Thursday, January 31, 2013

Culture wars over?

Yeah, another busy week with class and preparation for it. Some tidbits that accumulated during that time.

Rich Miller of the Chicago Sun-Times says that the GOP in Illinois want the marriage equality battle to be over quickly. And the only way to do that is to allow the Dems to pass it. They know a delay will hurt them. So, fine. Get it out of the way. On to the next battle.

Alas, that argument didn't work so well in Wyoming. The bill for marriage equality died in committee. The domestic partner bill got to the House, where it lost 24-34. A non-discrimination bill got to the Senate floor, where it lost 13-15. Supporters are actually encouraged by the closeness of the vote.

Zofie Mandelski, a teen (kids are so impatient now) in Colorado, has filed a ballot proposal to amend the Colorado constitution to permit marriage equality. Gay marriage was banned through an amendment in 2006. The results this time are likely to be different.

David Kochel, former Romney advisor, admits, "The culture wars are over. And the Republicans, largely, lost."

I relish the thought, though my friend and debate partner would caution doing the happy dance too soon.

A New York Times editorial says that if Obama is serious about the marriage equality thing he said in the Inaugural he can prove it by submitting a brief in the gay marriage cases before the Supremes this spring.
For the administration to be missing in action in this showdown risks conveying a message to the justices that it lacks confidence in the constitutional claims for ending gay people’s exclusion from marriage or that it believes Americans are not ready for a high court ruling making marriage equality the law of the land — impressions strikingly contradicted by legal precedent, the lessons of history and by the president’s own very powerful words.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a black lesbian and does an occasional column for Pam's House Blend. She says that many in the black community are miffed with Obama's equating gays with their own civil rights battles. Part of it is the continuing homophobia in black churches. Part of it is the sentiment, Hey dude, you're the black president — why have the living conditions for gays improved more in the last four years than those of blacks?

The NPR show On Point did an episode on Gay in America yesterday. The host, Tom Ashbrook, discussed the current situation with two gay men and a lesbian. Callers posed questions and provided insights. The consensus is we've come a long way, but we're not done yet. There's still discrimination out there. I'm glad they did it, though I can't say it is worth 45 minutes of your time.

Even Stephen Colbert agrees we've come a long way. In the first of two videos Colbert takes a look at the Defense of Marriage Act now before the Supremes. The House Republicans have authorized $2M to defend the law (your tax dollars at work) and Colbert pokes big holes in their defense of DOMA. In the second video, Colbert comments on a study that showed straight men are a lot more stressed out than gay men. Enjoy the fun.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Democracy dependent on one guy's opinion

Charles Blow, of the New York Times Opinion Pages, reviews the proposal of the GOP to divide up the Elector College votes according to congressional districts. He discusses how the proposal would work, and how it would have worked against Obama had it been in place this year. The idea has come up before, but since the GOP was convinced Romney was going to win, they didn't want to hurt his chances. Blow also notes the lame excuses the GOP is using. One of them is from Charles Carrico, the guy who introduced a similar bill in Virginia. He wants to
give smaller communities a bigger voice. The last election, constituents were concerned that it didn’t matter what they did, that more densely populated areas were going to outvote them.

David Weigel of Slate translates: "Make the rural vote matter more and make the metro vote count less." And we know where the GOP power base is. At least in Virginia, the head of the state senate Elections Committee thinks it's a "bad idea" and unlikely to allow the bill to come up in committee. Are we to the point where democracy is dependent on a committee chair thinking something is a bad idea?

The rural communities may complain about not having a voice that can be heard over the urban throngs (though this may be a case of the GOP putting words in their mouths), but the cities, being wealthier, also pay more taxes.

One commenter wrote: Obama got 62% of the Electoral College and only 51% of the popular vote. How is that fair?

My response is: Under the proposed system, Obama beat Romney in Michigan by 450K votes. How is giving Romney 9 and Obama 7 fair? If Electoral College votes were proportional to the statewide vote (and done that way for all states) I would see the fairness.

A sidebar shows the GOP is considering this for Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The district tally for Pennsylvania is not available. But of the other four states, if the idea was in effect this past election Obama would have gotten 16 of 49 Electoral College votes even though he carried each state by at least 140K votes and sometimes 3 times that margin.

I remember Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli because of his anti-gay actions, though I like what he says about this Electoral College scheme.
I don't like breaking up states. I think winner-take-all is part of how a state matters. Our side would have gotten more votes this go-around but you know I want people to want to fight to win the whole state. It makes the state as a state matter more. It's one more thing that whittles down the role of states independently of the people who live in them. We need to build them up and not to Balkanize America. It's the states that created the federal government and not the other way around.
Alas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is playing coy.

Fortunately, several other GOP leaders, such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, are calling this scheme a bad idea. So will this discourage state legislatures or provide cover?

As I mentioned above, the fair method would be to assign the Electoral College votes based on the proportion of the votes each candidate got in the state. Or do away with the Electoral College completely.

My brother wrote to me about an alternate method of choosing candidates (not for the Electoral College). All the candidates to the House from all parties would be voted on "at large" by everyone in the state. If the state is to send 14 representatives to the House, then the top 14 vote getters win. There is an interesting wrinkle: Once the votes are counted a candidate can give some or all of his or her votes to another. No hope of winning? Help a colleague clear the bottom rung as you drop out. Safely ahead? Share the wealth to help someone get a seat. The citizen would communicate with whichever representative best reflects the citizen's views.

I told my brother I like the idea. But on thinking about it I see it is possible for a candidate to be seated that very few citizens actually voted for.

Instead of the candidate trading votes I see another possibility. Allow the voter one ballot, but allow voting for as many candidates in a race as the voter finds acceptable.

