Friday, November 29, 2013

Healing wounded spirits

My dad brought an article to the Thanksgiving dinner and read it to us. Over the last half year or so, the First United Methodist Church of Birmingham has been bringing supper to the Ruth Ellis Center once a month. I'm glad to see them (the quality of food goes up and I have less cleanup to do) and they appreciate having me guide them around the kitchen. Last week, Rev. Laurie Haller was part of the crew that came. She has been pastor of the church since July and has been seeing what all the ministries of the church are doing. She wrote about her experience in her personal blog. This is what my dad had printed out and read to us. Haller's story was reposted to The Methoblog for a wider audience. I recommend the post because it explains a lot about what Ruth Ellis Center is.

In the post Haller describes how important it is for a church to be serving the meal. Many of the kids at the Ruth Ellis Center were thrown out of the home based on the religious convictions of their parents. A church saying being gay is just fine with them, and doing so while showing compassion while serving a meal, goes a long way towards healing wounded spirits.

I'm pleased to hear Birmingham is considering bringing supper twice a month and other area churches, not just United Methodist, are talking about it.

In another bit of United Methodist news, the General Council on Finance and Administration has declared that it will extend employee benefits to same-sex couples who work for any of the denomination's national boards and agencies.

It is likely this will go before the denomination's Judicial Council when it next meets. That's because there is a phrase in the Book of Discipline that says no board or agency may use funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.

A dark time in gay history

One of the stories that appeared on various news programs today (and it wasn't the same story popping up each hour) was about how the Black Friday sales aren't really all that beneficial to consumers. That 60% off? The "original" price is jacked up for good "optics" -- the discount looks great but isn't all that different from a daily price. So we get "retail theater." Yeah, there are a few loss leader items -- stuff the store sells at a loss to get you in the door (which they probably ran out of just as you reach that aisle). In addition, if you shop on Black Friday, the stores have more time to entice you back to spend more. Better to wait a couple weeks.

So, while I did step into a Whole Foods store for a while, I spent my afternoon at a movie. I haven't been in this particular theater since it was renovated over the last year. I was caught off guard when the ticket-seller asked which particular seat I wanted. No more general admission. The facility now also has a coffee bar in the lobby. They may also sell stronger stuff.

The movie was Dallas Buyers Club. In 1985 cowboy Ron Woodruff finds he has AIDS and is told he has 30 days to live. Since he is highly homophobic he's angry at being diagnosed with the gay disease. This is at the time AZT first appears. It is the first drug with any hope of treating AIDS, but the early dose levels were doing more harm than good. Ron soon heads to Mexico to get drugs that aren't approved for use in America. He becomes partners with Rayon, a transgender, to form a Buyers Club. Since Ron can't legally sell the drugs, he charges a monthly fee for membership in his club and once a person is in all the drugs are free. Ron battles the hospital staff and takes the Food and Drug Administration to court. He lives a lot longer than 30 days.

The transgender is played by Jared Leto. I heard a news story that the director contacted Leto by Skype to talk about the role. Leto turned it into an audition by donning articles of women's clothing and flirting with the director. At the end of the 20 minute call the part was his.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

War on Thanksgiving

I avoid stores on Black Friday. Whatever they are selling at whatever price simply isn't worth the hassle of the crowds. Though I am considering a movie tomorrow afternoon… At a small theater. Not attached to a mall.

Josh Eidelson of Salon notes that the same people who get into a snit every year in what is now known as the War on Christmas seem quite unperturbed that the commercialization of Christmas has resulted in a War on Thanksgiving. Yeah, Black Friday now begins at 6 am Thursday morning. It also seems that many of the stores that insist they are selling you Christmas presents and not Holiday gifts are the ones opening on Thanksgiving day.

Want our business?

Ikea, a worldwide company, deals with worldwide advertising. We've advanced to the point that Ikea sees featuring a gay couple in its magazine as an advantage. But for the Russian version of the magazine they pulled that gay article. They didn't want to run afoul of the nasty anti-propaganda law. Yes, indeed, gay people were not happy.

Someone named Usagi left a long post on AmericaBlog. This person said there are better ways for Ikea to handle it. For example, mail the magazine to customers and in place of the magazine in stores put up a sign saying it is the anti-propaganda law that is the reason why the magazine isn't available.

Usagi wrote a letter to brands with a worldwide presence. While marketing to gays earned lots of gay cred 10 years ago, now that is a baseline. These days, not marketing to gays means losing gay cred (and some straight cred too).

In addition, it is not possible to appease the anti-gay crowd. Give a little and they'll ask for more. And that won't make any difference in the bottom line because so many of them are shopping in the Parallel Economy -- they intentionally buy only from proudly Christian businesses so all profits go towards spreading the Christian message.

A little mistake in advertising? We'll forgive you. Once. But only if you fix it.
Because if there’s one thing that we’ve learned very vividly, it’s that our worst enemies aren’t the haters. There aren’t that many of them; they’re just very, very noisy. No, our worst enemies are the neutrals. Because they pretend they’re not doing anything for anyone, but what that really means is that they’re enabling the haters and defending the status quo (for whatever reason: ignorance, cowardice, profit–it really doesn’t matter).

You want our money and our business? Cool. Earn it.

Want to watch me make a trillion disappear?

