing on the homeowner anyway. Let's consider the moral hazard of taking a government bailout then paying executives big bonuses. Then there is the moral hazard of demanding lower taxes to push up the cost of education, burdening students with giant loans. There's even the moral hazard of unaffordable health insurance so those without get stuck with impossible medical bills. Please stop sticking it to the victim.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Solving the debt crisis

I tend to let messages pile up in my email inbox. I've been going through it and filing and deleting lots of stuff -- occasionally finding a message suggesting I read an article that no longer exists. And sometimes finding an old article that still exists and still is somewhat relevant. Two years ago Paul Krugman wrote about the difficulty in resolving parts of the economic mess, in particular the debt and mortgage mess. It wasn't (and still isn't) getting resolved because of the "moralizers" (his term) insist that those who were stupid enough to run up such big debts should pay for that stupidity by having to pay what they owe. Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for that upgraded bathroom that was done just before the collapse.

I could get into a whole lot of scenarios where a person can't pay that debt through no fault of their own. That's exactly what foreclosure defense is all about. But I'll leave that to the reader, only noting that Krugman says some people have lost their jobs because they refuse to bail out their neighbors.

Now contrast that with a new effort by the Occupy movement. They call it the People's Bailout or the Rolling Jubilee (though they don't say, I suspect they are using the word "jubilee" in the Bible's Old Testament sense). Their idea is to raise money to buy debt (available for pennies on the dollar) and then abolish it. They figure with $50K they can wipe out $1 million of debt. To help with that goal they are hosting a People's Bailout Telethon on Thursday with a hefty lineup of entertainers. They note they cannot purchase a particular individual's debt. They will be purchasing random blocks of loans and abolishing whatever is in that block.

The Occupy folks are also doing a great deal of work to help New York residents recover from Sandy. Their work appears quite impressive. If the government won't help in an emergency, the people will organize to provide that help, not for charity, but to build community.

As part of their efforts they have come up with another crazy/great idea. They are using the Amazon wedding registry to list all the tools and supplies they need -- such as the 18 inch utility and wrecking bar.

One more Sandy story: One of the organizations helping with recovery is Team Rubicon, made up of war veterans. These former military people find the work therapeutic. They can use their military skills for good rather than for killing people. This story is part of Newsweek's Hero issue.

Don't chomp on your carrot

GOP pontificators claimed Romney would win by a landslide, which they defined as an Electoral College victory of at least 100 points. Strange that when Obama won by that much a word is missing.

Revenge of the nerds. Nate Silver, star prognosticator of the election, is now seen as a sex symbol and worth parodying. After the election, people started creating tweets suggesting what Nate Silver might do while drunk. A couple examples:
Drunk Nate Silver counting out exactly five hundred and thirty-eight french fries at McDonalds, then slowly dipping 206 of them in ketchup.

Drunk Nate Silver writes a one-sentence letter to PETA: "Don't worry, Schrödinger's cat is fine."
Since Mr. Silver grew up in East Lansing (son of an MSU prof.) the Sunday Free Press did a feature article about him.

As part of austerity tax increases a theater in Spain faced a 21% tax on tickets, a 13 point jump. So now they sell single carrots for a high price (4% tax) and throw in a ticket for free. Please turn off your cell phone and don't chomp on your carrot.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Understood and rejected

Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times reports on the Fundie reaction to the election results. They went all out on this campaign, with 30 million voter guides placed in churches, speaking by Billy Graham and Catholic bishops, and getting their message out any way they could. And they lost. Big time. Gay marriage approved. Outspoken opponents of abortion were trounced. Even marijuana approved. And Obama won.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, put it this way:
It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out. It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed. An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.
What to do about that is a problem (at least for them, I'm quite delighted!). The percent of people, especially youth, who don't declare church affiliation has been rising. The Fundie church population is dropping and getting grayer. The liberal church is becoming more outspoken. The Fundie Christian strategy in politics isn't working anymore. Yay!

Party time!

I mentioned yesterday that Dan Savage wanted to throw a party for all the straight people who made marriage equality possible in Washington. Reader B.D., who lives in Seattle, said that the dessert shop, Cupcake Royale, threw such a party, creating a huge rainbow cake in the shape of the state and asked Dan and his husband Terry to cut the first piece. Click for pictures.

