Thursday, March 29, 2012

Equal Protection and Individual Mandate

We've been hearing all week about whether the Individual Mandate (that everyone must have health insurance) of the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. The Obama admin. has been arguing that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution gives them cover.

Ari Ezra Waldman, writing for Towleroad, reports that Scott Schoettes of Lambda Legal, thinks the gov't should also be looking at another part of the Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause.

People with HIV, especially if poor or a racial minority, are much more likely to not have health insurance. They are usually denied coverage because HIV is a pre-existing condition. Treatment for it is also frighteningly expensive.

So here is a class of people being discriminated against. The only way to end that discrimination is to require insurance companies to take people without regard to pre-existing conditions. And the only way to do that (other than universal health care) is the Individual Mandate. Thus the case is about equal protection.

Don't tell me what I can do

William Black, writing for the Campaign for America's Future, has a few things to say about the JOBS Act working its way through Congress with apparently bipartisan report. First of all, it has nothing to do with getting more Americans back to work. The title is intentionally misleading to make voters think Congress is doing something for them.

The bill is actually about reducing regulation -- more of what got us into the current financial mess. Black lists ten reasons why the bill is insane. I'll let you read through the list.

For a couple years now I've been saying that the GOP and their corporate backers want to be in control. Part of it is they believe they are entitled to the power. Part of it is they want to be able to tell us what to do (such as not allow a woman to have reproductive choice).

But this bill says there is a third part: They don't want anyone to have the ability to tell them what they can and cannot do. That's why they are working to gut as many regulations as fast as possible. And their talking point says simply that all regulation is bad. No matter what kind of ruinous scheme they come up with to fleece the 99% (and crash the economy again in the process) they want nobody to tell them it is illegal.

Sources of racial pride

A couple days ago I wrote about the campaign strategy from the National Organization for Marriage. NOM's strategy was to make opposition to gay marriage a point of racial pride for blacks and Latinos. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin noticed some racial issues that just don't add up. Kincaid's musings show that NOM thinks blacks and Latinos are stupid.

Kincaid responds by saying racial pride is such things as ethnic foods and traditions that have been in the family for generation, family history, jokes that outsiders don't get, honor, decency, hard work, commitment and responsibility, generosity, and always making room for one more.

But making sure someone else can't share happiness is not something ethnic groups are proud of.

And white people telling blacks and Latinos what a point of racial pride is? Forget it.

Have opinions of gays changed during NOM's campaign? Yup. But not in the direction NOM would like. Black athletes now support gays with an attitude of "why wouldn't I?" Black writers now condemn homophobia without allowing for cultural excuses.

Better off within the family

Yesterday, my volunteer time at Ruth Ellis Center was not an ordinary evening. I had a break from serving the food (and loading the dishwasher and scrubbing pots). Shortly after I arrived, Jessie (one of the staff) pulled me aside and said a visiting woman had just done a presentation for most of the staff and was about to repeat it for another staff person who had just arrived. When she described the presentation it indeed sounded interesting.

I met Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project of San Francisco State University. She has a PhD in sociology and did research to put statistics behind her discoveries. She started by noticing that nearly all gay support organizations, especially those for teens and young adults (like Ruth Ellis), serve the gay kids but don't mention the word "family." There is usually a good reason: the kid was thrown out of the home or otherwise rejected.

She started her research with these premises that she could soon back with numbers.

* Gay kids are better off within their families.

* Parents want what is best for their child. They want the child to thrive, prosper, not be lonely, fall in love, be self-sufficient, and maybe have kids of their own.

* When the kid is gay the parents may not know how to guide their child. Many still think the only way to success is by being straight. Yeah, some parents use some twisted, inside-out logic to think that rejecting the child is a form of love.

On to the numbers: If a gay kid experiences a high level of rejection from the family he or she will be more than 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, nearly 6 times more likely to have high levels of depression, more than 3 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and more than 3 times more likely to be exposed to HIV or sex diseases.

Dr. Ryan also did research into what is rejecting behavior. Here are some of them:

* Physical or verbal harassment because the child is gay.

* Excluding the gay youth from family activities.

* Blocking access to gay friends, events, and resources (under the belief that one learns to be gay).

* Telling the child God will punish them.

* Pressuring them to act more like a boy or girl is supposed to act.

There is also a long list on how to be supportive.

Ryan gets involved in a particular case when a school calls and asks her to meet with the gay youth and the parents. Most of her referrals come from schools. She has found that many kids understand their orientation by age 10 (that's fourth grade!) and says her research and services should be available in middle school and even upper elementary school.

Some conservative churches have contacted her. She has worked most closely with the Mormon Church (the ones who put so much effort into defeating gay marriage in Calif.) and wrote a version of her pamphlet based on Mormon beliefs. The Mormons have said even though they consider homosexual behavior to be a sin…

* They do not want the parent to think it is a choice between their faith and their gay kid.

* They do not want the gay kid to be so traumatized to consider suicide (or take up drugs, or contract HIV). They want families (including the gay members) reunited in heaven.

* They do not want parents rejecting their kids.

That prompted me to ask some questions:

* Is her research and discussions with conservative churches leading them to reduce their rejecting messages from the pulpit?

* Is her work leading conservative churches to change their stance on gay people?

