Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Enforcing the unenforceable

Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin has a question related to the Supreme Court rulings in our favor a month ago. Where's the backlash? France legalizes marriage equality and there are protests, some of which turn deadly. In America, rulings on abortion (no matter the outcome) are protested. But marriage equality rulings this time? Well, we get the professional bloviators trying to stir up a backlash, but there haven't been protests.

Maybe not big (or even small) public protests, but it looks like there is a backlash. It was reported yesterday that over a couple years the sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana has been entrapping gay men using a law that the Supremes said was unconstitutional ten years ago. The law is unenforceable, but still on the books. And because it is on the books, the sheriff says it is appropriate to try to enforce it anyway. The gay men are arrested and hauled before a judge, who dismisses the case for lack of a crime. But because it is still legal in Louisiana to fire someone for being gay the arrest has big consequences.

Ken Cuccinelli, Attorney General and candidate for governor in Virginia, has been saying he will ask the Supremes to reinstate the sodomy law those Supremes said was unconstitutional. Good luck with that.

But these two cases are enough for Terrence Heath to ask an important question: Why? Or in a bit more detail: Why do conservatives want to resurrect the laws that criminalize sex between men?

Heath thoroughly reviews why the stated reasons are bogus. Then he discusses one of those men in Louisiana who was arrested back in 2011. Though the charges were dropped (no actual crime) the man described being taken to jail as "intimidation."


Monday, July 29, 2013

Two successful fallacies

Charles Blow, in an Op-Ed for the New York Times, looks at the stand your ground laws and American gun culture. It all comes down to this:
The [gun] industry and its lobby have successfully pushed two fallacies: that the Second Amendment is under siege and so are law-abiding citizens.

Making decisions for millions

Richard Wolff of The Guardian takes a look at Detroit and its bankruptcy from the view of capitalism. Back in the 1930s unions forced the big car companies to give factory workers a livable wage and livable working conditions. Of course, once unions were firmly established the bosses spun that into "See what we gave our workers out of the kindness of our hearts!" Even so, the 1950s and the rise of the middle class in Detroit (and its peak population) were seen as the glory days of capitalism. Yes, this economic system can bring benefits to everyone!

But Japan and European automakers began eating Detroit's lunch in the 1970s. Detroit auto leaders made some pretty stupid moves -- not recognizing the true nature of the competition and not responding fast enough with fuel saving technology (these were the years of the OPEC oil shocks).

And who paid for those blunders? Not senior management. Not shareholders (well, perhaps they missed dividend payments and stock lost some value). But workers. Their wages were cut and their jobs moved. Detroit's middle class was undermined. So was America's. When did the working class see their income stop rising? The 1970s.

So we see the true nature of capitalism. It doesn't look all that successful anymore. More like a distinct failure. The guys on top are unwilling and probably unable to reverse the loss of the middle class and to lessen inequality.

Wolff turns the discussion in an interesting direction. What would have happened of those strikes in the 1930s had transformed the companies into worker cooperatives? Some possibilities: Management, though still paid well, would have been paid less. The savings would have allowed better competition with Japan and Europe. Workers would be able to maintain a middle class life. The car companies would certainly not have moved out of Detroit. And Detroit wouldn't be the shell of its former glory and in bankruptcy.

Wolff ends his piece this way:
What kind of a society gives a relatively tiny number of people the position and power to make corporate decisions impacting millions in and around Detroit while it excludes those millions from participating in those decisions?

When those capitalists' decisions condemn Detroit to 40 years of disastrous decline, what kind of society relieves those capitalists of any responsibility to help rebuild that city?

The simple answer to these questions: no genuinely democratic economy could or would work that way.

Jim Winkler has another look at the income gap. He is the head of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. This is the group within the denomination that shines a light on the social issues of our time, an emphasis that our founder John Wesley maintained.

Winkler highlights a couple people who have full time jobs, but do not make enough money to cover basic expenses. Thus they are trapped in poverty. Winkler then notes that in 1980 CEOs earned 42 times more than the typical worker. Now it is 380 times. That prompts a few questions:
If you perform an honest day’s work, shouldn’t you make enough money to provide the basic necessities for your family? If not, why not? Why, exactly, should chief executive officers make 380 times more than the typical American worker? … If CEOs are really worth 380 times more than the average worker, what has happened that makes them so much more valuable now than in 1980?

Reduction of inequality is a positive social value. Our United Methodist Social Principles state, “We support measures that would reduce the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.”

Our Social Principles also declare that we support the right of all employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining into unions and other groups of their own choosing. And, we support the right of both parties to protection in doing so.

Those workers who are seeking a decent wage have turned to people of faith to help them. I can’t conceive of a reason why we shouldn’t.

An Associated Press poll shows 80% of US adults struggle with poverty. They have a particular way of defining that and it includes "economic insecurity" at some point in their careers. So, in spite of the opening sentence, maybe not all 80% struggle today. But it is common to have a personal experience with poverty.

The poll shows a couple more important bits:

The number of white single-mother households is greater than the number of Hispanic single-mother households and matches the number of such black households.

The poverty rate among working class whites has grown faster than working class non-whites.

These two (and a few more) have a significant meaning. We (the white population) used to be able to dismiss poverty because it happened to blacks and Hispanics, people we consider on the fringe. But it is now our problem too.


That was at the top of the weather report for my city today from weather.com. It noted that several places across the upper Midwest might see record lows tonight. I almost turned on the heat last night though the temperature inside didn't quite drop low enough for it to actually come on. We've had only one week of really hot weather (and for us, that's around 90F). I'm quite enjoying the lack of heat.

Pretty sunset tonight.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Refuse a homophobic heaven

Newsweek has an interesting article on future science possibly being able to reverse aging which would allow humans to maybe live to 150. They might have it figured out in 30 years -- just after the time I'd be able to take advantage of it.

Yet another study about the success of kids raised by gay and lesbian parents. Seems kids are happier when their parents are happy -- and parents are happier when they like how the household chores have been divided. Straight couples divide chores along gender lines. Gay couples divide chores based on who is best doing what and who likes doing what.

Now that Detroit has filed for Bankruptcy, this bit of fun from 7 years ago in The Onion seems appropriate again. The story is that Detroit was sold at auction to scrap dealers who plan to dismantle the city to extract all that can be recycled. That's 14 million tons of steel, plus aluminum and copper, waiting to be used again. And while it lasts, the unemployed will have a way to earn some money.

The United Nations is launching a "Free & Equal" campaign to promote acceptance of gay people around the world. Desmond Tutu adds his voice:
I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place. I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.

We've long heard stories about how Ronald Reagan, saint of the GOP, wouldn't be accepted in today's party. Peter Beinart wrote an article for Newsweek saying that the GOP's recent hero, Bush II, wouldn't fare so well in the current GOP either. Georgie was an optimist: Deficits don't matter because the economy will grow (note: we're not here to debate the truth of that statement, only contrast it with what the current GOP is saying). More countries are moving to democracy. Muslims and Mexicans share the same basic values we treasure. But since he's left office, the GOP pessimists have taken control. They're obsessed about the deficit. Hispanics only want the gov't to take care of them. Arabs are violent and don't share our values after all.

There's a report on a new ultra-right group from Mother Jones (though I read the summary on Towleroad). One of its leaders in Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Justice Clarence Thomas. They've been meeting in secret for a while, planning a comeback from last November's losses. It seems they're still stuck on the idea that if they could just get their message across (let's try writing at the 4th grade level this time) Americans, or at least Low Info Voters, would vote them back into power. So yeah, a coalition of those who refuse to pay taxes with those who don't have to pay taxes should be a winner.

Should we laugh at their idiotic dreams? Or be afraid because they'll have the Koch money to back them up?

Another milestone

This is the first month there have been over 2000 pageviews of my blog! The count has actually blown past that all the way to 2100. The previous peak was last November at just over 1900. Another record was set today with over 220 pageviews. A good chunk of that was the over 50 views of my post on the Koch brothers. It is good to see that one being spread around.