I'm still using my rights

I was off to another protest today. The foreclosure defense team met outside a home in the Grandmont section of Detroit. Most of the homes are probably from the 1920s and look to be in good shape. They also look like they have character, missing from my suburban box. This is one of the better parts of Detroit (in contrast to the area three miles south where I helped board up homes). But BofA insisted on foreclosure.

When the dumpster appeared last week, the first sign of eviction, the defense team appeared and drove around the neighborhood picking up leaf bags and filling the dumpster. The eviction team was not pleased, but it caught the attention of BofA. One of our chants today was, "Dumpsters are for leaves, not for BofA thieves." Probably a bit obscure for most people.

Today, after a bit of speaking at the house, about 75 of us walked about a mile to a BofA branch bank, chanting along the way. That let the residents know we were around if they had mortgage troubles. We protested in from of the BofA branch for a while (a tight fit with so many of us and not much space between the building and the street). The homeowners tried to give a letter to the branch manager, but were refused entry into the bank. We shouted our displeasure for a while, then walked back.

Many of the team will serve as witnesses in court on Tuesday morning as the owners make their case that the bank played fast and loose with the facts. Alas, Tuesday is a work day for me.

A button I saw today: "No, you can't take my rights. I'm still using them."

From there I went off to a suburban cinema to see the Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast of the relatively new (only 8 years old) opera The Tempest by composer Thomas Ades. I've heard of him before but haven't heard much of his music. There isn't much memorable melody, but the emotion comes across quite well. The words are taken from Shakespeare, though condensed and updated. I was fascinated by the character Ariel, mostly because her singing was an octave above what I would have expected -- as in really high. It was a great afternoon.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Choosing to associate with irresponsibility

Richard Socarides, former advisor to Prez. Clinton discusses this as the Gay-Rights Election. Democrats, you can't stand on the sideline anymore. Obama supported gay rights (even gay marriage) and (1) the GOP didn't use it against him (well, I did see a few billboards) and (2) Obama's position energized progressives and the young. Supporting us used to mean a problem at the ballot box. This year not supporting us was a problem at the ballot box.

This appeared the day before the election. It is a video of strong conservative Paul Weyrich explaining why the GOP likes voter suppression efforts. The reason is simple: The GOP does better when fewer people vote. The video was made 30 years ago. And to the GOP, voter suppression is still a good idea.

Jonathan Martin, writing for Politico, notes that since 1992 Democrats have either won the presidency or lost it by only one state. I suppose it is possible to steal one state and get away with it, but not more than that. Martin goes on to discuss the GOP demographics issue -- they're the party of old straight white guys. And there is a big divide between practical-minded (there aren't many moderates) party leaders and the activists driving the primaries. With Romney's loss the True Believers will claim it was because he wasn't conservative enough. Pragmatists claim that Romney (and the party as a whole) is too conservative -- driven by ideology with no view of what can sold to the whole country. This divide will begin to show during the big budget face-off that has begun and will continue until the 2016 nomination. The battle will likely be its most fierce over immigration.

Six minutes of fun as Stephen Colbert interviews Rachel Maddow about the election. Colbert said Romney could still win it because we haven't yet counted the votes of Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, and Whitesylvania.

And six minutes of Jon Stewart showing how much difficulty conservatives had when Fox News called Ohio (and thus the presidency) for Obama.

Apparently, some GOP folk said they would move to Australia if Obama won. Australia has this response: "Australia has universal health care, compulsory voting, no guns, no death penalty, pro-choice when it comes to contraception, openly gay politicians and judges, evolution is taught in all schools, and our female PM is an unmarried atheist. Be sure to declare your pitchforks at Tullamarine."

A commenter replied that Canada doesn't have the atheist female PM, but does have everything else. And it is a lot closer. But they don't want any annoyed GOP, though progressives are welcome.

Now for a couple instances of piling on. Steve Bhaerman of The Huffington Post lists the reasons why he didn't vote for the GOP.

* There aren't any real Republicans, especially not like the heroes Lincoln, Eisenhower, and even Goldwater.

* The war on women, racial minorities, the environment, even reality.

* They lie with impunity.

* Voter repression and vote stealing.

* GOP nominees to the Supremes would solidify the hold of money on power.

* They're wealth extractors, not job creators.

* They combine the worst of both Christianity and social Darwinism (the poor deserve what they get) into Selfish-Righteousness.

* They don't like democracy.

A guy named David, whose personal blog is named 4 Quarters, 10 Dimes, explains why he can't vote for today's GOP, even though he considers himself moderate and independent of any party.