I haven't written much this week not because of the usual press of school work, but because it was my turn to host Thanksgiving. It isn't a huge burden -- my only guests were Mom, Dad, Sis, and Niece. But I did have to figure out how to roast turkey meat (not a whole bird) and make dressing, then actually do it. There was also the company-level cleaning to be done. It was a pleasant meal and afternoon and I'm somewhat back to normal. So on to some of what caught my attention this week.

Last week I summarized an commented on an essay by Terrence Heath about the tradeoff between spending $4 billion on food stamps for the poor or $4 billion on lunch for the rich. Heath now tells us about another tradeoff.

The GOP want to cut $21 billion from the Medicaid expansion part of the Affordable Care Act (no doubt they want to cut funding for the whole thing, but one step at a time). The tradeoff this time is with the Pentagon. The GOP want to give $20 billion to our armed service to cover sequester cuts coming in January (wait, didn't we do that last January? They're back?). Heath sees two things wrong with this trade.

First, the Pentagon has an abysmal record in keeping track of money. There are estimates that there is a half trillion dollars in recent unaudited contracts. I take that to mean a half trillion dollars walked out the door and nobody knows whether the Pentagon actually got a half trillion worth of goods and services. And that's recent contracts. Since 1996 the total is $8.5 trillion that is not accounted for. Which means the Pentagon is in violation of the law because it could not pass an audit.

One guess into whose pockets that $8.5 trillion has disappeared. A very good reason for those with heavier pockets to not want an audit done. And a very good reason why the GOP want to loot more money destined for the poor and put it where it will line more pockets. There is the added bonus of being able to claim our wonderful soldiers (in harm's way) need the money.

Second, the Medicaid expansion is the bright spot in the ACA. It's the part actually working, a big success in getting health insurance to more people, especially poor people. Many people who try to sign up through the new exchanges find they are eligible for Medicaid. That's even true in Red states that didn't expand coverage.

Heath says the GOP hit a new low in their war against the poor. And they don't show signs of stopping.

Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, has called the ACA "unsalvageable." Yet, Kentucky -- McConnell's home state -- has been quite successful in signing up lots of people for health insurance. Then again, Kentucky is under a Democrat governor who set up a state exchange and took the money for Medicaid expansion.

House Speaker John Boehner tried to hold a publicity stunt. He was going to sign up for insurance under the ACA to show that it was impossible. The stunt failed because his enrollment succeeded. The success took an hour though -- because the representative for the DC exchange called Boehner's office to help and Boehner's staff put the guy on hold for so long he gave up after 35 minutes.

So if the ACA is succeeding in Kentucky, it will eventually succeed everywhere. And likely make a few Democrat converts along the way.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Dan Fincke teaches philosophy and it is philosophy majors who would understand why his blog is called Camels with Hammers (you'll find more under his "About Dan" tab). In this post he discusses why "love the sinner, hate the sin" doesn't work when the subject is homosexuality. I'll let you wade through the philosophy while I go straight to the short answer: Sexuality, including orientation, is too integral to identity. Hating the sin is inseparable from hating the person.

We're not already there?

Michigan Radio created a 50 minute documentary "Unequal by Law: Being Gay in Michigan." It covers adoption by gay parents, the challenge to the gay marriage ban, gays missing from the civil rights law (a large percentage of people assume we're already there), gay rights v. religious rights (would they say the same thing if it was rights of blacks?), conflict between anti-gay and pro-gay religious groups, transgender rights and gender police, and recent changes in the political landscape. It was broadcast last week. I listened to it online. I'm pretty sure some of the segments were previously broadcast separately.

I'm delighted our public radio network put out the effort for such a well thought out and comprehensive look at our situation here in Michigan.

Obedience to avoid chaos (and love)

I posted more information on by brother blog about the recent meeting of the United Methodist Council of Bishops in which they recommended bringing charges against Bishop Talbert for conducting a same-sex ceremony.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Lunch for the rich v. lunch for the poor

Patricia lives in Seattle and has worked for Walmart for 11 years. Her pay is now up to $13.10 an hour. She works 34 hours a week with a schedule that is so flexible she can't get a second job. She is one of the many working poor, working yet qualifying for food stamps. Her wages plus food stamps and child support are more than her routine expenses of rent, utilities, basic health needs and such. But not by much, leaving just a few hundred dollars to pay for food, doctor visits (she can't afford to properly manage her diabetes), school fees for her daughter, and debts from a recent hospital stay.

Wages are so skimpy at Walmart that higher wage employees -- those earning $12 an hour or more -- were asked to bring in canned goods to donate to those less fortunate -- fellow employees earning $8 an hour.

As desperate as Patricia's condition is, Congress, through the "sequester" last January cut $5 billion from food stamps. The debate this fall is whether to cut food stamps by another $4 billion (the Senate version of the Farm Bill) or $40 billion (the House version).

Terrence Heath reviews the benefits of food stamps. Food insecurity and poverty leads to health problems and obesity because the poor have worse choices for healthy food. Healthy and well-fed children learn more and are better able to stay out of poverty as adults. Food stamps are great at economic stimulus.

A better way to reduce the deficit by $4 billion: cancel the tax write-off for business entertainment expenses. Heath notes the richer one is the more that exemption is used. And a tax deduction for lunch means taxpayers are paying for that lunch. So. Stark choice: $4 billion of our money to pay for lunch for rich executives or $4 billion to pay for lunch for needy kids. Actually, it should be an easy choice.

