Sunday, June 30, 2013

Go away

The ProtectMarriage organization and their money source, the Alliance Defending Freedom, brought us the Calif. gay marriage ban and tried to defend it at the Supreme Court. They're not done yet. They are throwing a hissy fit that the 9th Circuit Court lifted their stay before the Supremes took their 25 days of paperwork and allowed gays to start getting married. It's within those 25 days that ProtectMarriage can file a petition to request the Supremes reconsider the case. So they filed an emergency motion with Justice Anthony Kennedy (who oversees the 9th Circuit) to tell the 9th Circuit to keep the stay. Kennedy's response was: go away.

It is worth noting that Kennedy was not one of the five justices who said ProtectMarriage had no standing. But his denial is a strong indication the Supremes won't bother with any sort of reconsideration.

Another detail worth noting is that the 9th Circuit Court put the stay on their own ruling that the Calif. marriage ban is unconstitutional. They can remove their own stay anytime they want.

Commenters noted the motion filed with Kennedy was long (76 pages), not very logical (amateur night?), and insulted the 9th Circuit Court. Good luck with future cases, bud.

Commenter Hunter notes the stench of desperation and says,
They literally cannot admit they lost. They’re fighting for God’s law, which is the ultimate authority, and so anything that contravenes that is illegitimate. They will also fight until everyone else sees the error of their ways and falls into line.
Or they die off.

Frank Schubert was the PR mastermind behind the National Organization for Marriage's success in banning gay marriage in Calif. in 2008, Maine in 2009, and a few other states. But after three losses this spring and the big Supreme ruling last week, he's having a hard time raising money. He gives a reason: “Donors are afraid to give because they don’t want to be harassed.”

Laurel Ramseyer of Pam's House Blend summarizes Schubert's message: “The gays will come after you if you donate to NOM! Please donate to NOM.” No wonder it doesn't work.

Commenter Bose notes that our side has based its efforts on the courage to come out, to put ourselves on the line to explain why we want equality. But NOM has been carefully telling its donors that their names will be secret (and been involved in lawsuits in attempts to do just that). So how can they now ask for courage of conviction?

The ACLU has announced a $10 million nationwide campaign to urge repeal of state marriage bans. They've hired two conservatives to get the message to Republicans. One of them is Jimmy LaSalvia, former head of GOProud, who seemed to dismiss gay rights in favor of conservative ideas. Because if that this ACLU campaign is seen as suspicious.

Brad Pitt's current movie is World War Z. The group Funny or Die has created a trailer for an alternate version, World War G in which the attackers aren't zombies, but gays who want to get married. Even so, that brings the world to an end. Enjoy the 1.5 minutes of a conservative's fever dream. Just to be clear -- that ruling by the Supremes was Wednesday. This is Sunday. The events depicted in the movie did not happen.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Masterful storyteller

I visit Orchestra Hall in Detroit a lot, but tonight was different. The only one on stage was Bill Cosby. He told stories for two and a half hours, without a break.

Cosby came out wearing a t-shirt that had a photo of himself and Nelson Mandela. He turned down the lights for a moment of tribute while we listened to Marian Anderson sing. Then he launched into stories of his visits to the great man. That included asking Mandela if Tarzan was still around. Of course, that required explaining who Tarzan was. Mandela was most polite during this explanation, but drawing a blank at the end.

What followed were stories of Cosby's childhood and teenage years. Some of them had been told before (and several times Cosby had to remind the audience that he was telling the stories) even if details were different. The evening ended with Cosby, then about 16, asking his mother what "out-of-wedlock" meant. It was a term he heard from his grandfather. She sends him to his room and when his father comes home there is a confusing discussion about whether the baby has been born yet.

Orchestra Hall is about 2000 seats and the place was close to sold out. It was a long way from my seat to where Cosby sat on the stage and I had forgotten how much of his storytelling is done through his facial expressions. I was glad that his image was projected on two giant screens behind him. Through that I was reminded that he is a masterful storyteller. It was an evening well spent.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Just as good as slavery

Joshua DuBois has a cover article in Newsweek about the current state of black men in America. DuBois is a former spiritual advisor to Obama, director of the White House faith-based initiative, and is now CEO of Values Partnerships which does the work he wrote about.

We went from black people being slaves to black people working under "peonage." That's a system in the South in which a black man was convicted of a petty or phony crime, such as "selling cotton after sunset." He was sent to prison and sentenced to work. Which meant savvy employers got his work for free. Just as good as slavery. That lasted until 1948.

When we passed all those civil rights laws in the 1960s we didn't teach black men how to teach their sons how to be upstanding citizens. Then we doubled down on the criminal justice system and lots of black men went to jail -- and when they came out they had criminal records that prevented them from getting many jobs and from voting. That includes a significant chunk of black men in many major cities.

DuBois points out some of the ways the situation is changing. One is the small-gov't crowd that would love to reduce the cost of our prison system. So sentencing reform is getting a receptive hearing. Another way is to recognize that if there is no money in the pocket there is going to be rotten health care and rotten housing choices. So there are now centers to explain economic literacy (and do it with couples) and help start small businesses. Part of that includes making sure role models aren't gang members. Another piece of the puzzle is to combat racism, to teach black men there is nothing wrong with them.

It all boils down to agencies that take the time to know and like their clients. Only then can they overcome the defense mechanisms that have been built up.

Profound poet

Some people are beginning to see Google as an accidental poet. As you type something in the search bar Google will supply four likely answers. What of you took those four lines as a poem? Granted, you won't get something profound (or amusing) on every search. But there are occasionally good ones and some people collect them. One that Newsweek reported is:
what if
what if God was one of us
what if I told you
want if there was no Google
Yeah, this is going to forever slow down your searching.

Hannah Seligson, in Newsweek notes with horror that we seem to be exporting Bridezilla, along with its gigantic pricetags. The wedding industry is real good at promoting "This day is all about you." But this self-centered view, common in childhood, seems out of place when the couple is stepping into adulthood. The focus on the bride (and groom) seems out of place when they are each becoming part of another family and those families should be a part of the celebration.

How to start a movement

We've come a long way since 1969. Today is the anniversary of the Stonewall riot in New York City. They are named for the Stonewall Inn where they took place. The riot marks the start of the era of gay civil rights, when feelings shifted from fear to a confident push for dignity and full rights. If you don't know about the Stonewall riot, you have some Googling to do. Not bad work for 44 years.

I've been writing that the demise of DOMA means federal benefits for married same-sex couples will be true across America. That may not be the case immediately. Obama has said he very much wants it to be true and he has his staff looking into the issue.

In the meantime a couple Congresscritters are submitting bills to overturn the rest of DOMA, the part that says one state can ignore a marriage that was celebrated in another state.

Rob Tisinai looks at the latest ad from the National Organization for Marriage. It says "The Supreme Court has not ended the debate. It has started a movement." Presumably, NOM believes it is a movement to overturn our gains in gay equality, especially marriage. Does that mean all the work they've done over the last decade (or at least half-dozen years) hasn't been a movement?

Well, says Tisinai, that work did start a movement. And they did it by relentlessly humiliating a tiny minority and stripping away their rights. They kept doing that until that minority rose up and fought back. Which is how we came to repeal the Calif. gay marriage ban. Tisinai says he didn't particularly care to get involved -- until he was stung by that big defeat in Calif. Yup, a movement was started. But not the kind NOM intended.

Commenter Richard Rush notes another effect of the actions of NOM and other Fundies who attack gays. That is a movement away from religion. It has caused many to seriously look at religious belief and many of those see bigotry and want no part of it.

I wrote about Tim Huelskamp of Kansas filing a new version of the federal marriage protection amendment. One little problem -- his fellow GOP members (both in Congress and in the state legislature) in Kansas are doing all they can to distance themselves from him. Maybe his voters still love him?

Ohh, there are some fun implications to the latest cover of the New Yorker.

There was talk it would take maybe 3 weeks for the Supreme Court to go through the paperwork to notify the 9th Circuit Court and several days for the 9th Circuit to lift it stay before marriage could resume in California. Eager couples were looking at perhaps a wait of a month. Nope. Took two days. The 9th Circuit lifted it's stay today. The plaintiffs, Sandy Stier and Kris Perry have already been married by the Calif. Attorney General Kamela Harris. Jeff Zarillo and Paul Katami, the other pair of plaintiffs are on their way to their own ceremony. Done.

Equality Michigan reports that a federal district judge has struck down the ban on employee benefits to same-sex partners of public workers. The law is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Prevent them from voting

Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend reviews what the Supremes did to the Voter Rights Act a couple days ago. Section 4, the part the Supremes said is unconstitutional, is the formula for declaring which states and districts have to get preclearance before changing voter laws.