In the last 30 days the top 10 countries where viewers reside are USA, Russia, Britain, Germany, Latvia, Serbia, China, France, Netherlands, and Poland.

Lawlessness, crosslinked

I goofed yesterday and managed to leave off a key paragraph at the end of one post. I created a second post with this missing paragraph. I was a bit surprised to see the stats for the posts and that the second post had 21 views while the original had only 11. I realized I hadn't included a link to the first part when I posted the second. So here are links to both. They really do go together.

Part 1

Part 2

Friday, July 26, 2013

Long history and tradition

Brian Chelcun and Ari Ezra Waldman take a look at Samuel Alito's dissent in the DOMA case. The Constitution doesn't say anything about marriage, so how can the Supremes declare marriage to be a fundamental right? Because of a long history and tradition. But in the case of same-sex marriage, according to Alito, there is a long history and tradition of discrimination. And that discrimination should continue.

So are gay couples "same-sex married" or simply "married"? If the former, Alito may have a point. If the latter, Alito is profoundly wrong. A fundamental right is fundamental for everyone.

Commenter Matt has an analogy. Before 1920 women had a long history and tradition of not voting. But after that date, voting was not "redefined" and there is no "female vote" separate from the "male vote". Matt says,
By Alito's argument, there can never be ANY extension of recognition of fundamental rights to groups that have traditionally been prevented from exercising those rights.
Which means we are working for marriage equality, not for gay marriage. Alas, I have 400 posts to this blog with the tag "gay marriage". So this post will use both new and old tags.

No barrier to money

My dad sent me a link to material of interest. The Investigative Reporting Workshop of the American University School of Communication has spent two years researching into the money and connections of David and Charles Koch. These are super rich dudes and they spend their money freely to get what they want.

And what do they want? Absolutely no barrier to them making as much money as they possibly can. That includes no taxes on their income -- Koch Industries, an oil company, had $10 billion in profits last year. No government programs that would require more taxes. No laws against them fouling air, soil, or water in their efforts to extract, transport, or refine their product. No laws that detract from oil being the prime energy source, so there are efforts to discredit global warming. In short: trash democracy. It gets in the way.

The American University material is spread over several web pages, so I'll turn to the summary posted on DailyKos and written by someone with a web name of War on Error.

The Koch brothers have funneled their money through a huge network of nonprofit agencies. Some of them I've heard of, such as Americans for Prosperity (theirs, not yours) and American Legislative Exchange Council, and others new to me, such as Citizens for a Sound Economy.

And what do these agencies do? Donate to (bribe) politicians, including candidates for the judiciary. Propose model legislation to enact their agenda. Run disinformation campaigns against candidates who won't do their bidding (which means the GOP leadership no longer controls the party). Of course, Democratic candidates are also well funded.

A more alarming area of giving is to colleges and universities. That's $30 million to 221 schools and $16 million of that went to George Mason University. Yes, these gifts come with strings. For example, because of their gift to Florida State University they get to design classes, select speakers and readings, name a program director, and initiate a student club, all to influence the next generation that free enterprise is good (and government is bad).

The first step in stopping the Koch brothers is to understand the extent of their influence. That step is now well underway.

Lawlessness part 2

Oops, I missed including the last paragraph in the previous post. It won't do to update it because updates aren't sent out by the automatic email distribution system. That's how many family members read my blog. So…

Rob Tisinai compares county clerks in Pennsylvania who break the law in issuing marriage licenses with town clerks in New York who broke the law in refusing to issue marriage licenses. The National Organization for Marriage praised the action in New York but called the current action "lawless." Tisinai wonders if there is a difference between civil disobedience and lawlessness. Yes, he concludes. The Penn. clerks are disobeying the law because they want to draw attention to an injustice. The New York clerks merely said the law doesn't apply to them.

Civil disobedience or lawlessness?

The tale of Jim and John from Cincinnati who flew to Baltimore to be married on the tarmac has been noticed by Mike DeWine, the Attorney General of Ohio. He will appeal the decision from the judge who decreed that John's death certificate must declare him married. DeWine is up for reelection this fall and his opponent is David Pepper. He scolds DeWine, saying the AG took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

Terrence Heath has collected about 3 dozen cartoons about the George Zimmerman acquittal in Trayvon Martin's death. Heath grouped them in three parts.

Officials in Montgomery County, near Philadelphia, have announced they are defying the gay marriage ban in Pennsylvania and will grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This comes after the ACLU has sued the ban in federal court and Kathleen Kane, the state's AG, declared she would not defend the ban. Yes, couples are taking advantage of the opportunity, though the ACLU warns later court action could invalidate the marriages. The GOP is complaining how horrible these marriages are. But, strangely, so far nobody is actually doing anything to stop them.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Surviving spouse

A week ago I wrote about the marriage of John and Jim. Because of ALS John is near death and doesn't travel well. The couple rented a private jet to fly from Cincinnati to Baltimore so a ceremony could be conducted on the tarmac.

Once back in Cincinnati, Jim went to a federal district court with a request that his marriage be recognized by the state of Ohio. And he wanted it for a specific reason. When John dies the couple wants the death certificate to list John's status as "married" and Jim as the "surviving spouse." With amazing swiftness the judge ordered the state to do just that. The justification is that Ohio will honor other marriages celebrated in other states when it would have been illegal if celebrated in Ohio. An example is a marriage of first cousins. If you can do it for them, said the judge, you can do it for John and Jim.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Turn the stereotype inside out

There is bigotry, which has a level of intentional animosity (know it well), and there are unconscious biases. That is the case of treating other kinds of people differently even when we are horrified that we could have done such a thing when it is brought to our attention. I should try to be aware of such biases because so many of my students are black and I'm white.

Shankar Vedantam on NPR's Morning Edition says there is a way to combat unconscious biases. That is to expose ourselves to "counterstereotypical" images and messages. The one described in this program is a female construction worker, complete with hardhat, spending her lunchtime nursing her baby.

Alas, I'm not sure where I would find such images that would help me and my students.

Send a missionary

I've written a few times about the boycott of the movie Ender's Game because of the nasty anti-gay comments of Orson Scott Card, the book's author and movie's producer. Though not speaking specifically about Card, Brian Dickerson has an editorial in Sunday's Free Press about boycotts. Dickerson was prompted to write because Stevie Wonder declared he would no longer perform in states with stand-your-ground laws.

Dickerson says boycotts are not new. Religious communities have used shunning for many generations.

His objection to boycotts has two parts. The first is effectiveness -- it is rare for the targeted group to actually change their behavior. Though wasn't there something about disinvesting in apartheid South Africa?

The second is with boycotts, easier to organize than ever before, we extend the fault lines in society -- red and blue TV, red and blue churches, red and blue music. "The less we rub elbows with those with whom we disagree politically, the less we are at risk at discovering that we have anything in common with them."

Want to change their opinion? Engage with your opponents. Or, as Dickerson says it, send a missionary.

He makes sense.

Should those behind the Stop Ender's Game campaign instead form a delegation to meet Mr. Card? Will he agree to such a meeting? If that meeting ever happened, would it change his mind? Would the visit make any more difference than the boycott? I'm still not going to see the movie.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Free to be me

A couple days ago I reported on and commented about a peculiar GOP definition of liberty.
…the liberty to pursue your own self-interest without you having to take care of anybody else's interests or anybody else having to take care of yours.
That got me thinking. If I don't like their definition of liberty or freedom what would my own definition look like?

Today the temperature topped out at about 78F, distinctly lower than it had been all last week, and the sky was blue. That means it was a fabulous day for a bike ride. I did about 22 miles and had plenty of time to think about liberty and freedom.

I had forgotten the original quote was about "liberty" and during my afternoon travels I thought about "freedom." So the first thing to do is compare definitions.

The 3rd definition of liberty is: "freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice."

