Saturday, January 28, 2012

A brown winter

I sit here in the Detroit area looking at the brown winter we've been having. Yes, there has been snow. But I haven't shoveled my driveway yet and this is the end of January. There was one snowstorm when there was enough I probably should have shoveled, but the weather report for two days later said it would top 40F and I knew it would melt.

NASA has released an average temperature for 2011. Data for the average goes back to 1880, so scientists have been saying that 2011 is the ninth warmest since 1880. Yeah, that eliminates warmer periods in earth's geologic history, but it is a bit misleading when discussing the current climate change. All the years that have been warmer than 2011 have been since 1997.

An excuse for cracking down

Newsweek has an interview with George Soros, the billionaire who tends to fund progressive causes and is thus reviled by the rest of the 1%. Soros looks at the state of the world economy and is really worried -- and this from a guy who made his money betting against rising markets. A couple quotes from the article:
To Soros, the spectacular debunking of the credo of efficient markets—the notion that markets are rational and can regulate themselves to avert disaster—“is comparable to the collapse of Marxism as a political system. The prevailing interpretation has turned out to be very misleading. It assumes perfect knowledge, which is very far removed from reality. We need to move from the Age of Reason to the Age of Fallibility in order to have a proper understanding of the problems.”

Understanding, he says, is key. “Unrestrained competition can drive people into actions that they would otherwise regret. The tragedy of our current situation is the unintended consequence of imperfect understanding. A lot of the evil in the world is actually not intentional. A lot of people in the financial system did a lot of damage without intending to.”
And later…
As anger rises, riots on the streets of American cities are inevitable. “Yes, yes, yes,” he says, almost gleefully. The response to the unrest could be more damaging than the violence itself. “It will be an excuse for cracking down and using strong-arm tactics to maintain law and order, which, carried to an extreme, could bring about a repressive political system, a society where individual liberty is much more constrained, which would be a break with the tradition of the United States.”
I would add to the last point how easy it would be, with the Occupy encampments in many cities, for authorities to provoke a riot (as what happened in Oakland) or to pretend an encampment is ripe for a riot as an excuse to crack down.

This rebuttal is just muddled thinking

Last week Andrew Sullivan wrote an article for Newsweek saying we shouldn't be so hard on Obama. The prez. has a long-term view of things so his actions may not make sense in the short term.

This week David Frum offers a rebuttal, giving the conservative line of why Obama must go. It is rare for an article in Newsweek to have me muttering so much. There were so many times I wanted to answer back to say Frum was blaming Obama for something the GOP is doing or to say I didn't agree with the conservative ideals behind Frum's assertion or to say Frum's thinking is just muddled. I could write a long post about my disagreements, but it isn't worth my time. I'll only point out a couple things.

Frum says the proper (market driven) way of reducing oil consumption is to tax it. This allows each person to respond to the increased prices in their own way. I suppose I could agree with that. Frum complains that Obama directly intervenes in the marketplace by subsidizing solar energy (such as the company that failed), canceling the pipeline from Alberta to Texas, and not approving drilling projects in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

My reply:
* Who is it that's blocking taxes in Congress?
* Voters would have a strong reaction to raising the gas tax (even though I personally think it is a good idea).
* We shouldn't intervene in the marketplace? The why don't we end all those subsidies to oil companies who are making billions in profits.
* Even with a gas tax alternate forms of energy will need subsidies for a while and with climate change looming it is worth our future to invest in those things now.
* Sometimes environmental protection takes place over jobs and profits.
* Obama's hand was forced on that giant pipeline by the GOP.
* Obama just opened up huge areas of the Gulf for drilling.
Newsweek commenters (who don't like Frum's reasoning any better than I do) add:
* So if my gas taxes are too high, I can move closer to my job -- and sell my house that is underwater?
* The Almighty Market is not the answer to everything.
* Raising taxes on oil also interferes in the market.

On to the other example. Frum rails against infrastructure projects because that would cause more of us to work directly for the government. That's not good because it makes government larger, those employees can't be fired, and government sets the terms of employment.

Yeah, that is a rich ore to mine. But I won't. I'll only point out that on the next page Frum rails against Obama's big stimulus package because it didn't have enough spending on -- infrastructure.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Infringing on religious freedom works both ways

The Washington state legislature is holding hearings on a marriage equality bill. Both chambers have reported they have the votes for it to pass. They are holding public hearings anyway. During such hearings on Monday several Christian and Jewish leaders said not being allowed to marry the same-sex couples in their congregations is infringing on their religious freedoms.

Why bother if there is a veto threat?

I wrote yesterday about Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, telling NJ Gov. Chris Christie that marriage equality should not be put to a popular vote. "No minority should have their rights subject to the passions and sentiments of the majority." Here's the whole text of Booker's great speech.

Booker's comments can be summarized with: You don't think black people should have had their rights subjected to popular vote back in 1964, do you? Christie replied, well actually I do. Yes, that caused a lot of jaws to hit the floor.

Two years ago NJ state senator Steve Sweeney was a key vote in halting marriage equality in the state. That's something he now deeply regrets, especially since the governor at the time would have signed it. So Sweeney, who is Senate President (don't know if he had that post 2 years ago), is leading the charge for marriage equality. He was asked by a reporter if the Gov. is going to veto it, why bother? Sweeney was offended by that question. He said he and the Senate are going to do what's right. If the Gov. vetoes it we'll deal with that. Steve Goldstein of Garden State Equality says they'll have a good long time to put together an override -- the only time limit for an override is the end of the legislative session, which will be in January of 2014. Here are Sweeney's remarks.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pulling on bootstraps without boots

Jon Stewart interviewed Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. The two videos combined are under 14 minutes. Stewart asks if government is incompetent at doing something (a favorite claim of conservatives) why should it keep doing it? Yes, government should be held accountable. But the things government does (infrastructure, education, research) are shared resources and they build up the middle class. The 1% have shown they have no interest in shared resources. Warren surprised Stewart with a statistic: Many of the big corporations spent more on lobbying than they are charged in taxes. Obviously, with that huge expense they expect it to help their bottom line.

Newsblog Firedoglake runs Occupy Supply. If you buy from them they will send a matching item to an Occupy encampment. As of last Monday there are 60 such encampments (at least that Occupy Supply knows about), with several more under threat of eviction, or have moved inside, or are daytime only. The movement is still strong.

Kevin Gosztola has been an Occupy Supply liaison and wrote a report of visiting the encampment in Buffalo. And, yes, it is winter there.

I recently wrote about Autumn Sandeen and her observation that lots of opponents of civil rights drag the bathroom into the discussion. In another essay she considers the flip side of the issue. If a law restricted bathrooms to the appropriate people, who would check and what would they check for? Do they check for what's under the front of your undies? What about intersex people where the distinction isn't clear? What about pre-op transgender people? Isn't this a monumental invasion of privacy? Do the potty police check ID cards? States have different rules on when a transgender person is allowed to change the gender on an ID. Why not just check facial features or secondary characteristics? There are too many people where classifying them as male or female on looks alone is difficult.

What is the definition of truth? Tea Party organizations in Tennessee want textbooks to omit references of Founding Fathers owning slaves. These great men were "revolutionaries who brought liberty into a world where it didn't exist." We should focus on that progress, and not on the details that get in the way of them being seen as great. We want students to know the truth about America.


Newt Gingrich has talked about his idea of giving jobs to poor kids, such as helping the janitor at school, so they can learn the work ethic. Joi Ruth Orr of Faith Leaders for Community Change wants Newtie to apologize for insulting poor kids. And that bit about "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" -- it can't be done. A poor kid needs a community to make that happen -- especially if the kid is so poor he doesn't even have boots.

No time to learn the job

It was only a few month ago that black gay Republican Bruce Harris was elected as mayor of Chatham Borough, New Jersey. But he won't have the job for much longer. The guy has barely had time to learn the job. But his exit is a good thing -- he is being appointed to the NJ Supremes. And the appointment came from Chris Christie, the GOP Gov. who has now vowed to veto a marriage equality bill.

One of the cases that will soon come before the NJ Supremes will argue that the state's Civil Unions are not equivalent to marriage, a requirement in the Supreme's ruling several years ago.

When Christie said he would veto the marriage bill he suggested it would be better for the whole thing to go before the voters to stop it being a political football. The National Organization for Marriage is salivating at the prospect because making the issue a political football in front of the voter is their specialty. Cory Booker, mayor of Newark has blasted Christie saying that rights should not be up for a vote.