The answer to both is maybe. There does seem to be less ranting from the pulpit. Denomination policy hasn't changed yet, but there are signs it might soon.

The Mormons, at least, have asked her to do sensitivity training at the denomination district level in Calif. and Utah and (I think) elsewhere. She was invited to come to give a presentation to the United Methodist General Conference a month from now. She had to decline because they didn't offer enough to make up from lost income. However, I might see her again at the Reconciling Ministries Convo next year.

I'm very glad I was able to hear about this research and work.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Don’t even need math

Rep. Paul Ryan has introduced a federal budget for the coming fiscal year. The GOP has apparently embraced it. It is easily explained.

Evolution in a public declaration

I think it has been 18 months now that Obama has said he is "evolving" on marriage equality. That's been long enough for t-shirts to show up with the message, "Evolve Already." Michael Tomaski, writing in the Daily Beast, ponders whether Obama should publicly support marriage equality and gives his reasons.

Why Obama should declare his support:

* It's the right thing to do.

* It is now in line with the majority of Americans.

* Hedge-fund titans who have turned away from supporting Obama see gay marriage as the one social issue they will support. Obama's support of this issue may draw a few of them back.

* Obama's support of marriage equality would energize the youth. They helped elect him in 2008 but feel reluctant now. Dems need the youth to see them as the vanguard of morals.

Why Obama should not declare support for marriage equality:

* It's too much of a risk in battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Better get him reelected first.

Tomaski says we all know that Obama's "evolution" comment really means the prez. is for marriage equality and is evolving towards a time he can say so publicly. The best time to do so is safely within a second term. And the place? Perhaps he attends the gay wedding of a staffer or son or daughter of an old friend. While there he offers a toast and talks about his evolution. The video is then mysteriously posted online.

Drive a wedge and claim victimhood

The National Organization for Marriage has been fighting against marriage equality in several states. They recently lost a lawsuit in which they claimed they could keep campaign donors secret in spite of state disclosure laws. They haven't released donors yet, but they were forced to reveal campaign strategy.

It includes such tactics as:
* Highlight Latinos who support straight marriage, "an identity marker, a badge of youth rebellion to conforming assimilation to the bad side of 'Anglo' culture."

* Highlight racist gays and homophobic blacks to drive a wedge between the two groups. Democrat politicians won't want to touch the issue in fear of alienating one of the groups. This worked well in the Calif. marriage battle a few years ago.

* Highlight stories of people who feel harassed, threatened, or intimidated by any aspect of the debate. This includes such people as the mother confronting the school board about her kids being taught about gay couples.

* Claim victimhood for those with traditional views.

* Attack politicians who support gays by raising issues of protecting the children, pornography, and religious liberty.

* Expose Obama as a socialist radical. Marriage protection will only happen with a GOP president.

Actual NOM documents here.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Living in authenticity

The GOP in New Hampshire brought a bill to overturn their marriage equality law. They have enough party members in both the state House and Senate to override a promised veto by the Dem. governor. So the speculation was whether the GOP would have enough votes that they could consider an override vote.

There was a great deal of surprise last Wednesday when the bill lost and by sizable margin in the House. There was a large number of GOP legislators that had "unavoidable scheduling conflicts" and didn't show up to vote. Final tally on the question of: Do you agree this bill is inexpedient to legislate? was 211 (53%) yes (kill it), 116 (29%) no, and 70 (18%) not voting.

This is a fantastic surprise from a GOP controlled legislature.

The Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians is considering amending their tribal constitution to permit same-sex marriage. This would be the first such group in Michigan. Alas for my sister, at least one partner must be a member of the tribe.

That Etch-A-Sketch flap by a Romney staffer reminds all of us that we're used to politicians saying one thing during a campaign and doing something different once in office. Two words: Compassionate Conservatism. Campaign lies are old news.

According to "cocktailhag," a contributor on FireDogLake, it is also old news for an elected official to describe a bill for public consumption with the actual bill doing something quite different. Famous political lies include No Child Left Behind is really about undermining public education. and Medicare Part D (drug benefit) actually about enriching pharmaceutical companies.

There is also the lie that I've accused Obama of -- something promised but doesn't do because, gosh, the GOP opposition is just so fierce. Obama isn't the only Dem guilty of this one.

But this writer noticed something. When the GOP lies, their base (or backers) win. When Dems lie, the GOP base or backers win.


A blogger who calls herself Seething Mom summarizes her story of finding out her son is gay and how that prompted her to stop voting for the GOP and leave the Catholic Church. She sees her conservative friends beginning to question what the GOP says. And what they are hearing is 12 talking points conservatives use to guarantee Obama's election. And each of the dozen is a succinct soundbite. Check them out!

The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus has another winner. The song is Testament with music by Stephen Schwartz and words by Dan Savage from his It Gets Better project. In the first half of the song the words are from gay kids who are terrified of what their future might be like and who don't want to be gay. The second half is from It Gets Better stories of older gay people -- I hung on through the bad times and look at all the great things that have happened to me since then. And there is the joy of living in authenticity.

A week's worth of Occupy news from the Occupy Wall Street website.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The top takes over

Daron Acemoglu was the guest yesterday on the NPR program On Point, hosted by Tom Ashbrook. Acemoglu is the author of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. The On Point webpage includes an hour long video of Acemoglu (which I didn't watch) and the first chapter of the book (which I did read). It is also possible to listen to the show (which I heard parts of).