The 5th definition of freedom is: "personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery."

So I guess I should be free to use the words interchangeably.

It didn't take long to come up with the top item in my definition. It is something every person who is part of a sexual minority would rank highly.

Freedom means being free to be myself. That means being free to figure out who I am without societal strictures and religious dogma making me afraid of myself and contorting my psyche to please others. That means developing my passions and abilities wherever they take me. That means living with integrity.

The next thing I thought of was Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell. These are Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear. These paintings were created during WWII and are Rockwell's most popular.

Freedom means freedom of speech, being able to say what I want about the society around me. That is the essence of this blog.

Freedom means to worship as I see fit. I'm appalled that others, as part of their own freedom of worship, seek to force their religion on me through attempts at a state religion and seek to restrict my rights to satisfy their god.

Freedom means freedom from fear. I haven't faced bodily harm because I'm gay. Then again, if you don't need to know my orientation I probably won't tell you. And that implies a fear of rejection. I also think about what I've written over the last week, that a great number of African-Americans live in fear. And a great number of others live in fear because of a society saturated with guns.

Freedom means freedom from want. That is another part of being free to be myself. I should be able to develop my talents and passions and be able to make a living wage from them. I was able to do that in my first career as a computer programmer. If I wanted to work full time I'm sure I could make a living wage teaching music. But that would be mighty difficult to do as a composer, no matter my talents, unless I wanted to work in popular music (which I don't). I'm fortunate I can use the pension from my first career to fund my second.

However, I'm quite aware that there are millions of people who do not have freedom from want. Even if they have a job it may be one that does not engage their passions and talents, one they keep only because they need the money for things like food and shelter. I long for a society that helps people fulfill their passions and use their talents and allows them to make a living wage from what they love.

And on to a few more:

Freedom to be a part of a community, to join without restriction, to support others and in turn be supported by them, to be recognized and appreciated for who I am and the passions and talents I give to the community. Included in this is support of and being supported by community assets, such as roads and highways, public works and services, museums, libraries, and parks (both local and national).

Freedom of good health, to have access to good medical care and prevention services while maintaining my freedom from want.

Freedom from oppression, freedom from someone using physical, mental, spiritual, or economic violence to coerce me to do what they want or to prevent me from fulfilling my dreams and potential.

Freedom to fairly elect those who represent me in government.

I was about to wrap this up when I remembered the Second Bill of Rights, proposed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. He adds two more general categories: housing and education -- housing that is adequate, pleasant, and secure and enough education to be a contributing member of society and to develop my talents.

So. Freedom to be me, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and fear, freedom of community, freedom of health, freedom from oppression, freedom of fair elections, freedom of secure housing, freedom of adequate education.

No doubt I've missed a few. I will gladly entertain suggestions.

I note that the current GOP and their backers are actively working against all of these freedoms.

They want me to worship their god and to twist who I am to fit their dogma.

They want money and power to flow towards them even if it means many suffer from want, inadequate housing, inadequate health care, and are otherwise oppressed.

They want to be in power and fair elections and adequate education get in their way.

Their definition of freedom is the opposite of community. They promote the idea that if you can't make it as an individual, you can't make it.

They use fear so that I might turn to them for protection.

They have equated money with speech, drowning out my voice.

Any question why I vote the way I do?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Where people will listen to the hate

It appears that as Western countries expand equality for gay people many countries in the rest of the world are working quickly to restrict gay rights and make punishments more harsh. Alistair Stewart of the Kaleidoscope Trust says that as our opponents find their message less welcome in the West they move to countries that will listen to them. And, as the mess in Uganda (and Russia, and Nigeria) shows, they are very good at stirring up trouble.

A producer for the film Ender's Game, the one subject to a boycott, was part of a panel at Comic-Con. The first question was how involved Orson Scott Card was in the making of the movie. In addition to supplying the original book, he was co-producer. However, the answer the producer gave neatly sidestepped the issue, instead affirming that Lionsgate, the company that made the film, is very pro-gay. The audience responded with cheers.

So, did they cheer to hear the company is pro-gay? That is good news. Or was it because the audience felt they've been given permission to see the movie in spite of Card's anti-gay work? I suppose I should be more charitable.

Jim Crow is back

My dad saw that I had written about Trayvon Martin and promptly responded by sending four articles related to the case. I found three of them worth sharing.

The first is by Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners. She begins by explaining a bit about the Stand Your Ground law that is at the core of the case. The defense did not use it, but the judge included it in the instructions to the jury and the one outspoken juror said it made a difference. Harper explains what the law means:
Before 2005, Florida’s self-defense laws mirrored those of the rest of the country. A person had no duty to retreat if being attacked inside their own home, but outside the home they had the duty to get the heck out of dodge, if possible, before using deadly force.

In 2005, Florida became the first state to expand its self-defense laws to include any spaces outside the home and encouraged people not to retreat, but to “stand their ground.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates broke down the irony of Florida’s “stand your ground” principle:

“I don’t think the import of this is being appreciated,” he said. “Effectively, I can bait you into a fight and if I start losing, I can legally kill you, provided I ‘believe’ myself to be subject to ‘great bodily harm.’
More that 20 states now have such laws.

Add a few more ingredients into the stew, new concealed carry laws in every state and racial profiling available to citizens. By the latter Harper means that a combination of concealed carry and stand your ground gives regular citizens "immunity from prosecution." That was formerly only available to police.

Back in then 1960s Jim Crow ended with three big advancements. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Food Stamp Act of 1964, which provided economic empowerment.

Three weeks ago the Supremes gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act.

Last week the House GOP gutted the Food Stamps Act. This isn't law yet…

And the Zimmerman verdict showed that there is a big hole in the Civil Rights Act.

Which means old Jim Crow -- the web of laws that reinforced the idea that some people are meant to be slaves, some are meant to be masters, and only whites are fully human -- is back. That's why Zimmerman's acquittal is a big deal. This realization has sent the black community reeling.

The second article from Dad is by Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell as a commentary for the United Methodist News Service and posted in the blog UMConnections. Caldwell is black. His central idea expands on Obama's call for a national discussion. Caldwell says a part of that discussion should take place in our churches. I agree.

I attend a suburban United Methodist Church. The few blacks that have ventured in our doors (other than for the food pantry or maybe Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the basement) tend to not stick around for very long. I can envision the squawk that would arise if our pastor proposed such discussions in our church. I can envision it because I've heard it before when our church has attempted to deal with other touchy issues (like the presence of gay people). Which only proves such a discussion is vitally necessary and long overdue.

Dad specifically mentioned I should read the comments to this article. A good number of them essentially said, "That trial was not about race! How dare you imply it was!" Again proving the necessity of discussions on race.

The third article is by William Saletan in Slate. He writes that too many people are reading their own biases into the case. They are jumping to the conclusion that it is about Stand Your Ground laws, or about racism, or about whatever cause they champion. Saletan watched all seven hours of the closing arguments to see what the case was really about.

His conclusion is that while Zimmerman is not guilty of murder or manslaughter, he is guilty of being a reckless fool. Saletan lists Zimmerman's mistakes: inferring Martin was a burglar, pursuing Martin on foot, and failing to imagine how is actions would look to Martin -- what's the kid supposed to think when someone starts following him? Saletan also lists a mistake on Martin's part -- misreading Zimmerman and reacting badly. From what Saletan says I'm inclined to let Martin off the hook.

Did racism play a part in Zimmerman's actions? Saletan (and perhaps the court video) doesn't say. Perhaps Martin's reaction to Zimmerman was racist? We again don't know for sure.

This case may not be about racism or guns or the Stand Your Ground laws. Even so, if this case prompts meaningful discussions about those topics, that's great. Let's keep talking.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A rose with a name

I mentioned to my sister that the rose of Sharon is blooming in my back yard. She's only seen pictures of the daylilies, which is all I've posted. So, here we go.