More satisfaction than money

Those who insist a market solution is available for every problem (I don't agree at least in the cases on health care, education, and national infrastructure) say that discrimination should be handled by market forces. Ari Ezra Waldman summarizes the argument this way:
Laws that ban workplace discrimination are unnecessary because any company that discriminates for irrational reasons (on the basis of gender, race, religion, and so on) are not hiring the best and brightest. By not hiring the best employees, these companies will suffer when competing against firms that do not discriminate and hire the best workers regardless of personal characteristics that have nothing to do with their productivity. When the discriminatory firm is faced with revenue loss or loss of market share or business failure, it will drop its discriminatory hiring practices in order to survive. Therefore, anti-discrimination laws unnecessarily impose government regulation where the free market should function efficiently, weeding out discriminators for economic ruin.
Waldman sees three problems with that argument.

1. Discrimination (such as against gay workers) may bring more satisfaction to the employer than the increased profits would.

2. Yeah, we're fabulous, but not so fabulous that our absence from a workplace will make much difference. Discriminate against women and your employee pool drops by 50%. Discriminate against gays and your employee pool drops by about 2%.

3. That nearly all big companies now have non-discrimination policies does not imply causation -- they may not have done it for purely economic reasons. As long as the society thinks it is acceptable to discriminate against gays an employer may not realize there is an economic advantage (sigh, however small) to hiring gay people. A law is a way for a society to say gays are not second-class citizens, even if it takes a generation or two for the general populace to agree.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It is all reduced to the potty

One incident in the movie The Help plays out over the course of the movie. A black maid sees a severe storm brewing at a time when she badly needs to use the toilet. She defies her employer and uses the bathroom in the house and is fired. A white character tries to get the state legislature to ban black domestics from using the "white" facilities in a white home. They have their own diseases, you see. Another white family builds a separate bathroom for the help, telling her how pleased she should be to have her own facilities while ignoring how humiliated she feels.

Autumn Sandeen, a transgender woman, notes how many times civil rights issues degenerate into fear of bathroom assault.

Jim Crow demanded separate public facilities for black people.

Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum dismissed the need for the Equal Rights Amendment because it would ban separate public restrooms for men and women and if men used unisex restrooms they couldn't control their sexual urges.

Critics of the Americans with Disabilities Act complained about the expense of accessible bathrooms.

Gay men were (and sometimes still are) accused of being pedophiles and thus made public restrooms unsafe. A big part of the fear of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell was the fear of gay men attacking their straight colleagues in the latrine and shower.

And a big argument against acceptance of transgender people is that transgender men are really "men in dresses" and do that simply to attack women and children in public restrooms.

Why do these same arguments come up every time a minority fights for rights? Because as a scare tactic it works. Really well.

Sandeen says the issue needs a logical study:
1.) Is bathroom predation of women and children by “men in dresses”/”transvestites” is really a common occurrence? 2.) If it is a common occurrence, is it a more common occurrence in countries, states, provinces, territories, counties, and municipalities where public accommodation antidiscrimination laws based on gender identity have been put into law?
The people who use the bathroom scare haven't done such a study. Why bother when their unsupported claims work just fine? The progressive folks haven't publicized a study yet, though some research has been done. A commenter had been a part of such a study and found when bathroom assaults took place the transgender person was never the perpetrator and always the victim.

Speaking the language

Essayist Terrence Heath talks about why Newt Gingrich has jumped to the top of the GOP pack. Newtie played the race card, speaking the language of South Carolina.

As part of Newt knowing his audience Heath quotes Paul Waldman who explains how the GOP, or at least Newt, operates. Yes, they promote class warfare (while accusing Obama of the same thing). But it isn't based on economic classes. As we've heard for many years, it is a cultural class warfare -- Don't worry about the economy because those liberal elites are out to destroy the soul of the nation. As the economic mess drags on, fewer people are buying that argument.

Newtie adds one more ingredient into his winning stew. He characterizes Obama as a black person who has become too "uppity" -- who has forgotten his proper place in society. Of course, he doesn't say that in so many words.

My friend and debate partner has said such culture war/racist talk might resonate with the GOP base and give Newtie the nomination. But it won't play well in the rest of the country. Alas, so much of what Newtie says is a dog whistle -- the intended audience is energized by it and everyone else has a hard time understanding why an apparently harmless statement should be considered inflammatory.

Classified as dangerous

I have watched over the last couple months as my readership in Russia has taken off. There have been a few times when Russian readership is higher than American readership. By January 19 the number of page hits for the month from all sources topped the number of hits for all of December.

The blogging statistics also tell me what sites refer readers to my site. A Russian site was consistently at the top of that list. So I clicked on it. My security system told me that was a Dangerous Page and I probably didn't want to go there. I agreed and the reference to my site will remain a mystery to me.

Today I updated a personal website page that I use for teaching, adding a few more sound file links. When I brought it up to verify I had done it correctly I was told it was a Dangerous Page. Something strange here.

I started a chat session with the security system support and told the staff person about it. She guided me to a place that would evaluate the page (yup, dangerous), and then allow me to override the classification. I don't want my students to be told the page with their homework assignment is Dangerous.

During the chat I asked why my site was tagged. I wanted to know what was wrong so I could fix it. I got responses such as, "It could be any number of things," and, "The important thing now is to resolve the problem." I can smell evasion and said so. I can understand the need to protect algorithms and to not want to admit the software goofed. However, I now have less trust in their software. I told her that too. Since she didn't tell me what I could fix I now suspect a goof in their algorithm that determines if a page is Dangerous. Another possibility, since I found another personal page declared Dangerous, is the algorithm classified all pages from the same server -- which includes all personal web pages hosted by a giant internet provider.

That doesn't mean I'm going to go back to that Russian site, even though I'm still curious. I would welcome any of my Russian readers to leave a comment telling me about how they found my blog.

Another little detail from the readership statistics: the latest country to show up is St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It's a series of tiny islands in the eastern Caribbean.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Love and religious trappings

Michael Wood explores Romans, chapters 1-3, the passages around the only reliable mention of homosexual acts by Saint Paul (other passages have translation issues). I didn't realize this chunk of text contains an apparent contradiction. Paul appears to say both that we are justified before God by what we do and that we cannot be justified before God by what we do.

So Wood consulted translation specialists and went digging. What he found is that the commandments of the Old Testament are of two types. One type is an expansion of Leviticus 19:18 -- "Love your neighbor as yourself." These are commandments on ethical issues about how one person is to treat another.

The other type of commandment deals with the rituals of worship, religious ceremony, circumcision, diet, cleanliness, and what it means to be holy. Put it another way, these are all the things that make a person a Jew.

What Paul is saying is: If you love your neighbor you are doing what God wants.

If you do all the other religious trappings except love your neighbor you are not doing what God wants.

Liberal Christians have a tendency to dismiss Paul's writings. The contradiction above -- and Paul's one comment about homosexual acts -- are some of the reasons for that dismissal. But conservatives don't. And a liberal dismissal of Paul only makes conservatives dig in their heels. But with this understanding Liberals can embrace Paul.

All issues, including sexual issues and including homosexuality, can be discussed in view of whether the action shows love or doesn't. If it shows love, it is good. If it works against love, it is bad. If neither (such as dietary laws) it has no moral component. Homosexual love is good. Homosexual rape is bad. Homosexuality by itself has no moral component.

Wood is convinced this new historical understanding will lead to conservative acceptance of gays. I'm not at all convinced. Yes, it will help.

Alas, a great deal of the conservative view, though originating in the Bible, is now intertwined with other things:

* Fear of gay people.
* A strong need to assert superiority (heterosexual superiority is only one part of this).
* A strong need to claim their worldview cannot change.
* They've built a religion on the inclusion of a strong denunciation of gays revising this piece brings the whole thing into question.
* Their pronunciations give them power which they won't let go of easily.

So, I don't think this will change their minds. It is too easy to brand Wood as misguided or a heretic.

Complications of Biblical logic

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin has thought about sexual orientation and spirituality and came to this conclusion:

1. God created me same-sex attracted.
2. Despite my prayers He seems to have no intention of changing me.
Therefore one of these is true:
3a. God is perfectly fine with me being gay.
3b. God is a monster.
3c. God doesn't exist.

