Sunday, March 31, 2013

Morality of capitalism

Over the last 30 years there has been a lot of talk about the glories of Capitalism. Part of that is the demise of Communism in Russia and the reduction of Socialism in Europe. It isn't just talk, of course, there has been a big push for free-market solutions to everything. And with that came stagnant incomes, gaping inequality, and the Great Recession.

So the talk is moving to make the moral case for even-freer-market capitalism, with books being published. Yeah, these are the same ideas I've discussed and worked to refute: taxation and regulation restricts liberty, income redistribution is thievery and undermines the incentives that drive capitalism. And capitalism has been "the best system for freeing large masses of human beings from lives of misery and poverty." So what could be more moral than that?

Steven Pearlstein of The Washington Post doesn't refute those ideas (alas!). But he does note the rough time Romney had running on them and that Obama is beginning to join the debate. Good, says Pearlstein. It is time to grapple with these ideas and a debate will lift flabby arguments out of easy slogans.

A commenter named Fiat500 explains the national economic debate this way:
An anology i often use when explaining political-economics to younger people is to look at society as a vehicle. The economy is the engine. We want a strong engine, but the purpose of the car is get us collective to our chosen destination, not just to go as fast as possible. Republicans want a ferrari, big engine, goes really fast, is a lot of fun, but only for two people. Democrats want a tour bus, same big engine, but lots of comfy seats, driver (govt) goes where passengers want him to go. The economy is not an end in itself, but rather a tool for achieving the public good, and it should be managed as such.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Their chances don't improve

Adam Liptak of the New York Times noticed many of the Supreme Court justices were wondering if taking the Calif. gay marriage case was a good idea. They appeared to be looking for a way to not decide the case. So then why, back in November, did they take it? Liptak ponders that question.

Part of the answer is that it takes 4 justices to accept a case and 5 to decide it. That's right they don't need a majority to accept a case.

When the justices meet to decide what cases to accept it is in a room without any of their clerks. The only documentation that comes out of the room is whether the case is accepted or not. It doesn't show how many votes it got or who voted which way.

We sometimes learn how a justice votes on acceptance, but only when their private papers are made public. For these marriage equality cases that will likely be 50 years from now.

Even so, Liptak thinks that certain comments made during oral arguments provide hints:
After Justice Anthony M. Kennedy suggested that the court should dismiss the case, Justice Antonin Scalia tipped his hand.

“It’s too late for that now, isn’t it?” he said, a note of glee in his voice.

“We have crossed that river,” he said.
Liptak thinks the four conservatives agreed to the case to get as much of a conservative ruling as they can now because they know their chances of such a ruling do not improve in the years ahead.

Dan Savage takes on the "procreation" argument that was used before the Supremes, with humorous results. The video is 4 minutes.

And Jon Stewart takes on all the other arguments that were used against us.

Friday, March 29, 2013

No problem, Gaylord is so close

I've mentioned before (though I can't find it now) that the Michigan legislature is considering a bill that allows health care professionals to refuse to treat a patient because of "religious beliefs, moral convictions, or ethical principles sincerely held by an individual or entity." That bill has now passed out of Senate committee. It may go before the full chamber when they return from Spring recess.

Crystal Proxmire of Between the Lines fills in the details of this bill. A caregiver or insurance company could deny such treatments as birth control prescriptions, HIV medication, hormones for transgender individuals, prenatal care for "morally objectionable family circumstances," or simply because a person is female, gay, Jewish, or of any other minority. The patient would not be able to sue. The caregiver could sue an employer if punished for refusing to provide care. This is amazingly draconian.

The caregiver who refuses care has to provide a referral. No problem, right? I did a bit of poking around in Google. If the hospital in Alpena refuses care, the next closest hospital is in Rogers City, 38 miles and 45 minutes away. And if they aren't accommodating, Alpena to Gaylord is 70 miles and 85 minutes. That becomes an onerous burden if care requires repeated visits, which HIV or transgender transition would require.

In addition to the burden and the risk of health and life, this bill promotes discrimination.

Back in November Michigan citizens voted to repeal the Emergency Manager law. It didn't take long for the legislature to vote in a replacement law. In terms of powers granted to the EM it is about the same as the law voters rejected. But there is one important difference. The new law contains a small spending provision (probably unrelated to the rest of the law) and the Michigan Constitution says that "the power of referendum does not extend to acts making appropriations…" That phrase is there to prevent citizens from overturning laws that enact the state budget. But the legislature is now abusing it. The new EM law with this provision is the GOP controlled legislature's way of saying, "Nyah, Nyah, Nyah!" Which it's been doing a lot of lately -- the act which made Michigan a Right to Work state also has a tiny spending provision.

All that has prompted citizen Bill Lucas to begin the process of getting a constitutional amendment to repeal that little phrase about spending. Look for "Voters for Fair Use of Ballot Referendum."

Braiden Neubecker, age 10-1/2, wrote an essay for school, which Between the Lines published. In her essay Braiden praises her two dads. Life in foster care for her and her younger brother Michael was tough, But now that her two dads have adopted the siblings life has been pretty great.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Skim-milk marriage

I didn't have a chance earlier to listen to Rachel Maddow's discussion of Tuesday's arguments before the Supremes. The video is under 10 minutes. She starts with a clip of Justice Kagan talking to the lawyer wanting to maintain the gay marriage ban. The lawyer makes his usual claim about marriage being for procreation. Kagan asks what about banning marriages when both people are over 55? Maddow is frustrated with the number of men -- lawyer and fellow justices -- who refuse to see Kagan's point. No matter that a man stays virile until he dies, the couple isn't going to be creating babies. Why do we allow them to get married?

Maddow then discusses the case with Kenji Yoshino of New York University Law School. Yoshino notes the evolution of using kids in this debate. It's still about "protect the kids." That used to mean protect the kids because gays will molest them. Then it was about protecting kids from learning about gays because they might become gay. Now since Obama talked about children when he began supporting us, the phrase means lets protect the children of gay couples by allowing their parents to marry. The combination of kids and gays isn't so toxic anymore.

Rachel Maddow's show yesterday was a summary of the second day of gay marriage before the court. There are three videos.