If a third party candidate enters a race he is usually close to one party's position, drawing votes from that party. The candidate of the other major party usually wins, even though a majority of the voters disagree with his positions. That could be prevented if a citizen voted for all acceptable candidates. Like one candidate, tolerate another, and dislike a third? Then vote for the first two. The third would be less likely to get elected. I'll let my friend and debate partner check the math.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Another way to steal the election

Over the last week or so I've been using YouTube as my evening music source. Whatever composer I run across (perhaps during the day) I search for and listen to. When one track is over I go on to whatever looks good. I listened to Edgar Bainton, and Granville Bantock recently. Tonight I'm listening to Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. It is an hour long and extremely repetitive (fitting with the minimalist style), but it makes good sonic wallpaper while I catch up on my news reading and blog writing. I note this performance (featuring modern performance group 8th Blackbird) is sponsored by a company that makes drumsticks and marimba mallets. Appropriate because the piece features 6 marimbas and a vibraphone.

Now catching up on other articles from the past week.

Stephen Henderson wrote an editorial for last Sunday's Free Press about another way to reduce gun violence. He says we should come down harder on dealers who sell to those who shouldn't have guns. This is perhaps only 1% of dealers. In addition, when a gun is used in a crime that was obtained illegally, the victims should be encouraged to sue the dealer.

Newsweek has a good profile on VP Joe Biden. They explore the question of why Biden, famous for being loose with his mouth, still gets the important assignments, such as heading Obama's efforts on deciding what to do about gun violence.

Also in Newsweek is an opinion piece by Paul Begala, their progressive columnist. He looks at some of the factors that characterize a failed state (one that cannot provide for the needs, including safety, of its citizens). Begala finds that many of those factors characterize the current GOP in the House. Those factors include: Mounting demographic pressures (see the percentage of Latinos that voted for Obama). Delegitimization of the State (the whole point of the current GOP). Uneven economic development along group lines. Rise of factions among elites (Tea Party hates country club types, libertarians distrust Religious Right). Deterioration of public service (again, this appears to be the point of the GOP). Widespread human rights abuses (is Cheney concerned about being tried for war crimes?). Groups who would rather punish heretics than win converts or get something done.

I had heard a bit about this, but hadn't seen an explanation. According to Talking Points Memo, the GOP is working to gerrymander the Electoral College in the same manner it has gerrymandered the US House. Their tactic is targeted only for Dem leaning states, such as Michigan. What they want to do is change the winner-take-all at the state level to winner-take-all at the congressional district level. Michigan is gerrymandered in such a way that even though much more than 50% of the votes for representatives were for Democrats, the state sent 9 GOP and 5 Dems to the House. Under this proposed way of dividing Michigan's electoral votes, no matter how many votes went to the Dem Prez. candidate, the GOP would get 9 of 16 electoral votes (presumably there would be two statewide positions, going to Dems, the way the votes for the Senate go). So in states with a GOP majority of voters, all electoral votes go to the GOP. In states with Dem majority of voters, a majority of votes go to the GOP. If you’re a party of white guys make sure the non-white vote (or urban vote) doesn't count as much. And, yes, I can see that happening in Michigan where the GOP is extremely partisan and in control of both houses of the legislature and the governorship. These are the same people that gerrymandered the House districts.

The GOP has been just doing some "soul searching" about how to make themselves more palatable to Latinos. Stunts like this won't help their image -- but if the stunt succeeds, they won't care about their image. All the more reason to see them as a power intent on oppression.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I found my dot

Brandon Martin-Anderson took data from the 2010 USA census and the 2011 Canada census to create a population map. He shows the two countries with a tiny dot for every single person. That's almost 342M dots. Most population maps put a dot for each thousand people, or so. When scaled to view both nations the map clearly shows high and low population densities. I can pick out major cities. I find it interesting that across much of the Plains States the clusters of dots representing the small towns appear to form lines. The cool thing about this map is that I can zoom in. I can't quite get to the street level that I can with Google Maps, but I did get to the community level and was able to pick out which dot must represent me. I verified it by then turning on the street names.

I do wonder about the date a bit. I zoomed in on my parent's home. I was a bit surprised by the number of dots in the big park across from their house. Do people claim the park as an address? Is the census data wrong? Did the mapmaker misinterpret data? I can't tell. It's a cool map anyway.

Compassion through misinformation

This past Tuesday was the 40th anniversary of Roe. v. Wade. The New York Times had a story on the latest piece of the battle for women's choice. The number of Crisis Pregnancy Centers is increasing. These are places that claim to present a "compassionate approach to the issue." But nearly all don't have actual medical staff and don't disclose they aren't medical facilities. They cannot offer effective pre-natal care. They refuse to acknowledge one possibility is abortion and are sometimes dishonest in pushing a woman to carry the pregnancy to term. These facilities do not fall under any regulations. A commenter tells the story of a woman who wasn't pregnant going to one of these places. The nurse did an ultrasound and soon returned with an image of a fetus, asking the patient to give it a name.

There are also reports of the number of restrictions on abortion so that soon the right to choose is in name only.

Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall

Now that I have time I can write about Obama's Second Inaugural.

First, there was a little difficulty. I don't watch much TV (only Rose Bowl Parade and this so far this year). My cable TV company has required I install a box between the cable and my TV (a 1982 vintage). Thankfully, they provided the box for free. But since it gets so little use I don't want it to be an electronic vampire, sucking electricity when I'm not actually using it, so I unplugged it. But the blasted thing has no persistent memory and must be reinitialized by the company over the cable every time it is plugged in. So I had to call them to do that. I asked if I would have to do that every time my home lost power. Yup. I told him how annoying that was. But on to better things.

The more I listened to Obama's speech the more impressed I was. I really like what he said. I was delighted with his mention of Stonewall and even more so when he forcefully declared marriage equality is important. My delight didn't end there. A lot of what he said, on all sorts of topics, was music to my ears. I am so glad he had such a strong overall defense of progressivism.

I paid attention when Obama reeled off "Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall." I'm very aware of the Stonewall Riots that got the gay rights movement going. I'm also familiar with the role Selma played in civil rights. But I had to look up Seneca Falls. That was a convention back in 1848 and is considered the start of the women's rights movement that eventually included allowing women to vote.