There are a lot of things government has done for us. Slavery was not ended by the free market. Gov't ended the thuggishness of corporations and boosted opportunities for those not straight, white, male, and wealthy. Railroads (and the opening of the West), highways, the internet and other infrastructure was all sponsored by the gov't.

Liberals and conservatives need each other.
Conservatives serve the useful function of putting a brake on the random undirected enthusiasms of liberals, in the way that liberals serve the useful function of kicking conservatives out of their deep dark caves.
But the GOP is no longer acting like responsible adults. That won't change until they hit a seismic loss. Until then, no GOP candidate gets Dave's vote. Someone might be a swell guy and a great candidate, but simply by choosing to be associated with the irresponsibility of the current GOP he loses all credibility.

Why document the reasons the GOP isn't acting like adults? After all, the list of evidence is long and the reality-based community already knows and agrees. But, like the Declaration of Independence, some accounting must take place. So here is why Dave won't be voting for the GOP until they change their ways.

* The GOP claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility is one of the great con jobs. Their mismanagement over the last 40 years has caused the current economic mess and the deficit has risen higher under the GOP than under Dems. Taxes are great -- as long as someone else pays them.

* No actual support for the military. Instead they give it shiny playthings while skimping on things the military actually needs. Then the military is thrown into poorly planned wars while skimming off money to enrich their own corporations.

* They promote selfishness instead of community. Ancient empires collapsed in violence for many reasons, and "the spectre of grinding poverty alongside gaudy wealth with no buffer in between is high on that list."

* They have an ongoing war against women. At recent Congressional hearings on reproductive health the GOP called five experts, all male, most clergy and one celibate. This is just a symbol of a very long list.

* The GOP is under the control of those who want to turn America into a theocracy even though millions of Christians (plus those of other faiths) abhor the idea. Pushing the idea marks the GOP deficient in both history and theology.

* The GOP is systematically trying to destroy education, even though education is the foundation for an economic future and a functioning democracy. They have attacked science and filled curriculum with ideological drivel, underfunded schools (except the ones their kids attend), and vilified teachers. The more educated a person is the less likely they are to support GOP policies. Peasants don't need critical thinking skills.

* The GOP is assaulting democracy both through voter prevention and electoral fraud. "It is not an accident that in Tennessee a student ID is not sufficient to be allowed to vote but a gun registration is." Nobody can find out who actually won Florida in the 2000 election.

* Our current form of government is a republic -- we elect people to make laws. The GOP doesn't like that. It was a GOP president who made frequent use of "signing statements" declaring his opinion was more important than the laws passed by elected officials.

* Several GOP leaders have called for states to secede from the union when things didn't go their way. That's treason. Yet the party embraces them.

I didn't vote a straight party ticket. I carefully researched candidate affiliation (which isn't always possible for judges) and then carefully filled in the ovals on my ballot for individual candidates who weren't GOP, even though it took me 20 minutes. (At 10:15 the line to get a ballot was only 15 minutes.) I may not be pro-Democratic. But, like Dave here (and my friend and debate partner), I am very much anti-Republican.

Alas, though the silly season is over, the nonsense continues. The news is now full of the latest inane comments from the GOP over the fiscal cliff (though a Marketplace radio listener said a better name is the "fiscal bluff"). Obama said that the public is on his side because they reelected him. Boehner responded, yeah, but voters gave the House to the GOP.

Thank a straight person

The SuperPAC that Karl Rove headed spent $400 million on various campaigns, especially against Obama. What did he and his donors get for that amount of money? Zip. A bunch of billionaire donors are mighty mad at Rove. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.

More election results:
* Stacie Laughton, transgender, won a seat in the New Hampshire House, the first transgender lawmaker.

* Mark Ferrandino, gay, is on track to become Speaker of the Colorado House. Pat Steadman, gay, is expected to run for President of the Colorado Senate. We could have a state legislature where both leaders are gay.

* Tina Kotek, lesbian, is expected to become Speaker of the Oregon House.

* Tim Brown of Ohio is both gay and GOP and the only such state lawmaker in the nation.

* Justin Chenette, gay, was elected to the Maine House. He is also the youngest lawmaker at 21.

* Puerto Rico approved an application for statehood! It passed by almost 54%. But don't hold your breath waiting for Congress to approve it.