Elspeth Reeve of the AtlanticWire lists that formula:

* Was a law, like a literacy test, used to keep people from voting?

* Did less than 50% of the eligible population vote in 1964?

So, yeah, the formula is outdated. It doesn't include such things as Voter ID laws, limits to early voting, purging voter rolls, having ballots only in English when there is a large non-English population, and requiring proof of citizenship. Those are only some of the things the GOP has been doing lately.

But the ruling leaves minority voters exposed. Shelby County, the plaintiff in the case, has a recent history of election shenanigans. And Shelby County, not to mention all of Texas, will certainly take advantage of that exposure. That leaves excluded voters at the mercy of court cases -- and those cost money.

Rachel Maddow, in a 16 minute segment, looks at the inability of the House to get anything of substance accomplished. It is why Obama made a series of actions on climate change that specifically don't need Congressional approval. She then notes that it was into that do-nothing House that the Supremes tossed the Voting Rights Act formula. Along the way Maddow has examples of discriminatory voting (like assigning 6500 white voters to one polling place and 67,000 non-white voters to another) that had been stopped by the VRA. She then shows the eagerness these Southern states have today in enacting new laws to take advantage of this missing formula. So the VRA had a dagger to the heart (as Rep. John Lewis puts it), but is not dead. The doctor leaning over the body is the GOP. What will they do?

This Rep. John Lewis, back in 1965, was on the Edmund Pettis Bridge for a protest and was severely beaten. In a 6 minute interview with Maddow he is sad he will have to fight this battle again.

So, GOP, with all those minority voters not voting for you, do you want to prove you aren't racist? Here's your chance.

Alas, I see another possibility. Why appeal to minorities if the GOP can simply prevent them from voting?

The debate moves to the states

Gay news sources are full of reactions and implications of yesterday's gay marriage rulings by the Supremes.

The end of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) had an effect within 30 minutes. There was a court hearing to determine if a Colombian man should be deported. He is married to an American man. The hearing was interrupted with the news of the ruling. Deportation was suspended. Thanks to Gabe the intern who dashed through five city blocks to get the ruling to the judge. Rachel Maddow includes that story in her report.

That report by Maddow, all 15 minutes (and well worth it), talks about the importance of these rulings. That's the first of 3 videos on this page. She focuses on the gay-rights case of 10 years ago, Lawrence v. Texas that said gay sex is not criminal. In horror, Scalia predicted that the case would be used to justify gay marriage. He was right -- Kennedy, who wrote both that ruling and this one cited the previous one. Scalia, still horrified, said in his dissent, that yesterday's ruling will bolster the case for gay marriage in states where their constitution bans it. And I agree, it will. But with hope, not horror.

Ari Ezra Waldman, who has a regular column on Towleroad to explain gay legal issues, explains both cases. In the Calif. gay marriage case he explains why the Supremes rejected the case. Even though the Calif. Supremes said the authors of the law have standing, federal law is very clear in saying they don't. They have a grievance, but they aren't injured.

In the DOMA case, even though the GOP House leadership brought the suit instead of the Justice Dept. they do have an injury as part of the gov't -- somebody in the gov't has to pay back Edie Windsor's $350,000 estate tax bill. It is the language of the ruling that is most important. Justice Kennedy wrote a lot about the importance of marriage and the dignity equality brings. These words will be used again.

The organization Freedom to Marry put out a fact sheet. It lists the various areas that are affected by the elimination of DOMA. These include bankruptcy, benefits for federal employees and the military, family and medical leave for non-federal employees, federal taxes, federal student aid, immigration (leaving gays out of the big immigration bill doesn't matter anymore), Medicare and Medicaid, employment benefits, Social Security survivors, veteran spousal benefits, and assistance to needy families.

Some news reports talked about how much gay couples will save in federal taxes. Rob Tisinai reminds us that not all the changes will save us money. There are also responsibilities -- the income of both couples will be used to determine student financial aid, for example. These are responsibilities that any couple in love would take on.

The leadership in the House -- who spent several million defending DOMA -- are saying the debate now moves to the states. That means the House leadership is done with the issue. They've accepted the ruling by the Supremes. Subtext: gays are no longer relevant to their reelection.

That's not true of all the House members. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, surely playing to his base, announced he will introduce a federal marriage protection amendment. At least we're now confident it won't go anywhere. The last such amendment came in 2006 and came 54 votes short of the required 2/3 majority.

Money shifts to the states as well. Both marriage equality and anti-gay organizations are starting fundraising pushes for a state-by-state battle. Expect to raise at least $1 million per battle.

Civil unions were sold on the idea that they are identical to marriage except in name. Several states have this variety now, including New Jersey, Oregon, and Nevada. There were countless little ways where this was not true -- various businesses saying, "but that's for married couples." But now there is a really big, demonstrable difference between civil unions and marriage -- married couples get federal benefits. Civil union couples do not. This is the start of a fresh crop of lawsuits, starting at the state level.

Though the Supremes are done with rulings for this term, they had a couple bits of business for today.

In 2008 Arizona added domestic partner benefits for state employees. In 2009 Gov. Jan Brewer canceled them. In 2011 the 9th Circuit Court told Brewer she can't do that. Now the Supremes say they aren't taking the case, leaving the 9th Circuit ruling in place.

A challenge to Nevada's ban on gay marriage (they have civil unions that are supposed to be the same, see above) was denied by the Supremes. Though the high court doesn't explain why it takes or rejects a case, the assumption this time is because those seeking equality in Nevada asked to bypass the 9th Circuit.

Gay rights groups are laying out a five-year plan:

* In moderate states, such as Oregon, use a ballot initiative to overturn the constitution ban.

* In states that have civil unions same as marriage in all but name, aim for a court case.

* In more conservative states, work for expansion of gay rights, such as non-discrimination cases, and recognition of marriages celebrated elsewhere. This will get the citizens of those states at least talking about marriage equality to lessen a backlash when the Supremes rule again.

Yup, the goal is marriage equality across the country by 2018. Go for it!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Marriage equality at the federal level

I've got a full schedule this afternoon and evening, so I'll note what I can before I have to get lunch.

In case you've had no access to news in the last few hours…

The Defense of Marriage Act, part 3 (which prohibits the federal gov't from recognizing same-sex marriages) is overturned by a 5-4 decision. You can read a sufficient summary (or find a link to the full ruling) here. It includes Scalia's dissent on the grounds that the case shouldn't have come before the court (a tangled case), that the Court shouldn't trouble itself with moral issues, and, by golly, the law was not created because of hatred for gay people, nosiree! The anti-gay crowd will be quoting Scalia quite a bit now.

Edith Windsor, the plaintiff, is delighted!

So is the president! He may have a big task ahead sorting through gov't regulations to find those that specify they are based on where the couple resides, rather than where the wedding took place.

In California's gay marriage ban the Supremes' punted. They declared that since the state didn't protest the District Court decision no one else can. Therefore it is improper for the Supremes to rule on the case. In addition it was improper for the 9th Circuit Court to have taken the case. Thus the District Court ruling stands. It said that California's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. That means Calif. gets gay marriage but the status in all other states is unchanged.

This ruling was 5-4 and had a strange coalition: Roberts, Scalia, Kagan, Ginsberg, and Breyer.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tighten the hold on the House

Decision Day is tomorrow. The Supremes will be announcing their rulings on the gay marriage cases at 10:00. Alas, I won't be near a news source until about 11:30. I've written about various places around the country hosting Decision Day events, whether a party or protest depends on how the Court rules. One more Decision Day host has been announced -- the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. This one means a lot to me. They'll hold a 7:00 pm. service to celebrate or commiserate.

A Decision Day event will be held at the Affirmations Center in Ferndale starting at 3:00. I should be able to fit in some of it before heading to Ruth Ellis Center for my usual evening volunteering. I suggested they also do a Decision Day event, though don't know yet what that might be.

Lots of commentary today on the Supremes ruling that guts an important part of the Voting Rights Act. Instead of getting approval from the Department of Justice, states are now free to make whatever changes to voting laws they want. Parties that are injured by those new laws still have the opportunity to go to court -- only after they're injured.

And it won't take affected states long to take advantage of this ruling. It took two hours for the Attorney General of Texas to say the Voting ID law blocked by the DoJ last year is now in effect. And we know who is excluded by that kind of law.

I hear that the Supremes are saying that the particular formula for who needs to go to the DoJ is what is struck down. Congress is invited to come up with a more up-to-date formula. Which probably isn't possible in the current Congress.

Interesting that 20 gay rights groups issued a letter deploring the ruling and pledging to work with coalition partners to undo the damage of this ruling.

Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek says the effect will tighten the GOP hold on the House (and various statehouses and governor offices), but will so disgust everyone else that the presidency (and maybe the Senate) will be even further out of reach. There will be a backlash.

Ari Ezra Waldman notes that today's ruling was a blow to equality. He explains the ruling well. Tomorrow's gay rulings are also about equality. Does today's ruling imply tomorrow's will worsen equality? Waldman says no, though on reflection I'm not sold on his argument. The Voting Rights Act was reauthorized several times and each time, especially in 2006, Congressional hearings created a great deal of evidence of actual discrimination. The Defense of Marriage Act was passed quickly, with "scant hearings and no evidence." Waldman (working from Ginsberg's dissent) says the Supremes should have deferred to Congress in the VRA. But since there is no evidence for DOMA the Supremes shouldn't defer to Congress.

But since the Supremes didn't defer to Congress when they should have, what does that say about tomorrow's ruling?

Rational Empathy

Chris Kluwe made a name for himself, not through his day job (punter in the NFL), but through his outspokenness for gay marriage. That prompted book publishers to ask him to write a book of essays, Beautiful Unique Sparkleponies, which is now out. I may get it (though may wait for paperback).

As part of the release of the book Kluwe did an interview with Ira Boudway of Bloomberg Businessweek. Here are some choice quotes:
I would also like people to pay attention to the idea of rational empathy, and that as a society, we are walking down a path that’s well-trodden throughout history. Every single human civilization has failed over time, and my belief is that it’s due to a lack of rational empathy, of understanding that if you don’t have equality in your society, the conflicts you breed (whether internally or externally) will eventually cause its collapse.
And when asked about his huge salary…
In an ideal world, entertainment would be regarded as what it is—entertainment—and wouldn’t be valued more heavily than education, than science, than environmental awareness. The list goes on. Right now, we are a nation of bread and circuses, and I would much rather live in a nation where I’m handsomely rewarded for my ability to educate young minds, or devise a better type of space station, rather than one where I’m paid millions of dollars to play a children’s game. I like playing football, but the path we’re currently on is ultimately a self-destructive one as a society. There is a place for entertainment, but not at the cost of our foundations.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reducing the number needing help

My lesbian sister dared me to watch this (without giving a hint to what it was). So I did, well at least most of it. The ending got a bit too intense and I'm a bit squeamish. It's Love is All You Need, an 18 minute movie (plus lots of credits at the end). It follows the experiences of a middle school girl. But this is in a world where being gay is the norm and the girl is bullied because she discovers she is straight. Not only are a lot of gay/straight assumptions reversed but so are a lot of male/female roles -- she didn't make the football team and settles for theater, which her moms think is for boys. This is a good way to challenge assumptions and allow others to see what we go through. It's been viewed on YouTube over 2 million times.

Essayist Terrence Heath has written about the "catastrophic success" of many of the GOP changes (actual and proposed) to the social safety net. It is declared a success if it is catastrophic to the those in need. As Heath puts it:
welfare reform did not reduce the number of people in need of help, but merely reduced the number of people receiving help.
But Heath found he was off on one detail. According to a new study:
welfare reform actually did reduce the number of people needing help – by shortening their lives.
That's still a catastrophic success.

The hydrangea near my front door is in full bloom. It is crowding the front walkway, but trimming will come later.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Check availability

I turned on the air conditioner today. Normally that would be unremarkable for Detroit in June. But in the 24 days after I returned from Austin I haven't used it (though it got rather close yesterday). And I only had to use the furnace over one night. My utility bills are going to look quite nice. The weather has been in the mid to upper 70s F for the last week and I've been able to use a fan to cool the house down overnight.

I'm starting to fill in the details for my trip to Washington, DC at Labor Day for another Reconciling Ministries Convo. I have a guidebook from AAA. It shows a hotel in a reasonable location and at a reasonable price with their 3-diamond rating. Their detail blurb lists a phone number, but no website (hey, guys, could you join the modern age?). So I went to Orbitz. They lists lots of hotels for Washington, but not this one. If they allow you to search for a particular hotel, the method isn't obvious. I went to the AAA website. Same thing. So I used Google. The hotel's site was, of course, at the top of the results list. I entered dates in the box for "Check Availability." It thought for a while and gave me a page at the national chain reservation site and asked for city and dates so I could check availability. Didn't I just do that? But I complied. It returned what it found -- three hotels in the area, none were the one whose page I had just been at, and all 2-3 times more expensive. Yeesh!

A big display of happiness

I mentioned a few days ago that the Topeka rainbow Equality House was going to host a lesbian wedding in their front yard -- in full view of the Westboro Baptist Church across the street. That wedding has now happened. Kimberly married Katie.

Yes, the WBC protested, fortunately with signs and not loud people. Yeah, the brides noticed, then were too involved with their happy moment to pay any attention. A professional videographer put together a sweet two-minute video of the event -- with no images of WBC to spoil the shot.

Giving WBC too much attention? Or rubbing happiness in their faces?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Anyone to hear the message?

A week ago Rachel Maddow examined the problem that the GOP has in talking about gay issues. Being rabidly anti-gay, as required by their base and when talking to that base, is one thing. Saying those same things to the country as a whole, where a majority approves of gay marriage, is quite another. And with the Supremes about to rule on gay marriage they are going to be asked their opinion. Yeah, there isn't a lot new here, but Maddow explains it well in this 13 minute video.

Did something to tick off the US government? Need a place to hide after spilling the NSA secrets? Brian Jones of Business Insider lists your top ten travel destinations. Try Hong Kong, Switzerland, Brazil, Iran, Cape Verde Islands, France, Venezuela, Ecuador, Iceland, and, in first place, Cuba. Happy fleeing.

As I wrote a couple days ago, Exodus International is closing down and will be replaced with a different organization. Apparently that one will focus on give a safe haven to conservative Christians who are trying to figure out what to do about being gay (as in celibacy or straight marriage). However, since progressives don't want to restrict gays to celibacy and Fundies believe that the only way to deal with being gay is to not be gay, is there anyone who wants to hear this new message?

Moral in the court

Issues with a strong moral component should be decided by the people, not a judge moralist. It isn't the court's job to decide what is morally acceptable.

True? False? Intriguing? An idea worth exploring? Let's see, if the courts aren't to rule on morality, they can look at gay issues through discrimination and not whether being gay is an abomination to some denomination's god. This could be good.

But when I tell you the person expressing the idea at the top of this post is Antonin Scalia, Justice of the Supreme Court, the debate gets more interesting. Scalia gave a speech at the North Carolina Bar Association yesterday. In his talk were references to homosexuality as an issue to be decided by the public, not the courts.

That prompts more questions:

Is Scalia just throwing bombs, being provocative? He's known for doing such things.

Is he signaling how he will vote in the marriage equality cases to be issued next week? Just what is he signaling?

Is he saying that the court shouldn't rule on "moral" issues at all? Does that imply he believes gays have no recourse to the courts?

Is he being realistic that justices are indeed not qualified to rule on the moral aspects of cases, that there is no demonstrably morally right answer?

What should a court do when a religion claims the moral right to bully gay people? From a statement Scalia said in 2003, as part of his dissent on the Texas anti-sodomy law, that Americans have a clear right "to protect themselves from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive."

Scalia was asked to apply those principles to the case of "Brown v. Board of Education," that desegregated schools.
Scalia said he would have voted with the majority on the case to create more educational opportunities for blacks. He added, however, that “a good result” doesn’t make for good law. Had the courts not interceded, he said, state leaders would have eventually removed the racial barriers.
Eventually? There are many in the South who are even now working to make schools segregated.

Reaction by an audience member: Yup, Scalia is being consistent with earlier views. He's no friend to gays or progress.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tripping in his big boy pants

Bobby Jindal, GOP governor of Louisiana, wrote a rousing editorial for Politico. His aim is to tell his fellow party members to quit whining, get back to being conservative, and be ready when public opinion returns to their ideals. Because it will…
At some point, the American public is going to revolt against the nanny state and the leftward march of this president. I don’t know when the tipping point will come, but I believe it will come soon.


Because the left wants: The government to explode; to pay everyone; to hire everyone; they believe that money grows on trees; the earth is flat; the industrial age, factory-style government is a cool new thing; debts don’t have to be repaid; people of faith are ignorant and uneducated; unborn babies don’t matter; pornography is fine; traditional marriage is discriminatory; 32 oz. sodas are evil; red meat should be rationed; rich people are evil unless they are from Hollywood or are liberal Democrats; the Israelis are unreasonable; trans-fat must be stopped; kids trapped in failing schools should be patient; wild weather is a new thing; moral standards are passé; government run health care is high quality; the IRS should violate our constitutional rights; reporters should be spied on; Benghazi was handled well; the Second Amendment is outdated; and the First one has some problems too.