Naturally, anti-gay groups are now trying to reinterpret Stonewall. They've done a lot of reinterpreting history, not just gay history. Our side is, of course, delighted that our seminal moment in rights has been linked by the president to the other big rights movements.

Delaying my comments a few days allows me to include the commentary that has appeared. Many of them can praise the speech better than I can.

I'll start with one delightful feature of the speech -- it ticked off the GOP. They were looking for more of Obama's 2004 Dem Convention speech when he talked about no Red states, no Blue states, only United States. In other words, they were looking for Obama to say how much he would compromise with them. Not in this speech.

Adele Stan of AlterNet lists the dozen ways this speech ticked off the Tea Party and the Right in general. I won't list them all, but they include: reclaiming the Declaration of Independence and Constitution for liberalism, saying we built this country as a community instead of as a bunch of individuals, refuting the idea that the economy does best without business regulations, called for action on climate change, gave a hug to Hispanics (with his selection of poet and benediction speaker), made a patriotic case for the social safety net (and swatted away the idea of "takers"), asserted the morality of gay rights, called for equal pay for women, and highlighted voter suppression. Quite a list!

Of course, lots of gay blogs are praising Obama's inclusion of us -- first time gays are mentioned in an Inaugural speech! Though some are a bit miffed that transgenders weren't explicitly mentioned.

Others, such as Rachel Maddow and Frank Rich (9 minute video), note a big reason for Obama to mention marriage equality -- he was standing right in front of the members of the Supreme Court. And they are working on a couple gay marriage cases. Making an historical link between gay rights and women's rights and civil rights is being seen as offering the Supremes a reason to be on the right side of history on our issues. That might sway John Roberts.

There was one disappointment to the day. The networks stopped broadcasting before the parade started.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Self-esteem, wellbeing, loyalty, respect, interdependence

Rev. Steve Chalke of Oasis UK wrote about the church and homosexuality. He wrote it because the British gov't will soon push for marriage equality. He wants to stress that the church should be for inclusion.

If we want gay kids to avoid promiscuity (and we do) we need to offer them the opportunity of a permanent, stable relationship based on love, respect, and security. The church should model positive relationships and not condemn gay kids to celibacy, loneliness, secrecy, and fear.

Chalke reviews the Biblical evidence regarding homosexuality. He does this by also tracing the Biblical view of women and slavery. Then he discusses the difference between exegesis and hermeneutics. The first is about teasing the meaning out of a text while the second is about placing the text within its original culture and social perceptions.
Here is my question. Shouldn't we take the same principle that we readily apply to the role of women, slavery, and numerous other issues, and apply it our understanding of permanent, faithful, homosexual relationships? Wouldn't it be inconsistent not to?
Chalke is aware that the high rate of suicide by gays is driven by anti-gay attitudes, propped up by the church.
Rather than condemn and exclude, can we dare to create an environment for homosexual people where issues of self-esteem and wellbeing can be talked about; where the virtues of loyalty, respect, interdependence and faithfulness can be nurtured, and where exclusive and permanent same-sex relationships can be supported?

Without honesty and respect

Tavis Smiley doesn't like Quentin Tarantino's movie Django Unchained. In particular he doesn't like the way the main character was out for revenge. Smiley says the most notable feature of post-slavery America is that there was not a black equivalent to Al Qaeda. Yes, under slavery blacks were treated in a nasty manner. But on their freedom they did not engage in revenge. Someday it would be great if Hollywood treated slavery as honestly and respectfully as they treat the Holocaust.

Tim Fernholz and Ritchie King created a flowchart detailing the options available to the Prez. and Congress as they deal with Fiscal Bluff, the Sequel: Debt Ceiling and National Budget.

Civic duty and domestic tranquility

Kristin Goss wrote an article for Newsweek about the gun violence reduction debate. She talks about the huge gap in the way we understand guns. One side takes the Second Amendment, the part about needing guns to protect ourselves from the tyranny of the government, very seriously. That's especially true when they see the gov't advancing the cause of those people -- immigrants, gays, welfare recipients, and other "socialists" --through the normal democratic process. As the Tea Party did a few years back, they have embraced the right of confronting democratically elected officials through force of arms. Even if they aren't into armed confrontation, many gun owners see their guns as a civic virtue, a mark of self-reliance and duty. They spotlight stories of how "armed citizens" save the day.

The other side is concerned about being safe from thieves and rapists. We also see our work of eliminating guns as a civic duty. Part of being a good citizen means caring for others and working towards "domestic tranquility."

Interestingly, advocates of gun violence reduction are looking at the campaigns that approved marriage equality in the last election. The big lesson was learning how to reframe the debate. In Maine, that included thousands of one-on-one discussions, outside of slogan-driven soundbites.

Strangely, Newsweek refuses to show this article in the online site. So here is the link within the reader. If you try it please let me know if it works for you.


Tom Wolfe wrote the novel The Bonfire of the Vanities included a look at the top of Wall Street. Wolfe has now written a history of the real people at the top for Newsweek. Much of it is a description of the Masters of the Universe -- the traders who, because they can easily earn $50K in fees for a transaction that takes only a few minutes, feel that everyone else is contemptibly beneath them. But the Masters were overtaken by the Quants, quantitative analysts, who figured out another way to make money. Quants don't invest, they look for minor discrepancies between buy and sell prices and take advantage of it. As Wolfe puts it, they diddle the market. Some 75% of today's trades are because of this diddling. To make money at it (and some make lots) the trades must happen in milliseconds, which means what the Quants are doing is writing algorithms so computers can find and execute these deals.