Dan Savage gives a big thank you to the straight allies who made marriage equality in Washington state happen.
Gays and lesbians are a tiny percentage of the population. We couldn't do this on our own. A majority of the legislators who voted for same-sex marriage? Straight. The governor who signed the law making same-sex marriage legal in Washington state? Straight. The majority of the folks manning the phone banks for R-74? Straight. The overwhelming majority of people who voted to approve R-74? Straight. The president who took a huge political risk and came out for marriage equality before his reelection campaign? Straight. It has gotten better for us—better, not perfect—but it hasn't gotten better for us in a vacuum. It's gotten better for us because straight people have gotten better about us.
Maybe the theme of the next Pride should be "Thank a str8 person." Or a huge wedding reception to include all the allies.

Ari Ezra Waldman thinks marriage equality will happen next in a state where Democrats control both parts of the state legislature and have a Dem governor. States that have (or will have in January) are Minnesota, Delaware, Illinois, Colorado, and Hawaii. In addition to actually allowing gay couples to marry every state with marriage equality deprives our opponents of one of their big arguments and improves the chances the Supremes will rule in our favor. Within a few weeks they'll decide whether to take cases related to the Defense of Marriage Act and the Calif. gay marriage ban.

Alas, The Christian Civic League in Maine wants a do-over. They're pondering whether to take the marriage equality issue back to the ballot box.

I don't remember where I heard this idea, nor do I remember the exact wording. It goes something like this: We'll know we've completely achieved gay acceptance when at a church sponsored dance the parents comment about what a cute couple Ralph and Don are and how good they are for each other. May that day come soon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Evidence of a tipping point

Some gay-specific highlights (and other items that interest me) from yesterday's election outcome.

First, a bit of history: Jim Burroway wrote that back in 1961 Jose Sarria, drag queen, ran for San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He came in 9th out of 34 candidates. Alas, only five joined the board. He was the first out gay candidate to run for office and the 6,000 votes he got meant other San Francisco politicians recognized the need to court the gay vote.

And the big news: Marriage equality was up for a vote in four states and we won all four!

Maine approved marriage equality by 53%.

Maryland approved it by 52%.

Washington approved it by almost 52% (though vote counting is slower there, so this isn't official).

Minnesota defeated a marriage protection amendment by 51% (with another 1% not voting, which counts as a no). Both parts of the state legislature flipped back to Dem so another attempt won't be made. Alas, state law still prevents marriage equality.

After 31 losses this feels great! We've taken away a big talking point -- "Whenever gay marriage comes up for a vote, it loses." Not anymore! By the end of January 9 states will have marriage equality.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin reminds us that the three states that added marriage equality already had some type of recognition of gay couples, such as domestic partnerships. There are 10 such states left. And 31 that offer no recognition of our love (and many of those have constitutional bans). Kincaid thinks the 10 states with some recognition will fairly quickly upgrade to marriage. Then domestic partnerships won't be seen as a viable alternative so the battle will be all or nothing. Or action will come through the courts.

Gay candidates did well:

Tammy Baldwin, lesbian, is the first openly gay US Senator (also the first woman senator from Wisconsin). I hear there is a healthy crop of female freshmen senators.

Her vacant house seat was won by Mark Pocan, who is gay. Yup, passed from one gay to another.

Jared Polis, gay, is returning to the House from Colorado.

David Cicilline, gay, is returning from Rhode Island.

Mark Takano, gay, is new to the House from California.

Sean Patrick Maloney, gay, joins the House from New York.

Richard Tisei, gay Republican, was defeated for a House seat. Voters preferred a gay friendly Democrat.

Kyrsten Sinema, bisexual from Arizona, is ahead, but the race is too close to call.

And other important races:

Elizabeth Warren booted Scott Brown out of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.

Claire McCaskill defeated "legitimate rape" Todd Akin in Missouri to keep her Senate seat.

I think it was 4 years ago, marriage equality came to Iowa through the state Supremes. Two years ago three of the justices who handed down that decision were up for retention votes and targeted by the anti-gay forces. All three were defeated. A fourth was up for retention this year. Again, the battle was fierce, but David Wiggins kept his seat on the Iowa Supremes. Dems kept their hold on the state Senate, so the GOP can't attempt a marriage protection amendment.

The anti-gay mayor of Troy, Mich. who was elected only a year ago, lost a recall vote.

We are very aware that our opponents are not going to slink quietly away. One claims that forty years from now, just like with the abortion issue, the anti-gay crowd will be stronger than ever. That was met with derision. You're gonna license gay wedding venues so that there can be only two in many states? Good luck with that.