Orthodox Judaism has created a Torah Declaration and the logic comes out this way:
1. The Torah makes it clear homosexuality is unacceptable.
2. G-d cannot create a human who is unable to find a loving relationship within Biblical prohibitions.
3. Same-sex attractions can be modified and healed.

Kincaid points out there is an objectively testable reality: Does reorientation happen? The answer has been a resounding no.

That leaves two possibilities:
1. These Orthodox rabbis will realize the error in their logic.
2. These rabbis will end up without congregations to lead. This appears to be happening.

Mayors taking sides

Many American mayors met for a big conference recently (I'm sure there is an official name for it). Out of that came Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. It was led by the mayors of New York, Boston, Houston, San Diego, and Los Angeles. I haven't counted the list myself, though I've heard the total signatures tops 80 names. Included in it are the mayors of Michigan cities Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and Hamtramck.

Amazingly, Indiana will offer a gay-friendly license plate! This might be the first in the nation (commenters dispute first place). The plate shows a hand in front of rainbow stripes with the words "Indiana Youth Group." That's the organization that will get $25 of the $40 fee. See an image here.

Shifting the balance of power

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the one that says gays can't be fired simply because they are gay, is going nowhere in the GOP controlled House. That has led Ari Ezra Waldman to discuss the possibility that Obama will implement ENDA, at least for federal contractors, through executive order. Obama might do this to show what he can get done without Congress.

Some progressives might say that Obama is following the lead of Bush II in amassing power in the executive branch. But a Congress that blocks everything and does nothing also shifts the balance of power by giving themselves no power.
That may well be the conservatives' goal: an absent federal government can do no harm when you have no faith in the federal government. But, progressives believe in the transformative power of government and, as such, the executive should act where Congress should, but will not.
And creating ENDA through executive order is a way for Obama to show that transformational power.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Slow and deliberate and unprovocative manner

I've written a lot about my grumpiness with Obama. I think he's a wimp, too willing to compromise, not willing to stand up for the progressive cause, not bringing the creators of the financial collapse to justice, and perhaps a bit too beholden to possible corporate backers. There is also the matter of continuing some of the human rights abuses of Bush. The only reason why I plan to vote for Obama this year is he isn't GOP (and I'm much more interested in defeating the GOP). I'll let you browse my writings for other complaints.

Andrew Sullivan, writing the cover story for Newsweek, thinks I -- and liberals in general -- don't appreciate what we have. As for conservatives, they don't understand Obama either. Thus Obama will likely beat them in November.

Sullivan is conservative and gay, but not the kind that would be a member of Log Cabin Republicans. However, he understands that we can't let the current GOP win. It's good to have Obama ready to take them on.

Sullivan goes over Obama's record and says the prez. actually accomplished a great deal in three years and there is much in these accomplishments for the country to appreciate. In just gay issues, support for gay marriage has increased dramatically (but what did he do to make it happen?), DOMA won't be defended, gays now serve openly in the military, federal gov't hiring policies now protect gay workers, and the State Department has made gay rights a part of human rights.

Obama achieved some of those gains by not caring who got the credit and doing it in a way that can't be easily undone. On gays in the military:
But what he was doing was getting his Republican defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to move before he did. The man who made the case for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was, in the end, Adm. Mike Mullen. This took time—as did his painstaking change in the rule barring HIV-positive immigrants and tourists—but the slow and deliberate and unprovocative manner in which it was accomplished made the changes more durable. Not for the first time, I realized that to understand Obama, you have to take the long view. Because he does.
And on Obama's method of operation:
And what have we seen? A recurring pattern. To use the terms Obama first employed in his inaugural address: the president begins by extending a hand to his opponents; when they respond by raising a fist, he demonstrates that they are the source of the problem; then, finally, he moves to his preferred position of moderate liberalism and fights for it without being effectively tarred as an ideologue or a divider. This kind of strategy takes time. And it means there are long stretches when Obama seems incapable of defending himself, or willing to let others to define him, or simply weak. I remember those stretches during the campaign against Hillary Clinton. I also remember whose strategy won out in the end.
As for upholding the progressive cause, Sullivan says Obama never pledged to do that.

Sullivan has some good points, and it is good to see a summation of Obama's record and an explanation of what Obama is trying to do. However, I'm not completely convinced. Sullivan doesn't provide an explanation of what is going on with those human rights abuses.

Generating discussion

Norm Magnusson has created the I-75 project. That Interstate stretches from Sault Sainte Marie in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan all the way to Miami, Florida. It also passes about a dozen miles from my house (though I don't have a need to take it often). Magnusson noted that, other than Michigan, I-75 runs through red states (I note I-25 is also close to running through only red states). To prompt discussion Magnusson created signs that could be mistaken for historical markers with short sentences that he hopes will prompt discussion.

An example of the signs:
On this site stood Robert Oknos, who thought that global warming would not affect him in his lifetime.

Your threat isn't working

A poll in New Jersey says that 52% of voters approve of gay marriage. The legislature appears ready to approve such a bill. As for GOP Gov. Chris Christie, well, he now says tell us what he'll do when the bill comes to his desk. He has, in the past, said he would veto it.

True to form, the National Organization for Marriage has pledged a half-million dollars to show appreciation for GOP lawmakers who vote against the bill and heap scorn on those who don't. In that past, such NOM pledges have come across more like bribes than campaign donations and this is likely no exception.

But GOP lawmakers in NJ may not quake in their boots at the prospect of NOM funding their opposition. NOM made the same pledge to New York GOP legislators last year. Four of them defied NOM and voted for marriage equality. And since then the campaign cash has been flowing in their direction -- in record amounts. So much for NOM's threat.

Brian Brown, head of NOM is unimpressed. Money won't buy them out of their trouble, he says. People are outraged and they'll be defeated.

A commenter named MikeinSanJose sums it up this way:
In fact, people are SO outraged that they are sending check after check to express their shock and horror, with angrily scrawled signatures under dollar signs viciously punctuated with multiple commas and zeroes.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Emotionally hostile to the needs of the poor

A year ago, Richard RJ Eskow of the blog Crooks and Liars, listed ten quotes of Martin Luther King that describe how we should work towards the common good. He then commented how well we are meeting each of those goals.

A year has gone by and we honor King again. So, Eskow repeated the ten quotes. We have made a little progress, thanks to the uprising in Madison and the Occupy movement. But we have a long way to go.

The quotes by King are from:
* Where Do We Go From Here, a speech given in August,1967.
* Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, April 1967 speech.
* Letter From a Birmingham Jail, April 1963.
* A Testament of Hope, essay published posthumously.

1."True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
The culture of Vulture Capitalism (a phrase now in use by GOP nominees) didn't just happen. "It was made by politicians. It should be un-made by politicians. The system is the problem and it needs to change."

In 2000 the poverty rate was 11.3%. It is now over 15%. "Is that OK with you?"
2. "We must develop a federal program of public works, retraining, and jobs for all -- so that none, white or black, will have cause to feel threatened ... There is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum and livable income for every American family."
The only bills proposed in Congress are disguised tax breaks for the rich. As for large numbers of poor whites voting for the GOP, King said,
"The unemployed, poverty-stricken white man must be made to realize that he is in the very same boat with the Negro. Together, they could exert massive pressure on the government to get jobs for all. Together they could form a grand alliance. Together, they could merge all people for the good of all."
Nobody is addressing the long-term job-loss catastrophe.
3. "A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth."
Eskow quotes wealth inequality stats, including a drop in minimum wage, though sees some hope: "Hello, Occupy!"
4. "The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that encourages men to be I-centered rather than thou-centered."
Eskow quotes a few bankers and hedge-fund managers lecturing us about morals and describes the work they do to keep the government regulations from working.
5. "Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals."
The International Monetary Fund has reported a strong correlation between bank lobbying and risky bank behavior.
6. "An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal."
There is a great deal of lawbreaking by banks as part of the home foreclosure mess.
7. "When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
Eskow wrote:
Banking has become divorced from reality. When the financial sector can enrich itself with speculation alone, it no longer needs to fund concrete business activities. That's why statements like "Main Street and Wall Street rise and fall together" are 100 percent incorrect: Those two geographies have never been more distant from one another.
Racism? Look at disparities in infant mortality, poverty, and employment.

Militarism? Defense budget is growing, as is Homeland Security -- which is looking for new targets of surveillance.