A long time ago a factory manager owned the factory. He cared a great deal about how successful it is, sometimes putting his life on the line. The next step was stock ownership, the evaporation of capital. As we've seen from stories of Romney and Bain Capital, the stock owner doesn't care about the factory. If things don't go his way, he sells the stock (or the factory), end of problem. Quants take that another level, evaporation of investment. They can diddle any stock. The fate of any particular stock is of no interest to them. And all that money is part of the transfer from poor to rich.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Artificial crisis

Newsweek has now gone completely digital. I'm getting used to reading it on my computer and wondering if I should spend $70 on an in-house wi-fi for my netbook or $200 on a color nook or kindle so I can read at the kitchen table. The articles appear in my browser in its own display format with a table of contents and individual "pages" that require scrolling because they don't quite fit. I'm not sure what to make of the "Sign In" button that doesn't give any error message when I supply name and password, but also doesn't disappear or change to a "Welcome" message. Am I getting the extra subscriber content or not?

I'm still reading the first digital issue (dated Jan. 4), though the second is now available. Somehow I didn't get the notice of the first one and lost the link to the subscription page.

I'm not sure pages within the display can be linked by outsiders, so I tracked down the article through the public site.

David Frum, conservative commentator, looks at the recent fiscal bluff deal. Part of this comes from the (conservative? banking?) belief that some day the people who hold all those trillions of USA debt will suddenly realize it will never be paid off. We will reach a tipping point and the whole thing, economy and all, will crash. But this crisis keeps failing to happen. So Congress created an artificial crisis to impose the shock the markets refused to deliver.

But this artificial crisis and its artificial resolution (or delay) did nothing for America's real problems.

* Jobs and economic growth: The crisis was created under the assumption that the debt was America's most urgent problem. Try telling that to the millions who are un- and under-employed.

* Overspending (or federal deficit): Better to describe this as a health care spending problem because it is the amount going up most quickly. America pays much more per person on health care than other developed countries and buys too much of what isn't necessary. Capping spending won't change that problem.

* Low tax revenue: Squeezing more tax money out of the rich, Frum says, isn't going to close the deficit (I don't have any data to confirm or refute that). We need other streams of input: energy tax, carbon tax, or national sales tax.

Maybe if we don't talk about it…

The National Journal polled some of who they call "political insiders" -- politicians, consultants, and strategists. They asked about 100 from each party. Their responses to the question, "Which statement comes closest to your views on gay marriage?" are quite interesting. 97% of the Democrat insiders say "My party should support it." Yay! It wasn't all that long ago when the response would have been, "My party should avoid the issue."

On to the GOP:
27% -- My party should support it
11% -- My party should oppose it
48% -- My party should avoid the issue
14% -- Other

Yup, more than twice as many want to support marriage equality than want to oppose it. Big progress there. Also interesting, nearly half of them don't think it should be discussed, presumably because they don't think the party is ready to support it yet they don't want to be seen as anti-gay. That they are even concerned about that image is big progress.

Amazingly, a marriage equality bill has been introduced in Wyoming! Yeah, they are also introducing a civil partnership bill, but at this point we'll take what we can get. Another report here.

Last year Tracy Thorne-Begland was nominated to be a judge of the General District Court in Virginia. The GOP legislators, who had to approve him, refused. Not because the nominee was gay, nosiree, but because he was "openly aggressively gay." Thorne-Begland was installed through a recess appointment, annoying the GOP.

That recess appointment must now be reconfirmed. And the GOP is singing quite a different tune. A joint House and Senate panel unanimously voted to send his confirmation to both chambers.

Perhaps they saw the handwriting on the wall?

A comment on this post implies Thorne-Begland was confirmed -- after 12 of 20 GOP legislators walked out. I'd rather have abstentions than no votes.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A vision for Detroit

John Gallagher of the Sunday Free Press gives us a peek at the Detroit Future City report. It was released last week with great fanfare. The document looks at how the city might repurpose its land (all those tens of thousands of vacant houses and lots) to make Detroit viable as a city. Some of the land should be turned into parks, more into greenways, wetlands, urban farms, and other kinds of things that are ecologically friendlier than pavement.

Gallagher's report is interesting (and the maps fascinating), but alas, only a summary. It looks like the report is a framework in which the city planners, council, and mayor will have to fill in the details. And come up with any necessary funding. And sell it to the residents.

I've just started reading Gallagher's book Reimagining Detroit which appears to explore the same ground as the Future City report. I've only gotten as far as the discussion about population. Gallagher refutes the idea that the population of a city determines its greatness so a Detroit of 600K residents is not automatically inferior to a Detroit of 1800K residents.

Brian Dickerson of the Free Press editorial page was at the report's release. He says that the report contain elements similar to medical triage. The report identifies which neighborhoods can't be revived no matter how much money is sent their way and which are in decent shape and need a bit of money to keep going. The city needs to save its slim resources for neighborhoods that can be revived.

There is some momentum to turn the report into action. That momentum is funded with $150 million from the Kresge Foundation.

The truly geeky out there can find the whole report (PDF, 45MB) here.

There is a lot of interest in Detroit by my readers. That should generate lots of hits for this post. The post with the most hits, over 1000, is about Detroit, written in July 2009. That page got over 80 hits in the last month. I have no idea what is driving such a high hit rate. The post with the next highest count has reached only 433. I'm purposefully not linking to it now because I don't consider it the most important thing I've written. Though if you really want to, it's under Popular Recent Posts (though I suppose that should be Recently Popular Posts).

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A mom to gays everywhere

We had a January thaw around here yesterday and today. These are common enough so I can't tell how much out of the ordinary this one was, if at all. Today it was warm and dry enough (55 degrees) that I was on my bicycle for 80 minutes this afternoon. Rain tonight, perhaps snow tomorrow with a high of 35.

On to today's story.

Jeanne Manford died last Tuesday at the age of 92. I heard a bit about it then, but it is only now that I'm able to share a couple tributes to her.

Who is Jeanne Manford? I confess that until this week I didn't know anything about her. Turns out she is a key part of our movement towards acceptance.