With those three new marriage equality I believe we are seeing evidence of a tipping point. That is an incident in time after which change becomes much more rapid. I don't think yesterday's results are the tipping point, only evidence that it has happened in the recent past.

I feel a lot less grumpy today -- I actually feel pretty good about the election results.

Florida won't be a problem

I wasn't going to post tonight. I've stayed up long enough to see Obama win and check a few other races. I'll have a full report (especially gay related contests, which look good, later (hopefully tomorrow).

Before going to bed I thought I'd check the gay marriage question in Washington state. Approval is leading, but the Seattle newspaper isn't calling it yet (polls closed only an hour ago). What caught my attention was a list of 10 election memes -- images or ideas that are floating around the internet. So I read the article. The dude with his surfboard while voting was cute. The last one got me laughing. It is labeled "the single most ironic tweet in election history" (was Twitter around in 2008?).
I am confident in saying that President Obama is going to carry the state of Florida tonight.
-- Al Gore

Monday, November 5, 2012

Blackmail campaign

Nearly 400 people from more than a dozen different kinds of progressive denominations (and not all Christian) held a rally in Seattle in support of gay marriage. Washington does vote by mail, so the end of the march was at the county admin building where participants dropped their ballots into the waiting bins. The post includes some good photos.

One of the dumb conspiracy theories is that Hurricane Sandy was sent to disrupt Romney's chances (he's got to blame somebody -- it can't be him or the policies he's spouting). Mark Sumner summarizes it this way:
Republicans say God sends hurricanes. Republicans say Obama is only ahead because of Sandy. So… God must want Obama to win.
This post shows a couple other ways the Romney team has shown desperation craziness.

One of those is Romney urging businesses to tell their employees that the best interest of the company is in the best interest of the employee. Translation: if you don't vote company interests, you're fired.

This is an example of the blackmail campaign.

Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, expands on that idea. Various commentators (and including the Des Moines Register endorsement for president) say that Romney should be elected because he would be better able to deal with the recalcitrance of Congress. Romney would be able to work with Democrats in contrast to the way Obama couldn't work with the GOP House. After all, Dems are more reasonable.

Krugman says that is accepting "protection-racket politics" -- giving in to the GOP threat of "Vote for Romney or we trash the economy."

Hmm. I've heard talk that the economy is in recovery and if Romney wins he is poised to institute tax cuts and budget cuts and claim these things improved the economy. It seems more likely those policies (sucking money out of the middle and working classes) would stall the economy or send it spinning down again.

So we either have the threat, "Vote for Romney or we trash the economy," or Romney and the House GOP have their way and we end up with "Vote for Romney and the economy gets trashed anyway."

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Voting the gay wallet

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin makes his endorsement for president. Like much of the rest of the country his choice is based on his wallet. But on that measurement he doesn't get far.

The GOP says they'll lower taxes and cut waste. But waste remains and the tax cuts never affect Kincaid's wallet. Dems say they'll provide more services. But Kincaid either doesn't qualify or has to pay a fee. Both parties claim to improve the economy. Neither can explain how their policies will help.

I disagree a bit with Kincaid on that last point. The part about not being able to explain is true. But we've been (and Europe is in the middle of) where the GOP wants to take us and it ain't pretty. No surprise why they can't (won't) explain it. However, I agree (and so does my friend and debate partner) the Dems have done a bad job explaining what they want to do, other than not what the GOP wants to do.

Back to Kincaid's essay. If you're gay there is a big difference in your wallet when looking at the two candidates. Romney wants to keep DOMA, Obama wants to get rid of it. Because of DOMA gays pay higher federal income taxes, inheritance taxes, and taxes on spousal health care. There are also lots of other costs because a gay couple is not officially married, such as the family plan at the health club. And bi-national couples may face a hostile immigration department under Romney.

So Kincaid strongly endorses Obama.

Except he lives in Calif. and the state is going for Obama anyway so he can afford to vote for a third party candidate. He reminds us that is true for Calif. But in swing states, every vote for Obama is important.

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

Bill McKibben wrote an opinion piece for the Daily News. He notes that oil companies contributed to the conditions -- higher and warmer ocean water -- that made Sandy so severe and these same companies contribute heavily to candidates to not do anything about climate change. So he proposes naming big storms after oil companies. Newsreaders would then say with some accuracy, "Chevron forces evacuation of 375,000."