Their philosophy does not work and it got our nation into the mess it’s in.

Eventually Americans will rise up against this new era of big government and this new reign of politically correct terror. In the meantime Republicans — hold fast, get smarter, get disciplined, get on offense, and put on your big boy pants.
Whew! I usually don't bother with such conservative rants. But this one is just so … thorough. His belief that the left believes the earth is flat tells you all you need to know about his and the GOP's grip on reality. It was just yesterday I wrote a post about "one's opinion should include the evidence of one's senses."

Two separate gun debates

Christopher Dickey has an excellent article in Newsweek about the gun debate (yeah, from a couple issues ago). Some of the things he discusses:

The gun violence debate looks quite different in the inner city than it does in rural areas. It seems the two areas are talking about two different problems with perhaps two different solutions. In rural areas the county sheriff might be stationed on the other side of the county. A person needs a gun for defense. If a young person dies by gun it is almost always a suicide. In the city there are just too many guns and situations escalate rapidly with all those guns about. If a young person dies by a gun it is almost always a homicide.
Recent Pew surveys show that 82 percent of the nation’s gun owners are white, and most are outside metropolitan areas, but 72 percent of gun-homicide victims are black or Hispanic, and live—and die—in the cities.
The police in New York City have made a huge dent in the city's murder rate. Part of that is the "stop and frisk" program now before the courts. But one thing it has done is convince criminals to leave guns at home. Alas, the NYC program requires a huge investment in manpower, requiring lots of money.

We hear lots of trumpeting about citizens have the right to own a gun. That isn't balanced by the "rights of the 223 people shot to death in New York City last year, or the 435 in Chicago, or the 414 in Los Angeles". We're only talking about half the equation.

Bicycle adventure

I've now finished the book One Man and His Bike by Mike Carter. I found it while in a bookstore in Liverpool last summer. With my love for both bicycling and travel it looked like a good one. Carter feels he needs to escape his life in London and while cycling to work he wonders what it would be like to keep following the Thames out to the coast then keep the sea on his right side. So he does. He spends 5 months seeing how beautiful England, Scotland, and Wales are and how friendly (and sometimes eccentric) the people are. Though the hills of Scotland and Wales are beautiful the hills leading to Land's End in southwest England are brutal -- exhausting to ride up and too steep to enjoy coasting down.

Even so, as he cycles back into London some 4600 miles later and feels the city closing around him he ponders (for a moment) taking another lap.

I quite enjoyed the book and will look for his other, something about motorcycling to the four corners of Europe. Like this one I'll have to read that one with a map in front of me.

While in Cardigan, Wales he spends a few days at the Do Lectures. Ordinary people talk about what they are doing to set the world (or at least their corner of it) back on the proper course. Here is an excerpt from a talk by Alan from Network World:
There must be no more linear thinking. We have to get back to where we want to be as human beings. We make, you buy: people are profoundly uncomfortable with this, about being turned into mere units of production. The thing that made us fundamentally human in the old days was high levels of participation in society. We don't just want to be defined as consumers. We are in a spiritual crisis, we've lost our moral anchors. Even George Soros says that we're living in a closed society when we're only measured by our material wealth. Even he wants an "open society." An open society should not just satisfy us but inspire us.
I learned a tidbit about place names. Dartmouth is the town at the mouth of the Dart River. Cycling along the coast one encounters lots of places with that kind of name, like Plymouth, Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Weymouth, Exmouth, and Falmouth.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cooling lemonade

A couple days ago I wrote about five-year-old Jayden selling pink lemonade at the Rainbow House across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church. The church now has a message for her on its marquee, "Fags & enablers all burn in hell, lemonade won't cool any tongues." Hey, guys, condemning a five-year-old to hell won't earn you any friends.

In the meantime, Jayden's efforts, in person and online, have raise over $20,000.

Next event at the Rainbow House? This Saturday they'll host a lesbian wedding on the front lawn. Yeah, yeah, such weddings are not recognized in Nebraska. But they aren't illegal.

Evidence of one's senses

Deborah Savage is a professor at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas. She is wrestling with how to deal with gay people. Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin gives her a hand. Savage starts off with a few excellent observations, which Tisinai condenses to:
The Deborah Principle: There should be some sort of correspondence between what is so and what we think is so.
The Deborah Corollary: One’s opinion should include the evidence of one’s senses.
Alas, Savage then poses a few questions about how to tell her daughter about gay people and gets it wrong. Tisinai points out that her writing clashes with the two statements above. He then points to a way out of the difficulty.
The only way to fix this is to stop learning about gay people through intermediaries. If this issue is so important to you, befriend some of us. Spend time in our homes. Spend time with our families. Confide in us. Let us confide in you.
Find out what is. Use the evidence of your senses.

Savage responded to Tisinai's post. She'll give the matter more thought and write again in July. I'm sure Tisinai will tell us about it.

Timothy Kincaid, also of Box Turtle Bulletin, has noticed a shift in the discussion of marriage equality.
Until recently, there has been an understanding that many Americans opposed same-sex marriage, and that their objections would be voiced with conviction. Whether one agreed or disagreed, it was not considered to be outside of reasonable debate that a politician would hold their head high and declare that they “support traditional marriage” with more than a hint of “and you should too”.

And those who championed equality didn’t get off so lightly. We were expected to defend our position, to explain just why it is that our demands were justified or our ‘change in the rules’ is needed. We had the burden of proof. We started from a defensive position.

But now it is those who oppose equality that must explain themselves. Where once “I support the traditional definition of marriage” was sufficient, now even those who also fear including same-sex couples are not content with such a limited explanation. Now the trite phrase is issued – if at all – with more of an air of defensiveness than with a presumption that surely all reasonable people agree.
Which means our (at least political) opposition is falling silent.

Several organizations are set to host "Decision Day" events. These will be held on whatever day the Supremes issue their ruling on the marriage equality cases (which, by tradition, will be in the next week). Those who attend can celebrate or commiserate, get an explanation of the ruling, and maybe even plan future action. The events in Michigan will be in Detroit, Ferndale, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids. More details here.

Goodbye to an adversary

Over the last few decades Exodus International has been at the forefront of ex-gay ministries. These are the folks that try to turn gay men into straight men. As part of that effort they had annual conferences pushing their story.

Alan Chambers, the current president of the organization has sparked a lot of news over the last year. I've posted about much of that in articles collected here. That included admitting that he believed that 99% of the men in the program remained gay. That, and a few other pronouncements, so annoyed many partner ministries that they withdrew from Exodus and formed their own group, Restored Hope Network.

The Exodus annual conference started yesterday. Just before it started Chambers issued an extensive apology. This isn't one of those limp "I'm sorry if you were offended." This is the real deal. He apologized for the trauma his organization caused (when participants failed to become straight), the false hope (he hadn't acknowledged his own ongoing same-sex attractions), the years lost in working through shame and guilt from not changing, the stigmatized parents ("Your son is gay because of what you did."), the failure to share lives of successful gay people. And, most of all, the misinterpretation of rejection by Christians as rejection by God causing many to walk away from faith or even commit suicide.


And then, during the opening plenary session (more of a worship service), he announced that Exodus International is shutting down. It will be replaced by a new organization named Reduce Fear, though details of this new organization are vague (the website isn't ready yet). I get the sense it is to be a support group for those going or have gone through the program.

Again, Wow!

To top it off Chambers took a seat on the program Our America with Lisa Ling with several survivors of the kind of therapy Exodus used. This was an opportunity for them to tell Chambers directly how they were harmed, deceived, and defrauded by Exodus and for him to apologize face-to-face. Lots of courage to subjecting himself to such an ordeal. Alas, I don't get OWN on my TV. Perhaps I'll catch it later online.

This is a huge development. It is great to see the end of an adversary. However, the replacement, as far as I can tell, will still promote one idea that is still quite bad. We may not be able to turn you straight, but to be acceptable to God (and the rest of the Fundie church) you must either enter into a straight marriage or remain celibate.

Alas, Restored Hope is still out there, now purged of any moderating influences.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Is the issue gender or orientation?

Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend brings attention to an article by Sonja West for Slate. In our legal battles for marriage equality are we focusing too much on equality for sexual orientation? Perhaps we'll do better if we focus instead on gender discrimination.

Consider this example. Alice applies for a marriage license to marry Charlie. No problem. But if Bob applies for a license to marry Charlie, Bob is refused. Is Bob discriminated against because he is a man or because he is gay? That distinction matters because there is already significant precedent for gender discrimination cases. Not so much for sexual orientation discrimination cases.