Back in 1972 her gay son Morty had already been involved in several protests and had been arrested. When that year's Pride Parade (which had only started a couple years before) Jeanne marched with her son, just the two of them. She carried a sign she made, "Parents of gays unite in support for our children." It's what mothers do. The reaction astonished her. Her phone was soon constantly ringing with requests she talk to other parents of gay kids. In 1973 she founded PFLAG: Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It now has 350 chapters nationwide and 200K members.

Dan Savage put it this way:
What Jeanne Manford did was she put it in people's heads that gay and lesbian people had parents, that we were somebody's children, and that was the first real big step in the movement toward full acceptance of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.

NPR's All Things Considered had a remembrance on today's show, 5 1/2 minutes long. Rachel Maddow did a wonderful 9 minutes, which featured lots of parents of gays at Pride Parades, an interview of Jeanne from 1978, and Prez. Obama talking about her at the Human Rights Campaign dinner in 2009.

Thank you, sweet lady.

Friday, January 11, 2013

15 or 16 of these things and, poof, problem gone!

There has been talk lately about minting a coin made of platinum and declaring it to be worth a trillion dollars. Obama could use it somehow when the next debt ceiling debate, though I'm not sure how that would work. It would apparently allow the gov't continue paying bills, essentially delaying reaching the debt limit.

Terrence Heath clears up the misconceptions the GOP is trying to spread (who'd a thunk?):

* It's illegal. Well, the law that gives the Treasury the right to mint coins and print paper money doesn't say anything about what values those coins should have.

* Grownups don't mint trillion dollar coins. Seriously? Grownups pay their bills and don't hold the economy hostage.

* Such a coin isn't popular with Americans. See the latest numbers on the popularity of Congress? They rank below cockroaches.

* There isn't a trillion dollar's worth of platinum. There isn't a penny's worth of copper in that coin either.

* It's an extreme and idiotic step. So is holding the economy hostage, crashing the USA credit rating, and denying seniors their Social Security checks.

The more interesting question is: Whose face do we put on that coin?

When I first heard this part of the discussion I immediately thought it should be Mark Twain. He had the right amount of skepticism of politicians and their idiotic ways. My second choice would be Will Rogers -- "A fool and his money are soon elected."

Garrett Burke, the guy who designed the state quarter for Calif., thinks the face should be that of Charles Ponzi, the originator of the Ponzi scheme.

And Terrence Heath puts in a bid for Ronald Reagan. It was under Reagan's guidance that the national debt began to balloon and set the groundwork for today's financial mess. That includes changing America from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation, reducing the share of productivity that workers get to keep (which drops their personal savings rate and increases overall household debt), convincing lawmakers that debt didn't matter (until today), removing restrictions on lenders that resulted in the S&L crisis of the 1980s and the housing crash in 2006, and increasing the concentration of wealth at the top. Which means Reagan is why a trillion dollar coin is needed.

Heath suggests Obama attach a chain to the coin and wear it around his neck at the next State of the Union speech.

Sigh. Greg Walden, GOP Rep. from Oregon, has introduced a bill to outlaw any trillion dollar coin.

The GOP support we need

I wrote a while back about the head of the GOP in Illinois throwing his support behind marriage equality. As expected, there are howls for him to resign. His reply is that his opponents are free to vote to remove him, but he isn't backing down. That's the kind of support we need.

Marriage Equality did not pass in Illinois in the legislature's lame-duck session. However, it has already been introduced in the new session.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Advantage lost

Essayist Terrence Heath was not at all pleased with the recent Fiscal Bluff deal. Yeah, Obama got at least some in the GOP to vote for higher taxes. But…

The middle class and poor got a tax raise too with a bump in the payroll tax (which pays for Social Security). That averages out to about $83 a month for some people who can't afford it.

The deal affects only the tax side of the equation. The spending side was postponed until March. In the process, Obama lost his bargaining advantage. If the GOP stalled on raising taxes, they would raise anyway, which is what Obama wanted. But now if nothing happens the spending cuts will occur anyway, which is what the GOP wants. The GOP is able to hold the economy hostage again (and again, with the debt ceiling coming due).

African-Americans, Asians, and Latinos now play a significant role in the national votes of several states. They see the positive role of gov't and don't want social programs cut. If Democrats vote for cutting important programs (all because the GOP has them over a barrel) the Dems would alienate all these non-white voters. Even so, I doubt they would vote for the GOP, though it is possible the GOP would be happy if all these non-white voters didn't vote.

Rebuild the Dream held an Artstrike, asking people to create posters that capture the idea that the fiscal bluff is a fraud, created so the rich can extort more money from the poor. Here is my favorite.

And I'll close with a summary I used just a few days ago:
The only entitlement that needs reforming is the inbred belief of the 0.1% that they are entitled to 99.9% of the wealth and 100% of the power.

A son of two moms

A sweet story. Fifteen year old Noah St. John appears on the storytelling show Snap Judgment. He is the son of a lesbian couple and an incident brings to mind all the times his mothers argued. He is suddenly afraid their relationship is about to end and his life will be thrown in turmoil. Just remember I said the story is sweet while you watch the 6 minutes.

Alvin McEwen has created a 15 page booklet on how the Religious Right sees us gays. It isn't extensively documented, but it does list the important points. Their view of us is not based on reality. They twist research in an attempt to "prove" we're disordered. They claim their animus towards us is permitted because it is a religious belief. Yet, much mainstream media regards them as "experts" on families. It is up to us to challenge the distortions and their expert status. The booklet is online here.

Terrence Heath has a few images that neatly show the difference between the GOP and Democratic view of women.

Who is the good guy?

Yeah, I'm tired of the subject. Even so, I've been thinking. In the middle of my long post on gun control, I mentioned the NRA response -- the only response to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. I now see a huge loophole in that claim.
Who decides (and by what criteria) who is the good guy and who isn't?
A few scenarios:

The Trayvon Martin mess (last spring?) was set in motion partly from the Stand Your Ground law in Florida. The law essentially says that if a shooter claims intimidation or felt threatened and fired in self-defense then he can't be prosecuted.