In the first one (17 minutes) Maddow plays the important audio clips of the proceedings with a bit of discussion. She has great admiration for spunky Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who had one of the great lines of the day. Ginsberg mentions many of the ways in which the federal gov't supports straight marriages but doesn't support gay marriages. The result is full (straight) marriage and gays who end up with "skim-milk marriage." You go, girl!

In a second clip Maddow interviews Mary Bonauto. The video is about 6 minutes. I've heard that name quite a bit over the last decade, but hadn't connected it all together. Bonauto was behind the case to get Vermont to create civil unions in 2000 (yeah, a court case prompted the law). She was directly involved in the case the brought gay marriage to Massachusetts, and one of the cases that declared DOMA to be unconstitutional (alas, not the one the Supremes heard). Here's a profile in the New York Times listing the cases I missed. Thank you for your strategy and your work.

In the third clip, 9 minutes long, Maddow discusses why the GOP is getting very quiet on the gay marriage issue. Thanks to the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the military now deals with married gay servicemembers. The military is saying the Defense of Marriage Act requires them to discriminate against our soldiers, sailors, and such and this discrimination is harmful to them and to the military as a whole.

And for a bit of icing on the cake, Jon Stewart discusses the shift in support in the Senate.

Earlier this week I discussed how the Defense of Marriage Act might be tossed out because it interferes with states rights. I had noted how that might prevent overturning the Calif. gay marriage ban. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo (by way of Box Turtle Bulletin) caught the significance of the states rights argument.
If that’s the case, it would probably be the first time that “states rights” was ever used to vindicate any actual person or group’s rights. It’s almost always been bulwark behind which states hide to deprive citizens of rights. There are likely some marginal examples of the contrary. But the big verdict of history is unmistakable. It would be an ironic first.

About a week ago I noted polls showing a big jump in approval for gay marriage in just the last seven months. Alas, Nate Silver isn't so impressed with the data. He shows the gains have been rather steady since 2004, with no strong upturn in the last couple years.

We also look to Silver for predictions. He has a chart for projected support for gay marriage in 2016 and 2020 compared with support in 2008 and 2012. Conclusions: lawmakers better get cracking in Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Jersey, Delaware, and even Oregon and Nevada. Michigan should get it done by 2016. Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi -- it's gonna be a while, sometime after 2020.

Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin discusses the various points made in the Calif. gay marriage case. Tisinai is very good at pointing out absurdities. I'll let you read it on your own. It's in two parts. I mention it because a commenter, Ben in Oakland, has a description of Scalia that made me laugh:
He’s a finger down the throat for the soul, an emetic in the medicine cabinet of life, last year’s unrefrigerated mackerel, a bit of sushi that long since went to its final reward.

Do you think I am biased?

Heather Long of The Guardian reminds us discrimination against us does not end with favorable rulings on these cases. And it isn't just marriage discrimination. It takes a while for attitudes to change -- we're still dealing with racism.

For example, the Kentucky legislature passed a bill to preserve the right for people with "sincerely held beliefs" to discriminate against whomever they want. The governor vetoed it (yay!). The legislature wasted no time in overriding that veto. Commenters note all they've accomplished is a lot of grandstanding and the accumulation of a lot of legal bills.

Noah Feldman of Bloomberg looks at the mess that would result of the Supremes try to go slow by making a narrow ruling. What happens when a gay couple from Massachusetts moves to Louisiana? Do they get federal benefits but not state benefits? That's the reverse of what happens now. Lawsuits will result. We've already had another type of case -- a gay couple moves and find they can't divorce in their new state. Yeah, there is the issue of imposing marriage equality across the country before a lot of people are ready for it (see above). It seems a few justices don't want to get involved (at least not yet). But a narrow decision will keep them involved for a good long time as they hear cases from state after state.

Ari Ezra Waldman (who I've been reading all week) takes a step back and looks at seven broad "takeaways" related to the two cases heard this week. I won't bother with all seven, but two caught my attention.

Let's hear it for the women -- Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsberg who deftly sliced up the flimsy arguments of our opponents, attorney Roberta Kaplan who represented Edie Windsor in the DOMA case, Edie herself who is at the center of one case and Kris Perry and Sandy Stier who are at the center of the other. And especially Mary Bonauto (see above). Yes, of course, there were fine men in there too -- the male couple in the gay marriage case, Jeff Zerillo and Paul Katami, and their lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies.

The Supreme Court matters. Just being in front of the Supremes is a big boost for our cause. Even w lukewarm ruling gives us something to build on. And an adverse ruling would be devastating.

I've heard comments over the last few days about the Supremes ducking the Calif. gay marriage case and waiting for another to come in "five or ten years". I got to be thinking -- it won't take anywhere near that long. I've already reported on a marriage equality case in Michigan where the judge has delayed his ruling until after the Supremes rule in June. If the Supremes don't allow marriage equality in Michigan, this judge could rule our state ban unconstitutional. Give it a couple years in Circuit Court and it will be before the Supremes.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Domain of the states v. discrimination

Gay marriage round two at the Supremes today. The demonstrations outside the Court were a lot smaller and quieter. So on to the actual case. This time it is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), particularly the part that says the federal gov't defines marriage as one man and one woman for all of its business. Again, I'm relying on the analysis of Ari Ezra Waldman of Towleroad. No time tonight to search for other opinions.

The first hour was spent discussing whether the Court should even bother with the case. If the Obama admin. supported getting rid of DOMA and won that case in Circuit Court they aren't the injured party and shouldn't be able to ask the Court to review the case. Along the way a justice noted that if Edie Windsor (the lesbian widow at the heart of the case) wins, the gov't owes her $350,000 in a tax refund. So, yeah, the gov't is the injured party. But enough of that.

In the rest of federal law the states say, "These people are married," and the feds respond with, "Fine. These are the benefits they get." Those benefits are a small way of encouraging stability in marriage.

But DOMA says, "No matter what the state says, for federal purposes gay people are not married." Which leads to a big discussion of whether DOMA is unconstitutional on federalism grounds -- whether the feds are usurping the role that should be left to the states. Some justices, particularly Kennedy, focused on this idea.

But this one could bit us in the backside if it is used. If this case says who can marry is solely a state issue, then California is free to decide gays should be excluded from marriage. Much better to decide DOMA is discriminatory, but there may not be five votes for that.