The Supremes have about 10 days left to issue their opinions in this term's cases. Yes, marriage equality and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) rulings will come then. So expect a lot of articles on the issue in that time.

One of those articles explores the open questions, no matter the rulings. One of those questions is raised if DOMA is struck down. Do married gay couples automatically get federal benefits? Um, that depends. Some federal agencies define marriage by the state in which the license was issued. Other agencies use the state of residence. So, yeah, if you marry in New York, but live in Michigan, you may get only some federal benefits. Unless Obama, out of the kindness of his heart, directs agencies to issue benefits based on the state where the license was issued. Or another court case reaches the Supremes.

Making Detroit livable again

There are a series of articles in Sunday's Free Press about the latest from Detroit's Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. He met with banks last Friday to tell them the state of Detroit's finances. He then offered them less than 10% of what they are owed, saying their chances were not any better in bankruptcy court. (The link is to one of several articles. Each piece of the plan was written about separately. See the sidebar for the rest.)

Here are other provisions of what he will do for Detroit:

* Residents should get a better city. It's amazing how much money is available when banks are not paid. Orr is promising to improve city services, especially focusing on the 40% of streetlights that don't work (though there is a distinction between lighting for a city of 1.8 million as Detroit was in 1955 and the 700,000 who live there now). The other big focus is public safety, where most of the equipment is too old and broken down to be of use.

* Modernize and streamline city computer infrastructure. Most city computer systems appear to be antiques. With new equipment ongoing costs for the payroll dept. (for example) could be greatly reduced.

* A significant chunk of money to remove blighted structures (though probably only a fraction of the money needed to remove them all).

* City workers and pensioners will take a hit. Orr meets with them on Thursday. The big problem is the city of 700,000 has 30,000 employees. That simply isn't sustainable. Alas, the pensioners can least afford that hit. If they don't agree to Orr's terms, bankruptcy court is likely.

It appears Orr is not favoring the banks, which is good. It looks like he intends to make the city livable again. Also good. Alas, the employees and pensioners will be hurting.

Feeding the dog that bites you

There was a big article in the opinion section of last Sunday's Free Press about the stranglehold the GOP has on the Michigan government. The House, Senate, and Governor (as well as Attorney General, Secretary of State, and a majority of the Supreme Court) are in GOP control. As a result the Democrats in the legislature are reduced to spectators. The paper documents this by showing that of the 625 bills passed by the legislature only 56, or 9%, had Dem sponsors.

GOP House Speaker Jase Bolger calls it progress and the "balance of responsibility."
"This time has resulted in a bright future for the state of Michigan. We came into power [in 2011] with mounting debt and the highest unemployment in the country," he said, nothing that the state's budget is now balanced and the unemployment is on the decline. "We had to push the reset button."
The paper well documents the cost of that balanced budget -- tax breaks for business, huge cuts to education, taxes on pensions, restrictions on abortions, and passage of right-to-work. Put another way, the balancing was done on the backs of the poor for the benefit of the rich.

Alas, Democrat voters tend to only appear for elections that include a president, so the state stranglehold probably won't change until 2016.
Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, jokingly said he'd like a 38-member majority in the chamber [there are 38 seats], but he's attempted to reach across the aisle to get Democratic input. However, there's a limit to cooperation when Democrats constantly beat the drum of the sins of the majority.

"At times, it's hard to keep feeding the dog when you keep getting bit," he said.
That sounds like the powerful complaining about the oppressed not cooperating with their oppression. Perhaps it would help to feed the dog more often.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Pink Lemonade

Three months ago I wrote about the Equality House painted in rainbow colors across from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka. It is being put to good use.

Jayden, five years old and from Kansas City, heard about the house, the significance of its color scheme, and the nasty church across the street. That prompted her (with her parent's help) to travel to Topeka and open a pink lemonade stand in the front yard of the house to raise money for love and peace. It didn't take long for the house's supporters to come by for a glass. During the first day she pulled in $400 -- and another $5547 in online donations.

Members of WBC tried to shut Jayden down but were reduced to shouting profanities at her customers. That'll burnish their reputation.

A question to ponder (posed by commenters): WBC is known for putting the youngest members (Jayden's age and younger) of the family on the street with "God Hates Fags" posters. When is it appropriate to use little kids to score political points? I suppose the debate is as old as politicians kissing babies. In this case I note the lemonade stand was Jayden's idea.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A shared civic life

All this week the Marketplace show on NPR has been doing a series on Consumed. They've been looking at various aspects of the question: What are the long-term consequences and costs of an economy so focused on consumerism? Two members of the team flew to Boston (showing what the first class perks will get you) to talk to Harvard professor, Michael Sandal. He wrote the book What Money Can't Buy, The Moral Limits of Markets. A major point of the discussion is that market mentality has become pervasive in every aspect of life, and in lots of places that is quite inappropriate. As part of the visit the three of them took in a baseball game and snuck into one of the skyboxes. The report ends with this:
“It’s no longer the case that everyone still stands in the same long lines for the restroom, or eats the same pretty inadequate food, and it's no longer true that when it rains, everyone gets wet,” [Sandal] says.

This wouldn’t really matter if we were talking about just baseball games and airports. But when you add up all these examples, not to mention access to better health care and education, Sandel says it creates a problem for us.

“Democracy doesn’t require perfect equality, but it does require that men and women from different backgrounds, different walks of life, encounter one another, bump up against one another in the course of ordinary life. Because this is what gives us a sense that we are all in this together -- that sense of being engaged in a common project. Without that experience of a shared civic life, it’s very difficult to think and act as democratic citizens.”
My summary: The rich are no longer in community with the rest of us.

Never return to its constitutional foundations

Michelle Bachmann, speaking about the immigration bill in Congress, said:
We will never again have a Republican president — ever — if amnesty goes into effect. We will perpetually have a progressive liberal president, probably a Democrat...You will never again be able to see our country return to its constitutional foundations.
My response: Oh goody!

Though, as others pointed out, does she mean the constitutional foundation in which women were not allowed to vote, much less hold a seat in Congress?

Faced with lots of fresh citizens who abhor the current GOP I suspect the party will figure out how to be nice to immigrants while still preserving a conservative message. Though, from all current appearances, this isn't a trick they've managed yet.

Encapsulates the struggle

If this weren't an improvement over what we've heard in the past it would be close to insulting. Jase Bolger, Speaker for the Michigan House (and GOP) recently talked about Elliott-Larson Civil Rights Act. That's the Michigan law that prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, etc., but not sexual orientation. He said,
And so legally – as a lawmaker now – you go back and you look at Elliott-Larsen. And it gets very difficult to try to balance those two. And that encapsulates the struggle. The struggle is how do we respect individuals on both sides of this question. I want to respect the individual rights of someone who’s gay. And I also, in doing that, don’t want to force somebody to ignore or violate their religious beliefs.
My answer is that you respect religious people by not allowing them to indulge in their desire to bully gay people.

Even so, this statement (and others similar to them now floating around Lansing) are great news. It means the state GOP has on its radar amending the Elliott-Larson Civil Rights Act to include sexual minorities. That doesn't mean they have a timetable or an actual bill or anything like that. But this is a long way from their usual Ain't gonna happen.

Democrats, such as Senator Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor, have introduced bills to include sexual minorities over the years. Warren expects to do it again this term.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The choice, the choosers, the chosen

In my previous discussions of the Powell Memorandum I've shown that the current income inequality in America was a deliberate choice, created through specific policy decisions.

Essayist Terrence Heath shows that others are starting to notice. David Callahan wrote:
A dramatic rise in inequality in the U.S. since the 1970s has long been explained as the inevitable byproduct of a changing economy: Globalization has sent good manufacturing jobs overseas and technological change has automated other jobs, while the rise of an information economy has increased the premium on education and advanced skills.

These trends have been unfortunate for the bottom half of Americans, but are nobody’s fault in particular.

Or so goes the story.
Heath paraphrases:
Inequality just happens. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just a natural part of a changing economy.

Except, of course, when it’s not.
The Powell Memorandum had 3 main points:
* Attack unions.

* Take control of government and attack democracy. That includes tax cuts for the rich and a robust Defense Dept. to suck money away from social program.

* Get various groups in the lower classes to battle each other.
Heath and Callahan lists the efforts of the 1% a bit differently, but mostly confirming that the Powell Memorandum is behind it all.
* Tax cuts for the rich. This money that the rich keep gets detached from actual work, being invested in creating more wealth and buying legislators.

* Attack collective bargaining.

* Set global trade treaties to benefit the 1%.
Nope, inequality doesn't just happen.