Florida isn't the only state with such a law. There are 23 of them. A recent study showed Stand Your Ground laws increased homicides in those states by about 3%. Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend tells the story of a guy who complained about the slow service in a pizza shop. The guy behind suggested he cool it. Tempers flared, a shoving match began, and one guy pulled out a gun and shot the other. With the Stand Your Ground law the shooter can claim he was threatened and escape prosecution for the crazy use a gun over slow service at a pizza shop.

That guy with the gun is theoretically one of the NRA's good guys, a citizen with a concealed weapon ready to take down the bad guy. In this case the "bad guy" didn't have a gun.

Another scenario. This one I heard about, likely on NPR, but I don't have a link. A citizen packs heat in an open meeting of the city council. The guy pulls out the gun, not because there is a bad guy with a gun to take down, but because the discussion on some aspect of city gov't isn't going in this guy's favor. The story is recent, but brings to mind the presence of Tea Party members when congressmen were holding meetings in their home districts back in 2009. Is the guy brandishing the gun a good guy because he is upholding the Constitution (as he sees it) or a bad guy? Though the guy with the gun may not see it this way he is effectively silencing debate and destroying democracy.

Third scenario. First a bit of setting. Today, VP Joe Biden was reporting on his commission to reduce gun violence (others have noted the switch from "gun control" to "gun violence reduction" and hopefully that reframing will sufficiently change the debate). CNN had to interrupt their coverage of the VP to report on another school shooting in Calif. Fortunately, no deaths.

In response to Biden's report, James Yeager, CEO of Tactical Response which specializes in training around weapons and tactics, was mighty upset of the thought of any hint of gun control. And if there is any attempt to pass gun control, in his words:
I’m telling you that if that happens, it’s going to spark a civil war, and I’ll be glad to fire the first shot. I’m not putting up with it. You shouldn’t put up with it. And I need all you patriots to start thinking about what you’re going to do, load your damn mags, make sure your rifle’s clean, pack a backpack with some food in it and get ready to fight.
Good guy? If not, what man on the street good guy is going to take him on? Perhaps we should instead administer a mental health test.

While we're considering gun laws, let's also look at the issues of militarism, bullying, and mental health then start balancing rights and responsibility along with individual and community, while stressing cooperation and nonviolent resolutions.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Talent v. business cost

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has been pushing mightily over the last two years to make the state more business friendly. His tax reforms, and his signature on the right-to-work law, have made businesses very happy, but it has been at the expense of lots of other things, especially education. Snyder's efforts mean Michigan will soon be in the top 10 states for best business climate.

Lou Glazer, cofounder and head of the nonpartisan think tank Michigan Future, says Snyder is aiming for the wrong top 10 list.

Glazer looks at private sector earnings, the average combination of wages and benefits of those working for private companies. The states with the best business climate are not the states with the best private sector earnings. High employee earnings happen where workers have four-year degrees. That's in sectors such as health, insurance, business services, law, marketing, architecture, and information.

When an employer goes shopping for a place to build its HQ their biggest question is, "What kind of talent do you have around here?" The next question is, "What are your business costs?" But it is quite rare for a state to offer great talent and low business costs.

That's because a state has to spend to create, attract, and keep talent. Those with four-year degrees are mobile. Students want a great education system (and Michigan has been underfunding it). They'll choose a great city before looking for a job (and Michigan has been letting cities rot and infrastructure crumble). Top talent wants quality of life (and the state has been slashing funding for that).

Glazer says simply increasing taxes won't work because it probably won't be spent wisely. It should be spent in two areas: investing in education and investing to revitalize cities.

Snyder has been saying there are vacancies for truck drivers. But college graduates, the ones who would really boost the economy, aren't looking to drive a truck.

So Glazer is saying something similar to Brian Dickerson of the Freep who said Snyder is doing all he can to chase our top talent away.

Always at the expense of Detroit

Though I've lived in the Detroit area for 33 years I didn't grow up here. And I certainly wasn't part of the white flight that began leaving the city in the 1950s. I don't have the fear and animosity of Detroit that some of my neighbors do, the ones who are proud of how many decades since they've set foot in within the city limits.

From my perch here in the suburbs some of the stories of Detroit city management seem rather strange. Why can't they seem to get it together? Why do they continually accuse suburbanites of stealing city assets? The latest examples are Cobo Hall and Belle Isle. Why are city leaders (who are black) so willing and successful in playing the race card decade after decade? Why is the city gov't so continually incompetent, tied in knots over trivial matters?

John Mogk, a professor at Wayne State Law School, explains a great deal of this in an editorial that appeared in Sunday's Free Press. The specific issue he talks about is the Hantz farm project. John Hantz has proposed buying up 1500 vacant lots around the city, cleaning them up, paying the property taxes, and turning the lots into urban forests with wood to harvest.

Sounds great, doesn't it? The city is in a financial mess and every dollar in taxes would be welcome. There is also a desperate need to do something with all those vacant lots. And the income from the harvest and jobs for the lumberjacks is sorely needed. So why didn't this sail through the City Council. Why isn't it a no-brainer?

Mogk lists several reasons. The first is mistrust. The population of Detroit is about 80% black now. And throughout American history blacks have gotten the short end of the stick. Even after slavery and Jim Crow the blacks feel they exist to be exploited by the whites. In Detroit when a highway and a big urban renewal project went through in the 1950s it destroyed the center of the black culture in the city. Even the recent mortgage mess has hit Detroit harder than the 'burbs. There are a lot of reasons why blacks don't trust whites.

The second reason was misunderstanding. The Hantz project has a 100 acre chunk of land as its core. There aren't many tracts of 100 contiguous acres in the city. So if the city is going to sell a chunk that size to Hantz the perception is that somebody is going to be displaced, even though a 2006 amendment to the Mich. constitution prevents that kind of deal. And if people will be displaced for a tree farm, what's going to stop that land grab like the one in the 1950s?