Materialism? We don't even try to curb that.
8. "There is also the violence of (African Americans) having to live in a community and pay higher consumer prices for goods or higher rents for equivalent housing than are charged in white parts of the city."
Banks won't open branches in poor neighborhoods, but they will open Payday Lenders, which trap the poor in debt.
9. "Congress appropriates military funds with alacrity and generosity. It appropriates poverty funds with miserliness and grudging reluctance. The government is emotionally committed to the war. It is emotionally hostile to the needs of the poor."
There is a huge contrast between Congress and the American citizen on what to do about the poor.
10. "Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus."
Obama has shown a tiny bit of spine lately, but it took him a long time to find it.

Another quote by King, shared in the comments:
"I say to you, this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live. You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid.

You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab or shoot or bomb your house. So you refuse to take a stand.

Well, you may go on and live until you are ninety, but you are just as dead at 38 as you would be at ninety.

And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

You died when you refused to stand up for right.

You died when you refused to stand up for truth.

You died when you refused to stand up for justice."
And one from Bobby Kennedy
"We will find fulfillment not in the goods that we have, but in the good we can do for each other."
Thank you, Martin, for your wisdom.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The only sin being celebrated

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin has noticed a change in Exodus, the leading organization that promoted ex-gay therapy. It is a change in what Alan Chambers, President of Exodus, has been saying. That gives Kincaid hope that Exodus won't work so hard to demonize gay people and spiritually abuse them while trying to make them not gay.

The posting's commenters weren't buying it. They said that the only change is Alan Chambers is getting much better and more nuanced in public relations. And if Chambers really has changed there are a lot of ways he can prove it -- starting with admitting all the harm Exodus has done over the last few decades.

Jim Burroway, fellow author on BTB pulled out a counter example, writings of Mike Goeke. He is on the Exodus Board of Directors and wrote an op-ed just this past week in the Baptist Press. Goeke says that homosexuality is worse than any other sin because:

* It is the only sin being celebrated. What other sin has a pride parade? There are no greed parades, people proudly claiming to be gossips, or proudly claiming to be promiscuous.

* It is the only sin with an accepted theology built around it.

That's why it is a threat to civilization (well, a threat to the church, which in his theology is the same thing as civilization).

The words of Goeke seriously undermine what Kincaid thinks Chambers is saying. Or Exodus board meetings will soon be getting very interesting.

Again, commenters have a lot so say.

Kincaid responds to Goeke (not Burroway) by saying Ticker Tape Parades have been held for greedy people, the entire tabloid industry is made up of proud gossips, there are indeed organizations devoted to fat pride (gluttony), and liars openly gather in local bars and on TV. Another notes there is a greed pride going on now: the GOP nominating process. There is mayhem that occurs at big stores every Black Friday and there are contests about who can eat the most.

Commenter Theo notes the purpose of Exodus is (1) to show gay people can become straight and thus ineligible for civil-rights protections, and (2) to justify anti-gay punitive measures.

I've been ready with the argument: "You think gay people can change? Have you checked the success rate of Exodus?" That information is hard to find, for a reason. At times Exodus has claimed a 1/3 success rate (though highly disputed). Chambers now admits to a 0.1% success rate (which includes himself).

Theo notes that Bryan Fischer of National Organization for Marriage has said the success rate doesn't matter. As long as one person has changed it means change is possible and thus gays can't be protected from discrimination. The rest just weren't trying hard enough or simply refused to change. One successful conversion (even if a bisexual deciding to follow his/her straight side) justifies Fischer being a bully.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lest there be question

A broad coalition of Fundie denominations -- including Mormon and Orthodox Jewish -- have issued a letter saying their religious freedom is being restricted. Ya see, they aren't being allowed to discriminate against gays. This covers religious institutions such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, adoption services, counseling services, and more.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin summarizes it this way:
In the name of faith and religion they explicitly demand the ability to fire gay people, deny them employment, deny education, healthcare and housing, and instill punitive taxation. Further they demand exemption from restrictions which require that public funds are provided to the citizens without discrimination.
My reaction to the first sentence is: Fine, let them (though I'm not clear about the "taxation" part). But I draw the line at the second sentence. No, I don't want my taxes to pay for my discrimination.

Kincaid continues:
I find these declarations useful. They establish, lest there be question, those churches that feel entitled and privileged and who actively serve as a danger to the freedom not only of gay people, but of all Americans who dare to differ with them in any area of doctrine or dogma.
Yes, this will cause people to rethink their membership and for others to turn away from joining. Let such unholy institutions die.

Being anti-gay doesn't win elections anymore

Dan Savage, the one behind Santorum's "Google problem," has a few things to say about the GOP field. There were four outspoken anti-gay candidates -- Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Santorum. They threw a lot of red meat to their base.

But gay people didn't take the abuse and frequently confronted the candidates. I've heard of many of these confrontations, though I didn't report on them.

The result? Cain is gone. Bachmann is gone. Perry is hanging on by his fingernails (just wait a week). And Santorum is a distant third with half the support of Romney. Real Clear Politics has a cool graph showing the succession of front-runners.

Marriage law is about more than marriage

The GOP controlled legislature in Michigan, signed by the GOP Gov. have barred employment benefits to partners of gay and lesbian government employees. This overturned many city ordnances which offered partner benefits. The justification was that the 2004 marriage protection amendment prevents any acknowledgment of gay couples. The ACLU has filed a suit saying this is discrimination -- the new law specifically states benefits are only taken away from gay couples.

Ari Ezra Waldman discusses what is behind the law. First, it isn't really about the benefits. Waldman wrote:
It is counterproductive to couch our fight for equality in terms of things, stuff, and other accoutrements of state largesse.
There are things to learn from the case:

* States are still trying to discriminate against gays.

* The Calif. gay marriage case is about more than marriage in Calif. It shouldn't be derailed by trying to get the question back on the ballot.

* Marriage law is about more than marriage. There are far reaching implications.

Waldman explains the case and implications in detail.

Not all the commenters on Waldman's post agree. Some of their reasons:

* We need to repeal the Calif. ban at the ballot box to show that citizens are for marriage equality, not just "activist" judges.

* A win in Calif. would boost our chances in Washington State and New Jersey (both considering bills) and other states around the country.

* Even if Californians vote to make marriage legal that doesn't prevent the ACLU from proceeding with the Michigan case. There are lots of similar cases in progress around the country.

Ya think?

This is a sign at how low journalism has sunk, though it might also be a sign that things might improve. Arthur Brisbane, an editor at the New York Times -- a highly regarded source of news -- wrote an editorial wondering "Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?" He wrote it because a reader wrote:
In other words, if a candidate repeatedly utters an outright falsehood (I leave aside ambiguous implications), shouldn't the Times's coverage nail it right at the point where the article quotes it?
Brisbane continued:
This message was typical of mail from some readers who, fed up with the distortions and evasions that are common in public life, look to The Times to set the record straight. ... Is that the prevailing view?
This left commenters bordering on speechless. Didn't you learn to do that in Journalism 101? Have we sunk so low we don't know what a fact is? Something is wrong if you even have to ask this question. Better yet, don't repeat candidate lies.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Investments come with expectations

Andrew Romano has a big article in Newsweek about the Obama campaign machine and how it dwarfs the combined GOP field and is well beyond his fund raising in 2008. The war chest is big enough I wonder who he is beholden to? Are corporations funding Obama as well as GOP candidates? Does that mean he'll claim to be on our side, yet will do their bidding?

The article also discusses the various ways that the campaign will be using technology to reach out to voters.

The question of whose bidding Obama might do is wholly appropriate. The PAC Americans for Prosperity, the one funded by the Koch brothers, has published a scorecard with the five senators and 39 representatives that achieved an AFP 100% grade. Apparently, money well spent.

Mother Jones has an article on the 20 top givers in this election cycle. Of the 20, 17 gave to GOP and conservative candidates and PACs. At the top of the list is Sheldon Adelson, who got his wealth through Las Vegas casinos. Adelson gave $5 million to Gingrich's SuperPAC, which is doing all it can to take down Romney.

NPR did a story in the last couple days (alas, I didn't take note of time and can't find it now) that said a campaign with more cash than the opponents doesn't always win. The high correlation between campaign cash and victory does not imply causation. It could be the same qualities in a candidate that attracts votes also attracts dollars.

So, Obama's stash of cash does not mean he'll win.

Taking the other guy down too

It has been rather interesting to see how the GOP field is going after each other. Perhaps I should rephrase that -- the Super PACs behind the candidates are going after other candidates. One wonders (hopes) the nominee will be so damaged in the process he can't win in November.