Heath quotes Joseph Stiglitz:
Small, powerful interests [rent-seekers] — in this case, wealthy commercial farmers — help create market-skewing public policies that benefit only themselves, appropriating a larger slice of the nation’s economic pie. Their larger slice means everyone else gets a smaller one — the pie doesn’t get any bigger — though the rent-seekers are usually adept at taking little enough from individual Americans that they are hardly aware of the loss. While the money that they’ve picked from each individual American’s pocket is small, the aggregate is huge for the rent-seeker.
This proposed $40 billion cut in food stamps is just a nastier version of this effort.

Rent-seeking -- skewing policies in your favor -- isn't done just over food. Newsweek reports on how common it is for companies to soak us for a few more pennies. There are now small fees to prepare your monthly bill. There are regulatory fees because the company hired lobbyists to shape regulations in their favor and need to recoup the cost of the lobbyists. There are fees a corporation pays to the federal agency that regulates them but when the cost is passed to the customer it is just a few cents more. Or, perhaps, the fee to gov't used to be paid, but the item on your bill remains.

This may add up to a few cents per transaction per month, but for the corporation it quickly adds up to billions of dollars.

Shifting costs to the customer

My sister sent me an email at the end of last month asking me to help her find a new healthcare insurance policy. Her old policy was up for renewal and the company wanted an answer soon. The price had also gone up because of the many things mandated by the Affordable Care Act. My sister noted the policy has a high deductible of $5000 (though she didn't say whether this is an increase from before).

Because she still had a few weeks I suggested she wait in hopes that the federal site will improve.

My healthcare insurance is funded by my previous employer (because I retired instead of quit). I noticed this year the amounts of my copays for doctor visits and prescriptions has gone up (I forget by how much).

It appears our increased costs are part of a trend. Lots of health insurance companies are boosting profits by shifting costs to the customer. And the big way to do that is by raising deductible amounts. Many insurance companies aren't canceling policies (the big news stories) because of the requirements of the ACA. They're doing it to get customers into higher deductible / higher profit policies.

So if your insurance plan cancelled your policy and proposing a high cost or high deductible replacement, shop for a policy that meets the ACA.

Another case of profits coming before health.

Paul Waldman of The American Prospect created a handy bar chart that highlights the nastiness of the GOP. Those states with GOP governments that refused the Medicaid expansion as part of the ACA also tend to be the ones with low caps for Medicaid -- the income cap is so low most poor people don't qualify.

For example, in Alabama if the income for a family of three is above $4,500 a year that family is ineligible for Medicaid. Since the national poverty line is a bit more than $18,000 you can guess how far $4500 actually goes.

This Medicaid cap is important. The ACA assumes families below a certain income level are covered by Medicaid and so doesn't offer subsidies. Which means those between the extremely poor and the almost-making-it still don't benefit from the ACA.

Unstably housed

When I got to Ruth Ellis Center on Wednesday for my regular volunteer shift I was surprised to see one of our youth on the cover of Between the Lines, Detroit's gay newspaper. The story was about Aaron, who has graduated to becoming a staff person. The article talks about the number of years he spent being sent to live with one family member after another. Some couldn't deal with him being gay. His gay brother was cool but there were problems between the brother and Aaron's friends. Aaron credits his time living at Ruth's House, the residential housing program, for giving him a foundation for life as an adult.

As part of the article Ruth Ellis Executive Director Jerry Peterson says that a lot of gay youth -- 800 to 1000 in the Detroit area -- are "unstably housed." Like Aaron, they're not exactly homeless because they aren't sleeping in abandoned buildings. But their living arrangements aren't steady and subject to the whims of the homeowner. The article praised Ruth Ellis Center for providing needed care for our youth in Detroit.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Killed for being true

A while back I wrote about the Rainbow House across the street from the crazy Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka. Today the front of it has a new paint job, done in the colors of the transgender flag in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is today.

It is a day to honor transgender people who have been murdered for being transgender. I went to such a service a couple years ago. A central part of the service is reading the names of those who have been killed. It is, alas, a long list.

I had heard the Rainbow House was the host of a successful child's lemonade stand. It has also been the site of a gay wedding and a drag show.

Refuse to repent

United Methodist pastor Frank Schaeffer officiated at the wedding of his gay son. That was six years ago. Just before the statute of limitations ran out, he was brought up on charges and was put on trial this past Monday.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin does a pretty good job of explaining why this denomination is still putting pastors on trial for such things. I know he did a good job because I lived through that General Conference.

By the end of Monday the 13 pastors who formed the jury found Schaeffer guilty on two charges:
* Conducting a ceremony that celebrates same-sex unions.
* Disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church.

Of course, the prosecutor said those charges could not go unpunished.

A commenter reminds us this is not a violation of church doctrine. It is violation of a legislative enactment.

On Tuesday morning the proceedings continued with the sentencing phase. Schaeffer refused to repent. He certainly wouldn't say he is sorry he conducted the ceremony for his own son -- some pretty strained family relations if he did. Schaeffer also refused to promise he would never do it again -- he has two more gay kids (yeah, three out of four).

The guy who brought the charges was, naturally, outraged at Schaeffer's refusals. The pastor responded by putting on a rainbow-colored stole and declaring his determination to continue to minister to gay people.