The people who chose inequality have been making more choices to keep that inequality growing. A big one is: Demanding a reduction in the federal deficit (such as the cuts known as the sequester) to prevent the economy from growing enough to put the working class back to work. Another way to say it: Making people unemployed widens the inequality gap. Yup, inequality is a choice.

Heath has answered the questions: What are the choices being made? Who is doing the choosing?

One more question: Who are they choosing for? Who is suffering the consequences of those choices?

The broad answer is: The 99%.

But there are two alarming parts to that answer. The first, according to Paul Krugman, is that we're creating a permanent underclass of unemployed Americans. The second is that poverty is spreading to the suburbs. The busyness of my church's food pantry testifies to that.

How about tossing us a bone with meat on it?

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont has filed an amendment to the big immigration bill to allow one member of a same-sex couple to sponsor the other for a green card. Great, yes? Commenters are unimpressed. This is the same amendment he withdrew while the bill was in committee and where it needed only 50% of the vote. Now, before the full Senate, amendments will need 60%. Given the comments coming out of the GOP that's nearly impossible. Granted, the GOP vowed to kill the whole immigration bill if the gay amendment were included, but if someone was to throw us a bone, we'd like it to not be imaginary, done for political theater.

A lot of conservatives are trying to equate the current marriage equality cases before the Supremes with Roe v. Wade of 40 years ago. As in telling the Supremes: Don't approve gay marriage because it will split the country and that split will never heal, leading to ongoing social protest. James Richardson, GOP strategist, disagrees. Public opinion on abortion hasn't budged much in 40 years. Opinion on marriage equality has changed drastically over the hast few years.

Monday, June 10, 2013

But some of us don't want to wait that long

The Detroit Free Press has an article describing the future of marriage equality in Michigan. Equality Michigan is gearing up for a ballot drive in 2016 (more likely to pull Dem voters to the polls). Between now and then they will educate and raise money (they expect to need $12 million). Then they start circulating petitions. The Democrats have introduces marriage equality bills in the legislature (not expected to go far). And a federal judge is waiting for the Supremes to rule (within 20 days!) before he submits his own ruling on the constitutionality of the Michigan ban.

And, of course, Gary Glenn, the author of the 2004 amendment that bans marriage equality, is ready to defend it.

A Pew Research poll says that 72% see marriage equality as inevitable. That's considerably up from a decade ago. Even 59% of those who oppose gay marriage see it as inevitable.

I arrived home from Austin almost two weeks ago. A few days at the end of that week were warm. Since then it has been cool. That means I haven't had the air conditioner on, though I had to turn the furnace on last Friday night. Yes, this is unusual spring weather for Michigan. Many years I have the furnace running one day and AC the next.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Everyone is worthy of love

Are we indoctrinating kids in schools? You bet we are! No, we aren't making them gay. Just making them appreciative of the wide diversity of people.

The last time I saw a video of the song True Colors it was by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles. This was back in October of 2010 and Dan Savage's It Gets Better project was just getting underway and this was the contribution by the chorus. It brought tears to my eyes then. I just listened to it again and shed a few more tears.

This time it is the kindergarten class of the Olympic Primary Center of the Los Angeles Unified School District. They don't say the words "gay" or "lesbian" and they have to sing along with Cyndy Lauper's recording of the song. They do have sashes in rainbow colors and show rainbow scarves along with signs of diversity and the message "Everyone is worthy of love."

Unregulated and undefined

Ari Ezra Waldman comments on the government's data gathering mess. He says that the most important aspect of privacy isn't because we gay people have something to hide.
It should be a matter of bipartisan outrage because of its near limitless, unregulated reach for an undefined purpose. Government power is not in itself a bad thing; limitless power, however, is always a bad thing.

Film history

The Cinetopia International Film Festival is currently in progress in Ann Arbor and Detroit. It started on Thursday and continues through tomorrow in five venues. A few films interested me, but only two were at times I didn't have other commitments. Those two were today in Ann Arbor, so I had a pleasant day there.

The first was actually a series of short films starring Mary Pickford from 1909 to 1912. She was just a teenager then and movies were just making a start. A woman who had written a book on Mary Pickford introduced the films and told us some of the interesting things to look for. That included such things as reminding us the industry was so new they hadn't yet figured out titles to describe the next scene, so those didn't appear until the third movie we saw. Pickford's mother, sister, and brother also appeared in some of the films. Each one was about 5-8 minutes and there was a theater organist to accompany them. This was in the Michigan Theater, which has a good organ.

I noted how still the cameras were. One scene showed a car parking outside a church. Eventually the occupants come around the car and go up the steps into the church. But the camera doesn't move to keep them in the frame. By the time they open the church door all we see is the bottom of their long coats and their shoes.

The second offering was Pit Stop, about gay men in a small Texas town. Gabe lives on his own but spends a lot of time with his ex-wife and daughter. He even takes care of the girl while the ex-wife goes out on a date. She tries to set Gabe up on a date, which doesn't work well. Ernesto still has his ex-lover living in the house and frequently visits the lover before that who is comatose in a nursing home.

It was obvious that Ernesto and Gabe were going to get together. The clue is in the first scene where Gabe enters a convenience store just after Ernesto leaves. And they do -- in the last 10 minutes of the film. We see them in bed eyes locked on each other, having breakfast the next morning in a restaurant and sharing a joke, and Gabe in his truck with a love-struck smile on his face. And -- that's it. Sigh.

One of the movie's producers was there and answered a few questions afterward. One person in the audience noted that most scenes in this movie were done with a still camera, just like the Pickford shorts. But in this movie the frame is carefully composed and the actors know how to hit their marks.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Need for inclusion and connection

The cover story for Newsweek a couple weeks ago (yeah, still behind) is about suicide. The rates have been rising worldwide for the last couple decades (as in well before the current economic mess). Worldwide, suicide now accounts for more deaths than war, murder, and forces of nature combined. Tony Dokoupil explores why.

Thomas Joiner Sr. killed himself. Thomas Joiner Jr. has spent his professional life examining the reasons. After exploring many things that turn out not to affect suicide Joiner found a few things that do:

* Loneliness, a "thwarted need for inclusion and connection."
Twelve years and a tech revolution after Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone, his treatise on the decline in American community, the institutions that used to bind America together have, if anything, crumbled even further. People tell surveyors that the world has become less helpful, trustworthy, and fair. It’s a place where you work longer at more deadening jobs for less pay, your life pulsing away with each new email, or worse, each additional hour on your feet. What’s deadly about all this is the loss of what Joiner calls “reciprocal care.” When people have no shoulder to lean on, they feel more isolated, and that isolation can be lethal.
A big part of preventing suicide is to build up community, which is one of my guiding principles. From the quote above it looks like a lot of people are feeling the effects of the GOP working to destroy community. Blacks and Hispanics have a lower rate of suicide because they have a more enduring bonds of faith and family.

* Burdensomeness, a feeling of no longer being effective, no longer providing for family or contributing to the world. It is a feeling of being a liability, of failing those who need us. We are so geared towards offering help to others we have a hard time accepting help. This is why suicide rises with unemployment and why it is high in cultures of high honor. Depression is also a big part of this factor.

* Fearlessness of death. Our bodies are built to endure, our minds rigged to flee from death. To be fearless of death one must be numb to violence and pain. Yes, it has been shown that some of us become numb to violence through what is shown in media.

We may have periods of all three of these factors. It is the intersection of all three that lead to suicide. That means it is possible to prevent suicide by disrupting one of the three factors. To do that we must overcome the cost and stigma of treatment. Joiner says,
We need to get it in our heads that suicide is not easy, painless, cowardly, selfish, vengeful, self-masterful, or rash. And once we get all that in our heads at last, we need to let it lead our hearts.

Enforcement through reliable ideologues

About a week ago I wrote about the GOP's quiet refusal to confirm judges to federal courts (even though Obama has been making them as uncontroversial as possible). Obama appears ready to confront the issue by nominating three candidates for the DC Circuit Court. This is the court that handles disputes between the prez. and Congress and is the court that handles disputes with gov't agencies like the National Labor Relations Board and the Environmental Protection Agency (gee, wonder why there would be disputes over those agencies?).

Essayist Terrence Heath reviews the issue. He starts with the current understaffing of federal courts and why it is the GOP's fault (mentioned in my previous post). Heath goes on to explain how we got here. Back in the 1980s with the Powel Memorandum being followed by conservatives ready with funding, Reagan, by way of Atty. General Ed Meese, aggressively filled the Dept. of Justice with reliable conservatives. Since then they have become reliable conservative judges and justices, Roberts and Alito among them. Meese also identified candidates such as Scalia and Kennedy.
The most direct way to change the law was to appoint reliable ideologues to enforce it.
The success rate of the National Chamber Litigation Center has shown how effective this conservative effort to stack the courts has been. Heath lists some of their important cases, all of them good for corporations, not country.