No longer defending discrimination

Though section 3 of DOMA means the federal gov't can't discriminate against gay people, there are still details to work out. There is a case before the US District Court in Massachusetts (probably filed before the Supremes ruled) arguing about the word "spouse" in veterans' benefits. The GOP in the House has been a big player in the DOMA case, taking over when Obama said he wouldn't defend it. No more. The GOP leadership has announced they are withdrawing from the veterans' benefits case. The Supremes have spoken and they will abide by it. That is welcome news. It's good to see the GOP leadership showing a shift in their politics and won't continue to defend discrimination.

Talking in moral terms

Obama is back on the road defending his Affordable Care Act. That's while the GOP House voted to overturn the law. It is something like the 37th vote to do that. Not like they have anything else to do.

George Lakoff is a professor of Linguistics at University of California-Berkeley. He's noticed Obama and the GOP talk about the law in quite different ways. Obama talks about pragmatic things the law does. The GOP talks about morals. Lakoff said on NPR today:
Basically ... they say that democracy is about liberty, the liberty to pursue your own self-interest without you having to take care of anybody else's interests or anybody else having to take care of yours.
Which is the opposite of community. That's a pretty scary view of liberty. It throws "my brother's keeper" right out the window. What about those who simply can't manage their interests at the moment? Or what about those whose interests are the opposite of your own?

At the moment the GOP appears to be winning the argument. Obama could talk about the law in moral terms. But he isn't. Lakoff says Obama could say:
Health care is about life itself, about living a decent life, about living free from fear, and also free from economic fear. Fear of losing your home because you have to pay out of pocket for operations that really ought to be paid for by having healthcare insurance.

The impossible question: Why?

Terrence Heath, who is black, recounts when he was in college his father sat him down for The Talk. Nope, not the birds and the bees. This was a full blown course in Black Man 101 -- how to conduct yourself during encounters with police when you've done nothing wrong and are still accused. That is if you want to emerge alive and unscathed. The lessons included how to be deferential and agreeable while being treated like a criminal.

But with the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, Heath remembers what his father had to do during Jim Crow.
The old rules required Blacks to be agreeable and non-challenging when dealing with white people, even if the white person in question was wrong. No Black person could never even insinuate that a white person was wrong, lying, or had dishonorable intentions. Under no circumstances was a Black person ever to even appear to assume equality with whites.
If a white person carrying a gun will feel threatened by a black man and may shoot with very little provocation, then Jim Crow etiquette is back. Black fathers must teach their sons to act around any white person the way they used to teach their sons to act around police.
Being a Black man of almost any age in American means being constantly aware of the fear your mere presence inspires some whites, the anger that follows closely on heels of that, and the deference required of you as a result. Should it cause you to be profiled, harassed, demeaned, beaten or worse, you may just have to take it. If, that is, you want to live.

We already teach our sons to follow a similar etiquette above with police officers. We tell them to be agreeable and non-challenging, even if the police are wrong.

Must we now explain to our sons that their very presence is enough to make some people believe they are dangerous solely because they are young black men? Must we now explain to them that some white people will look for any reason to act on those feelings and beliefs?

Must we revert to teaching our sons to conform to some modern form of “Jim Crow etiquette”? Must we now revert to teaching our sons to be deferential to every bigot who may be armed, and may have just enough law on their side to start shooting based on nothing more than how they feel and what they believe?

Last fall, our oldest son got his first hoodie. It quickly became his favorite article of clothing. The moment he put it on, and pulled the hood over his face, I saw Trayvon Martin’s face. I thought of my son in Trayvon Martin’s place.
Sometime during The Talk there is a question from the student that is impossible to answer: Why?

Joshua DuBois of Newsweek writes about the national mood after the Zimmerman acquittal. On the black side it is mothers asking in fear "Can they really just kill our kids?" And on the white side is another fear:
It’s a view that has sympathy for the Martin family, but at the end of the day also has sympathy for George Zimmerman: You know, sue me, but a tall, hooded black man that I’ve never seen before in my neighborhood is maybe a little frightening. And I don’t know what happened next between Zimmerman and Trayvon. But if, God forbid, I, or my husband, or my wife, is ever in that situation, I might like the right to ... Most would shudder to finish the sentence.
So how do we lessen the fear? DuBois has profiles of a couple people trying to do just that. The first is Russell Moore. He is the new head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. This is the denomination that fought hard to maintain slavery and Jim Crow and filled the ranks of the Klan. So, yeah, having a white guy in the leadership of that organization talking about how to heal the fear between the races is a really big deal. "Moore has made it a personal goal to understand the manifestations of racism in the American soul and root it out."

Moore says we are having two different conversations about race. Blacks tend to discuss it in broad terms. But they should be discussing being afraid their son will be the next Trayvon.

Whites tend to discuss the specifics -- how that particular black man frightens me. But they don't see the historical context. Whites don't see that blacks place Trayvon Martin alongside Medgar Evars. There needs to be a conversation and it needs to be at the local level and done with preparation.

Congressman John Lewis, who was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, felt ill when the verdict was announced. He adds:
You know, here is the key: to be made whole, we have to forgive George Zimmerman. We have to forgive those who believe that what he did was right. … Once we forgive, we can encourage the majority population to walk in our shoes—the shoes of a black mother, a black father, a black son, a black daughter. But first, we have to forgive.
Maya Angelou responds with hope:
Look at the people who are protesting! Look at the people who are standing up for their rights. These aren’t just black people or white people—these are right people. These crowds, some of them are 50, 60 percent white.

John Oliver is Jon Stewart's summer replacement at the Daily Show. He does a great six minute rant about the Zimmerman acquittal and the craziness of Florida law. A choice tidbit:
According to current Florida law you can get a gun, follow an unarmed minor, call the police, have them explicitly tell you to stop following [the minor] and choose to ignore that, keep following the minor, get into a confrontation with them, and if at any point during that process you get scared you can shoot the minor to death, and the state of Florida will say, "Well, look: you did what you could."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

England and Wales!

The House of Lords approved the marriage equality bill. Approval was so lopsided during the amendment procedure that for final approval they didn't take time for a tally, simply approving it on a voice vote. Many of the lords wore pink carnations to mark the occasion.

The Lords tweaked the bill, so it went back to the House of Commons. They quickly approved the changes. The queen has given her Royal Assent (great picture with this post). Gay weddings can start in about a year (alas, several provisions, such as pensions, may take that long to implement).

Alas, this new law only applies to England and Wales. The Scotland Parliament is working on their own bill and may follow in about a year. No word on Northern Ireland yet.

One commenter adds: Keep calm and marry on.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Every vote counted accurately

Essayist Terrence Heath is black, in a same-sex interracial marriage, and raising two black sons. With a giant hole now in the Voter Rights Act, the issue is personal. His right to vote "was made harder to defend and easier to assail." So he ponders some aspects of the predicament. Some of his musings are based on an article by Peter Cole in The Nation.

The big question:
Do we need the government to fight discrimination?

Yes. Not only do we need government to fight discrimination, but it is better equipped to do so than any other entity or institution, and more effective. Fighting discrimination, Cole writes, requires setting standards for individual and collective behavior, spreading those standards through education, and enforcing standard by creating consequences for violating them. Government provides essential pathways to participate in setting those standards, and defining recourse when standards are not met. Its institutions provide important leverage for social changes.
What about other players? Individuals, churches, corporations, and media outlets do contribute to change. But they may not be aware of their biases and they don't allow public participation in their decision making.

The big problem with the ruling by the Supremes is that Scalia confused majority rule with democracy. Most of the time they are the same. But there is the issue of tyranny of the majority.

With the big hole in the VRA, it is possible to overturn a bad voting law. But it comes after the vote, must wind its way through the courts (understaffed due to the GOP), and the plaintiff must prove there was intention to discriminate.