The jury gave Schaeffer a 30 day suspension, which is lenient given Schaeffer's refusal to repent. He was told that he would be kicked out if he repeated those actions. So he expects he'll lose his credentials at the end of the 30 days.

Monday, November 18, 2013

An apology

I wrote about a panel discussion I attended yesterday in which there were only five of us in attendance. When I wrote that yesterday evening I was rather dismissive of people letting a little storm keep them home. The news this morning was full of stories about how that storm was not at all little, spawning perhaps over 60 tornadoes and causing 8 deaths. Though there wasn't much damage where I was, either at the church in Ferndale or at home (though there were some huge puddles in the streets on the way home), elsewhere in the Detroit area there were a lot of downed branches and tens (hundreds?) of thousands without power.

I apologize for being dismissive.

Important Anniversary

It was ten years ago today that the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had a right to marry and civil unions are not good enough. Yes, ten years. Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin notes:
[T]he sky still hasn’t fallen. Massachusetts still has the lowest divorce rate in the nation, and school children are still not being subjected to live gay sex demonstrations as part of their state-mandated curriculum.

It was this announcement that prompted me to start sending out emails of gay news items to family and friends. That eventually morphed into this blog, which I began six years ago yesterday. In those six years I've written 2352 posts (this one makes it 2353). Since June of 2010, when Blogger allowed me to keep track, there have been over 46,000 pageviews. Alas, I can't tell you how many countries have visited the blog (Blogger won't tell me), though I would guess the number easily tops 50.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

We're a church, not "Law and Order"

Today's post is on my brother blog. I put it there because it is mostly about the latest rulings of the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church. I encourage you to read it, though I understand if you decide it isn't of interest.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

No rights violations here

Randy Potts looks at an article by Lester Feder about the anti-gay propaganda law in Russia. The article reminds us that Russia and its former satellites are already highly homophobic. Putin is playing to that sentiment. And he's doing it in hopes of recreating the Soviet empire. Potts puts it this way:
To its neighbors, Russia is suddenly a bastion of morality and also the seat of the glorious Winter Olympics, a brave, proud country that can save Ukrainians and other Slavic nations from the pedophile values of the West.
And later: Putin's neighboring countries (the ones he wants back under his influence)
will be watching as every bit of Western noise against the new anti-gay law is answered with a smile and a pledge that Russia does not violate human rights.
Russia isn't violating human rights, according to their beliefs, because gay actions aren't human.

Well, one step forward

Vietnam has relented and legalized same-sex weddings. Alas, the couples will not be recognized as married. Yup, you can have a wedding without being married.

Hawaii, challenge denied

Hawaii did slip in front of Illinois in providing marriage equality. Hawaii's governor signed the bill yesterday. The gov. of Illinois will have his ceremony next week. So Hawaii gets to be #15.

Hawaii has also fended off a legal challenge of the new marriage equality law. About 24 hours after the law was signed a judge (I don't know at what level) tossed out the challenge. The challengers claimed the 1998 constitutional amendment banned same-sex marriage, because that's what voters thought they were voting for. The judge (and Attorney General) replied the amendment said the legislature gets to decide if same-sex couples may marry. In 1996 (before the amendment) the legislature decided they could not. And this year the legislature decided we could.

Ari Ezra Waldman provides a bit of history of marriage equality in Hawaii. Twenty years ago several same-sex couples asked for marriage licenses. Their case went to the Hawaii Supremes, who told the lower court to explain more completely why same-sex couple should be excluded from marriage. That case scared the socks off Congress and in 1996 the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was enacted. And now a big chunk of DOMA is gone -- and Hawaii has marriage equality.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I'll take three

The governor of Illinois, in trying to have a suitable signing ceremony for the state's new marriage equality law, might delay things enough for the governor of Hawaii to squeeze in ahead.

In amongst all the nasty testimony against marriage equality in Hawaii there were a few gems. Here's one of them. This one by Rep. Kaniela Ing. He responds to the perhaps rhetorical question would you wish homosexuality on your own kids?
So I really thought about this. If the gay lifestyle they speak of pertains to the highly successful physicians, attorneys, economists, a world-renowned microbiologist and psychologist that we've seen testify, if this gay lifestyle pertains to the inspiringly committed couples who have been together for decades but are still viewed as strangers in the eyes of their government, if this gay lifestyle that they're referring to pertains to these brave people boldly standing in the face of hate to fight for equal rights for all -- if that's what the gay agenda will bring -- if that's how my gay children will be... then hey, sign me up. I'll take three.

The same customer service as in a tax form

Kevin Maney has an article in Newsweek about the biggest flaw he sees in the website. The problem is that it is brought to you by the same people who designed the income tax forms. Put another way, government at any level is not good at customer service. The solution Maney proposes is to allow private companies design and run the health insurance exchanges.

While Maney might have correctly identified the problem I'm not convinced of his solution. Do lots of people complain about using Medicare? Let's aim for expanding Mediecare for all.

A little coal dust on my breakfast

The Washington Spectator has a big article on a worrying proposal (links only for subscribers). Several years ago Warren Buffet made news when he bought a railroad. He now sees a big use for it: to haul coal from Montana to the Pacific Ocean to be shipped to China. This is coal that is too dirty, and thus outlawed, for use in America.