Acemoglu studied the rise and fall of nations and civilizations through history. One example used was Venice. It rose in power in the 10th Century and became a mighty force around the Mediterranean. It lost power in the 13th Century. I've heard it was because others found new trade routes to the Orient that Venice didn't control. Acemoglu has a different take. While Venice's fortunes rose, the whole population contributed in the effort and shared in the wealth. But after a time those at the top changed the rules so that more of the wealth came their way and less of it went to the rest of the population. They took over or bought the government so that it worked only for them. Those at the bottom had less incentive to contribute their mental and physical talents. Innovation slowed. The more the money flowed to the top the more overall power Venice lost.

Acemoglu has seen this time and again. There are two outcomes. The first is the nation collapses. The second is the general populace strengthens public institutions preventing the takeover by the top.

Sound familiar yet?

Acemoglu's solution is that all citizens must become active to protect the community.

Speaking of which…

The reports on the Occupy Wall Street blog say that the New York Police have become brutal in trying to dismantle the various Occupy demonstrations. The police brutally clean out one park and the occupiers assemble in another. The occupier's say, every time you beat us, we attract sympathizers and we grow. You can't win.

While this posting (and others) speaks of brutality I am aware this is all on the Occupy Wall Street website, so I'm only getting one side of the story. I have not watched any of the videos or livestreams. And it appears major news sources are not reporting on these events.

Who truly cares about democracy

I recently wrote about the book United Methodism @ Risk and the various conservative organizations working to neuter the denomination (and others) so they won't speak out against the 1%. I've now finished the book. There is one more insight to add. Some funding for these conservative religious groups comes from corporations. That implies (1) these organizations are not in it for the correctness of the theology and (2) my earlier insight is correct.

I also recently wrote about the 100th birthday of Bayard Rustin. In another birthday tribute Jim Burroway pulls out a Rustin quote. A lot of people debate whether gays are the new blacks. Some see the similarities in the struggles. Others are offended by the comparison. Rustin makes the equivalence.

Rustin said, back in 1986, "The new niggers are gays." (Those are his words.) By 1986 blacks had laws to protect them and no one would dare publicly claim that blacks were not allowed public accommodation. But they are fine about saying that about gays. Want to know if a person truly cares about democracy? Ask, "What about gay people?"

Want to know what the GOP stands for? This list summarizes it quite nicely.

Here's an important result from the recent Puerto Rico GOP primary: Gay candidate Fred Karger got more votes than Ron Paul. Alas, we are talking about 1.5% of the vote for Karger and 1% for Paul. And Gingrich, Santorum, and Romney were way ahead of both of them.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Silencing the church

I'm about two-thirds of the way through a book, but the insights are intriguing enough I don't want to wait. The book is United Methodism @ RISK; A Wake-Up Call by Leon Howell and published by Information Project for United Methodists. The first chapter explains that a group of progressives within the denomination chose Howell to do the research and writing about an alarming development. I was given a copy of the book last summer at Convo by the head of Methodist Federation for Social Action. She had stacks of the book in her room and was handing out copies to anyone who would take one. The book was written to rouse the progressives leading up to the 2004 United Methodist General Conference. The threats are still there as we approach the 2012 General Conference.

The book catalogs goals and tactics of several conservative groups claiming they want church renewal. Usually that word means to draw the church back to a closer relationship to God and Jesus. That's not quite what is meant here, though they want you to think that. What they want is to return to a time when straight white males controlled the church. These groups include Good News, The Confessing Movement, Transforming Congregations (which pushes the idea that one can pray away the gay), and Institute for Religion and Democracy (which means religion without democracy, such as the church the Catholic Pope presides over).

This isn't just a United Methodist issue. IRD doesn't just target us and there are Presbyterian and Episcopal equivalents of the other organizations. And the Southern Baptists? Takeover complete. These denominations are targeted because they are classified as Mainline Protestant -- the ones with the largest membership.

As I read through the goals and tactics of these various groups one thing struck me: These people are bullies.

Not too surprising. They are playing from the same playbook as the GOP -- twist the truth, deliberately misinterpret an event or announcement, use highly sensationalized language, attack opponents as destroying the church, and exploit wedge issues. All with the goal of gaining power for straight white males. We can't have women controlling their own budget or monitoring how women are portrayed in denominational publications. We can't let blacks do that either. And gays? Don't get me started.

The book provides a bit of history and this is what caught my attention and prompted my urgency in writing. After WWII it was these Mainline Protestant churches that provided theological underpinning and much of the impetus for the civil rights movement and the women's liberation movement. Conservatives want to gut all the gains from that era. To do that they must take over the Mainline Protestant Churches to silence them as civil rights are rolled back.

Many conservative proposals are before General Conference this year. They include such things as gut funding for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (the group that monitors how women are treated), take over the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries so that all decisions are made by (unelected) men, and install a bishop as the head of the Council of Bishops that would enforce doctrine (the Methodist Pope).

I attended two events featuring Amy DeLong this weekend. More on that in a moment. At the workshop yesterday afternoon, Jill Warren, the executive director of MFSA, showed up (the one passing out the book discussed above). She lives in the Detroit area, though the office is in DC. She is a dynamo in preparing progressives (including me) to work behind the scenes during General Conference.