Paul Clement, the lawyer for the House wanting to keep DOMA, tried to say that DOMA is necessary for equality -- it means the feds treat all gay couples equally. If DOMA is overturned, gay couples in marriage equality states are treated differently than gay couples in other states. Nice try, dude. What that means is gay couples would always be treated differently from straight couples. The justices then used Clement for target practice. The poor guy was reduced to his one argument: But gay marriage is different.

Clement's rebuttal tried the same tactic as the anti-gay side. Gay marriage is going to win anyway, so the courts should stay out of this issue. But leaving our rights up to the good graces (or whims) of our opponents violates the constitution and courts are abdicating their responsibility if they ignore inequality. Not responding to the tyranny of the majority eviscerates our system of justice and democracy.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Newer than cell phones and the internet

One big news story today -- the Calif. gay marriage case before the Supremes.

It appears that part of this case is a flurry of senators scrambling to announce support for marriage equality, as in "I was for it before I had to be." Yeah a few GOP senators have done so, but so many Democratic senators have announced their support people are now studying the dwindling list of who hasn't. There are a few holdouts, but the list is fluid.

There was a lot of interest in being in the audience during arguments. I heard of some wanting to see the facial expressions of the justices. A few people were in line since Thursday evening.

By this morning a huge crowd had formed outside the Court, overflowing the plaza. And that was before the anti-gay marchers arrived.

It is rare for the Supremes to release an audio and transcript of the proceedings the same day. Usually, they wait until the end of the week. Not this time. I haven’t read or listened yet, instead relying on the analysis.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post uses 3 charts so show why marriage equality will eventually win. The youth are way out ahead and they'll soon be in charge.

Is the Supreme Court becoming more liberal or more conservative. Depends on who you ask -- and how you measure it. Another Washington Post page shows two ways the computation was done. Alas, both methods show the swing vote has tended to be on the conservative side of center.

Robin Tyler was part of the suit in Calif. that prompted the state Supremes to rule in favor of marriage equality -- the ruling that was overturned by the vote in 2008. She was in the courtroom today and had this reaction:
I’m angry. I felt like a second class citizen. I felt that some of the questions by the Justices were degrading. How dare they sit in front of a room of such accomplished LGBT people and refer to us like this was all something new! And when Scalia asked, ‘Where in the Constitution is there discrimination against gay people?’ I mean – women are not in the Constitution, either, but there’s implied discrimination. Some of their questions were demeaning and insulting to the audience – and the court was filled with people they were talking about! I just hope they do the right thing.
Now on to the issue -- what happened in the courtroom today?

Ari Ezra Waldman, the writer lawyer on the blog Towleroad, has a review of the proceedings. Charles Cooper represented the supporters of the gay marriage ban. I won't give his whole argument, only that his reasoning was pretty lame (we knew that) and the justices went straight for he weak points.

Then came Ted Olson, representing our side. He fared a lot better, though had to deal with Scalia. The final presenter was Don Verrilli, Obama's Solicitor General, making the case for the 8-state solution. He had to deal with illogic of his position and then deal with the justices remarking this gay marriage thing is moving too fast -- we're dealing with something that is newer that cell phones and the internet (Kennedy said it has only been 5 years -- Mass. started allowing gays to marry almost 9 years ago). Roberts wants the public debate to continue.

Nina Totenberg of NPR summarizes the arguments.

The ruling will be handed down in June, but that hasn't stopped prognosticators from spouting opinions on what the justices might do.

Tom Goldstein of Scotusblog sees two possible outcomes:

* The anti-gay side doesn't have standing to bring the case to the Supremes. That means the 9th Circuit decision is tossed out and the district court decision remains -- and gay marriage comes to only Calif.

* The justices can't reach a majority -- Kennedy thinking it's too soon to decide and refusing to join either side -- leaving the 9th Circuit decision in place -- and gay marriage comes to only Calif.

Even so, Goldstein says the justices were clear in implying if gay marriage is legal in Calif. it should be legal everywhere. That's another reason why the justices might look for a way not to rule in this case.

But such guesses have been wrong before -- such as in the Affordable Care Act.

After teaching this afternoon (and spending an hour reading most the links I included above) I put on my flannel-lined jeans and wool sweater and headed down to the marriage equality rally in Detroit. I got there around 6:30 and the gang had assembled about a half hour before then. The site was chosen because it is in front of the federal courthouse in Detroit. Alas, in the evening there isn't much traffic -- we didn't have an audience.

Here's what the group looked like when I got there:

A couple of the protesters.

I think this is the guy who organized the event.

And some of the home-made posters.

I took a candle and matches with me and, in spite of the wind, managed to keep the candle lit most of the time -- I had to relight it only once. A few others had candles and many had glowsticks. I left at 8:00 -- my feet were cold and it seemed to be just us. The event was to go for another hour.

During my time there I counted the number of participants. The highest number I got was 55. Since several people came and went I guess the total participation was above 75.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Drug tests for all on welfare

Paul Begala, writing in Newsweek, noticed that Stephen Fincher, GOP House member from Tennessee, filed a bill to require 20% of welfare recipients to undergo drug tests -- after an appeals court called such tests unconstitutional because it is an unreasonable search. Rep. Fincher is a managing partner in Fincher Farms, which has $3.2 million in subsidies (which is a federal benefit even if mostly as repaid loans) over 10 years. And he has pocketed at least $50K a year beyond those loans. That's about 10 times the average welfare benefit.

So Begala proposes that Fincher's drug testing bill also apply to Fincher. While we're at it, test those on Wall St. who got bailouts, hedge-fund managers who exploit loopholes, and defense contractors. Perhaps also presidential candidates (drugs might explain a few strange debate performances on both sides).

Yeah, Fincher doesn't consider himself on welfare. So how about a hypocrisy test?

Stock loopholes v. modern schools

There are reports in the news about the Senate finally passing a budget after four years. I'm puzzled that many of these reports add that budgets are merely symbolic. All budgets? Only this one? Because the House won't pass it?

A link somewhere led me to the budget proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The site has the names of Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer on it so I assume this caucus is in the House. Yeah, I know it has little chance of going anywhere, but I like its features.