There are ideas to replace the formula the Supremes threw out. Congress could revise it to demand preclearance for recent violators of voting rights. Or it could demand all states and municipalities pre-clear all voting changes. Then it could demand a city or state document the necessity for the change, shifting the burden of proof to those changing the rules. There could also be standards for number of days for early voting, redistricting, ballot access, and voter ID. Alas, we're dealing with "the laziest Congress ever."

That we're having this discussion at all shows us a deeper problem -- the Constitution doesn't specify a right to vote. It is time to change that. Such an amendment would:

* Guarantee the right to vote.

* Empower Congress to create minimal standards.

* Provide protection against preventing people from voting.

* Make sure every vote is counted accurately.

Yeah, Congress is even less likely to pass this than changes to the VRA, but this has been around for a while and is a long-term project.

Sustained mutiny

Jack Metzgar of the Washington Spectator blog has noticed something about those of us in the professional class (and that includes me in both my current and former careers). We grew up with the kids of other professionals. We went to college with students aiming for professional jobs. We work with other professionals. We live in neighborhoods with other professionals. The only time we encounter the working class is at shops and restaurants.

That means we live in a bubble in which what we see is considered normal. We don't understand that a substantial majority of Americans don't live that kind of life. So the only thing that would break through our consciousness is a sustained mutiny by the working class. Change won't come quietly. There are signs of it with the protests against WalMart and the strikes in the fast food industry.

Hurry up!

Marriage equality (at least at the federal level) almost came too late for John and Jim. The couple has been together for 20 years, but in the last year John has been afflicted with ALS and is now in hospice. When the Supremes struck down DOMA Jim contacted John's aunt Paulette, who is ordained, to request her services. He then contacted friends and family about his idea. John is too debilitated to spend many hours in a car. Friends responded with $12,000 to charter a private jet. Great friends! The couple, with Paulette, flew from Cincinnati to Baltimore, and while the plane sat on the tarmac, Paulette conducted the wedding ceremony. You'll need a hanky to watch the 10 minute video. Then pass it on to your friends.

Hurry up with all the legal wrangling! It was almost too late for John.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

From my pocket to his

Jim Burroway has an excellent post on the Orson Scott Card dispute over the movie Ender's Game. Boycotts may not work. An example of that is the National Organization for Marriage boycott of Starbucks that caused the stock price to rise. So we may not cause economic harm to the target. Even so, political statements by the artists (see Dixie Chicks in 2003) can have commercial consequences. Card has said some nasty stuff about us. So, Burroway concludes:
But when they sell it, we enter the land of commerce, and we are all free to decide whether we want to buy what they’re selling. And my money just won’t go from my pocket to Card’s. It’s as simple as that.

I got to thinking about the plot of Ender's Game as summarized by Wikipedia to answer the question why teenage Ender succeeded while well trained adult military men failed. A couple interlocking ideas:

* Ender didn't have a fully developed moral code and a fully developed understanding of consequences. This allowed him to be more ruthless than his superiors with less empathy for the victims.

* Ender was tricked. He was told it was a game, but it wasn't. Some people would blast away at bad guys in a video game but would not do the same with real people.

But it has been 35 years since I read the short version of the story and I'm relying on the accuracy of Wikipedia.

July in the back yard

The daylilies are in bloom! I sit at my computer, look out the big glass door and this is some of what I see (though I actually went outside to take the pictures).

Friday, July 12, 2013

Nepal a match for Iowa

I love maps. So I spent some time looking over this collection of 22 maps of America, showing various aspects of our big country. My two favorites are the one which shows the westward shift of the mean center of population, and the one which matches each state with a country of the same size. Since we see US maps and world maps on different scales we don't get a feel for how big some countries are. New Zealand is about the size of Colorado, Japan is similar to Montana, Nepal is about the size of Iowa, and North Korea is the size of Mississippi. Another map of interest shows where our ancestors came from. I was surprised at the number of counties where German ancestors outnumber English ancestors. I'm puzzled about the designation of "American" ancestors (and American Indian is separate).


Two years ago the Colombia Constitutional Court said the legislature had to provide full legal recognition of gay couples. The court said Congress had until June 20 of this year to enact the proper laws. A marriage equality bill was rejected in April and no action was taken since then, leaving gay couples wondering what to do. One gay couple went to their local judge and petitioned to have their relationship recognized. The judge set a date -- July 24 -- for their marriage ceremony.

This will be interesting. The gay marriage suit brought in Pennsylvania has been assigned to a judge, John Jones III. He had a famous case before. He's known as
the judge who previously ruled that a School District in Dover was not allowed to teach religiously-tinged Intelligent Design Theory in public schools, also known as the Kitzmiller case. He stated explicitly in his opinion that the district was attempting to "impose a religious view of biological origins into the biology course," despite a ban on state-sponsored religion in the Pennsylvania constitution
The case has left the governor, Tom Corbett, in a pickle. The Penn. AG, Kathleen Kane has refused to defend the gay marriage ban. That leaves it up to Corbett to defend. He's GOP in a bluish state (it went for Obama). Does he refuse to defend the law and annoy his base or defend it and annoy the majority who favor of marriage equality? Poor guy. He is up for reelection next year.

They're like zombies, you blast away at them and they keep on coming. ProtectMarriage, the group that brought us the gay marriage ban in Calif., is still at it. The Supremes told them they didn't have standing. They filed a motion with Justice Anthony Kennedy saying gay marriages started too soon, leaving them no time to ask for a reconsideration. Kennedy told them to go away. Now they're on the way to the state Supremes asking that gay marriages be stopped. The reasoning is that no appellate court ruled the ban unconstitutional. It was a district court ruling that was left standing. This effort is an "extreme long shot."

Compromise is never a consideration

I had lunch with my friend and debate partner yesterday. We each packed a personal lunch and met in a park for a picnic. It was a beautiful day and we had a pleasant time. One of the things my friend talked about, and he did this with much glee, was the idiotic things the GOP, especially its House members, have been saying and doing. Great! he says, it will only hasten their downfall.

Doug Daniels of the Washington Spectator blog has an article about the GOP and gerrymandering. Rig the electoral map in favor of the GOP, they said, and we'll consolidate power and rule over the country.

The House GOP members may owe the shape of their district to the party, but loyalty ends there. These guys don't care about the health of the national party, no matter the report generated after Romney's defeat. These guys are worried about only one thing -- a challenge from the Right. Immigration with a path to citizenship? No Way! My district is 75% white and wouldn't stand for that. Compromise?
House Republicans have no such incentive. They realize they can continue to be a protest movement rather than a governing force, and still maintain their majority because of redistricting. To these members, compromise is never a consideration, no matter the issue. It’s their way or the highway.

Newt Gingrich called this the “perfectionist caucus” back in the 1990s. These are true believers who don’t respond to political pressure or long-term demographic realities. They will go down with the ship even when there’s a perfectly good life-raft within reach.
So John Boehner has the least control of his caucus as any Speaker in a good long time. And the gerrymandering that was to keep the GOP in power has only made them more extreme and more likely to be rejected by the rest of the country. Since the midterm elections tend to bring out the conservative voters things will only get more extreme in 2014 before hitting a wall in 2016.

So, yeah, my friend will be mightily entertained by the GOP idiocy over the next few years. Alas, real people will be hurt, the latest being students who will have to pay more for loans and those who use food stamps.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Poof! Disaster gone

The July issue of Washington Spectator (only subscribers can read articles online) is about BP and the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that was 3 years ago. The central article says it wasn't a cleanup, but a cover-up.

The hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil were treated with millions of gallons of Corexit. This chemical doesn't dissolve or break apart the oil as one would expect. Instead, it binds with the oil and the combination sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

From BP's point of view this stuff is great! Spray it on and, Poof!, PR disaster is gone. It even allows for underestimating how much oil was spilled, a good thing because fines are based on the amount.

But, from everyone else's point of view…

Corexit is highly toxic and the combination of Corexit and crude is even more so.

Because BP made the claim that "the toxicity of Corexit is about the same as dish soap" it refused to allow any of the cleanup workers wear any kind of respirator or protective gear (bad images for PR). About 42,000 people in the Gulf area were exposed. Many now have severe health issues.