The United Methodist Church is rather strange in that "worldwide" means only United States, Europe, the Philippines, and Africa. At a pre-GC session Warren was sought out by delegates from Africa and the Philippines. They invited her to discuss the issues with them in Manila and Harare, Zimbabwe, which she apparently has done. She said the Filipinos are with us. As for the Africans…

We usually think of the Africans are quite conservative. After conservatives began losing ground in America, they saw a way to maintain control on the denomination by exporting their conservatism to Africa. It wasn't just United Methodists that did this. There were stories from previous General Conferences on how the American conservatives kept their African counterparts in line, such as bestowing cell phones and then calling those phones just before critical conservative votes.

But Africans are tired of having colonial masters. They want to be treated like peers and colleagues. They want to think for themselves. They want to hear both sides of an issue and make up their own minds.

I am well aware that does not mean they will all vote progressively. But it also means they won't vote as a conservative block.

Back in December I wrote this about likely progressive votes on gay issues:
70% of 606 USA delegates is about 420 (with a bit of rounding).
There are 42 delegates from Europe, likely voting for removal [of gay prohibitions].
There are 48 delegates from the Philippines, and I don't know how they'll vote.
There are 10 delegates from elsewhere in the world.
There are 282 delegates from Africa, who will probably vote against removal.
That's for a total of 988 delegates. Half of that +1 is 495.

So, 420 + 42 = 462. We may only need 33 votes from the 58 delegates from the Philippines and elsewhere in the world. It may be a close vote.
It now looks like I can revise it this way:
70% of 606 USA delegates is about 420 (with a bit of rounding).
There are 42 delegates from Europe, likely voting for removal of gay prohibitions.
There are 48 delegates from the Philippines, also likely to vote for us.
There are 10 delegates from elsewhere in the world.
There are 282 delegates from Africa, whose votes are unknown.
That's for a total of 988 delegates. Half of that +1 is 495.

So, 420 + 42 + 48 = 510. That's 15 more than are needed to approve the removal of gay prohibitions. However, we cannot be complacent.
Back to Amy DeLong and her visit. She is the United Methodist pastor who was put on trial last summer for (1) being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual" (as our rulebook puts it) and (2) performing a wedding ceremony for a lesbian couple.

On Friday evening she talked about her life and the trial. A few of the things I remember:

When DeLong served as a church pastor she had to be careful about talking about her partner. At a workshop the leader asked everyone to take part in an ice-breaker -- tell the person next to you about the most important thing in your life. She couldn't talk about her partner. So she talked about her cat. She doesn't own a cat.

After a while it seemed everyone knew, though never officially. The bishop would ask about her partner. Her partner moved into the parsonage. Even so, DeLong felt safer and more complete in the town saloon than she did in the church. But the inability to live authentically eventually forced her to give up direct church work.

Though not leading a congregation in 2010 DeLong was asked by a lesbian couple to perform their wedding ceremony. The couple was referred to her by another pastor. Someone later observed that other pastor wasn't willing to jeopardize his own credentials but was willing to jeopardize hers. She did the ceremony. She said it was one of the best things she has ever done. At the end of the year in summarizing her activities, she listed it. Thus the trial.

DeLong refused to sign a form stating she would no longer perform same-sex weddings and the evidence she had done that one was overwhelming, so she was convicted. As for being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual" it came to the question: Have you had sexual contact with the genitals of a person of the same sex? Her reply was, you see my partner sitting there. We have been in love for 17 years. But I will not answer your question because I refuse to reduce my relationship with her to that one thing. To us she had said, Practicing? We've been together so long we don't need any more practice. We think we've got it down. On that charge she was acquitted for lack of evidence. Her sentence was not a revocation of credentials, which could have happened, but only a 20 day suspension. There are proposals before General Conference to institute minimum sentences. These are proposed for only gay-related offenses.

Much of Saturday was taken up by a workshop. Again, DeLong did a lot of talking (lots of interesting stories). She guided us in the difference between mercy and justice. In mercy ministry one takes care of the victims of oppression, such as feeding the poor. In justice ministry one tackles the sources of oppression. Most churches only do the first. The second is a lot harder. She also guided us in the difference between repulsion, tolerance, acceptance, and appreciation.

As for what I might do next in my own church to make it more gay-friendly, I heard a lot from the stories of other churches and the suggestions they had for me.

Means to an end

St. Patrick's Day yesterday was also the 100th birthday of Bayard Rustin. He was a major figure in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and '60s. He was a major behind-the-scenes guy, dealing with organization and strategy. Two important points about him: His strategy stressed non-violence. He organized the March on Washington which was the scene of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Even so, you might be saying, "Bayard who?" He didn't get a lot of credit or press for a simple reason. He was gay. At that time homosexual acts were very much illegal.

Rustin's nonviolent methods got Rob Tisinai, in his personal blog, musing about the phrase, "The end justifies the means." This is a perennially favorite topic of college all-night bull sessions. If an end result is vitally important does that justify any actions taken to achieve that result?