In spite of the GOP cries, Obama is not stacking the DC Circuit Court. He is trying to un-stack it. And the GOP, with their efforts to eliminate the seats (rather than let Obama fill them) are trying to preserve their stacking efforts. Over the summer Obama could press the case and back the GOP into a corner. This is a situation in which the GOP does not want a lot of news stories.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Permission to be a bully

A blogger who calls herself Seething Mom has written that she seethes because of the way religious and political people treat her gay son. She has written about the stormy relationship with one of her brothers and recaps it in her latest entry.

That brother strongly believes the phrase, "Whatever happened, it's not my fault." He's arrogant and bigoted, but when things (marriage, job, etc.) go sour it only proves the world is out to get him. Seething Mom says this brother hit an especially bad time and returned to the Catholic Church. Much to his annoyance, they tried to teach him accountability. He left. He then turned to a Fundie mega-church. As long as he said he believed in Jesus they declared him saved. That gave him the validation he craved and provided him a bully pulpit to "preach to others what he never practiced himself." So now he is an arrogant and bigoted bully and had the permission of the church to be an arrogant and bigoted bully.

And when he took it out on her gay son Seething Mom severed relations.

That has left Seething Mom pondering the damage that kind of church is foisting on society. It is a church that offers forgiveness without requiring working towards restoration of relationships.

Not long after seeing Seething Mom's story I saw a post about Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana (yup, GOP) who has inserted another amendment into the defense authorization act that essentially permits soldiers to bully gay colleagues they don't like. Something about what good is a belief if you aren't free to act on it?

That makes it seem Seething Mom is right. Fundamentalism is permission to be a bully.

Chump or citizen

Over the last year or so various corporate CEOs have been trying to justify their tax loopholes. But, surprisingly -- at least to them -- the public responds with some pretty rough verbal treatment. Daniel Gross of Newsweek sums it up this way.
In the corporate world, paying taxes may make you a chump, but in the public world, it makes you a citizen. And it is citizenship—not title or money—that gives you the right to be heard.

The science journal Environmental Research Letters published a study of thousands of peer-reviewed papers on climate change. When scientists took a position 97% of them said climate change has human causes. Christopher Dickey of Newsweek says to watch out for news articles that don't give that number.
This is important because press reports that cite doubters representing “the other side of the question,” without saying how minuscule the proportion, have convinced the public there’s an even split.
Scientists disagree on whether global warming contributes frequency of killer tornados. But there is no dissent that global warming has a human cause.

Gallup released a poll on how people view the moral acceptability of gay or lesbian relations. As in the last dozen years responses are broken down by ages -- 18-34, 35-54, and 55 and older. This is the first time the oldest bunch crossed 50% of those saying gay relations are morally acceptable. Alas, it shows the middle bunch dropping slightly in acceptance since 2010. No way to know whether this is within the margin of error. Commenters wished the older group was further broken down as 55-69 and 70 and above. Either way it shows that it is possible for the older ones to change their minds, such as when a grandson announces he is gay.

A public meeting

Another protest. Kevyn Orr, Emergency Manager for Detroit, issued a document giving the state of Detroit's finances a few weeks ago. According to the EM law he then has so many days (I think 30) to hold a public meeting to lay out what he was going to do to fix the finances he had documented. The first of two meetings was scheduled for this evening at a church on the west side of Detroit with another on Monday on the east side. The Moratorium Now and Detroit Debt Moratorium groups arranged a rally outside the church to tell Orr the solution is simple -- cancel the contracts with the banks that are sucking the life out of Detroit. So about 50 of us gathered outside the church. We had signs. We had chants. We had a loudspeaker where leaders told us (and passersby) what the situation was. We had leaflets we handed out to cars stopped at the nearby light. What we didn't have was a target.

Orr didn't show.

A couple hours before the meeting he apparently heard about the protest and canceled the meeting. The rally organizers knew that but rallied anyway, partly to show how chicken Orr is in encountering protesters. But Orr must hold a public meeting by Tuesday. We were all told how to check for news. We might only have an hour's notice. The question is: How much public will be allowed to know about the "public" meeting?

One of the situations the leaders discussed was the city of Hamtramck. Their finances were getting unsustainable and the city talked to the state about bankruptcy. The state urged the city to take out loans to tide them over, which the city did. The situation is still dire. Now the state is talking about an Emergency Manager. The speaker told us about the difference. Under bankruptcy the courts must look out for the interests of the citizens. But the EM must look out for the interests of the banks. So the state delayed and compounded Hamtramck's problems so it could be resolved in the bank's favor.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Marriage is cool again

Gays wanting to destroy straight marriage? Hardly. Lisa Mundy in the Atlantic (as summarized in Slate) says the opposite is happening. First, gay marriage is making straight marriage cool again. Second, without the hang-ups of gender roles the couple decides for themselves who does what, making the household more efficient and happier.

There is one little surprise. Gay dads are slightly more likely than straight couples to have a full time stay-at-home parent. It makes for a less stressful household.

Many people in Oklahoma are quite thankful of the National Weather Service these days. In some cases residents were given over 15 minutes of warning before tornados struck. Alas, with this spring's hefty federal budget cuts the NWS took a hit like all other agencies. That means: Advances in forecasting technology might not get implemented. There will be fewer employees to make sense of the new technology. Those existing employees will be a bit more frazzled and thus less accurate. So as tornados are being seen more frequently and more likely outside of "Tornado Alley" the amount of warning before one hits will go down.

Pew Research Global Attitudes Project asked the citizens of 39 countries whether society should accept homosexuality. Some of the things they found:

* The more affluent the country the more likely homosexuals are accepted. This refers to broad acceptance in USA, Canada, and Western Europe.

* The more religious a country is, the less likely homosexuals are accepted. There are a few notable outliers in this trend -- China and Russia aren't very religious but still see us as unacceptable and Philippines is religious and approves of us.

* There is strong rejection in the Middle East (except Israel, which is close to evenly divided) and in Africa. Even South Africa, which permits gay marriage in its constitution disapproves of us about 2 to 1.

* When there is a difference between the views of women and men, women are more accepting of us.

* The generation split in approval we see here in America also shows up in most other countries.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Moral midgets

During the trip to Austin I read the book Hallelujah Junction; Composing an American Life, the autobiography of modern music maker John Adams (not a descendant of the early American president). It was published in 2008. I got the book because I like much of what Adams has written so far (you can find recording of Harmonium and Harmonilehre as well as Hallelujah Junction on YouTube). It was fascinating to hear the stories behind many of his compositions (a few of which I hadn't known about yet).

Adams is known for writing operas about unusual topics. His first was Nixon in China and the third was Dr. Atomic about Robert Oppenheimer and the test of the first nuclear bomb. I found his comments about the second opera to be most interesting.

That second opera is The Death of Klinghoffer in which Palestinian terrorists hijack a boat and end up killing only one person, Leon Klinghoffer, who was confined to a wheelchair. This opera, completed in early 1991, gave Adams a chance to tell both the Palestinian and Israeli stories. During research for the opera he found lots of resistance. He wrote:
… I would soon learn that the Israeli-Palestinian issue was the most carefully controlled and fastidiously managed debate in American political life. Organizational watchdogs and lobbies like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, although they preached tolerance in the public dialog, monitored the dissemination and information and opinion about Arab-Israeli affairs, and their considerable clout in Washington often smothered attempts from the other side to gain a hearing on American television and other media.
And later:
One might ask why I, and American non-Jew living in California, far from the Middle East, would be concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian issue… The answer is that for American goyim the Jewish experience, the Holocaust, and the founding of Israel have become a tale of exemplary moral history, one of suffering, heroism, and redemption. Through constant exposure by means of films, books, plays, music, and mass media, Jewish culture and Jewish history have gained a position of special meaning, even special privilege, in American life. Their suffering and courage have granted the Jews a unique moral status. But with this special status comes a problem: Israeli behavior on the world state is off limits to criticism, at least in the United States. No American politician can hope to win a campaign if he or she does not speak the received wisdom about Palestinian "terrorism" versus Israeli "security." For all the public hand-wringing over the Middle East crisis, the major U.S. Media barely ever acknowledges the lamentable fact that Israel has pushed the Palestinians into the most arid and least productive corners of the land. No one can acknowledge without being labeled anti-Semitic that, as members of a democracy, Israelis nevertheless live according to a constitution that gives special status to one religious and ethnic group at the expense of another. The unspoken rules of the public dialogue forbid us to acknowledge the fact that terrorism as practiced by the Palestinians is, as the historian Stanley Hoffman describes it, "The weapon of the weak in a classic conflict among states or within a state."