There are environmental problems every step of the way. Damage to the beautiful landscape of Montana. Lots of coal dust would blow off the train in transit from Montana and it would be at least one long train per day. Coal dust would be a big mess for whatever town hosted the transfer docks -- beautiful Bellingham, Washington is at the top of the list. The water around the docks would be filled with dust or sucked out of rivers in a vain attempt to keep the dust down. And the lovely San Juan Islands would be a mess if any ship had an accident trying to navigate the narrow waterways.

But the biggest problem would be when the coal was burned for power in China. There is so much dirty coal and China is so hungry for more electricity that this would contribute significantly more to global warming than the proposed Keystone Pipeline.

Though the transfer docks aren't built yet, coal is being transported to Asia. It looks like the price is very low now. That would encourage Asian countries to build more power plants that burn this kind of coal. And once built the operators would be trapped into buying the dirty coal. Naturally that's when the price would be boosted.

There is good news in this story. It's not a done deal. The governors of Washington, Oregon, and California all oppose building the transfer docks in their state. A long list of environmental groups are filing as many lawsuits as they can think up. And the Native American Lummi Nation, who fish in the waters off Bellingham, are doing all they can to stop it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What's this about confusing the kids?

There is a video series titled Kids React in which the filmmakers get kids (ages 5-13) to talk about important issues. In the latest one the kids were shown two gay marriage proposals, one of them a flash-mob in a Home Depot. Then the kids were asked a series of questions about what they think about what they saw.

The interviewer explaines the word "gay" originally meant "happy." The boy responds, "So, if I got a box of microscopes, I'd be gay?"

The Fundies have been trumpeting that we can't let kids know about gays and gay marriage because they would be confused. The kids tell us the big confusion is why isn't gay marriage legal everywhere already. Jeez, come on now! The video is 16 minutes.


The Hawaii House did indeed pass a marriage equality bill on a vote of 30-19. Yeah, that was after all that nasty "testimony" I mentioned before.

Frivolous? Try callous

The Washington Post delved into state level polls of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). They found that the state with the least support for federal workplace protections for gays and transgenders was Mississippi (no surprise there). But even in Mississippi, support for ENDA was at 63%. The highest support was 81% in Massachusetts. Overall, America approves ENDA by over 70%. That means this bill is not controversial.

Terrence Heath recounts the history of ENDA. It was first submitted to Congress over 20 years ago and has been reintroduced eight times. Heath goes on to tell his personal involvement with ENDA, including protests at Cracker Barrel Restaurants who had fired all their non-straight employees. Work on the bill gave him a chance to meet Sen. Ted Kennedy.

I discussed ENDA with my friend and debate partner earlier this week. I was lacking a few facts at that time. The Washington Post has a guide to explain what ENDA is. It only affects employment -- workers can't be fired for being a sexual minority.

Which left me and my friend wondering about other protections. There is a law named after Matthew Shepard that includes sexual minorities in hate crimes. But, as my work in Royal Oak last weekend showed, there are no federal laws to prevent discrimination of us in public accommodation.

On Thursday the US Senate passed ENDA. All 54 Dems voted for it. And so did 10 GOP. Though given 60% approval for the law in Mississippi one wonders (but only a little bit) why more GOP didn't vote for it.

Alas, there is a big problem with this version of ENDA. There are broad religious exemptions. Church exemptions we expect. But exemptions for religiously affiliated hospitals and universities for jobs with no religious function (billing clerks) only legitimizes the discrimination we are trying to end.

Law professor Ari Ezra Waldman discusses these exemptions in detail. Part of the problem is the gay rights groups pushing ENDA agreed to them without even a hint of protest. The lack of protest now will make our next demand for rights (public accommodation) harder. These exemptions show that religious rights trump gay rights. When a borderline case comes before a judge he will look at that acquiescence along the way to affirming religious rights at our expense.

Then the Senate took one more step. The approved an amendment that says federal funding cannot be reduced if a religiously affiliated organization discriminates against us. Yup, my federal taxes will still go to discriminators. Which gives one pause over wanting to get this version passed.

But I won't wish too hard. Get it passed, then get it fixed. Speaker John Boehner is opposed to ENDA because he feels it would result in too many "frivolous" lawsuits. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, promptly responded through Twitter:
Speaker Boehner opposes ENDA for fear of frivolous lawsuits? He led a frivolous lawsuit defending DOMA that cost taxpayers over $2 million!
A bit later Reid added:
Not only is Speaker Boehner’s claim untrue, it is also callous. It fails to take into account the heartbreak and suffering — not to mention lost wages and productivity — that workplace discrimination causes

Terrence Heath documents several people who lost jobs because they were gay or colleagues thought the were gay. One of Heath's jobs was to collect such stories. He also reports that 42% of gay and lesbian workers have experienced discrimination and 90% of transgender workers have. Hardly "frivolous."

Part of the problem in passing ENDA is shown when Rachel Maddow visits Jimmy Fallon. He, like many ordinary citizens, assumes such protections are already in place. And Boehner is capitalizing on that misguided thought. He says ENDA isn't needed because gays are already protected. Yeah, they are -- in only 21 states.

In another essay Heath looks at what comes after the Senate passed ENDA while the House is opposed. First, Obama could be more supportive. He doesn't need political cover. He can sign an executive order banning discrimination by gov't contractors (which affects nearly a quarter of the civilian workforce). And he can do that at the same time he urges the House to sign the bill. He can even use it to shame Boehner: I've been a leader in protecting all the workers I can. Now you need to be a leader to protect the rest.