This appears to be the philosophy of the GOP and their backers. Their end seems to be, "We are supposed to be in power." And to achieve that important goal, they are willing to lie, cheat, and steal (for starters) to get what they want. The end -- unshakable power -- justifies the means -- whatever it takes to get there.

Tisinai turns the phrase around. Your means will shape your end.

What you do along the way of achieving your goal will influence your goal. Use lies to get power and the deceit industry remains in place after the election. That industry then has its own survival as a goal and can easily turn on its maker. Use fear to frighten the populace into submission and soon the fearmongers will frighten those in power.

Your means will shape your end.

So what to do? Tisinai has a few suggestions. Look past the immediate end. Have a long-term vision. What do you want the world to look like? Live that vision now. Live the community you want to build. Live the equality you want to achieve.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

You gave me something to eat

I didn't write about it at the time because the story was another about the Catholic Church pulling out of some service agency because their beliefs weren't respected. Then I found out the other big player in the spat is United Methodist. Francis House in Sacramento provides a wide range of services to the homeless and poor. It serves perhaps 25,000 a year and has a budget of a half-million dollars a year. A year ago Rev. Faith Whitmore, a United Methodist pastor, became the executive director of Francis House. But before then, while still serving as a pastor, she advocated for marriage equality and defied United Methodist law by performing same-sex weddings. She also proclaimed she supports a woman's right to an abortion and that her views on abortion and marriage equality are from the heart of the Christian message.

About $10,000 of that half-million came from the Catholic Church. No more. Whitmore doesn't respect Catholic beliefs. That prompted Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin to ask, "Who speaks for Jesus?" Is it the Catholic bishop or the Methodist pastor? Kincaid then quotes from Matthew 25 and says Jesus is quite able to speak for himself.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
I was at my own United Methodist Church yesterday morning. I was part of a crew that within about 90 minutes assembled and packaged almost 500 sandwiches to take to an inner city church to help them feed the poor.

Chalk one up

Yes, indeedie, the Occupy Wall Street movement is still alive and is about to mark its 6-month anniversary. I check the blog occasionally and this is the list of events planned for the next week or so. One action caught my attention. Three Occupiers were arrested for drawing on the sidewalk with sidewalk chalk, the kind of stuff kids are allowed to play with because it washes off. The crime was trespass and graffiti. In response there will be a Chalkupation in which parents and kids are invited to use their chalk all over Liberty Plaza for a couple hours on Saturday.

During a luncheon yesterday to raise money for Romney there was to be a rally outside. I haven't seen a report yet. One of the signs was "Buy your own politician. Romney's mine."

Various Occupy communities are calling for a general strike on May 1, which is International Workers' Day. What would the world be like without the 99%? In addition to demonstrating, the Occupy folks suggest no work, no shopping, no banking. I'll be involved in a church related occupy event that day. I'll tell more later.

A related effort in NYC is Picture the Homeless. The group was were formed more than a decade ago in response to efforts to criminalize homelessness. One of their recent efforts was to list all the vacant apartments within about 1/3 of the city. City rent laws are such that many landlords would rather let a place sit empty. The count showed enough vacancies to house all the homeless of NYC. It isn't a homeless crisis, it is a housing usage crisis.

Effective satire

The worst time in the life of a gay 12-year-old is when he is being bullied. The best time? When he can find a secluded corner, not too far from help, where he can eat lunch by himself. Since this look into that young life is from The Onion many people are wondering whether the satire is effective, because it certainly isn't funny. Those who were bullied when young say it definitely is effective.

Kirk Cameron, former teen TV star and now a Fundie, spouted off about how he doesn't like gay people. He used his religion to justify his position. In response Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin rewrote Cameron's words by replacing all references to gay with references to Christian. Nope, not offensive at all.

Monday, March 12, 2012

My core beliefs in song

I had a marvelous, though hectic, weekend. I'm not going to tell you about all of it (some of it was rather mundane). The interesting part (for this blog, at least) started late Saturday afternoon when I went to First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor for their Extravagant Welcome celebration. The program was hosted by Rainbow Crossing, which is the group that prompted the church to be a Reconciling Congregation five years ago.

The late afternoon speaker was Randy Roberts Potts. He is the gay grandson of televangelist Oral Roberts. He told about growing up in the Roberts compound in Tulsa. A major part of his story was about his uncle Ron Roberts (Oral's son), who committed suicide when Randy was young. Randy eventually discovers Ron was also gay. Randy finds he is following in Ron's footsteps -- marrying a woman just out of college and having three kids before coming to terms with being gay. Ron couldn't handle it. Randy almost couldn't either. The happy ending is Randy will be marrying his boyfriend next month, though he hasn't talked to his parents in several years.

Part of Randy's message was that he understands why his parents did what they did. He probably would have done the same in their situation. He forgives them for it.

Rainbow Crossing put on a supper and then it was on to a concert by MUSE Cincinnati's Women's Choir. About 45 members (of an ensemble of 65) came to Ann Arbor. The group is known for their diversity and showed it in their outfits. All of the outfits were black and accented in the same shade of blue, but each wore a different outfit and had a different type of accent, such as jewelry, scarf, blouse under the jacket, headpiece, pin, flower, or sweater. The racial makeup was mixed; one woman was blind; another disabled and sang from a stool. Their info says they are a mix of orientations.