The third reason is misrepresentation. There has been lots of talk lately about, "The future of Michigan depends on the future of Detroit." That implies the state doesn't prosper unless its biggest city does. But the residents of Detroit see right through that. If the prosperity of Michigan truly depended on the prosperity of the city, the fortunes of the city would have been quite different over the last 60 years.

It seems every time the black leadership of the city has faced off with the white leadership of the state it has been at the expense of the city. And local leadership and residents don't see that changing any time soon.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Play subject to police action

We're in a post-racial society? Since Obama first took the presidency there are people making that claim. Here's an example that shows we're not. An elementary school playground has two signs, one in English and one in Spanish. The English one says:
Parental or Guardian supervision is required for the use of this playground equipment. Play at your own risk.
The Spanish sign says (translated to English):
You must have permission to play in this playground. Violators will be subject to police action.
It's, um, not quite the same thing.

The sign is in Delaware.

Though the signs have been up for more than a year, it was only this past weekend that Milford School District Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Kohel learned about the real meaning of the Spanish signs. She sent her husband out that afternoon to remove them.

One of the commenters included this tagline:
The only entitlement that needs reforming is the inbred belief of the 0.1% that they are entitled to 99.9% of the wealth and 100% of the power.

About to jump in the rankings

Amazing! This is post 2000 for my little blog. It has taken me only a bit more than 5 years to write that many posts. Congratulations to all of you who have read all of them.

Lately, each post has been getting 12-13 views with some variation around that number. Over the last month the most visits have come from Russia, USA, and Britain.

On to something that I'm posting just because it interests me..

Wikipedia has a page of the US Presidents sorted by their time in office. There have been 43 men in the office (Grover Cleveland's two terms were not consecutive which is why Obama is 44). 10 served less than one full term (with poor William Harrison serving only 30 days). An even dozen served one full term. 7 served more than one term, but less than two. Another even dozen served two full terms (though Washington's first term got a late start). And Franklin Roosevelt will be forever at the top serving three terms and 40 days.

Those tallies don't include Obama. If he lives to at least the day after his Second Inauguration he will jump from his current 33rd place to 21st place in length of service. And about 40 days after that he will pass Lincoln.

It says what they say it says

Though I'm rather sick of the subject (and my recent big post said about as much as I want to say), this post is another about the Second Amendment and guns. Dave, the fine writer at 4 Quarters, 10 Dimes, gives us some background on the amendment.

Dave's first big point is that we need to look at the Bill of Rights in the same way that the Founding Fathers did. We tend to think the way they thought of things is the same way we think of things. But their political point of view disappeared about 1820.

That reminds me of the difficulty in properly interpreting the Bible. It has been less than 225 years since the Constitution was written and already there is a disconnect. The Bible was written more than 1900 years ago and yet we still believe their worldview, their understanding of God, is the same as ours.

When the Constitution was written the driving force was to make sure Power doesn't take over Liberty. That was done through the balance of powers -- the Prez. (the One) is balanced by the Supremes (the Few), and the Congress (the Many). The biggest fear at the time was that the One could take over, resulting in tyranny (which does not mean a gov't doing something I don't like). Tyranny can destroy liberty.

So the Second Amendment was a fallback position. If the Many and the Few couldn't control the One, the states (not the individual) could raise an army and defeat the tyrant.

On to Dave's second big point. The history of the Second Amendment may be all fine and dandy, but the Constitution is a living document. "It is not something handed down from on high, inviolate and obvious." The Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means and that meaning lasts until the Supreme Court says something new.

The Supreme Court and the latest rulings on guns is a big example of judicial activism. But whether I agree with the Court or not, they did their job. They interpreted the Constitution.

Dave notes one detail in the ruling. Though an individual has a right to carry the gun, the Supremes, in a decision written by Scalia, "Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited." Meaning, gun control is Constitutional.

Now to convince Congress that some people shouldn't have guns.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Dance for expression

Michigan Radio did a fine segment this morning on the Ruth Ellis Center. It features the dancing the kids do in the evening. The article talks about the style of dance called "vogue" which I can see from the kitchen when I'm there every week. The article provides some background I didn't know and there is also a video of the kids in action. Another bit I didn't know is that some of the kids form into families with the older ones laying down some ground rules to help the younger ones make it into adulthood.

Practically every Wednesday that I'm there I watch one of the kids turn on the sound system at around 6:45 (the earliest they are allowed to) and many of them will begin to vogue. This is a marvelous release of energy, great exercise (many of them come to the kitchen all sweaty asking for paper towels to dry off), and a chance to uninhibitedly express themselves in a safe space. And they'll keep going until 8:45 when the sound system is turned off. Frequently, one of them will dash into the kitchen to flip the CD player forward or back to skip one song or replay another. Usually, they'll tweak the volume up a bit. I turn it down as soon as they leave. Even though the eating area is between the dance floor (where the speakers are) and me it can get so loud I can't hear the door buzzer that sounds in the kitchen. Yeah, I'm the one that checks the screen and lets them in.

I think the kids of the Center helped the staff create a marvelous Christmas/thank you card. It is a sheet of paper with three strips across it. Each strip has a simple phrase that is completed under it.
We appreciate … consistency and long-term commitment; not being afraid to get dirty (I wash the pots); your time, organization, and resourcefulness.

You taught us … the importance of regular, friendly, affirming, faces; the importance of volunteer work.

You're good at … serving with the most positive disposition; keeping things running and smooth; not being afraid to be in [a] unique / loud environment that is out of most people's comfort zones!
Great Christmas present!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Defiant nuns and a GOP leader

The legislature in Illinois is scrambling through all kinds of hurdles to vote on marriage equality before the new legislature is sworn in next Wednesday. At this point it is too iffy to tell whether they'll make it. Among the various people actively lobbying for (and alas, against) it is one everyone is delighted to see helping out -- Pat Brady, head of the Republican Party in the state (though he says when he calls GOP legislators he is just a citizen.) “I think it’s time for people to support this,” Brady said.