No more tax cuts for the rich. Instead, let's choose investment, especially in infrastructure. This budget will create 7 million jobs and reduce unemployment to 5%. In addition it will reduce the deficit by $4.4 trillion by closing loopholes and "asking the wealthy to pay a fair share."

The page offers a good comparison chart. Would you rather spend $112 billion on fossil fuel handouts or repair roads and bridges, with corresponding job gains? Perhaps spend $70 billion on corporate meals and entertainment or a three-year tax credit for working families? How about $25 billion on stock option loopholes or to modernize 35,000 public schools?

My choice is easy.

Courage beyond heroism

I noted Pam Spaulding's lament that in the Steubenville rape case no attention was paid to the young victim, the woman who was raped. Terrence Heath adds that is because her name is protected by the court, and rightly so. But without an actual person telling her story she can be (and was) invisible. Thus the only ones the media talk about are the perpetrators. Heath says that is a lack of moral imagination.

Heath goes on to say rape is never a simple "mistake" that an otherwise good person does. The crime starts with objectifying women, making her out to be a thing that the man can do anything with.

But before the crime is the boy code, and Alpha Male Masculinity. The boy code is unwritten, but fierce. It is in the bulging muscles of action figures, the objectification lyrics of rap music. It requires showing no fear, of vanquishing an enemy instead of reconciliation, of strength and heroism, of entitlement. It must be regularly proven through belittling women and gays. It requires declaring superiority over everything that isn't straight and male.

There are ways to counteract the boy code, but adults, especially parents, must start young.

Be models of courage that go beyond simplistically heroic. Use discipline that is clear and consistent, but not harsh, to build a conscience, not enemies. Be models of emotional male-male friendship that go beyond competition. Show there are many ways to be a man, to be brave, to use their energy, creativity, and boldness.

But don't just imagine it

I wrote a few days ago about the short video titled Imagine a world without hate and featuring people, such as Matthew Shepard, who were killed by hate. Terrence Heath expands on that idea much more eloquently that I could. A bit of what he wrote:
Imagine all the hopes and dreams would not be crushed.

Imagine all the money not spent on weapons of war and mayhem.

Imagine no one going without food, shelter, or medical care.

Imagine no man, woman, or child ever being friendless.

Imagine every child having access to good schools and education.

Just imagine it.

But don’t just imagine it.

Today, in even the smallest way, make it happen. Take even the smallest step to move us in that direction, having faith that you do not walk alone.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Rainbow neighborhood

My friend and debate partner responded to my post yesterday about the rainbow house:
Great photo. What's the second flag hanging below the stars and stripes? Doesn't look like a Rainbow flag, but its only partly visible.

The church's statement lacks credibility unless the congregants are unfeeling soulless robots. They will see that house often, even if that happens with guarded peripheral vision. They will have to explain to their children why that house looks like that. And, whatever their behavior, their feelings are bound to be affected.

Aaron Jackson did not miscalculate by placing an opposition non-profit in the church's vision. The best thing now would be to surround that church with similar organizational offices, to emphasize the message. Bring on the striped neighborhood! More free speech!
To fill in a detail or two…

Yes, the second flag (according to the original accounts) is a rainbow flag.

According to many accounts, the congregants are indeed "unfeeling soulless robots." Sigh.

I like the idea of a Rainbow Neighborhood. Since the church shows up at soldier funerals perhaps one of those houses should be for a gay veterans organization. Alas, I heard most of the houses in the neighborhood are owned by church members.

Imagine a world without hate

Martin Luther King, Anne Frank, Harvey Milk, Daniel Pearl, James Byrd, Matthew Shepherd, Yitzak Rabin -- all were victims of hate. The Anti-Defamation League has a neat commercial (soundtrack by John Lennon) suggesting what these people might have done if hate hadn't killed them. Imagine a world without hate.

Kids have, of course, been used effectively in the debate on marriage equality, especially since our opponents say they are denying us marriage to protect those kids. There was one young lad, son of a lesbian couple, testifying before the Rhode Island legislature yesterday (and, while cute and heartwarming, not worth digging up the link).

And Gracie testified before the legislature in Minnesota a couple days ago, ending with, "which parent do I not need: my Mom or my Dad?" Of course, she is now the darling of the anti-gay crowd.

That left Rob Tisinai wanting to scream in the streets. His reply: "But Gracie, no one is trying to take one of your parents away." (emphasis in the original) He then tells her the story of two little boys adopted by a gay couple. But the men can't get married. Should the boys be asked to give up Daddy or Papi?

Pam Spaulding reacts to the case in Steubenville, Ohio, where a couple teens were convicted of raping a 16 year old woman. Spaulding wonders why, when the verdict was read, the news reaction was about the ruined lives of the young men and not a word about the trauma of the young woman?

Spaulding then quotes Don McPherson, a former NFL player. He also notes the invisibility of the victim. One part stood out:
We must challenge how we raise boys regarding masculinity, as it is often at the expense of women. I’ve realized that society doesn’t raise boys to be men; we raise them to not be women. The lives of men are inextricably interwoven with the lives of women. Women’s issues of safety and equality directly affect our lives as men. Beyond that, women are humans, with the same rights to safety and freedom as men. (emphasis added)
I add: The same emphasis on boys not being women spills over into an emphasis on boys not to be gay. Too many horrible mental games there.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rebranding failure

The Republican National Committee has issued a 100 page report on how to rebrand their image (which would result in too much teeth gnashing if I read it, so I won't, though you can read it here). In particular, it is about how to attract the young, Hispanics, blacks, and gays to the party. The report has a lot about why it is necessary and how to do it -- such as talking in "normal, people-oriented terms."

Very few people are convinced that such a rebranding will be successful. That's because it is all talk about changing the GOP image and nothing about changing GOP policies. One commenter put it this way:
Note that none of it is "Our policies are wrong, and the country needs us to reevaluate and update our policies and actually include more people and more diversity in what we believe."

It's "People aren't buying our BS any more, and we have to figure out how to sell it to a wider audience."

Notice that it isn't "We need to include "Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans" and give them a voice in the Republican Party."

It's more of "We have to convince these people to trust the white men who we've decided belong in charge of them."