Terrence Heath documents what Romney said about Gingrich (causing Gingrich to drop about 20% in Iowa polls), and what Gingrich is saying about Romney. And it is all true.

First, about Gingrich:
* He was fined $300,000 for ethical violations while Speaker of the House.
* He received $1.6 million from mortgage company Freddie Mack.
* He's a career politician and continued to be so after leaving the House.
* He became wealthy through selling his influence through connections created by being House Speaker
* He has a record of being on both sides of a long list of issues, a list longer than Romney's known flip-flops.

But Gingrich is near the middle of the pack now and we may not have to worry about him getting close to the nomination. But Gingrich appears to be willing to take Romney down as he goes. So, about Romney:

Before getting into politics, Romney was head of Bain Capital, a company that bought other companies, fixed them up, and sold them for a profit. Romney likes to say that he has worked in the private sector and knows how to create jobs. But the point of Bain was to create money for investors and jobs were beside the point. And a good number of the companies bought by Bain were liquidated, taking the jobs down the tubes too. The people who used to have those jobs are now speaking out. Even when those companies were liquidated Bain -- and Romney -- made money.

Heath pulls apart the exit polling in New Hampshire and shows Romney decisively won the 1% vote.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Who the other students will be

Education in many community public schools is so bad that irate parents are turning to charter schools. Michigan recently raised the cap on the number of permitted charter schools and, I think, the cap goes away in a few years.

Beside the dubious benefit of charter schools -- many are not better than public schools -- they are leading to another undesirable effect. Our schools are becoming more segregated. There are three reasons for this.

* Charter schools serve as neighborhood schools and most of our neighborhoods are segregated. That's an issue we haven't addressed yet. Many charter school companies will intentionally place a school in a minority neighborhood and woo the kids of that minority. That might be good for those kids, but it is still a segregated school.

* The choice of school, from a parent's perspective, depends on both what is taught and who the other students will be. School choice allows bigoted parents to take their kids elsewhere.

* When a charter school makes a choice available, not everyone can take advantage of the choice. Charters are exempt from laws that require schools to offer transportation, food for low-income students, specialists for developmental problems, or teachers for the non-English speakers. Great school, but for poor, autistic, or immigrant kids it's a false choice.

But the idea of school choice has taken hold, even in public schools, a toxic idea.

Now contrast that with Finland. No charters, no private schools, no school choice, no "reform" movement. All schools are public and all are adequately funded.

Return on investment

Those in the 1% need to invest all that money they have lying around. Get it working! But the stock market and bond market aren't going to return much on an investment, so alternatives are big. And those alternatives are: SWAG --- Silver, wine, art, and gold. The price of art has gone through the roof and is now considered an "asset class."

Sam Pizzigati of Campaign for America's Future notes:
The Artprice Global Index, a broader tally of the prices works of fine art are fetching, has art values up 120 percent over the last decade.

Fine wines, the Liv-Ex wine index shows, have jumped about 300 percent since 2000. Gold has appreciated at an even higher rate, as has silver.
All this wealth hangs on walls, sits in wine cellars, or sits in safes. Hmm. Perhaps an investment bubble looming?

Now contrast today's rich with those in the 1950s. Income taxes were up around 90%, so Anna Dodge, widow of Horace and heir to the Dodge auto fortune invested her entire $56 million in municipal bonds.
They paid only 3 percent in interest. But the dollars invested in municipals paid off handsomely for the mid-century 99 percent. Those dollars financed the schools and sewage plants and waterworks that created the foundation for the classic American middle class.

The new/old wedge issue

Back in 2004 gay marriage (not marriage equality) was the big wedge issue. It was rammed onto state ballots to encourage the Fundies to vote. It highlighted the difference between GOP and Dems. There was no concern who it hurt.

My, how things change in eight years.

Democrats in the New Jersey legislature have introduced bills S1 and A1 (A for Assembly) to legalize gay marriage. Yup, they are numbered to be the first item of business of the new legislature. And it will have to be marriage because NJ already has civil unions that are supposed to be the same as marriage in everything but the name. Marriage equality was mandated by the NJ Supremes several years ago and gay groups have a date before the Supremes to say civil unions aren't really equal to marriage.

These bills will likely pass. Alas, Gov. Chris Christie has said he disapproves of gay marriage. He may veto the bills, or he may not sign and allow them to take effect without his signature. There probably aren't enough votes for an override.

Timothy Kincaid says it this way:
Just as it was in 2004, gay marriage is again becoming a wedge issue. But this time it is opponents of equality who are embarrassed and defensive and trying to explain why their positions are inconsistent with will of the populace.

Now we will soon learn in New Jersey whether marriage equality has become so socially accepted that civil unions support is a position that can hurt a politician.

Words and the shade of meaning

Not long ago someone noted that the phrase "gay marriage" implied that the love between two gay people way quite different from the love a straight couple had. Thus marriage for gays was a different type of marriage. And laws for gay marriage could be quite different from laws for straight marriage.

Several groups stressed the use of "marriage equality" instead. I began to use it myself.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin says even that phrase is too confining. We want equality, not just in marriage. We don't stress racial equality, just equality. Kincaid wrote, "Equality is equality and it should not be presumed to come with asterisks, qualifiers, exceptions, and omissions." So the question should be "Do you support equality?"

Commenters were not entirely convinced. Simply stressing equality is too vague. People have to be shown that the pursuit of equality includes marriage, parenting, adoption, holding a job, attending church, feeling safe at school, and a whole host of other things. I am too aware of churches who proclaim "We welcome all people," and are quick to say, "But not you."

Even so, Kincaid says the dialog can go this way:
Q: Do you support equality?
A: Yes, of course I support equality!
Q: Equality for gay people?
(believe me, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t know what that question is asking)
A: Well… I believe that blah blah blah family, special, history, church blah blah blah
Q: So then you don’t support equality?
Keep the focus on equality and the many ways gays are denied it.

Kincaid has been looking at all the stupid and crazy things (not just related to gays) Rick Santorum has been saying on the campaign trail. A Box of Rocks is looking so much smarter. It even appears Box of Rocks is exploring a run.

This category has several posts in it and will surely only grow until Rocky, uh, Ricky drops out of the race.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Passing these laws because we can

The number of state provisions to restrict abortions jumped in 2011. Yes, provisions, not just laws, because several laws contain more than one provision. There were 135 provisions enacted last year with only 89 in 2010. There were several categories of restrictions:

* Bans that deny abortion after 20 weeks.

* Waiting periods of 24 to 72 hours between the time a woman receives counseling and can then have the procedure.

* Mandated ultrasound, usually followed by the doctor showing or describing the image to the woman.

* Prohibiting standard health insurance from covering abortions except in cases of life endangerment. The woman must pay extra for it.

* New standards for abortion providers that are close to impossible to meet.

* The doctor prescribing the medical abortion pills must be in the same room as the patient.

* Cut or eliminate funding of family planning clinics (though a few states actually expanded funding).

* Make it more difficult to offer alternatives to abstinence-only sex education.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Corporations are not people

The organization Move to Amend is promoting a Constitution amendment that essentially says: corporations are not people and can be regulated, money is not speech and can be regulated.

Here are a couple of the talking points:

* The sole purpose of a corporation is to amass profit and consolidate wealth. They are legally required and structurally designed to make money at any cost. This makes them dangerous to people and democracy.

* The structure of a corporation separates humans from their actions. They destroy responsibility and hijack decision-making. They make humans do things collectively that they would never do as individuals: poison water, deny healthcare, and destroy the planet.

I question the "legally required … to make money at any cost." Some corporations (Ben & Jerry's ?) are well known for being responsible citizens and may do that at the expense of profits. And some corporations don't manage the trick of making money and go out of business. Even so, I agree with the rest of the statements above.

Move to Amend is planning an Occupy the Courts (including the Supremes) on Friday, January 20. There is a long list of courts to be occupied that day, including one in Detroit -- Theodore Levin US Courthouse, 231 W. Lafayette. I'll have to contact the organizer for times. It is on a day I don't teach.

There have been seven amendments proposed to fix the Citizens United decision. The Move to Amend finds they are either unclear (loophole!) or don't address both the corporate personhood and the money is not speech issues. Getting amendments approved is such a daunting process there will be one chance to get it right.