My lesbian sister saw a sweet video of a gay couple getting married and wondered why she couldn't marry her partner here in Michigan. A while later she wrote back with a link to an article in the Chicago Phoenix (a news outlet I'm unfamiliar with) about a coalition of nuns who support marriage equality in Illinois in defiance of their bishop. That coalition has members across the country, so my sister hopes they'll use some of that influence here in Michigan.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin has noticed that the Southern Baptist Convention has been mighty quiet in the marriage equality battle over the last year. Don't believe for a moment they have changed their theology, or be so quiet if someone tried to repeal the gay marriage ban in, say, Alabama. However, for now they seem to be content to let the Catholic Bishops and the National Organization for Marriage to speak for them. And not appear quite so blatantly anti-gay.

The Guardian has created a chart showing which states have which gay rights. The listed rights are schools (anti-bullying), hate crimes, housing, employment, adoption, hospital visits, and marriage. The brighter the color the more comprehensive the right. The Northeast is in bright colors, as is bits of the Northwest and Southwest and a touch of color in the Midwest. Other than adoption (for single gay people), the Southeast is mostly gray.

The site Upworthy has a timeline showing women, black, and gay rights through the centuries. Back before 1250 homosexual activity was legal across Europe. By 1300 such activity resulted in torture and perhaps death. The last such execution in Britain was in 1836. It is getting better.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A symbolic cabin

I've finally taken the time to pull photos of my trip to Kentucky off my camera. So here is (finally) a trip report.

Mom, Dad, Sis, and Niece came to my place last Thursday morning in a rented mini-van. I joined them for the trip south. We spent all of that day driving to Bowling Green, Kentucky. That time included 45 minutes in Cincinnati to drive 12 miles. There didn't seem to be a cause of the backup, just a lot of traffic.

On Friday we went to another niece's house and gave hugs all around to her and her husband, a third niece, and my brother and his wife. Yes, much of the day there were 10 of us in a small house. We had a good time.

Much of the afternoon was spent watching the new movie Les Miserables. I thought it was quite good. During the movie I kept seeing systems of power at work (and this is a third mention in as many days). Javert represents the power, Fantine (and many others) represent the oppressed, and Jean Valjean represents one undermining the power on behalf of the oppressed. I don't include the students of the uprising in this work because they respond to power with violence. That never works because powers are masters of violence.

On Saturday we took a little trip. Our first stop was the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park near Hodgenville. It's a small park with a visitor center (nice displays), a birthplace memorial, the Sunken Spring, and hiking trails. The memorial is a building with a "symbolic" log cabin inside. This isn't the cabin of the Lincoln family and due to a few restoration issues has a bit less floor space and is a bit taller. The family left the site before Abe was 2 because the person who sold it to them didn't have clear title.

This is a view of the memorial building.

And one of the log cabin inside.

We did not stop at the boyhood home 10 miles away, though we passed it on our way to Bardstown. The drive was scenic through snow-dusted hills. We had lunch in the Talbott Tavern, which began operation in 1799. Yes, Abraham Lincoln slept here as a young boy with his parents while they tried to sort out another bad real estate deal.

Next door is the old city jail, which has been turned into a Bed & Breakfast. That created a humorous pair of signs:

City Jail


We were back in Bowling Green for a bit of a rest and then supper together at a restaurant.

The trip home on Sunday had better weather (sunny!) and no traffic problems. My part of the trip was about 1140 miles.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Meddling to preserve power

Jill Filipovic of The Guardian takes on the Pope. Benedict now has a Twitter account in hopes of modernizing his communication. Filipovic thinks he would do better to modernize his doctrine. Along the way she reviews the history of the Catholic Church's meddling in women's bodies and in bedrooms before taking on gays. All this reminds me of a Power using oppression to keep its place in the world. And, yes, this is the second day in a row in which I've mentioned systems of power.

Wishing for a gay new year

New Year's Day is the time for lists of wishes for the coming year. This is a gay list by Josh Goodman in the Huffington Post.

* LGBT-inclusive curricula for schools. Learning about us will make us less scary and lead to less bullying.

* Comprehensive sex-ed. Current classes do nothing for gay kids. While we're at it, let's get rid of abstinence only.

* Get rid of "kill the gays" laws. We've avoided such a law in Uganda so far. But they exist in dozens of other countries, such as United Arab Emirates.

* An out pro athlete. None yet in baseball, basketball, football or hockey. Such a person would destroy stereotypes and be a great role model.

* Better adoption laws. Gay couples have problems in 34 states. Two dads are better than no parents.

* Public Service Announcements for adults that address homophobia.

* Discussions about intersectionality. We aren't just gay. Some are gay and black, gay and old, or gay and poor.

* More help for homeless gay youth.

* More help for gay seniors.

Spoiler alert: this superfood is trending

The Lake Superior State University Unicorn Hunters have released their annual list of words that should be banned due to overuse or uselessness. This year's list:

* Fiscal cliff -- this one should be obvious.

* Kick the can down the road -- what happened to "postpone?"

* Double down -- let's get back to "reaffirm" before this morphs into "quadruple down."

* Job creators -- euphemism for "employment minimizers."

* Passionate -- food tastes like sawdust unless it is cooked with passion?

* YOLO, You Only Live Once -- legitimizes risky behavior.

* Spoiler alert -- proclaims one has trivial information to be shared no matter what.

* Bucket list -- a grim and selfish way to look at the world.

* Trending -- "trend" isn't a verb and needs a direction.

* Superfood -- food is either healthful or it isn't.

* Boneless wings -- how about "chicken pieces"?

* Guru -- this is not a generic term for "expert."