"WE need to convince THEM that we care about them" is NOT a statement of inclusion.
Rachel Maddow isn't convinced of the rebranding either. She contrasts the craziness of CPAC with the rebranding announcement. and does a bit of analysis. The GOP doesn't want to be defined as anti-abortion and anti-gay. But the current crop of GOP lawmakers, especially in state legislatures, are doing all they can to enact anti-abortion and anti-gay policies. Can't have it both ways. The two videos together are about 12 minutes.

While the GOP as a whole (or the extreme right most of them pander to) won't be successful with rebranding, there are a growing number of individual GOP members who are declaring for marriage equality.

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin looks at the latest poll of approval for marriage equality. It is now 58% in favor and 36% opposed. This is for all Americans, not just GOP lawmakers. Burroway notes that the approval side has a gain of 5 points and the disapproval side lost 6 points -- in seven months.

Rob Tisinai has one explanation why that might be.

These GOP members now see marriage equality is inevitable, it might come as soon as the end of June when the Supremes rule. This might be their last chance to credibly be on the right side of history -- I was for gay marriage before I had to be.

We'll take all the allies we can get, but Tisinai doesn't have a lot of respect for those who change "deeply held beliefs" because of a shift in the political wind.

The proper importance of voting

Sheila Cockrel was a member of the Detroit City Council from 1994 to 2009. She wrote an editorial for last Sunday's Free Press responding to some of the opponents of the Emergency Manager now appointed for the city. Her first two points appear to be aimed at Mike Duggan, candidate for mayor and opponent of the EM system. Cockrel wrote that not all EMs have been failures (though she doesn't elaborate). And if EMs shouldn't be used because they "don't work" how does that compare to elected officials with policies that "don't work?"

Most of Cockrel's comments are aimed at those who protest the EM law as destroying democracy -- those that say the right to vote is of highest importance. Let's compare that to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Detroit's underfunded services are so bad that when cops are called there is a 50-50 chance they'll actually show up. The local gov't can't insure safety. What good is the right to vote if you're dead because the city is so violent? Compare the vote to losing liberty because you're too afraid to walk around the block or sit outside. Can you be happy when all that fear leads to emotional exhaustion?

It's time to fix Detroit, she says, and if it takes an Emergency Manager, well, let's help him all we can.

A nation of individuals

On NPR's Morning Edition a couple days ago Steve Inskeep and Shankar Vedantam discuss the manner in which a social policy is pitched affects how people think about it. If framed in terms of "the common good" Americans, with their founding ideal of independence, are turned off. But if the idea is framed in terms of independence, Americans will pay attention. For example, discussing environmental issues for the greater good will get you nowhere. Discussing how the environment affects the person and you might gain a convert. The audio is 4 1/2 minutes. There is also a transcript.

Marriage equality around the world

Norway and Sweden have marriage equality. Finland doesn't. Earlier this month a marriage equality bill came before a committee in the Finnish Parliament (I think) and was voted down. Apparently, if 50,000 Finns sign a petition they can force a bill to the floor of the Parliament. They hit that target -- in one day. Demand was so high it crashed the website collecting names.

David Coss, Mayor of Santa Fe, New Mexico saw that the state's marriage law is gender neutral -- it doesn't say "one man and one woman." So Coss is introducing a resolution to the City Council to declare marriage equality legal in the state and county clerks better get cracking in issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

Geraldine Salazar, the Santa Fe County clerk, appreciates the enthusiasm of Mr. Coss, but will wait for a ruling from the state Attorney General.

If it were only so easy in Michigan.

Here's the current map of marriage equality around the world. There are signs (as above) that this version will be obsolete soon.

Rainbow love

Isn't this house a beauty! And it is so gay. That's not me applying an adjective, the owner says so himself.

The other great thing about it is the location. It is directly across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church -- yup, that infamous "God Hates Fags" church made up of the Phelps clan in Topeka. I mentioned this house to my friend and debate partner. He's delighted with the free speech aspects of it. The photo is from Huffington Post, who tells the story and has a slideshow of 29 photos. Gawker also tells the story from a slightly different perspective.

And what do church members think? The church put out a statement:
"We thank God for the Sodomite Rainbow House. It is right across the street from the ONLY church that loves people enough to tell them the Bible truth about the filthy, soul-damning, nation-destroying sin of sodomy...The Sodomite Rainbow house helps shine a bright spotlight on this!"
Exercise for the reader: Is that really love?

That left commenters wondering if the house's owner miscalculated. The Phelps clan thrives on attention and acts like there is no such thing as bad publicity. Sigh.

That owner is Aaron Jackson who will probably be using the house as the headquarters of his charity, Planting Peace, and through it showing more love in a day than the Phelps clan has been able to manage in its entire 55 year existence.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Neighborhood, region, globe

I recently wrote about John Gallagher's book, Reimagining Detroit. He has now written a second, Revolution Detroit. Last Sunday's Free Press (where Gallagher is a journalist) had a summary of the book as an editorial. A couple things he wrote about:

Simply cutting city government expenses won't work. The books can only be balanced through "grossly inadequate public services, deferred maintenance and replacement of infrastructure and capital stock, and disproportionately high local taxes," as Alan Mallach and Eric Scorsone of the Center for Community Progress put it. Gallagher adds, "We cannot pick up somewhere close to 90% of a city's jobs, population and tax base, move it to the suburbs, and expect what's left behind to function normally. It doesn't work anymore. It cannot work." He adds, "Blaming teachers and municipal unions is a side show."

So what's a city to do? Break some city services away from the city. Send some "upstream" to the regional level, such as a regional transit authority (which looks like it is being done). Send others "downstream" to neighborhood level groups, which know the needs of the neighborhood. Gallagher discusses University Circle, Inc in Cleveland as an example of how this could work. Overall the emphasis shifts from federal-state-local to neighborhood-regional-global.

For those who don't keep up on Detroit news: the City Council protested Gov. Rick Snyder's appointment of an Emergency Manager, asking for more time to work on last year's consent agreement with the state. But they've already missed many deadlines in that document. Mayor Dave Bing said he would rather work with an EM than challenge the appointment. Snyder thought about it for a day or two and made his appointment of an EM official.