A storm so huge can't just happen. There just has to be something nefarious behind it. The SPLC has collected the latest conspiracy theories that caused the storm. I wonder if these theories appear because the speakers can't admit climate change is a cause. Here are a few of the dumbest causes of the storm:

* It's the gays. America has turned from God.

* Every time someone puts pressure on Israel to divide their land (the "two-state solution") God takes vengeance on America.

* Obama engineered the storm to be his October surprise and win the election. (A president can control the weather and he doesn't get your vote?)

* The Gov't will use this as an opportunity to confiscate our guns, the same way the New Orleans Police did after Katrina.

* The Dept. of Labor jobs report is bad enough to influence the election and the DoL is using the storm to delay it. Actually, the jobs report was released on time and was ambiguous enough that both candidates seized it to support their side.

I had written about the claim that a tragedy should not be politicized. Jonathan Chait of the New York Magazine notes that the Dems are doing precisely that about Sandy and he says they are right to do so. The Dems need to talk about the difference between their funding of FEMA and what the GOP wants to do to it.

In an article for On the Commons David Morris lists all the things the government (at various levels) did to help residents get through the storm. Here are some of them:

The weather service accurately tracked the storm and warned of its ferocity, giving communities time to prepare. Governors and mayors ordered evacuations. Police helped carry out the order. 911 and 311 operators responded to calls for assistance and info. Public buildings converted into shelters. Food and water stockpiled ahead of time. Police and National Guard rescued stranded people. Agencies are cleaning up subways and sewer plants. Other agencies are providing financial relief. And the prez. is being hands-on in leading relief.
When disasters hit, the government is the only agent with the authority and capacity to marshal and mobilize resources sufficient to the undertaking. It can coordinate across jurisdictions and with both the public and private sectors. That’s because its mission is not to enhance its balance sheet but to preserve the well being of its citizens. And in October 2012 it has shown how effectively it can perform that task.
That makes me think not all that long ago such an article wouldn't need to be written because everyone would already understand it. Sadly, that's not the case today.

David Callahan of The American Prospect continues the discussion.
Natural disasters are often highpoint moments for the public sector, reminding us of the power of common institutions that allow citizens to help each other in times of need. The residents, say, of sunny Los Angeles needn't do anything special at this moment, because they have already been doing something—helping fund FEMA with their tax dollars so that it has the capacity to respond to unexpected events like a "Frankenstorm."
Taking care of each other through gov't assistance in a natural disaster is assumed. Callahan asks why is it controversial for the gov't to provide assistance in an economic disaster?

Economic disasters are also something outside the control of the individual and are frequently national (or global) in size. The individual may be helpless before its ferocity.

Charity organizations? They couldn't keep up with Sandy or with the response the gov't can muster. Charities can't keep up with those in need in an economic disaster. Food stamp spending went up by tens of billions during the Great Recession and there is no way charities could fill that need.

You won't hear even conservative politicians say communities swamped by Sandy are on their own. We shouldn't say the same to those swamped by the Great Recession.

Matt Taibbi of the Rolling Stone says Sandy has clarified the small v. big gov't debate. After listing several headlines trumpeting that Obama has won that debate he wrote:
The point is that the storm has become a flash-point for a new media meme: Obama is for big government (which is suddenly a good thing), Romney is for small government (and wants to take rafts and blankets away from flood victims), and goodness gracious, aren't we lucky that we got to see such a clear, real-world demonstration of the important philosophical differences between these two candidates in the week before the election.
Except, Taibbi says, it isn't quite true. Bush II presided over a massive expansion of gov't and Romney could do the same. What's really driving all this?
In the abstract, most Americans want a smaller and less intrusive government. In reality, what Americans really want is a government that spends less money on other people.
Some will deride the welfare queen, but when the water rises to their doorstep gov't programs are a great idea. And that includes rich people inconvenienced by economic troubles.
The only reason we're having this phony big-versus-small argument is because of yet another longstanding media deception, i.e. that the only people who actually receive government aid are the poor and the elderly and other such traditional "welfare"-seekers. Thus a politician who is in favor of cutting services to that particular crowd, like Mitt Romney, is inevitably described as favoring "small government," no matter what his spending plans are for everybody else.
Taibbi then documents the ways all of us -- especially the rich -- benefit from big government.
It's this weird national paranoia about being seen as needy, or labeled a parasite who needs government aid, that leads to lunacies like the idea that having a strong disaster-relief agency qualifies as a "big government" concept, when in fact it's just sensible. If everyone could just admit that government is a fact of life, we could probably do a much better job of fixing it and managing its costs. Instead, we have to play this silly game where millions of us pretend we're above it all, that we don't walk on regularly-cleaned streets or fly in protected skies.