Another round of denying a quorum

It's a puzzle why this isn't getting in the news. I've heard on NPR that Indiana will be considering a Right to Work bill. To be clear, that kind of law has a misleading name. Several (all?) states in the South have such a law. What it means is that a factory worker is not required to pay union dues. And that means the union becomes ineffective and the corporation is free to take advantage of its workers.

Michigan Public Radio is reporting on the bill because if it is successfully enacted in Indiana, Michigan -- and its strong unions -- is next.

The GOP controlled legislature in Indiana is trying to expedite the bill. They started by holding House and Senate hearings together. Now it is time for a vote.

Democrats in the House are following the example of Wisconsin last winter and are staying away from the House chamber (though they haven't left the state), denying the GOP of a quorum. However, there is a catch. When Wisconsin Dems stayed away last year the GOP in Indiana rushed through rule changes that say if a legislator misses 3 consecutive days a fine of $1000 is assessed for every additional day. And the House Speaker is itching to do just that.

The response of Vanessa Summers of Indianapolis: go right ahead. I may have to move in with my mother, but I'm on the right side of history.

The mess is preventing the state GOP from doing the deed quickly. There is a good reason for the desire for speed -- The Super Bowl will be played in Indianapolis and they don't want national scrutiny on the issue during the game. Football in town means the NFL Players Association is campaigning against the law.

Dems vacate the statehouse in Wisconsin and get national attention. Dems vacate the statehouse in Indiana and the mainstream media says nothing. Is the difference only the crowds that occupied the statehouse in Wisconsin?

Little scraps of fame

A picture of me is in Between the Lines again! The article is about the DSO brass quintet visiting the Ruth Ellis Center before Christmas and in one photo I'm standing behind them wearing a red shirt.

That image is in the online edition as part of a slideshow. Alas, when I tried it the direction buttons on the image weren't working. If that happens to you, reload the page, then use the right-mouse button to pull up a small menu, then choose Open Image in New Window. If that new image doesn't include me go back to the first image, click on the arrow pointing right (the image on that page won't change) and do the Open Image in New Window menu again. The other window (or tab) should now have a new image in it. Isn't technology wonderful!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Christianity and taxes

I'm almost done with the book The Least of These; Fair Taxes and the Moral Duty of Christians by Susan Pace Hamill. The author achieved tenure at the University of Alabama School of Law and had an upcoming sabbatical. She felt she should study ethics, so went off to the Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham. She eventually completed a masters of theological studies and her thesis became this book. She felt she was in a unique position to look at tax issues from both the legal and Judeo-Christian moral viewpoint. The thesis is only 81 pages long and more than half of most pages is taken up with footnotes (which can be skipped, though that's where all the Biblical quotes are). Here's a summary of her points:

The tax system in Alabama is so unfair that it intentionally perpetuates poverty. Property taxes, the potentially most progressive, are way too low, especially on forestry property, which is a high percentage of the state. Income taxes are essentially flat, which makes them regressive, and have such a low exemption that the working poor (with a job but still under the poverty line) must pay. The percentage of their income going to taxes is much higher than that of the rich. State sales tax may be moderate, but since local governments can't raise enough money anywhere else, they tack on a hefty local sales tax -- on the people least able to pay. Even with the extra sales tax school districts are chronically underfunded. Poor people cannot break out of the cycle of poverty. Hamill, being a law professor and a scholar, provides plenty of details in those extensive footnotes. Hamill includes a discussion of standard principals of evaluating whether a tax system is fair. Yup, the Alabama system fails them all.

Since this tax system was created in 1901 and this is Alabama it is obvious who the poor people are and why their education is intentionally inadequate.

On to the moral argument.

Deuteronomy 6:5 -- Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you strength.

Leviticus 19:18 -- Love your neighbor as yourself.

Our link with God is inseparable from a proper relationship with fellow humans. God imposes a complete pattern of moral and social behavior on believers. We are responsible for one another.

The rest of the Biblical quotes are from The Message, a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson.

Exodus 22:21-22 -- Don't abuse or take advantage of strangers; you, remember, were once strangers in Egypt. Don't mistreat widows or orphans.

Exodus 23:10-11 -- Sow your land for six years and gather in its crops, but in the seventh year leave it alone and give it a rest so that your poor may eat from it. What they leave, let the wildlife have. Do the same with your vineyards and olive groves.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29 -- At the end of every third year, gather the tithe from all your produce of that year and put it aside in storage. Keep it in reserve for the Levite who won't get any property or inheritance as you will, and for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow who live in your neighborhood. That way they'll have plenty to eat and God, your God, will bless you in all your work.

Deuteronomy 15:1-2 -- At the end of every seventh year, cancel all debts. This is the procedure: Everyone who has lent money to a neighbor writes it off. You must not press your neighbor or his brother for payment.

Deuteronomy 15:11 -- There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors.

Deuteronomy 15:12-14 -- If a Hebrew man or Hebrew woman was sold to you and has served you for six years, in the seventh year you must set him or her free, released into a free life. And when you set them free don't send them off empty-handed. Provide them with some animals, plenty of bread and wine and oil. Load them with provisions from all the blessings with which God, your God, has blessed you.

Deuteronomy 16:18-20 -- Appoint judges and officers, organized by tribes, in all the towns that God, your God, is giving you. They are to judge the people fairly and honestly. Don't twist the law. Don't play favorites. Don't take a bribe—a bribe blinds even a wise person; it undermines the intentions of the best of people.

Deuteronomy 17:15,17 -- Choose your king from among your kinsmen; don't take a foreigner—only a kinsman. And make sure he doesn't build up a war machine, amassing military horses and chariots. And make sure he doesn't pile up a lot of silver and gold.

Deuteronomy 24:14-15 -- Don't abuse a laborer who is destitute and needy, whether he is a fellow Israelite living in your land and in your city. Pay him at the end of each workday; he's living from hand to mouth and needs it now.

Deuteronomy 24:17 -- Make sure foreigners and orphans get their just rights.

Leviticus 19:9-10 -- When you harvest your land, don't harvest right up to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings from the harvest. Don't strip your vineyard bare or go back and pick up the fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner

Amos 2:6-8 -- Because of the three great sins of Israel—make that four—I'm not putting up with them any longer. They buy and sell upstanding people. People for them are only things—ways of making money. They'd sell a poor man for a pair of shoes. They'd sell their own grandmother! They grind the penniless into the dirt, shove the luckless into the ditch. Everyone and his brother sleeps with the 'sacred whore'—a sacrilege against my Holy Name. Stuff they've extorted from the poor is piled up at the shrine of their god, While they sit around drinking wine they've conned from their victims.

Amos 5:7 -- Woe to you who turn justice to vinegar and stomp righteousness into the mud.

Isaiah 1:17 -- Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.

Isaiah 5:8 -- Doom to you who buy up all the houses and grab all the land for yourselves—Evicting the old owners, posting no trespassing signs, Taking over the country, leaving everyone homeless and landless.

Isaiah 10:1-2 -- Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims— Laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, Exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children.

Micah 2:1-2 -- Doom to those who plot evil, who go to bed dreaming up crimes! As soon as it's morning, they're off, full of energy, doing what they've planned. They covet fields and grab them, find homes and take them. They bully the neighbor and his family, see people only for what they can get out of them.

Micah 3:1-3 -- Don't you know anything of justice? Haters of good, lovers of evil: Isn't justice in your job description? But you skin my people alive. You rip the meat off their bones. You break up the bones, chop the meat, and throw it in a pot for cannibal stew.

Leaders have special responsibilities of upholding justice:
Ezekiel 22:25-29 -- Your priests violated my law and desecrated my holy things. They can't tell the difference between sacred and secular. They tell people there's no difference between right and wrong. They're contemptuous of my holy Sabbaths, profaning me by trying to pull me down to their level. Your politicians are like wolves prowling and killing and rapaciously taking whatever they want. Your preachers cover up for the politicians by pretending to have received visions and special revelations. They say, "This is what God, the Master, says..." when God hasn't said so much as one word. Extortion is rife, robbery is epidemic, the poor and needy are abused, outsiders are kicked around at will, with no access to justice.

Proverbs 31:8-9 -- Speak up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of all the down-and-outers. Speak out for justice! Stand up for the poor and destitute!

Jeremiah 22:3 -- Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don't take advantage of the homeless, the orphans, the widows.

Yes, there are a lot more Old Testament passages like the ones above. And a lot of Christians insist chunks of the Old Testament (like the Top Ten) should still be in force. But what about the New Testament? Does Jesus say the same thing?