A tragic position

Jess Bravin of the Wall Street Journal says Chief Justice John Roberts may face a dilemma as he considers the gay marriage cases before the Supremes. If he decides the Constitution doesn't support gay marriage he could be in "a tragic kind of position—knowing how a decision they believe is correct today is going to look bad 15 years down the road." Is that enough for him to vote for us?

Friday, March 15, 2013

That's all ya got?

Ari Ezra Waldman reviews the briefs given to the Supremes from ProtectMarriage, the anti-gay side of the Calif. gay marriage case, and Speaker Boehner in the Defense of Marriage (DOMA) case, which prevents the federal gov't from recognizing gay marriages. Other interested parties filed briefs, but Waldman didn't include them in this discussion.

One part of his analysis is: That's it? That's all ya got? Missing is the claim that allowing gays to marry will discourage straights from doing so. Missing are references to studies that prove gays are bad parents. All that's left is that straight couples can create children and gay couples (on their own) can't.

And that, Waldman says, isn't logical. How can preventing gays from marrying encourage straights to marry? If we want stable straight households for raising kids, how does banning gay marriage accomplish that?

The ProtectMarriage brief adds a little reminder (though worded much more carefully): Remember that *Roe v. Wade* thing and how the public wasn't ready and we're still dealing with the backlash? This kind of issue is well suited for the "give and take of the democratic process, where individuals may persuade or be persuaded." Just don't look behind the curtain to see how much fearmongering ProtectMarriage and its allies do, how undemocratic its operations are, and that no majority may pass a law that violates the Constitution.

The Boehner brief is just a mess (and they paid a lawyer $2 million for it?). It argues about state's rights and how that needs continued protection by DOMA section 2 -- but the Supremes are reviewing section 3.

That's all ya got?

States just clamoring to be next

Ned Flaherty of Policymic says there are 12 states that will probably have gay marriage by the end of 2014. Since there are only 9 such states (plus DC) now, this is a big jump.

Flaherty says there are only 5 demographics with opposition to gay marriage still over 50% -- less educated whites, those over 65, the GOP, evangelical Protestant whites, and those in the Tea Party (nearly 100% against us, yikes!). Everyone else, and a majority in the country as a whole, support us.

Those 12 states are listed with the percentage the population supports us, along with whether lawmakers will vote it in, whether it will be decided by a court, and whether the voters will approve gay marriage.

Michigan is in the list. Only half the population supports us. Lawmakers might support gay marriage, the governor won't. We'll likely get gay marriage through the federal courts -- that case that was recently put on hold.

Other states in the list: Illinois, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota, Hawaii, Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and California.

Michigan now has its first legal same-sex marriage. Dexter McNamara, chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians signed a tribal law permitting same-sex marriages, then immediately married two men who had been together for 30 years. Of course, the GOP Attorney General made it clear the state won't recognize the marriage.

Conclusion first

Last summer there was a lot of discussion about a study done by Mark Regnerus which "proved" gays and lesbians were inferior parents. That word is in quotes because the paper actually showed intact families do better than all other kinds and gay families were not included in the proper categories.

Now comes word that in this particular study, funded by anti-gay groups, the conclusion came first. Then came the selection of a researcher, the design of the study, and the actual research. Finally came a rush to publication, bypassing nearly all peer-review. And why spend $0.7 million (on an "unknown" researcher) in such a hurry?

Because it was needed as evidence before the Supremes as they were getting ready to hear two big gay marriage cases. This study was cited in several of our opponent's briefs.

More from Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin who did a lot of investigating last summer to show how bogus the study is.

Which is why we're glad the American Sociological Association also filed a brief describing the study as bunk. We're also glad this big revelation was featured in the Huffington Post.

That new pope thing

A new pope, I suppose, is worth a mention, if only because a lot of our troubles are rooted in his pronouncements. On the good side, he appears to genuinely care for the poor, to the point he did without a lot of trappings of his position as cardinal. On the bad side, his pronouncements about us are no different than his predecessors and he actively worked against gay marriage in Argentina.

According to Nate Silver, Pope Francis, at 76, probably won't last more than five years. We can hope the next pope…

Pat Brady, chairman of the GOP in Illinois, came out strongly in favor of gay marriage. That annoyed the social conservatives who set to work ousting him. But they couldn't get enough of their colleagues to vote with them.

The Colorado House has approved Civil Unions. The state Senate had already given their approval. The bill is off to the governor's desk, and he has said he'll sign it.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Waiting for direction

Towards the end of February I wrote about Mike Duggan and his challenge to having an Emergency Manager in Detroit. Duggan is also a candidate for Mayor. What I didn't mention -- and is newsworthy enough to catch the attention of Newsweek -- is that Duggan is white and Detroit hasn't had a white mayor since 1974. The rest of the article is a good profile of the man. As for the EM, on Tuesday the Detroit City Council will challenge Gov. Rick Snyder's decision to appoint an EM. Mayor Dave Bing declined to enter that fray.

I wrote about the federal judge who decided to delay his decision in the adoption/marriage equality case in Michigan. Several gay rights organizations suggested the delay. Whatever this judge decides, it will be appealed. And the 6th Circuit Court is a lot less progressive than the 9th Circuit Court which decided the Calif. case. Better to wait for some direction from the Supremes.

That makes a commenter wonder whether the judge should have left it as an adoption case, rather dragging marriage into it, even though marriage rights are at the core of the case.

Not that the Conclave in Rome is going to pay any attention… A Quinnipiac Poll took a look at American Catholic opinion. They approve marriage equality by 54% (with a big gap by age), 52% say church leaders are out of touch with their American members, 62% say priests should be allowed to marry, 64% say the contraception ban should be relaxed.

Can't allow them to challenge our position

Almost a week ago I wrote a post about conservatives who consider building community with the poor to be immoral. Since then I've been pondering the question, Why? I was able to organize my thoughts while on my bicycle this afternoon -- yes, it was warm enough (about 60F) and dry enough to pump up the tires and head out.

The question again: Why do conservatives believe that building community is immoral?

Let's first dispense with Christianity being a reason. More than a year ago I examined the issue of a tax structure designed to specifically underfund schools in minority communities. Author Susan Pace Hamill documented the problem, then listed all the verses in the Bible that command rich believers to take care of the poor. It is a long list. While Christianity (as it is supposed to be practiced) isn't a reason the rich could be following a version of Christianity corrupted by some outside force. Which means we should look at that outside force.