The fish, oyster, shrimp, and crab industries of the Gulf have been decimated. Most of those live on the bottom, where the Corexit-crude ended up. Colonies of coral aren't doing very well either.

The health problems of Corexit were well known before the spill. They're on the OSHA safety handling sheets. But workers were not allowed to read those.

Alas, at the time the EPA parroted BP claims of low toxicity. Whether the EPA will start protecting people instead of oil companies (no need to guess what will be used on the next oil spill) is an ongoing battle. The battle against BP is also ongoing.

Alas, a side article says this is not the first time the EPA has sided with the polluter.

Moot point

Back in the late 70s a novelette version of the book Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card appeared in one of my science fiction magazines. The full book was published in 1984 and has quite a few followers, resulting in lots of prequels and sequels. Since then Card, a Mormon, has revealed himself to be quite the anti-gay bigot. In one of his many nasty statements he called for armed overthrow if the Calif. gay marriage ban didn't pass in 2008. He also joined the board of the National Organization for Marriage.

But now that Ender's Game is coming out as a movie this fall Card is singing a slightly different tune. He says gay marriage is now a moot point. Then with a great deal of chutzpah, he declares proponents of gay marriage (meaning us) can show their tolerance of him by going to see his movie.

The organization GeeksOUT, which prompted Card's comments, responded by saying, well, if the marriage issue is moot, you can resign from the board of NOM and call for it to shut down. They have a website Skip Ender's Game where you can declare you won't watch the movie, buy the action figures, or otherwise put money in Card's pockets. I tried it, but didn't complete the process when the wording shifted from signing a petition to subscribing to a list.

And, in case you're tempted by the movie, here's a plot summary (at least as much as I remember from 30 years ago): Ender is a teenager, and with some of his teenage friends, ends up at a quasi-military camp. They play a series of military-like games with each other and Ender comes up with some innovative solutions to the games. The adults around him invite him to the next level. They really are military and they need his help in turning back an invasion of aliens. His final game, which he wins, turns out to be an actual battle.

That leads to a question: How can this teen do better than the greatest military minds around him? I'm not going to spend money to find out.

I checked the plot on Wikipedia. My memory isn't too far off.

Unwanted advances

Back in 2007, about the time got my master's degree from Wayne State University, John Corvino, philosophy professor there, created a DVD of his talk What's Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?. I was in the audience for the taping. I bought a copy, but it didn't survive sharing with others. No matter. The hour-long talk is now on YouTube. Highly recommended. For those who just can't wait, Corvino's answer is "nothing." He is gay and has a partner.

Ari Ezra Waldman takes a look at Antonin Scalia's dissent in the case that struck down part of DOMA. Waldman notes it is internally contradictory and looks like Scalia is guided by a personal agenda, not clear thinking or the constitution.

Why are people homophobic? That's a question being studied. Possible answers include fear of gender-role violation, threats to a person's sexual identity, and threats to religious beliefs. All could play a role. One more idea did get studied -- the fear of unwanted sexual advances. Research showed a strong correlation between that fear and homophobia, though they remind us (in spite of this article's title) that correlation is not the same as causation.

A plan for the big push

Freedom to Marry has released a 30-month action plan so that at least 50% of Americans are living in states with marriage equality by 2016. New York and Calif. mean there a good ways towards that goal already. But they probably need another 10 states.

The first part of the plan is to put serious money behind the state-by-state push. As part of that they hired the guy who led Minnesota to their recent win. They are working to make Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Oregon happen by the end of next year. Then they aiming for six of these nine -- Arizona, Colorado, Michigan (yay!), Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia -- by 2016.

The second part of the plan is the Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals the rest of DOMA and fixes any problems left behind from the Supreme's ruling. Freedom to Marry already has 42 Senators and 161 Representatives lined up.

And part 3 is to get public opinion to support marriage equality to over 60% by 2016. The message will be refined through the latest research and be available through a central communication hub. Messengers will include individuals and programs such as Mayors for the Freedom to Marry (currently at 350 in 35 states, aiming for 500 from 50 states by the end of the year), a program for Young Conservatives, and another for Latinos.

The total cost to finish the job (which I take to be all 50 states) to be more than $100 million and Freedom to Marry aims to raise a quarter of that.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Let's get those challenges rolling

We're not wasting any time capitalizing on the big gay rulings by the Supremes. The ACLU has filed a challenge in federal court to the Pennsylvania ban on gay marriage. There was no problem getting a slew of plaintiffs for the case. A second report is here.

And they are gearing up for a similar challenge in Virginia.

Even though a vote for marriage equality may come soon in Illinois (perhaps this fall) the ACLU and Lambda Legal have asked the state Supremes to hurry the process along by saying the situation in Illinois is the same as in Calif. -- civil unions are the same as marriage except in name. Whether the court will get around to ruling before the legislature gets around to voting is an open question.

The Campaign for Southern Equality is making a big push in its "We Do" campaign in Mississippi. That's likely the most homophobic state. The group's leader Rev. Jasmine Ferrara said, " the solution to the discrimination we face is not to move."

Monday, July 8, 2013

How you treat the poor

The radio show Marketplace on NPR did a segment on the poor, taxes, and Christianity in North Carolina. Since I've written about that before (though in Alabama) this wasn't going to escape my notice.

There are now an ongoing series of protests at the state capitol called Moral Mondays. The latest reason for them was a cutting of unemployment benefits. Many state welfare agencies tell clients they have no money and the poor should seek aid from the church.

Rev. Kevin Barbour of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Graham, NC says that is appropriate and quotes a passage from Philippians: "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." So don't lean on the gov't.

Yes, some people are helped. But I have complaints:

* What if the person is gay? North Carolina was the last state to approve a marriage protection amendment. Similarly, what if the church simply finds the person undesirable in some way?

* What if the person is an atheist and doesn't want to set foot in a church? This is especially a problem if the preacher requires listening to a sermon before being fed.

* What if churches simply don't have enough resources to meet the need? With churches in poor neighborhoods in this economic climate that is a distinct possibility. Will rich churches supply enough aid to the poor?

* I've also written that we are asked to help people rise out of their predicaments, not just keep them fed and sheltered. How many churches have the resources to educate the poor as well as help them find jobs?

Rev. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Durham disagrees with Rev. Barbour. The book of James says, "you can't say to your brother who is hungry: be thou warm and well fed. We're praying for you. Hope all's well." That's why he is disappointed with state lawmakers. They say they are Christian, but don't act like it.

Which is why Rev. William Barber head of the NC chapter of the NAACP is leading the Moral Mondays protests. He said, "But those are the centerpieces of all our major faith. How you treat the poor, how you do justice. If you remove all the scriptures that deal with that you wouldn't have a Bible."

State Senator Thom Goolsby, a Christian, says they have to deal with the state's crushing debt. "We don’t have any more money to pull out of a magic hat. We can’t run a state that’s bankrupt. Where were [the demonstrators] when the Democrats were running amok, running our taxes up?"

Why is the state bankrupt? Whose taxes were being run up and by how much?
To answer that I again refer you to what I wrote about Alabama. There the tax structure was intentionally designed so that the poor remained poor. The NC legislature is acting like a power, not as representatives of the people.

Clear and explicit commandment

A few years ago I read the book I'm OK, You're Not by John Shore. In it he humorously explains that Christianity's focus on the Great Commission (bring all nations to Christ) means we make a mess of the Great Commandment (love one another). I recommend it, though you can't borrow my copy, I've given it away.

I've found Shore's blog and one of his entries is Taking God at His Word: The Bible and Homosexuality. This is the opening essay of his book UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question. He explains why Christianity is wrong to condemn gay people and he does it in a way that is different and harsher (on Christians) than I've seen before. Here are some of the points he makes:

Follow the Biblical directive of compassion, which means advocating for full equality and inclusion, or follow the Biblical directive that homosexuality is a sin? False choice. Check those passages on homosexuality again.