Heath shows us what has changed in a decade. Back in 2004 Bush and the GOP effectively used gay marriage as a wedge issue against the Dems (when Michigan and several other states voted in marriage protection amendments). Now the wedge is pointing in the other direction being used to split the GOP.

So we and Obama need to keep the pressure on Boehner and the GOP. ENDA may not pass the House in this Congress. But that pressure will improve the chances of it passing in the next.

Retired gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson slams other denominations, especially the Catholic bishops, for working against ENDA.
For instance, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is vigorously opposing ENDA, asserting that their right to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity is essential to Catholics' religious liberty. Now stop, and just take that in for a moment. A Church, dedicated to following the man known for his outreach and compassion for the marginalized, petitioning the government to be exempted from the fair treatment of marginalized and vulnerable LGBT people. It takes my breath away.

I'll let a cartoon depicting Pope Francis have the last word:

Thursday, November 7, 2013


The Illinois House approved marriage equality in a 61-54 vote. The bill needed 60. The governor won't sign it immediately because he has to plan an appropriate party. No rush, gay marriages won't begin until June 1.

The Illinois Senate had passed the bill last February. Laurel Ramseyer notes that in those 9 months, legislatures in Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota approved marriage equality, the Supremes reinstated marriage equality in California, and the New Jersey Supremes made equality happen there.

It looks like Illinois just squeaked in front of Hawaii. Their final vote is tomorrow. The "citizen filibuster" went on for 55 hours and 5,182 citizens spoke. Some of the testimony was so nasty that one observer equated Hawaii with Alabama. Even so, the bill is out of the various House committees and ready for the full House. Alas, the bill now has provisions so that religious bigots can refuse to offer services to gay couples without legal consequence (but our allies will take business elsewhere).

The question is do we count marriage equality states in order of approval or of implementation. Hawaii (if approved) will start marrying gay couples on December 2. Illinois couples will have to wait until June 1. Either way the total will be 16 states plus DC.

Gay office holders aren't so strange

Election results of interest:

I had reported I spent an afternoon campaigning in Royal Oak for their ordinance to include gays and transgenders in public accommodation without discrimination. It passed, 54-46 percent with about 12,000 votes cast. Royal Oak is now the 30th community in Michigan to enact such an ordinance (East Lansing was the first in, I think, 1972). And Royal Oak did it with voter approval. Perhaps the legislature will get the hint that it is time for a state-wide law. Alas, both chambers are GOP controlled and they like to pick on us.

Ken Cuccinelli, raging homophobe and Tea Party darling, won't be the next Virginia governor. Alas, as my friend and debate partner said, his loss wasn't overwhelming.

The city council in Holland, Michigan voted against a non-discrimination ordinance a couple years ago. At this election, two city council members who voted against us were targeted for replacement. They were, alas, reelected.

Don Guardian, who is gay, beat the incumbent to become mayor of Atlantic City, NJ. Lesbian Annise Parker captured her third term as mayor of Houston. Gay candidates and office holders aren't so strange anymore.

Raising another stink

When I got home last Sunday evening I noticed a bit of an odd smell in the house. It didn't smell like something urgent (like ripe trash can or fire) so, meticulous house cleaner that I'm not, I did my usual evening thing.

I found the source of the odor Monday morning when I went to the basement to do laundry. There was dirt on the floor and quite a bit around the floor drain in the laundry area. The drain had backed up, covering some areas with as much as an inch, though the water had receded. I had to think about recent storms and later figured out it must have been Thursday evening.

Two years ago in August I dealt with a disastrous basement flood, the story related here, here, and here. At the time, Charlie, my home improvement guy, suggested I get the drain snaked every four or five years to clean out roots. It looks like I'll have to do it every two years.

I mopped part of the floor Monday morning. It was slow going because the muck had dried. Charlie showed up before noon. He said he would call Larry, the plumbing guy, and have the drain snaked in the next day or two. He even suggested his wife clean the floor (no, this isn't sexist, she's an integral part of his crew and she wasn't going to do it for free). So I didn't resume my mopping.

But Charlie was delayed with a big job and probably Larry too. He said he couldn't come until Friday. In the meantime the house odor seemed to be getting stronger. So I mopped some more Wednesday morning and this evening I tackled the area around the drain. That was so bad I'll have to go over it again.

In contrast to last time, the only damage was a rust colored stain near the drain. Everything else is off the floor or the water didn't reach that far.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Citizen's filibuster

Governor Abercrombie of Hawaii has called his state's legislature into a special session to work on a marriage equality bill. It looks like that means the legislature normally doesn't meet at this time (some state legislatures are part time or meet only a few months a year) and has a limited duration to consider a single issue.

The Hawaii Senate has already passed the bill with a 20-4 vote (there is only one Republican in the Senate). The House has started hearings to allow citizens (and leaders of the National Organization for Marriage [the bad guys]) to have their say. It looks like the Fundies are turning the hearings into a "citizen's filibuster" -- get so many of their side to testify (even if only once each and only a minute each) that they run out the clock on the special session. Nearly 5000 people signed up to testify, though many people didn't step up when their turn was called. Some observers think the hearings will run out of steam Monday evening. Oh, to have to listen to that drivel over many hours for several days.