The moral force of the wedding ceremony

Between the Lines, in partnership with Equality Michigan, National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, labor unions, and Sierra Club, has created a progressive voter guide. You can get a page appropriate for your zip code. My paper copy arrived in the mail today (though I probably requested it a month ago). For state House, county, and district court races it provides a table showing which organization endorses the candidate. It also has columns (in some districts) for Michigan Right to Life and the Tea Party to know who to avoid. Finally, someone has recommendations for the 3rd Circuit Court. My ballot shows 17 names and says I can vote for 16 of them. Alas, this guide only mentions 8 names -- though it does suggest who I can avoid.

The comic strip Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller had a couple good ones.
It seems the creator has an accurate take on conservatives.

And a wonderful view of life.

Terrence Heath wrote that austerity policies are decimating Europe. He documents it well. The Greek debt is getting worse, not better. And the GOP is proposing the same policies for America.

Adrienne Baker and Austin Vitt had some unusual features in their wedding ceremony. Both of them and many of their guests wore white ribbons, the symbol of marriage equality. The first reading was not from the Bible, but from the Massachusetts Supreme Court case that made gay marriage legal there: "Without the right to choose to marry one is excluded from the full range of human experience." This wedding was part of a trend -- straight couples using their ceremony to call attention to marriage inequality and proclaim their allegiance with gay couples. They are "using the moral and religious force of the wedding ceremony."

Adrienne's passion for the issue comes from her being biracial. All the verbal abuse heaped on her and her parents she sees being heaped on gay couples. It is time to make a statement.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I collect sunsets

Here's another one, from this evening.

And one of my smoke bush in the glow of the sunset.

Who do they think they are?

As someone who experienced (thankfully only mild forms of) religious oppression, this visual caught my eye. I got it from here.

It is good to share an antidote. Sen. Al Franken's staff dressed up to urge voters to reject the marriage protection amendment in Minnesota.

The American economy is (or was in 2006) about $13 trillion. But various investment companies made a $45 trillion bet that the housing bubble would pop. When it did, it is no wonder that so many insurance and financial companies went bust. Rob Tisinai created a 14 minute video to explain the financial meltdown from a few years ago (and is still a big part of this election season). He posted it to his blog with links to his sources if you want more info.

Tisinai posted a link to Box Turtle Bulletin. A commenter responded "You're wrong!" and provided a link. Another commenter replied, yup, a right-wing site.

Niall Ferguson, Newsweek's conservative columnist, thinks Obama will have an "October surprise" by announcing some kind of deal with Iran over uranium refinement, or giving Israel permission to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. (I'm linking, but I don't recommend you read it).

I think there has already been an October surprise. It wasn't named Iran, but Sandy. It is causing Romney to show his colors.

Profit from tragedy

The standard line is to avoid politicizing a tragedy. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Ari Ezra Waldman asks how does one tell if a politician is actually working to provide relief from a tragedy or merely working for political gain? Was Obama being political when he left the campaign to coordinate relief from the White House? Was Romney being political when he staged an event in Ohio (a swing state) rather than in New Jersey or New York where the help was needed (but are safely in the Obama column). What about the various state and local candidates who bought more ads on news channels knowing they would reach more people who were glued to the news?

Waldman considers ways we might tell whether the candidate is acting out of political calculation and gain.

Is the candidate being selfish or selfless? Since this is a description of character and not behavior, it is hard to tell.

Does the candidate pose and posture or offer solutions? This test falls apart when one considers the House GOP who pass piles of bills they know have no chance of being considered by the Senate.

Perhaps we should consider all candidates with names currently on a ballot somewhere as in it for personal gain. That's way too easy and a pretty low view of humanity. There are some decent politicians out there.

Is the candidate attempting to learn from the tragedy or profit from it? If learning from it he might help prevent a similar tragedy in the future. This question has some merit and as an example Waldman contrasts Gov. Cuomo and Gov. Romney.

Cuomo didn't rip into the GOP, but did talk about dealing with "hundred year storms every two years" and that recovery has to include solutions to protect New York city and state. These kinds of storms are now a reality.

In contrast, all of Romney's actions have been about how he might profit from the tragedy.