Their sound was marvelous. Their songs were about love -- in all its configurations -- and justice. One song was about the cries of women after various disasters -- Chernobyl, Bhopal, civil wars in Sri Lanka and Cyprus -- and how the singers carry their tears. Prayer of the Children was written by a man who worked at a children's hospital in Bosnia and came back from lunch one day to find the hospital bombed. Bread and Roses was about the poor needing bread to live and also roses to keep beauty in their lives. They sang a South African song about never giving up. What Have You Done to Lift Somebody Up? was about how to reach out to those around you. We were asked to join the chorus. They sang We Are the Ones we've been waiting for to make change happen. And their bit of fun: Caffeine Overload Polka. The program was a wonderful two hours. To summarize their program: they sang my language. They turned my core beliefs into song. These are the kinds of songs I would want to write (though I would need a lyricist).

I was back to that church in Ann Arbor for the early service the next morning. Randy Roberts Potts was the preacher and it was great to hear gay issues discussed from the pulpit. Some of it was an expansion of what he said the night before. One sentence stayed with me (though I don't know if it is accurate): Healing happens when a person of power makes contact with a person in need. We, the church, are to be a place of healing. MUSE repeated a couple songs from the night before.

I also appreciated the Children's Moment. The associate pastor invited the kids forward and told them to bring an adult with them. She then asked the kids who they brought. Most responded with, "My Mom," or, "My Dad," though a couple kids had other replies. Then the pastor said families come all different ways. Some have a mom and a dad. Some have only a mom. Some have only a dad. Some have two moms or two dads. Some have grandparents who act like mom and dad. Again, it was great that my whole self was acknowledged during the service.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How did we get left off the list?

James Dobson first made a name for himself and his group Focus on the Family back in the 1980s. I saw a series of videos he put out and thought they were quite good, addressing real family health concerns. Alas, Dobson and FotF soon became known for his anti-gay noise and he lost a great deal of credibility (except among Fundies).

Dobson has retired from leading FotF, but still writes columns for their various publications. His latest article is eleven "Great Marriage Killers" and it looks like he gives sound advice. He mentions overcommitment leading to physical exhaustion, issues of money, conflicts with in-laws, selfishness, and addictions to alcohol, gambling, and pornography.

The reason why I mention it is because of something not on the list: gay marriage. Since Massachusetts has had gay marriage since 2004 without civilization collapsing has he recognized that gay marriage doesn't kill straight marriage?

Hate continues to rise

The Southern Poverty Law Center has issued a new report on the hate groups in America. The number of extremist groups is at a record level. The biggest rise is in the number of armed militias that see the federal government as the enemy. The biggest reasons for the increase in the number of groups and in their size are Obama being elected president and the long-term effects of the economic crash.

There are also 11 anti-gay groups added to the list. Not all anti-gay groups are designated as hate groups. Those that get the tag (1) use lies or claims to science that has been proven false in their propaganda, and (2) attack or malign (even if just verbally) an entire class of people.

The Platinum Rule

Autumn Sandeen of Pam's House Blend takes a look at the latest incident of a public person saying unkind things about gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders. That leads to a discussion of the Golden Rule:
Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.
She lists some variations of that Rule that I found intriguing. She calls this one the Platinum Rule:
Where it’s possible and not harmful to yourself, treat others as they want to be treated.
Ah, that gets interesting. The other person may be enough different from me that treating them the way I want to be treated may not be appropriate.

Another way to express the Rule:
Don’t be cruel to others, but instead be thoughtful and kind.
Since some LGBT people embrace (or at least use amongst ourselves) words that most gays find offensive (such as "faggot"). Sandeen adds a corollary from Cesar Chavez:
The first principle of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.
What is at stake in all of these variations of the Rule is human dignity.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The students suffer for a long time

I've heard several reports this weekend about the student debt crisis. This is one of them. I think they all came from the announcement that the amount of student debt now exceeds all credit card debt and is north of $800 billion. Yup, we're closing in on a trillion. A report from the show Marketplace on NPR considers the consequences of so much debt: student move in with parents -- which means they aren't renting apartments or buying houses, they aren't buying furniture or wide screen TVs. The economy takes a hit.

Part of the problem is the federal government providing fewer grants to students. Part of it is the cost of education (something like 25% of a middle class annual income where it used to be 4% probably about the time I went to college). And part of it is for-profit education.

Jeff Bryant of Campaign for America's Future takes a look at the for-profit education scam. Yeah, these institutions graduate -- some -- students who get jobs and pay off their education loans and become productive members of society. But the whole thing seems to be a method to suck dollars out of the federal treasury and leave students with mounds of debt. The institution gets paid up front, the student suffers for a long time. This student debt is now being bought and sold just like mortgages were a few short years ago. The debt load is unmanageable for most students and many are about to default. And we know what happened when mortgages defaulted.

Amazing, the people sucking dollars out of the gov't are the ones saying the gov't should be smaller.

Just stop driving

Newtie has been promising gas at $2.50 a gallon. Is that feasible? One way to make it happen: everybody in New York and Los Angeles would have to stop driving.

Or you could have the federal gov't subsidize the difference between $2.50 and the current price of gas. Jordan Weissman of The Atlantic says that would only cost $187 billion a year. Peanuts compared to the Bush tax cuts. However, the best way to screw up a market is to subsidize it.