Billionaire Paul Singer has a gay son so was instrumental in pushing Republicans to approve marriage equality in New York. Now Singer, joined by Daniel Loeb, is funding the Human Rights Campaign to increase rights for sexual minorities around the world. Along the way they will challenge the American Fundies who have been pushing for anti-gay laws in countries such as Uganda and Russia.

A commenter adds that this is great news -- but he still heavily supports the GOP.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Fall color

This past Wednesday I was able to get on my bike for an hour. The sun was out and the trees were colorful so I took my camera. Though it was the end of October many trees still had lots of green and a few hadn't started turning yet. Peak color around here is usually the last full week of October, or a week ago.

We'll start my tour with the maple tree in front of my house.

Here's one in full color.

I thought this one rather curious. The ends of branches had definitely turned, but the inner part hadn't. I think one reason why the color is a bit late this year is the temperatures early in the season were cold, prompting the start of color, but perhaps most of October was warm enough that the trees stopped turning. But I'm not a botanist.

Another pretty one.

The next two days were cool and overcast with some rain. The color progressed quite a bit and leaves started dropping into my yard. The flame bush in my back yard suddenly had a lot more color.

Campaigning for our rights

The community of Royal Oak, north of Detroit has a human rights proposal on the ballot next Tuesday. It would ban discrimination in public accommodation. Royal Oak tried this back in 2001, but it failed. As before, the city council approved the ordinance then a Fundie group gathered enough signatures to force it onto the ballot. Also as before, I helped out on the campaign.

This afternoon was my time to help. Since it is so close to election day the goal wasn't to convince anyone. Instead, my job was to ask people how they were going to vote and if for the proposal, remind them to vote and even ask if they have planned their day enough to make sure they vote. We also had campaign literature that showed their voting location.

I and a partner went to one particular precinct in the northeast corner of the city. We had several sheets and a map of about 35 houses each. My sheets were for one side of the street and hers were for the other. This was not every house in the area, only those who had, over the previous few months, given some indication they might be for our rights. That meant we walked on by the house with the big "Vote Biblically!" sign.

Since it was a Saturday afternoon there weren't many people around to answer the door. The sky was overcast, the temperature just under 50F. It drizzled on and off, so I used my umbrella a few times.

The second house I knocked on a man came to the door and said, "Michigan or Michigan State?" I responded, "Neither." Yeah, the afternoon of the big football game. He sighed and asked what I wanted. I gave the name of the voter on my list and asked to talk to her. "She can't come to the door right now, we're watching the game. Perhaps you can come back later." So at the end of the afternoon I went back. Fortunately, it was near my car. No luck. Though it was three hours later, they were still watching the game. Still can't come to the door. Fine, I get that you don't want to talk to me.

Though our lists were of those who had given some indication they were for our rights, I did talk to a woman who will vote against us (at which point I said, "Thank you," and left) and another house had changed owners.

We didn't get to the last couple houses on our lists before we ran out of time. Back at campaign headquarters we debriefed. Then I asked the worker about expected turnout. Since this is only a city election they expect only 10,000 voters to show up. As of this evening they have a firm commitment of 4,000. The whole thing will depend on turnout.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Unable to challenge power

At the end of May I wrote a big post on Power. I find there is one more section to add to it. I had written that Power is maintained through laws, by oppressing those who don't recognize that the powerful are supposed to be in charge, and by enlisting others to support their oppression. I see that I missed one key part.

A Power will make sure others are unable to challenge their power.

An example of this is the tax laws in Alabama that are designed to make sure the schools for black students are underfunded. Black children who aren't educated grow up to adults who are able to take only the menial jobs and are no challenge to the corporate tycoons.

Newsweek has an article about another aspect of this Power preservation. The article by Anna Bernasek, discusses the ways we are underfunding our public schools nationwide and the consequences that has for us as a society.

The article mentions the support the elderly get from government ($27K per person from all levels of gov't and 41% of the federal budget (including Social Security and Medicare). In contrast each child gets $12K and most of that comes from state and local budgets in the form of education. The federal budget has only 10% for children. Fortunately, the article spends very little time on the argument that if the elderly weren't so greedy the kids would be just fine. The proper solution, not mentioned much, is that the rich aren't being taxed enough.

Some of the support kids need and don't get: Nutrition assistance, health care, a place to live, education. And education is the biggest one.

Some claim that if we don't deal with the federal deficit our children will inherit a mess. But if we skimp on our children's education they won't be able to deal with the mess.

In one of my protests over the last month one of the leaders remarked that Wayne State University in Detroit used to get 75% of its budget from the state of Michigan. Now it gets 25%. It has become a private school. Many student in Detroit can't afford it. This article and others are full of cuts to all levels of education and the soaring debts students now carry.

This is why I am putting underfunded education under a discussion as a way to prevent challenges to Power:
Back in the 1960s and 1970s [California's] residents mightily benefited from low-cost college education. Without huge student debts, students were free to experiment with new ideas and start their own businesses. The rise of Silicon Valley as a place of innovation, creativity, and risk taking, coincided with two generations of students going to college in California for next to nothing. That might have been tougher to pull off had they been saddled with a $100,000 or so in student debt.
Another aspect of this is companies no longer train their workers. They assume the worker is already trained -- on the workers dime. Without that training employees can't get into the higher-paying jobs.