Luke 3:11 -- "If you have two coats, give one away," Jesus said. "Do the same with your food."

Luke 12: 16-20 -- Then Jesus told them this story: "The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: 'What can I do? My barn isn't big enough for this harvest.' Then he said, 'Here's what I'll do: I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll gather in all my grain and goods, and I'll say to myself, Self, you've done well! You've got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!' Just then God showed up and said, 'Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?'

Luke 16:19-25 -- There once was a rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption. A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. All he lived for was to get a meal from scraps off the rich man's table. His best friends were the dogs who came and licked his sores.

Then he died, this poor man, and was taken up by the angels to the lap of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell and in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham in the distance and Lazarus in his lap. He called out, 'Father Abraham, mercy! Have mercy! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool my tongue. I'm in agony in this fire.'

But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that in your lifetime you got the good things and Lazarus the bad things. It's not like that here. Here he's consoled and you're tormented.

Matthew 25:41-45 -- Then he will turn to the 'goats,' the ones on his left, and say, 'Get out, worthless goats! You're good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.'

Then those 'goats' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn't help?'

He will answer them, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.'

Philippians 2:3-4 -- Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

1 John 3:17 -- If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God's love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

Acts 2:44-45 -- And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met.

And there are a lot more verses like that in the New Testament.

Putting this together has reminded me of the priorities of God and Jesus. I tend to skip a great deal of the Old Testament because so little of the laws seem to have anything to do with modern life (not to mention a passage here and there used to condemn me). I had forgotten there is a great deal that does apply to the modern age and does support the values I hold dear.

Putting these verses all in one place shows clearly that the GOP and their backers are not living up to Christian ideas. This is quite an indictment of a party who claims to represent those same ideals. They clearly do not.

But back to Alabama's taxes. Few of these passages talk directly about taxes. They certainly don't talk about sales tax v. property tax. Do they apply to today? Yes, says Hamill, they do. One must look at what those commandments meant for the society of the time, extract the general principle, and apply that same principle to our own society.

And when those principles are applied, Hamill says, at the very least the tax structure should allow the poor a way out of their poverty. At the very least the schools should be funded to sufficiently educate all children so they are able to get a job with an income at least above the poverty line. Anything less is immoral.

Judeo-Christian ethics calls on those with privilege to use their access to power structures to alleviate the plight of the poor by at least reforming the tax code. Those who selfishly take advantage of the poor's lack of knowledge to maintain the current system (through misleading ads, or thwarting the truth) are violating the principle that forbids economic oppression. Those in positions of power have even greater responsibility to right this wrong. Religious leaders bear the greatest responsibility to educate the community about this oppression and to speak this truth to the powerful.

I could say, yeah, that's Alabama. It doesn't apply to me. But Michigan's income tax is also flat (mandated by the state constitution). Several years ago property taxes were shifted to sales taxes. And last year business taxes were shifted to pension taxes. Schools in Detroit, Flint, and Benton Harbor appear to be consistently underfunded. This isn't just an Alabama issue.

And I haven't yet talked about national taxes.

Why can't you decide on a candidate?

Going into the Iowa caucuses NPR reported the high percentage of undecided voters and said with a number that high the result was unpredictable. Yup, few predictions (if any) for Santorum tying with Romney. But the campaign has been going on for essentially a year. Why were there undecided voters so close to the deadline?

Back in 2004 Christopher Hayes, now an editor of The Nation and contributor to MSNBC, wrote an article that appeared in The New Republic about undecided voters. That year he spent seven weeks of the campaign in the suburbs around Madison, Wisconsin looking for undecided voters and trying to convince them to vote for John Kerry in his race against Bush. He found those undecided voters (based on anecdotal evidence) fell into a few categories.

Those who didn't have a rational analysis of the situation. Those included: Believing Cheney, an oilman, would make us independent of foreign oil. Believing Bush supported stem-cell research.

Those who cared enough to vote, but found the whole thing unpleasant -- like doing the laundry. Why do laundry (decide who to vote for) before you absolutely have to?

Those who were rabid racists. This was at the height of the Iraq war and when that topic came up the reactions would be quite strong and nasty. Bush's rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy in the Arab world fell flat.

Those who didn't think either candidate could help the situation. As things got bad in Iraq, opinions of Bush improved. Yeah, Bush is bad, but Kerry couldn't possibly do any better. All politicians are bad and nobody can fix things.

Those who don't make a connection between their problems and political solutions. Cost of health care is high! Kerry has a solution. C'mon, politicians can't fix that!

So, if issues don't connect with undecided voters, what do they base their decisions on? Values and character.

Hayes says Dems have two choices: Promote character instead of issues (usually a progressive strong suit) or take the long road of rebuilding the political vocabulary. Perhaps both.

I look over the categories that Hayes presents and see some similarities of another kind. I don't see politics as unpleasant, just annoying. I'd like to ignore the whole mess. But my progressive foundation won't let me. But on to the other items in the list.

Incapable of rational analysis -- conservatives and the GOP seem to be pushing irrational analysis -- no such thing as a climate crisis, the way to prosperity is to cut taxes and eliminate regulation, it's all Obama's fault. No wonder voters are confused.

Racists, well, bigots in general -- the GOP is catering to them.

Candidates can't help the situation -- the GOP is doing all it can to create a feeling of hopelessness.

Pushing character instead of issues -- who claims to have a corner on "values voters"? How about claims of moral character?

It's only January and I'm already pushing the off button when I hear a GOP candidate open his mouth.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Every date that I post to this blog I check the visitor stats. I've been surprised over the last month that an evening of posts now routinely gets 30-60 visitor hits and there have been a few days -- two this past week -- in which the visitor count was in the 64-76 range.

At the moment the stats for a week show the most visits from Russia at 98, 72 from USA, 22 from Britain, and a few from Ukraine, Belarus, Turkey, Brazil, Germany (usually higher in the standings), France, and Japan.

Surprisingly, of the top 10 posts that got the most hits in the last week only half were written in that time. The rest appear to be perennial favorites, which you can see in a sidebar on the blog homepage.

I've submitted a request to the Blogger tech crew to allow me to see all the countries of visitors to my blog, rather than the top 10 I see now. I've seen a wide assortment of countries show up in the stats (Chile, Nigeria, Ecuador), but didn't keep an independent list. When I do see it I'm sure the list will be long.

The stats show what sites have links to mine. The one sitting at the top of the list is Russian. I clicked on it. My PC's security system was not happy and put up a screen strongly urging me to not go there. So I didn't.

So, to all of you who have found my blog and appear to be coming back for more: Welcome! I'm glad you find a visit worthwhile. I would appreciate you telling a bit about yourself in the comments -- and doing so anonymously is fine. I'd also like to know how you found my little blog.

Immorality and twisted research

Another anti-gay bigot twists a scientific finding. Not exactly a surprise these days, but these things must be exposed far and wide. Dr. Theodora Sirota studied attachment issues of daughters by comparing the attitudes of daughters of gay men with daughters of straight men.

Aha! pounced Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons of NARTH. That proves that gay parents are harmful to the kids!

Not so fast, says Sirota. These gay men were trying to maintain a straight marriage and the daughters had attachment issues because they saw how their mothers suffered in a marriage in which the husband wasn't really attracted to the wife. Thus the study proves that forcing gay men into straight marriages is what causes the problems in the kids. In addition, the study did not look at gay couples. Fitzgibbons is misusing her research to draw that conclusion. Stop doing that!

Fitzgibbons didn't give up easily. He responded rather rudely (reproduced in the comments) that her methodology contains a "confound" -- there are actually two open variables in her data, so she can't claim that simply being gay doesn't harm the child.

Other commenters were quick to point out that if the data does have a confound in it, Fitzgibbons can't make his claim either.

Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin wrote up this spat because Sirota asked him for help in exposing the dishonesty of Fitzgibbons. Rob closes with two points of interest.

"First (and this is the minor one), every time our opponents unrepentantly twist someone’s research, they admit they have no honest case."

Second, Tisinai points out the major issue is the immorality of what Fitzgibbons has done. Sirota's research has been abused. Gay parents have been libeled. Gay youth are traumatized. Fitzgibbons is lying.

Tisinai points out what I commented on recently: We can win our rights through claims of morality, not just on tolerance. Gay relationships can be just as moral as straight ones. It is immoral to deny us equal rights. Our opposition must resort to immorality to "prove" we don't deserve rights.