I was puzzled and eventually infuriated by how the Middle East was presented to the average American who reads a newspaper or watches television. As the world's most flagrant energy consumers, the United States continued to suck the teat of the oil-rich nations, cynically indifferent to who exactly was accepting our cash so long as the barrels kept rolling and the oil kept flowing. … If either Iran or Iraq had ambitions to develop nuclear capacity we'd roundly condemn them and threaten them with embargos, or, failing that, a military invasion. But we could never seem to answer them truthfully when they asked why they were forbidden a nuclear arsenal while Israel could maintain one. No wonder we appeared to the average Muslim as irrational and capricious and thoroughly dishonest. I felt that journalists, lobbyists, and many intellectuals in the United States were too ready to invoke the Holocaust and charges of anti-Semitism to short-circuit the debate about the Palestinian question. The pro-Israeli lobbies like AIPAC had a huge influence on members of Congress and were heavily funded while Palestinians, vastly underrepresented in the United States, were forever scolded or ridiculed for their violence and self-defeating refusal to accept what Israel deemed right to offer. I thought it was a noble thing for Americans to show solidarity with the Jews of the world, but Israel's behavior, its appropriation of the choicest land and water rights, its discrimination against non-Jews within its borders, and its deeply provocative settlements in Gaza and the West Bank all struck me as arrogant and ultimately destructive to the cause of peace.
Jewish groups roundly condemned the opera. Too much time (as in more than none) was spent portraying the Palestinian side of the issue. A rabbi of the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned a performance at the Edinburgh Festival, saying:
I would hope the people of Edinburgh would respond appropriately by allowing these moral midgets to do their opera to an empty house.
Between Adams and that rabbi I trust you can figure out which one I consider the moral midget.

Serenading Parliament

The British House of Lords approved the marriage equality bill for the second reading. The vote was thought to be a squeaker, but was actually quite lopsided in our favor. Perhaps the London Gay Men's Chorus singing outside Parliament (loud enough to be heard inside) encouraged the voters. From here the bill goes to committee. Some wonder if the Lords approved it this far so they would have a chance to amend it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Cute couple

The British marriage equality has passed the House of Commons and is now before the House of Lords. Things could get weird. Or weirder. The coalition that actually passed the bill in the Commons somehow fractured the conservative party. It is unclear how that will play out. Up to 26 bishops of the Church of England may sit in the House of Lords. though usually only 2 are in attendance. If the bill fails by just a couple votes, will the Church of England feel the backlash? Is this a chance for the CofE to play nice with other denominations by defeating the bill for them? What kind of constitutional crisis is set off if the Lords rejects a bill the Commons approved? Will that make the Lords somehow become irrelevant?

A gay teen couple made it into their yearbook as the "Cutest Couple." This is a first for this particular high school (alas, unnamed). Congratulations to Dylan and Brad. This is the part of the story I like: Dylan and Brad have been so thoroughly supported in their relationship they consider it normal. All this media attention for it is a bit frightening.

Giving up on democracy

My friend and debate partner handed me a copy of Metro Times from a couple weeks ago (while I was in Austin). It had an article about the community meeting in which Fannie Mae did not show up. Good to see wider publicity of the issue.

However, it was another article that caught my attention. Jack Lessenberry asks "Is the System Hopeless?" He was referring to politics in Michigan and offers these reasons to think so:

* A run for the governor's office will cost $23-30 million. No one without a lot of name recognition (which leaves out most Dems) or is personally super rich (which means they wouldn't run as a Dem) could afford it. Rick Snyder's term ends in 2014.

* I've written about the pervasive gerrymandering of congressional seats. I knew it was the case in other races, but didn't have numbers. Now I do. In 2012 54% of the votes for state representatives went to Democrats. Yet the GOP holds the House by 54%.

* Campaign finance laws mean we can't know who contributes to candidates (the Supreme Court case permits disclosure, but Michigan doesn't require it) and for the amount being spent we know that the donor wants something in return.

* Over 18 million was spent in Mich. Supreme Court races last year. Since the candidates are nominated by the parties we know the nomination wouldn't be given unless it was well known that the candidate would do the party bidding.

* Gerrymandering means the only contest most reps and state senators face is the primary -- pushing GOP candidates further to the right. There is no need to appeal to the independent voter.

* The combination of gerrymandering and term limits means candidates answer only to lobbyists because their next job will likely be with a lobbying firm.

I've written before (way back in 2010) that the GOP has given up on democracy. It gets in the way. Lessenberry considers another possibility. What happens if the people get so discouraged that they give up on democracy? That will be scary.

In this week's comments Lessenberry ponders Memorial Day. I didn't spend it at a cemetery either. Like me, Lessenberry was a teenager in the 1960s and '70s. Fighting in Vietnam was on everyone's mind. Thankfully, the draft ended the year before I would have been involved.

But the all-volunteer military had a strange effect on the thinking of politicians. The children of the well-to-do were no longer being shot at, so politicians could start wars with a great deal less response from the public. Even when soldiers are killed, they're the offspring of poor people, so very little attention is paid.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Another gay bishop

The ELCA Lutheran Church (the progressive ones) have elected a gay bishop to a six year term serving in the Los Angeles area. That's pretty cool, considering the denomination permitted gay pastors only 4 years ago.

Fingers are pointing in all directions about the failure of marriage equality in Illinois. I won't go into details. I wonder what is going on behind the scenes because the Democrats have 71 seats in the state House and the couldn't get the needed 60 votes.

Yeah, I know Illinois politics is strange, so I have no idea what to make of the latest development. The Illinois House Speaker extended the deadline for approval of the bill to August 31. Which means if the governor calls the chamber back into session for unfinished business (like pension reform) over the summer marriage equality could be taken up too. Maybe we won't have to wait for the regular session in November.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The gayest place around

Jallen Rix was caught up in an ex-gay programs, one of those programs that tried to make him straight. It didn't work (of course). He is now a therapist. He created a survey and asked others who went through such programs to tell him about their experiences. That has turned into a book, Ex-Gay No Way: Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse. This is important because no one has studied these people before. Because of the methodology the percentages cannot be used to describe all who went through the program. Even so, a big and important part of the survey was where responders could comment about their experiences.

A question was why did you enter the program? Answers: I believed it was what God wanted me to do. I wanted to be normal. I was told I was sinful. I was told I had demons. My pastor insisted.

Why did you quit the program? Answers: I saw nobody was being changed. My program leader was hitting on me. I tried to kill myself. My "exorcism" scared me. Why wasn't God healing me?

How were you harmed? Answers: I developed an eating disorder. Multiple suicide attempts. Screwed up sense of love and intimacy. Developed sexual addictions.

What good has come from the experience? Answers: I was finally able to accept myself. I saw for myself that changing my orientation wasn't possible. I learned I had to be real. I learned there were other gay Christians and made friends. I saw how privilege works -- the more I was seen as straight the more doors opened for me, so I understand oppression. I learned valuable discipline. Met other gay people and started dating in a safe space.

That last comment shows that an ex-gay conference is actually the gayest place around.

Democrats aren't necessarily my friends

A couple weeks ago the Senate took a look at an amendment to the immigration bill that would include gay couples. And the Democrats caved. Something about not wanting to hold up the whole bill. With friends like these… Gay advocacy groups are, naturally, furious. A big gay donor has said he will withhold money until gays are included in immigration and employment non-discrimination. Other gays aren't so harsh. There are other things in the big bill that benefit gays -- it will be easier to ask for asylum if a gay person would be persecuted at home.

This (wimpy) battle happened in committee. And the amendment was withdrawn instead of rejected. That means it can be introduced when the bill comes to the full Senate. Though I don't see how the Dems will be less wimpy then.

A page called Mimeographs says it quite well.

David Frum, in Newsweek doesn't like a different section immigration bill, the part that nobody -- neither Dems or GOP -- are talking about. That's the part that is there to correct a "skills shortage" or "skills mismatch". In a market economy (the kind the GOP wants us to have) that should never happen. Which means those words are code for "here's a way to reduce the cost of labor." The working man takes it on the chin again.

I'm sensitive to that right now. I was out today for another protest. Another Detroiter caught up in the Fannie Mae mess. So we met at a park in southwest Detroit (the Springwells neighborhood) and marched to a nearby Chase Bank branch. There were at least 50 protesters who picketed for about a half hour. In spite of the thunderstorms that have been rolling through here the last several days it actually was a beautiful day for a protest.