A slight detour before proceeding. Back in October I wrote about some versions of Christianity focus on the confession of sins, making adherents feel rather disgusted with themselves. A way of alleviating that pain is to say, "At least we aren't as bad as them." That forms the foundation of a great deal of prejudice. Warning: my friend and debate partner found that post to be confusing (rare for my writing, he says). Then again, it dealt with Christian concepts with which he isn't familiar.

Prompted by the writings of Terrence Heath I've written that many conservatives believe that one's moral worth matches one's wealth. The richer you are, the more moral you are. If you are poor, it is because of a failing in morality. I've written about this more than once, but don't have a handy link.

One reason why the link between money and morality sticks around is that it helps rich people cope with having so much money. They have it (they say to themselves) because they deserve it. They are a better person than those who don't have money. And the poor don't have it because they don't deserve it.

But labeling the poor as immoral is not the same as saying it is also immoral to help them not be poor. To take that step we turn to what I've been calling a Power. This is an institution or a group of people who wield influence, privilege, or control over others and will use violence (physical, mental, spiritual, economic) to maintain that control. Here's a shortcut: If violence is involved, there is a Power trying to maintain its position.

The upcoming Conclave in Rome highlights the Catholic Church as a Power, using spiritual violence (believe as we tell you or you go to Hell) to maintain their position (yes, other Christian denominations also act as Powers). The Power that is of concern in this discussion is (as you expect) conservatives. They have long believed they are supposed to be in charge. and the current GOP embodies that belief.

And through that recognition we answer my big question. It is immoral for us (or the federal gov't) to help the poor because that will allow them to challenge our position as top dog, which was given to us by (our) god.

Some more examples of Powers:

On Friday evening I finally went to a movie theater to see the movie Lincoln. It was a satisfying cinematic experience. I hope it becomes well used in classrooms across the country. If you haven't seen it, do so soon (then look it up on and check out the goofs). The story is about Abe Lincoln challenging the Power of white supremacy. Though he gets the 13th Amendment to outlaw slavery, that Power kills him (though that link isn't explored in the film).

Last week Nihad Sirees wrote a history of Bashar Al-Assad for Newsweek. The current tyrant's father, Hafez, came to rule by constructing a far-reaching Power. All that Power was supposed to Bashar's brother, but the guy died before the father did. So the Power was pushed into Bashar's hands. According to this article Bashar didn't particularly want it and didn't want the brutality that came with the job. But he is stuck. Soften the Power and he loses all the privilege that comes with the Power -- his party and ethnic group are a minority. Just as important, the other members of the party lose their privilege if Bashar softens the Power. He is either a brutal dictator, or he is nothing.

Doonesbury takes a look at Power through a discussion with character Jim "Honest Man" Andrews. Can voter suppression, gerrymandering, roll purges, ID laws, early voter cutbacks, and unequal funding get the job done for the GOP or will they have to double down on election rigging?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tangible government

Here's a 6 1/2 minute video showing the current wealth inequality in America. It is much worse than most Americans think it is. It has a pretty good way of demonstrating the 1%.

Back in 2011 Jerry Brown, Governor of Calif, saw the state was going broke and enacted huge budget cuts. He was then able to lead a discussion about what gov't is all about. Citizens responded by resoundingly approving tax increases. David Sirota, writing in Salon, says the recent federal budget cuts offer Obama the same opportunity. The government soon won't be this abstract ideal that should be grown or shrunk at a politician's whim. It will become tangible -- long lines at airports, poorer local schools, perhaps food shortages due to absent inspectors, and lots of other inconveniences. Will Obama seize this opportunity?

Terrence Heath is keeping a list of the GOP members who are cheering for the just-enacted budget cuts. In case you want to know who to blame.

More diverse Supremes

The White House has issued a big chart about Obama's federal judicial nominees. It makes three major points:

* Obama has been broadening the diversity of the nominees with a lot more gays, women, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans than his two predecessors. More diverse federal judges allow for a more diverse Supreme Court in the future.

* After a review of the confirmation process the chart shows Obama's nominees have been delayed a lot longer than those of Bush II. Only 15% of Bush's nominees waited more than 100 days while 78% of Obama's nominees have the same delay.

* Vacant judicial seats (10% of them) cost the country money and delays in justice. Just to detain the accused before trial (which is delayed) costs $1.4 billion in 2010. Even Chief Justice John Roberts urges a fix to this problem.

A reason to vote for a candidate

Gay news sources as well as NPR were hyping a case in federal court. A lesbian couple in suburban Detroit, raising 3 kids, sued to allow both to adopt them. When the case started last summer the judge suggested the problem wasn't adoption law, but marriage law. So they refiled their suit. This is big news because of the potential to overturn the gay marriage ban in Michigan.

The judge announced his decision today. And that is to delay his ruling until after the Supremes rule on the Calif. gay marriage ban in June.

Many commenters feel the judge may be prudent, but he is still a coward. He is allowing institutionalized discrimination to continue for a few more months.

However, if you could prove you're a member of the Little Traverse Bay band of the Odawa tribe in northern Michigan you may not have to wait long at all.

The National Organization for Marriage likes to brag that it got rid of (helped defeat) a couple New York GOP state congressmen because they voted for gay marriage in that state. But Freedom to Marry took a look at all the state legislators in New York and Washington. 97% of those who voted for gay marriage and ran in 2012 were reelected. That's compared to 90% of running incumbents nationwide. Support for marriage equality is now a reason to vote for, not against, a candidate.

As prudent as Obama's "eight-state solution" in his marriage equality brief for the Supremes might be, Ari Ezra Waldman says it contains a contradiction.

On one side of the contradiction the brief argues that the case must have "heightened scrutiny," meaning the gov't must have a really good reason to discriminate. On the other side, in the brief's proposed eight-state solution, reasons to discriminate fail before even the lowest level of scrutiny.

But keep in mind, this brief (even with a bit of contradiction) is historic, important, and a milestone in gay rights history.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Immoral imposition on their liberty

Over the last couple of years I've developed the guiding principles of improving mental health and improving community. Those two principles have held up well under scrutiny even though I don't always do all I can to fulfill them. That's why I keep circling back to what the GOP has been doing lately and why I see their actions as so offensive.