There is no clear and explicit directive in the Bible that gay people should be ostracized. So don't do it. The suffering imposed on gay people by the church is so severe that shunning gays had better be backed by a clear and explicit commandment in the Bible, which isn't there.

The Bible says very little about homosexuality, only 6-7 verses. Yet Christians apply absolute standards of morality with absolute penalty based on them. This is for a "sin" that they have no interest in committing. However, there are lots of passages that insist on love, fairness, compassion, and the rejection of legalism. But since Christians routinely violate these ideals the standard of morality is much lower, taking circumstances and degree of harm into account. Homosexuality is the one exception.

The Bible isn't a rulebook. When one passage is pulled out of context it cannot be clearly understood. The Bible is so old that even the most fundamentalist do not take all of it literally. Claiming moral helplessness because "It's in the Bible" does a disservice to the book.

Using Old Testament passages to condemn gay people should not be done because St. Paul tells us not to do that. Here is one of several such passages:
The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. —Hebrews 7:18-19
There are already so many Old Testament laws we ignore, such as the dietary laws.

As for the New Testament, we've already decided that many of its directives no longer apply to today. This includes women required to remain quiet in church. We no longer use the Bible to justify slavery and denying women the right to vote.

In the same way the New Testament verses describing homosexuality must be understood within their historical context. And the context Paul was writing about was coercive, non-consensual sex between men and boys. This was about power, not love. The same kind of coercion between a man and a woman is also condemned. In addition, the concept of a homosexual orientation was unknown to Paul so he was talking about straight people going against their nature. Paul couldn't have been writing about homosexuality any more than he could have been writing about smartphones.

Because the concept of gay marriage was unknown to Paul he couldn't say anything about sex acts within it. And because all sex acts outside of marriage are considered sin, denying gay marriage condemns gay couples to sin. So Christians cause gay couples to sin, then blame them for that sin. Unfair.

Thinking that gay sex is icky does not make it a sin.

Shore concludes this way:
Christians desiring to do and live the will of Jesus are morally obligated to always err on the side of love. Taken all together, the evidence—the social context in which the Bible was written, the lack of the very concept of gay people in Paul’s time, the inability of gay people to marry, the inequity between how the clobber passages are applied between a majority and a minority population, the injustice of exclusion from God’s church on earth and from human love as the punishment for a state of being over which one has no choice—conclusively shows that choosing to condemn and exclude gay people based on the Bible is the morally incorrect choice.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

This is the definition of family

I arrived home around 8:30 this evening and saw the item in my calendar about city fireworks display this evening. I had seen raindrops on the way home and saw drops on my deck. So I checked the weather map. It showed the eastern edge of rain coming over the city. Well, so much for fireworks. But at 10:30 I heard the fireworks going off. Sigh.

Since the big gay rulings by the Supremes about 10 days ago I haven't written much about the Fundie response. It's been loud. But why bother? They aren't saying anything new. And why let all that nastiness ruin our parade?

Even though I'm doing my best to ignore them, others have been playing close attention. People like Seething Mom, who wrote in part:
Thank you for pretending it is you that has had something precious taken from you when you have lost absolutely nothing but the right to be bullies.

Thank you for playing the victim card every time you lose a fight. Nothing turns the stomach more than watching a big fat bully blubber for sympathy when he is exposed for the mean-spirited SOB he really is.

And finally, thank you for all the crazies you endorse and embrace. Please keep giving them a megaphone and a public stage. We've got a lot of marriage bans to repeal and gay weddings to plan and we sure could use their help to reach the finish line.

Jamie McGonnigal notes how small their crowds are becoming and how desperate their fundraising emails are sounding. Alas, they will never be gone for good. They will certainly be around long enough to make us work for the other 37 states.

And no matter what the Fundies say, this is the definition of family:
Two brothers from Reseda sat in red lawn chairs at the entrance to the City Council chambers, having staked out the prime position so their aunts, Helen Andersen and Pam Holt, could have the first wedding of the day on Monday.

Holt has terminal cancer and can't be on her feet for long. They all know time is of the essence. More than a year ago, Holt’s doctor told her she had three months to live, said Tyler Mead, 21, one of the brothers.

"They've been waiting 18 years for this," Mead said. "I'd wait days in this line for them."
The two young men had to wait a while because while Holt was undergoing chemotherapy her drivers license expired and she had to visit several gov't offices to get a proper identity card. Even so, Anderson and Holt are now married.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why do we hate our kids?

A correction to yesterday's note about Costa Rica. The accidental legislation wasn't about gay marriage, but gay civil unions. Which, according to many of the voices I've heard, is bad enough. One step at a time.

And some places in Latin America aren't as nice to gays as Costa Rica (never mind Argentina). A bill in Peru's Congress would have provided penalties for those convicted of assault of gay people. It was voted down.

Massachusetts is starting work on a public accommodations bill for transgender people. This allows me a chance to review what public accommodation includes. I've normally thought of it as access to hotels, restaurants, and stores without discrimination. But it also includes health care facilities, lodging (including campsites), places serving food, all forms of retail, places of public gathering (such as convention centers), places of public display (such as museums), places of recreation (such as zoos), public ways (such as streets), service establishments (such as funeral parlors), transport facilities (such as trains and train stations), professional services (doctors), places of government (polling places). Quite a list!

The ball-and-chain we attach to our graduating seniors (in the form of debt) makes some people wonder why we hate our kids. Alas, I don't remember who said that.

It appears Oregon is going to do something about that. The state legislature has approved a pilot project for a plan to allow students to attend public universities without tuition or loans. In exchange, students would pay the gov't 3% of their paychecks over the next 25 years. That's significantly less than what current graduates are paying. The money would go into a fund to pay the way for future students. Why should banks make a profit from education?

One small detail to be worked out. Startup costs will be about $9 billion to pay for students until the first ones start earning a paycheck.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Same love

The performance duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis created a song with video in support for the marriage equality vote in Washington state last year. They call it Same Love and in it a young man talks about his gay uncles. Yeah, I heard about it then, but didn't bother watching.

The video has gone national. Its rise started just before the Supremes ruled on DOMA and the Calif. ban. No doubt the ruling fueled that rise. It now sits at #16 on Billboard's Hot 100 and will likely go higher. I've now watched it and it's a good one. You can watch it at this link, but you'll need to use the full screen mode.

Costa Rica?

Did Costa Rica enact marriage equality and do it by accident? I don't understand Spanish, so I can't read the original text of the bill. That bill has both several things about services for youth and a few things about marriage. Along the way it clarifies the rights and benefits of civil unions, free from discrimination.

It was after lawmakers passed the bill that someone noticed what that "free from discrimination" phrase might mean. Since the country is very much against gay marriage lawmakers asked the president to veto the bill. She said she will sign it, probably because of all the other stuff in it, and she'll let the courts sort it out. And even though she is very much for traditional marriage, she'll abide by whatever the courts say.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Relying only on wind and solar

It was just a couple days ago I wrote about the fading American Dream. Now we hear the results of a study done at Northwestern University. The researchers combed through genealogy sites and recorded the occupations of fathers and sons both in American and Britain. America used to have much more class mobility than Britain. Not anymore, not since the mid 1970s.

Back in the 19th Century American was a frontier. Wanted to improve your circumstances? There was a big wide country to do it in. Around 1930 America created Social Security to take care of our elders. Meanwhile, Britain did something about its class stagnation and expanded education for the young, working class people.

Robert Stone, environmentalist, used to be against nuclear energy. He's changed his mind and has created the documentary Pandora's Promise showing environmentalists who have changed their minds about nuclear energy. Richard Harris of NPR discusses the movie.

The world population is expected to add another two billion people over the next couple decades. As places like China and India add people to the Middle Class, energy consumption is going to double or triple in that time. Stone says it is simply not possible to eliminate fossil fuels and double energy consumption while relying on only wind and solar. Nuclear must be in the mix. Modern reactors are a lot more safe than earlier models.