So a student either can't afford to go to college or has so much debt the emphasis must be on fitting into the current power structure to pay off the debt rather than doing something radical and innovative that might challenge the power structure.

Social Security and other services are designed so that current workers support retirees. The young support the old. Yet, the young are provided fewer resources to enable them to do that.

I've gone back to the original post on Power and updated it.

On to another aspect of Power: The Demos Policyshop highlights a study that showed as inequality increases, trust in strangers declines.
This decline in social trust begins a downward spiral. Bo Rothstein and Eric Uslaner note in a fabulous paper for World Politics, "The best policy response to growing inequality is to enact universalistic social welfare programs. However, the social strains stemming from increased inequality make it almost impossible to enact such policies."
A lack of trust means the rich see the poor as takers and the poor see the rich as selfish. A study found that "upper class individuals were, more likely to break driving laws, take goods from others, lie in a negotiation, cheat and endorse unethical behavior." Which belies their claim that money equals morality.

My dad sent me a link to a video of Cenk Uygur posted on Upworthy. Does money influence politics? Sheesh, what a question! Of course, it does. That's why rich give money to campaigns. But do you know to what degree? The video reported on at a study that compared how closely the last five Congresses listened to their various constituents, how thoroughly they did what the rich, middle class, and poor asked them to do. The rich always had their requests filled. The poor -- never. The middle class? Only when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. And only enough to get the middle class to shut up.

I have mentioned several times, though maybe not on this blog, that while it is obvious the GOP is my enemy, trying to institute policies I profoundly disagree with, I am not convinced the Democrats are my friends. Another part of this video provided more evidence they are not. One finding was that the Democrats -- not Republicans -- most closely did what the rich wanted. The rich are able to play the two parties as Good Cop -- Bad Cop. Those GOP people are really out there. They won't do anything for you. So vote for the Dems because they will (even though it is just a few crumbs while they give us everything we want).

I don't do Halloween, especially the part about handing out candy to kids. I did, however, wore by Charlie Brown shirt to the college on Tuesday (Halloween party) and to the Ruth Ellis Center on Wednesday. "So you're Charlie Brown!" "No, I stole his shirt." A couple women offered to hold footballs for me.

So I look for something else to do during the time the kids go door-to-door. This year I ended up at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea to see the play Vast Difference. That's a pun on the vas deferens and (as a reviewer said) if you want to know more Wikipedia can help. It was a comedy about manhood. The small crowd did quite a bit of laughing.

I mention all that here because my first choice for the evening was to see the documentary Inequality for All by Robert Reich. Alas, the last showing at the one movie theater showing it was at 1:30 yesterday afternoon. I did hear about the movie when it was released, especially the interview in which Reich said that the rich would be richer if they invested in the middle class, which would in turn buy more of whatever product made them rich. So why scrimp on that investment? Reich couldn't explain that one.

But I can. The 1% isn't after money, though huge piles of it is mighty nice. No, the rich want power and all that money enables them to get power.

Journalism or stenography

The Washington Post did a story on the economic distress in Georgia. Terrence Heath is convinced they traded journalism for stenography. The Post story focused on Tom Hackett, Tea Party supporter. Hackett had to close his butcher shop because the economy was so bad. And Hackett blamed Obama for his difficulties. That's the stenography part.

But, Heath says, the Post didn't do the journalism part and explore whether what Hackett said was accurate. Heath lists the actions the GOP has done since Obama took office that have reduced the number of jobs in Georgia, which played a part in reducing the customers in Hackett's shop.

Then Heath goes on to document the results of the GOP Southern Strategy over the last 30 years. First there was significant offshoring that decimated the textile industry. Then there was the opening of foreign auto plants across the South that paid non-union wages and diverted so much tax money into corporate subsidies that gov't services were slashed. (After driving out one industry, the GOP brought in another industry? The jobs that left were union. The jobs that came were not -- and also competed directly with union jobs in Detroit.)

Right in the center of the court

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor officiated at a gay wedding -- and did it within the Supreme Court building. The ceremony was in the lawyer's lounge, just outside the courtroom.

Healthy American cheese

The last time I wrote about food and my diet I got this bit which was part of a larger reply:
I simply don't trust the "organic" food industry to keep all the promises it makes in any strict way, any more than I believe every bit of meat sold as kosher or halal is pure and good. Indeed we hear of seed blowing from GM crop fields into adjacent (or not so adjacent) organic or non-GM fields.
The phrase I've heard a few times at the nutrition center is, "Buy the best quality food you can afford." I take that to mean, for example, if one can't afford certified organic, look for products without preservatives. If even that isn't available, choose foods with the least amount of additives.

I face that right now in trying to find a healthy American cheese. I haven't found organic yet. I also haven't found additive free yet. I buy the brand with the least amount of processing and additives. That isn't Kraft.

The last time I was at Whole Foods I went to the cheese counter (which has an amazing spread from around the world) and asked, "Do you have American cheese?" He replied, "Yes, we have lots of cheeses made in America."

To expand on my point: Is certified organic food completely free of pesticides, GMOs, and all kinds of other nasty things in our food? Probably not. Does organic have less of these things than non-organic. Yes. Many times a reduction in these additives will improve health even though elimination of additives will improve it more. The question becomes whether the reduction in harm is worth the increased cost and difficulty in finding appropriate foods. I can only answer that for myself.