Essayist Terrence Heath has a couple posts on his blog about the Sequester (an odd name for sweeping federal budget cuts, but we seem stuck with it). Heath provides a bit of background in how we got there. I'll summarize that part by saying these budget cuts were designed so that nobody would like them -- the Dems wouldn't like the program cuts the GOP wouldn't like the defense cuts -- and thus prevent them from taking effect.

But enough of the GOP members of Congress (though not in the nation) decided that defense cuts were less of a problem than the federal deficit. That threw the political calculus off. The GOP may think these aren't the best cuts to make, but they're the cuts they can make happen.

Heath reviews the things that will be cut. It is an alarming list. Which makes me wonder… Dad, when we go to Texas in May, perhaps we should drive.

And why is the deficit so important? Because enough believe the government shouldn't work so they are doing everything possible to make sure it can't work. And why that?
Progressives tend to believe that democracy is based on citizens caring for their fellow citizens through what the government provides for all citizens — public infrastructure, public safety, public education, public health, publicly-sponsored research, public forms of recreation and culture, publicly-guaranteed safety nets for those who need them, and so on. In short, progressives believe that the private depends on the public, that without those public provisions Americans cannot be free to live reasonable lives and to thrive in private business. They believe that those who make more from public provisions should pay more to maintain them.

Ultra-conservatives don’t believe this. They believe that Democracy gives them the liberty to seek their own self-interests by exercising personal responsibility, without having responsibility for anyone else or anyone else having responsibility for them. They take this as a matter of morality. They see the social responsibility to provide for the common good as an immoral imposition on their liberty.

Their moral sense requires that they do all they can to make the government fail in providing for the common good. Their idea of liberty is maximal personal responsibility, which they see as maximal privatization — and profitization — of all that we do for each other together, jointly as a unified nation.

They also believe that if people are hurt by government failure, it is their own fault for being “on the take” instead of providing for themselves. People who depend on public provisions should suffer. (emphasis in the original).
So the GOP is doing all it can to trash community. Which is why they are offensive.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Something bad into something good

David Mixner found a cartoon that captures the GOP view of the budget cuts that just happened.

Westboro Baptist Church came to Vassar College to protest. The Vassar community responded with a huge counter protest. To turn something bad into something good Vassar hoped to raise $4500 for the Trevor Project (a suicide hotline for gay teens) -- $100 for each minute WBC would stick around. They raised $100,900.

Blasting conservative views of gay marriage

More on the various briefs filed with the Supreme Court in the Calif. gay marriage case.

The brief signed by various GOP officials (131 people at last count) looks at the issue from a conservative point of view, tackling various conservative arguments. Jim Burrroway of Box Turtle Bulletin guides us to the important points.

* Marriage equality does not pose a credible threat to religious freedom.

* Gay marriage bans do not rest of legitimate, face-based justifications. The science has been misused.

* Gay marriage is good for families. The choice isn't between kids being raised by gay parents instead of straight parents. The choice is between conferring the benefits of marriage on the kids of gay couples or denying those benefits.

* Sincerely held beliefs are not a justification for laws that discriminate.

* For all you originalists out there, it was James Madison and Alexander Hamilton that wrote to say a purpose of the courts is to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Therefore striking down gay marriage bans is not judicial activism. It's their job.

Ari Ezra Waldman, a lawyer writing for the blog Towleroad, delves into Obama's brief. Lots of people and organizations have submitted briefs. Most will be read by clerks and their main points summarized. Those that merely repeat points made elsewhere won't get much of a look. But Obama's brief, because it comes from another branch of the gov't will likely be studied by the justices themselves. That Obama filed a brief is great news on our side.

A central part of Obama's brief is that it stakes out a middle ground. The gay group before the Supremes argue that gay marriage bans violate equal protection and due process and are unconstitutional across the country. The 9th Circuit issued a ruling that applies only to Calif. because it allowed gay marriage and then took it away. Obama's brief, the "eight state solution," says if a state grants all rights but just not the word marriage there is no justification to withhold the word. Waldman says Obama's brief makes good strategic sense:

* Justice Kennedy is nominally on our side, but doesn't like to get too far ahead, to be accused of overreach. A limited outcome would allow Kennedy to support us without hitting up against states' rights.

* A limited ruling would reduce the backlash and the political capital Obama would have to spend to deal with it.

* The Supremes might not be ready to upend all those state constitutional bans (though this case asks them to do just that in Calif.). Any kind of pro-gay result from the Supremes would nudge the popular view in our direction.

Andrew Belonsky of Towleroad notes the brief with the huge list of corporate signatures is quite the anomaly. Corporations don't like to get out front of civil rights issues. But they sure have on this one. Reason: "LGBT people are employees whose happiness and stable home lives help the business grow."

The National Organization for Marriage has a habit of boycotting any company that supports gay marriage. Now that Microsoft, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, and Google have done so, how is NOM supposed to get its message out? Carrier pigeon? Perhaps appropriate for their early 20th Century message. Follow the link for a graphic.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The only reason is prejudice

I have a bit more on the "eight-state solution" I mentioned yesterday. Essentially what Obama and the Justice Dept. are saying that if a state has civil unions that are equivalent to marriage in everything but name then there is no reason against gays getting married. Bad for children? Already answered with civil unions, no different for marriage. Therefore the only reason to deny the word marriage is prejudice, which is not a permissible reason for a law.

In addition to this argument for marriage equality the Obama brief in the Calif. gay marriage case Obama is saying states have a right to define marriage. Even so, much of the logic in this brief applies to states with an outright ban.

Another important brief was written by the American Sociological Association. It takes a stern look at the study by Mark Regnerus, saying it doesn't support the conclusions Regnerus and the anti-gay crowd claim it does. This is a significant smackdown of a paper the anti-gays have been waiving around as "proof" that gays are nasty parents.

Rachel Maddow paid a visit to Jon Stewart. They day before she had been in the Supreme Court chambers when the challenge to the Voting Rights Act was argued. She talks about what she saw. In part 2 of the interview the two talk about the budget cutting that is happening and about a party that doesn't believe gov't should work so makes sure it can't. Each part is about 7-8 minutes.