Please excuse my clumsy and inarticulate words

Former tennis legend (not that I've heard of her) and now televangelist pastor Margaret Court said some nasty things about gays recently, and this isn't the first time. She was called out by Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova (two that I have heard of), and Rennae Stubbs -- all three are lesbians.

Court didn't like that reprimand. She insists she loves gay people, such as Billie Jean and Martina, but says, "I make a stand for both my biblical side, and what I believe."

Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend imagines Court saying, “I’m not a bigot, my crude, insensitive remarks are just me expressing my religious beliefs.” I would put it another way: I'm so sorry my clumsy way of articulating my beliefs offends you, but I do have free speech rights. An apology like that usually appears after the perpetrator has said something about gay people that has been verified to not be true.

Spaulding then links Court's comments to the attempts in Tennessee to add a religious exemption to the anti-bullying law I mentioned yesterday. Kids have a right to talk about their religion. It's just too bad their inarticulate and clumsy way of expressing themselves is seen as bullying.

Allies in high places

I wrote a short note yesterday about Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire's support of marriage equality there. Here's a bit more detail -- a history of support of gay relationships in the state so far and a transcript of the Gov's wonderful comments.

Jamaica is known for its severe homophobia. There is lots of talk on the street by straight men about going after the "batty boys." So it is great to hear that Portia Simpson Miller has just become Prime Minister. Her People's National Party won a landslide victory. The reason why it is great is she commented before the election that discrimination against gays is wrong (which means the voters knew what they were getting). Since the election she said she is even open to appointing a gay person (otherwise qualified) to her cabinet.
She also happens to be the first female Prime Minister of Jamaica.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Thank you, Governor

Washington State Governor Chris Gregiore has endorsed marriage equality and will work to make it happen in that state! She has some wonderful things to say during her announcement.

The GOP in Tennessee is trying to introduce the religious exemption -- the right to bully for religious reasons -- in the state's anti-bullying law. Yup, that's the one the Michigan GOP tried and got roundly smacked down for their efforts.

One commenter wonders if that means gay kids are given exemption to bully Christian kids. There would surely be a religious reason.

Socialism v. capitalism

The Pew Project took a look at how some political words are viewed by the public. The results, showing positive/negative views are: socialism: 31/60, capitalism: 50/40, liberal: 50/39, conservative: 62/30, and progressive: 67/22. This post shows a nice chart of the results.

The poster added no commentary, though his readers supplied plenty of that. The ones that interested me are by Bill Perdue. Some wondered why socialism is viewed so negatively (not that the GOP using the word to slander Obama every chance they get would have anything to do with it). That prompts Perdue (no credentials supplied) to explain what socialism is.
Fascists, not socialists, propose economic policies based on economic rule by a capitalist state in the interests of the rich and includes provisions for the destruction of unions. wars of aggression and even, in the case of the Nazis, large scale slave labor.

Socialists propose the opposite - democracy in the workplace and in politics via the total and complete elimination of the wealth and termination of the rule of the rich. Socialist propose the rule of working people by the creation of a workers state to legislate and enforce their rule.

"29% in the Pew poll describe 'socialism' as positive. This positive percent soars much higher when you look at key sub-groups, as discussed shortly. A 2010 Gallup poll found 37% of all Americans preferring socialism as “superior” to capitalism." Especially among the "millennial generation” currently between 18 and 30. In the Pew poll, just 43% of Americans under 30 describe “capitalism” as positive. Even more striking, the same percentage, 43%, describes “socialism” as positive. In other words, the new generation is equally divided between capitalism and socialism. The Pew, Gallup and Rasmussen polls come to the same conclusion. Young people cannot be characterized as a capitalist generation. They are half capitalist and half socialist. Since the socialist leaning keeps rising among the young, it suggests—depending on how you interpret “socialism”—that we are moving toward an America that is either Center-Left or actually majoritarian socialist." Common Dreams

In the final analysis socialism is democracy in the workplace and in politics. It's the ultimate and decisive eradication of the rule and the wealth of the rich and it's transfer to workers by the creation of a workers state to legislate and enforce their rule.
It is fascinating to me that a majority of the millennial generation does not see capitalism as a good thing. I'm not surprised, though. In their lifetimes they've see a tech bubble burst, a housing bubble burst, and the obvious control of the political system by the rich. This is capitalism? No thanks.

But that definition of socialism is too stark. "Total and complete elimination of the wealth"? How drastic or brutal does the government/society have to get to make that happen? That will surely kill any incentive to rise above one's present circumstances, what we currently call the American Dream. "To legislate and enforce their rule" doesn't sound like a democracy, but does sound like a police state. "Termination of the rule of the rich" does sound like a worthwhile goal. While that probably can't be eliminated, it can come closer through campaign finance reform.

Leave the law alone

The GOP in New Hampshire appears determined to hold a vote on repealing marriage equality in the state. It looks like they'll at least wait until after the GOP primary, when the national attention has drifted elsewhere. It will pass. Gov. Lynch (Dem.) will veto it. The question is whether the GOP has enough votes for an override. The citizens of the state quite like marriage equality by a large margin, though I don't have exact numbers at the moment.

The Concord Monitor, an important newspaper voice in the state, published an editorial calling to keep marriage equality. The cool part of the editorial is that it was written by Monitor staff, not a gay advocacy group.

The editorial lists the frequent reasons for banning gay marriage and debunks each one. Here is my summary:

* Marriage is between a man and a woman. Who gets to define it? It is just a statement of bigotry.

* Marriage has been restricted to straights for thousands of years. Slavery was an ancient practice too. Mercifully, times change.

* Marriage is for procreation. But we don't bar straights who have no interest in kids from getting married.

* Gay couples aren't as good as raising kids. And some straight couples aren't either. How many examples of great gay parents do you need?

* There's that slippery slope to legalized polygamy and incest. In the off chance such a bill actually comes up, lawmakers may vote no.

* Gay relationships are immoral. Yeah, some churches think so. But lawmakers must also protect freedom from religion.

* Gay marriage threatens the institutions of marriage. Nope, encouraging marriage encourages marriage.

Leave the law alone.

War of words

On New Year's Day, Lake Superior State University published a list of words that should be banned for "misuse, overuse, and general uselessness." One of the words on this year's list is "occupy" which prompted my friend and debate partner to reply:
I am NOT done with "occupy" until at least next election day, and very likely not then.
I heartily agree, though note such things as "occupy Thanksgiving" are phrases I think should fall under the ban (which is why it was included).

Wayne State University politely waited a couple days after the earlier list was announced, then responded with their own list of words that are perfectly fine, but don't get much use these days. The list of 10 words includes:

Frisson -- A sudden involuntary shiver felt at times of great emotion.

Sisyphean -- A task that is or appears to be endless and futile.

Truckle -- Be subservient.

Banning overused words and promoting underused words is a fun little exercise, but there is a war of words out there. This war has been going on for a long time, with the current phase running hard since at least the 1970s. It's the war the 1% has been wielding against the 99%. Though the war has been waged only with words so far it has still done quite a bit of damage. Over the years the 1% has been very good at this war, mainly because (1) they have the think-tanks that do the research to find out exactly which turn of phrase gets the biggest response and (2) they have the money, media exposure, and discipline to hammer their choice phrases home. The war of words has been so successful that large numbers of Democrats (and many times the prez.) have bought into the phrases (as well as the dollars behind them).

Some of the words used in this campaign have been "death tax" (used to be estate tax), "job creators," and "special interests" (how a teacher got to have special interests and a corporation doesn't shows how effective the war has been).

Richard Eskow of Campaign for America's Future lists some of the most effective phrases in the campaign in 2011. The list and Eskow's reaction includes:

Entitlement reform -- "designed to persuade the public that an elderly woman living on $800 per month is a social parasite -- but the hedge fund manager who pays 15% tax rate on his billions is not."

Deficit crisis -- Nope, the crisis is 24 million un- or under-employed.

Technocrat -- makes the 1 percent's actions sound clean, bipartisan, and above the fray.

Ideology -- a word that has been bloodied. Everyone operates through a personal ideology. Claiming to operate without an ideology makes the corporations sound noble.

Triggers -- allows the current lawmakers to be long gone before the explosion decimates the budget through unpopular cuts.

Ah, but this year progressives have been able to broadcast a few words of their own, such as "occupy" and "the 99%" and "income inequality" and "Justice for Wall Street." And in only three months the war of words has changed significantly.