The Box Turtle Bulletin has a Daily Agenda written by Jim Burroway. One item for today is the 40th anniversary of the first city to pass an ordinance to ban employers from firing workers simply for being gay. Yup, way back in 1972 when homosexuality was sill considered a mental illness. That city? Nope, not San Francisco. Try East Lansing. The city was spurred on by students of Michigan State University. Alas, there is a bill currently in the Michigan Legislature to overturn all such city ordinances.

They'll say anything

Essayist Terrence Heath takes a look at what Romney had to do to eke out his victories yesterday. Some of these are revisions to previous positions. No matter. Now that he's said them conservatives will hold him to them. Some of these positions: More tax cuts (and out of whose hide will the money come?), support Ryan's plan to "end Medicare as we know it," veto the DREAM act, make the student loan debt situation worse, restrict women's access to contraception, require Welfare recipients to get a drug test, cut federal worker pay, and support national Right-to-Work (which guts unions).

To get conservative support Romney has to say what conservatives want to hear. And now that he is saying those things conservatives won't let him forget what he said. He'll owe them, big time.

In a second essay Heath wrote that with all these changes in position Romney has no convictions of his own. Actually, Romney holds one conviction -- he feels he is entitled to be president. He'll do and say anything to get there. That sense of entitlement is a big reason why he doesn't connect with voters.

Romney (as well as other GOP candidates) are again (still?) proclaiming tax cuts (at least for the 1%) will boost the economy. But we've tried it. Bush II cut taxes. The economy stagnated. Clinton raised taxes. The economy boomed. Reagan raised taxes and the economy boomed. Dave Johnson of Campaign for America's Future wrote:
A government that is run only for 1%er plutocrats will only do things that benefit plutocrats. As the governments of the world are increasingly "captured" by the plutocrats they will increasingly cut back on doing things for regular people. It doesn't matter if this hurts or even kills their economies in the future, 1%ers don't care. Plutocrats want it now, for themselves, and take it now, for themselves, the rest be damned.

And let me add, they'll say what they need to say to get that.
With so many people willing to say anything to get what they want one had better start with the assumption that they're lying.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Prejudice can't lie in a courtroom

The Prop 8 trial to overturn the Calif. gay marriage ban was two years ago. Though the trial was recorded on video those tapes cannot be released to the public. A primary aspect of the trial was that prejudice can lie in a political campaign, but cannot lie in the courtroom. So it is important to get the details of the case out in public. Not many people are going to wade through the court transcripts. Thankfully, Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for Milk, did that for us. He created a stage play titled 8. There was a staged reading in New York and last Saturday there was one in Los Angeles. A video of this one is now on YouTube. As in New York, the cast is made up of some high-powered stars, in this case Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Martin Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Jamie Lee Curtis, John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, Chris Colfer, and George Takei (plus many more names I don't know well).

YouTube says the video is 2 hours, but there is a "skip ahead to start" button that cuts 30 minutes. However, you'll miss news clips of the history of the case that start at about minute 17.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Isolated from truth

Frank Schaeffer used to be a Fundie leader, which means he can explain how they think to the rest of us. Yeah, we have known about some of this stuff for a long time. Even so, it is good for Schaeffer to write about it in the Huffington Post and get it in front of a wider audience.

Schaeffer notes that Fundies have been trained from a young age to not think for themselves. They must trust their faith (as handed to them) and reject outside evidence. The leadership protects the flock from outside ideas because otherwise they would lose their message and power.

Every election season they pop out of their caves of self imposed exile to comment on and try to influence where the country is headed (the Bronze Age would be nice). Since their isolation tends to be so complete (their own schools and universities, their own publishing companies, and Fox, their own TV network), they hate everything that might break through that isolation. Thus public education is feared. Colleges that are not Fundie are feared because they promote the free exchange of ideas (and that's why Santorum says kids shouldn't go to college). Media is feared for the same reason. All public institutions, such as gov't agencies, Federal Reserve, even infrastructure projects, are feared because they demand a baseline of fact.

Abuse brains like that and their owners become damaged. They are lashing out at reality -- and presiding over the destruction of the GOP.

Lots of ways to build community

I attended a district-wide United Methodist Church event yesterday that was quite enjoyable. The district my church is in is a combination of two districts. At the service creating the new district last August, the new District Superintendent asked for volunteer churches for a challenge without telling us what the challenge was. She had planned for 20 churches and was caught off-guard when 44 churches responded. She gave each church $1000 (and had to raise an additional $24,000 to be able to do that). She challenged them to spend it on their surrounding community. It could not be spent on themselves, and certainly not to pay the electrical bill.

At yesterday's event, churches had to report on what they did (or will do) with the money. All 44 are documented in a booklet (which I have glanced through). Perhaps a dozen gave presentations. Several churches started by raising additional money to double or triple what they were given. They did a variety of things with the money: stock up their food pantry or clothes closet for the poor, host dinners and invite the poor, buy Christmas gifts for poor families, hold a basketball clinic for 50 kids, provide meals and comfort to the police department, turn an adjacent abandoned building into a youth art center, take housewarming gifts to a newly built shelter for homeless veterans, donate to (and participate in building) a Habitat for Humanity home nearby, provide seed money to another agency to turn junkyard seatbelts and tires into sandals, start a community garden on church property, support a youth work-mission trip to Haiti, and develop a neighborhood literacy program. Every one of these projects served to build community as well as mental health of the participants.