Stone's work misses two big issues. How do we spread the use of nuclear energy without spreading the use of nuclear weapons? How do we pay for them? Reactors are expensive.

I get a newsletter from my state Senator Glenn Anderson. He's definitely one of the good guys. Each newsletter has a link to a single survey question. Most of the time I don't bother because this is a self-selected survey and not at all scientific. But the most recent one caught my attention. The question was,
Should Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act be amended to prohibit discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation?
So linked and promptly clicked yes. I was the 6th response. I kept the tab in my browser and now, a few days later, with 206 responses, it is 67% yes, 30% no. It isn't scientific, but it does give an indication of opinion of those who would bother to contact their senator on an issue. Alas, I no longer have a link to the question so you could tilt it even more in our favor.

Focus shift from Supremes to Obama

Congress enacts the laws. But if something isn't clear, such as the definition of "spouse," the Executive Branch writes regulations to create a working definition of the law. Which means, according to Ari Ezra Waldman, the president is sometimes a key player in how a law is interpreted.

That's especially true when the Supremes strike down a portion of the law, like they did with DOMA. All these agency staff people now have to update the regulations to implement the ruling. So our focus has shifted from the Supremes to Obama. How fast will he and his staff work through all those regulations to make sure they refer to any lawfully married couple and to make sure it discusses the state of celebration and not the state of domicile (to handle the case of being married in New York and living in Texas).

Alas, a couple laws specify they apply to the state of domicile, so the underlying regulations can't change. These laws are the ones that created the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Act. It is this last part that should get prompt Congressional attention. Lots of gay widows and widowers will need it. Alas, there is that GOP house…

Waldman asks an important question. If Romney was president how quickly would those regulations be rewritten? Well, gosh, it is all so complicated. It's going to take a while.

A commenter notes,
and had McCain won in '08, we'd not have seen pro-Equality judges on the bench, folks.


as much as conservatives want to ask "how's that Hope-y Change-y stuff working for ya?" with a smug little idiot's grin, the answer firmly remains "pretty darn good, actually"

A wall of separation

Happy Independence Day! This morning Morning Edition on NPR celebrated the day by reading the Declaration of Independence. They've done that for many years. It was a diverse bunch of voices from folks (including a few kids) on the National Mall.

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin also looks at the Declaration but from a slightly different angle. He looks at what Jefferson crossed out of a working draft to tone down the religious aspects of the message, though there is a lot of religion that remains. For example, "these truths to be sacred & undeniable" became "these truths to be self-evident."

It was Jefferson who wrote, to a Baptist Church in Danbury Connecticut,
I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
That gave a way to describe a key part of the Bill of Rights, much to the annoyance of those who insist our nation is really a Christian Nation.

Michigan has legalized the sale of fireworks, so my neighborhood is noisy right now. Someone nearby bought a large collection of the REALLY LOUD kind. Alas, not too many cities had time (or knew they needed) to enact ordinances about when they should and should not be used. I will head to the city display on Sunday evening.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Missing ladder

Niall Ferguson is a commentator for Newsweek and, if memory serves, on the conservative side. I'm not sure in what ways that colors his latest feature article. Even so, he has some interesting ideas to share. We've long known about the spreading inequality gap here in America. Ferguson asks if that is causing the end of the American Dream. In this case it appears that is defined as being born of lowly circumstances and through hard work making it to the upper middle class or higher. Higher inequality in America (higher than in Europe) is tolerated because of our reputation for greater social mobility. But our social mobility is dropping and may now be lower than in Europe.

Ferguson mentions Winston Churchill's distinction between left and right. "The left favors the line, the right the ladder." In America Dems support policies that encourage voters to line up for entitlements while the GOP is about getting people to climb the ladder of opportunity. But the line traps recipients in dependency on the state. And the GOP has pulled up the ladder.

Ferguson goes on to document the drop in social mobility. I'll let you read his statistics. Then Ferguson gets into examples of that trapped dependency.

A single mom can get a part time job for $29,000 and get over $28,000 in various other benefits. In doing so she will do better than taking a $69,000 job that requires she pay $12,000 in taxes.

When welfare use was restricted the poor shifted to Social Security disability benefits. Average payments are $13,500 a year. Working full time at minimum wage ($7.25/hour) is about $15,000 a year. Why work when you can do almost as well being idle? Especially when being idle means you can get Medicaid.

Ferguson notes the federal gov't spend about 4 times on the elderly (Social Security and medical benefits) than it does on the young. At the state and local level the number is 2 times. He wonders why the young put up with this. They consistently vote against their interests. Ferguson implies it is because the young are too poorly educated to figure it out (for the record, I'm wary of his education stats, though he points out the huge disparity in learning between rich kids and poor kids which I see in my teaching).

I've long thought (though probably haven't written about) that many gov't programs encourage dependency. The case I heard about several years ago (and my details are likely wrong) was a program that came with access to Medicaid (which could be Medicaid) if income was below a certain amount. Since most jobs that paid more than that threshold didn't offer health insurance there was a strong incentive to refuse those jobs and to refuse extra hours that might cause them to lose Medicaid. Why not structure programs on a sliding scale so that as one earned more at a job the benefits would be reduced, though the worker would still come out ahead?

So, yeah, Ferguson has a point, the same one the GOP frequently uses to bash the Dems. Too many gov't programs are structured to trap people into dependency. However, it would take a great deal of study and hard questioning (probably skewering a few sacred cows along the way) to redefine these programs to encourage working up the income ladder.

But the Dems also have a point. Want to get people of disability and into jobs? Raise the minimum wage. Make a job look a lot better than idleness. Want people to get a job and off welfare? Make sure they get an education, even a college degree, at a price they can afford. In other words, put that ladder back in place.

The party on the left

Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast discusses a study by Lee Drutman of the Sunlight Foundation. Drutman notes that "1% of the 1%" (that's roughly 31,000 of 310,000,000) donated 28% of the disclosed political contributions in the last election cycle. Every member of the House and all the 1/3 of the Senate that was elected this year received money from these donors. And 84% took more money from these big donors than from small donors.

Tomasky notes these 1% of the 1% donate more to the GOP than the Dems, but that means the Dems still get a great deal of money. He summarizes it this way:
I'd say the Republicans work for about the top 1.5 percent or maybe 2 percent, and the Democrats work for the top 12 or 15 percent, with regularly occurring efforts in behalf of the broader middle that the whole party cannot or will not support, and very occasional gestures toward the bottom percentiles. And that's the party of the left!
I've been saying for a while now that while the GOP is certainly my enemy, working against all of my beliefs, that does not mean the Dems are my friends.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Erin McClam of MSNBC gives predictions of which states will be the next ten to get marriage equality.

Illinois, through the legislature this fall.

New Jersey, by overriding Christie's veto or showing the state Supremes that civil unions are not equal because there are no federal benefits. That case heats up this week.

Hawaii, through the legislature. Perhaps by the end of the year.

Oregon, by voter referendum in 2014.

Arizona, Michigan, Colorado, Ohio, by voter referendum in 2014 or 2016.

Nevada, by voter referendum in 2016 (it can't come any earlier).

New Mexico, could be through the legislature or courts, and maybe next year.

Andrew Sullivan notes the Catholic Church has no trouble existing in a society that permits divorce (though divorce within its membership is another matter). So the Catholic Church should have no trouble existing in a society that permits gay marriage, even if they don't approve of it for their own members.

David Boies, one of the wonderful lawyers on our side the Calif. gay marriage case, talks about the implications. He notes the pro-gay side did have standing before the Supremes, the anti-gay side did not. That implies that all gay marriage bans are unconstitutional. Is it a state's rights issue? Nope. The Supremes didn't allow Calif. to decide for itself. "The 14th Amendment was passed for the specific reason of saying states have rights but one of those rights is not to discriminate against its own citizens."