Encourage the GOP to hit bottom

A group in Ohio has taken the first steps to repeal that state's marriage protection amendment that was approved in 2004 (the same time as the one in Michigan). The method they are attempting is currently the only way to do it without waiting for the Supremes to stike it down. They have a long way to go to get it on the ballot in November. GOP says go right ahead. It will draw out the conservative voters in 2012 the same way it did in 2004. So if you push for repeal Obama loses the state.

A few days ago I wrote about the issue of the Archie mag that featured a gay wedding that prompted a boycott by One Million Moms. Because of that extra publicity the issue sold out.

Santorum again confuses cause and effect. He claims deterioration of two-parent families causes poverty. I've noted before that poverty makes people less inclined to get married.

Root for Santorum to be the GOP nominee. Joe Nocera, writing for the New York Times:
If Mitt Romney takes the nomination and then loses to Obama, the extremists who’ve taken over the party will surely say the problem was Romney’s lack of ideological purity. If, however, Santorum is the nominee — and then loses in a landslide — the party will no longer be able to delude itself about where its ideological rigidity has taken it.

An alcoholic doesn’t stop drinking until he hits bottom. The Republican Party won’t change until it hits bottom. Only Santorum offers that possibility.
A commenter thinks a choice between Santorum and Obama means moderates sit this one out.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Obsessed with the Occupy movement

Yeah, I voted in the GOP primary yesterday. I've batten down the hatches in anticipation of GOP robocalls and requests for money. Alas, my candidate got so few votes he wasn't even listed in the statewide results by the Detroit Free Press. And the Freep did list results for Herman Cain, who got 0.1% (Cain -- and Bachmann and Perry -- dropped out after the ballots were printed, a long time ago). I know my candidate, Fred Karger, is still running, because he is fighting to get on the ballot in North Carolina.

Lou Dubose, writing in the March 1 edition of the Washington Spectator (subscription required), notes a big topic at CPAC this past month was how to thoroughly discredit the Occupy movement. Along those lines there is a new movie, Occupy Unmasked, that tries to claim Zuccotti Park was full of rapists and druggies, and where lots of people died. The movie was created by the same people that stung ACORN and did the hit job on Hillary Clinton that became the basis of the Citizens United case. We know how they treat honesty. We also know how many people bothered watching that Hillary movie.

From the Occupy Wall Street blog, there were large Occupy to Shut Down the Corporations protests in Portland, San Diego, New York, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Kansas City, Atlanta, Charlotte, and elsewhere across the country and around the world. This post includes descriptions and photos (alas, the photos have no captions). Some protests had large crowds.

But nothing was mentioned in the news I heard. Hmm.

I mentioned my favorite animated short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, won the Oscar. It is now on YouTube and just as charming the second time. Well worth the 15 minutes.

Age appropriate answers

An organization named One Million Moms (and you're just gonna hafta take their word for the count) is affiliated with various anti-gay organizations. They have announced a boycott of Toys 'R Us stores because magazine racks there have an issue of the Archie comics depicting the wedding of gay character Kevin Kellan -- on the cover no less. Our children will see that and (gasp!) ask questions. Children couldn't possibly understand something like that.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin does a fine job of posing some questions those kiddies might ask (NOT!) then tells us a story. An eight-year-old girl was watching an old movie with her father. Rock Hudson kisses Doris Day. The girls senses something is not right with the scene (Hudson was gay) and asks Pops about it. He says some men prefer to kiss other men. Matter-of-fact tone of voice. The kid is satisfied.

Simple question, simple answer, nothing inappropriate for the child.

The child was Patti Davis and the father was Ronald Reagan. And if the darling of the conservatives can do it…

Before we go any further, we don't need to get into how corrupt the Reagan administration was or how little Reagan got involved in the AIDS crisis (as the comments in Kincaid's post do). Even so, Kincaid thinks the former prez. was more complicated than we usually think. But that's not the point of this post.

One problem with kids seeing that Archie mag in a toy store is that isn't a good place for a parent to proclaim how vile they think a gay wedding is. Especially if the kid keeps saying, "But why?"

One Million Moms will probably claim victory shortly. That issue of Archie is about to be replaced anyway through the normal publishing schedule.

Go ahead and corrupt the gov't as long as I can keep the job

Martin Kaste of NPR reports on a law that is getting a lot of attention in Montana. Back in 1912 the state's voters passed a law that says corporations can't spend money on political campaigns. After the Supremes allowed exactly that (and with no dollar limit) in the Citizens United case, the Montana Supremes upheld the state law. This may be a chance for the Supremes to reconsider their earlier decision (or smack down Montana).

Jim Bopp, one of the lawyers who took the Citizens United case to the Supremes, looked at Montana's history of a few copper kings controlling state government and said this:
There's nothing evil about spending money on an election.

What I saw is a situation in which 80 percent of the people in Montana, their employment depended on this industry. When that situation occurs in any state, people bend over backwards to help those industries because they like to be employed.
Which implies the jobs an industry supplies is more important than anything else. Corruption is permissible as long as the minions have jobs. I don't agree, though the line resonates well in an economic slump.