Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Scotland!

In Scotland the mandatory waiting time for marriage licenses has concluded for those same-sex couples who got licenses the day they were first available and marriages have begun.

As Florida turns

Should we sell tickets and popcorn to watch the show in Florida?

Florida Family Action has filed a suit against the clerks who have already declared they will issue licenses to same-sex couples in January 6. They'll find out that judges hate having their time wasted with frivolous lawsuits.

A county clerk went to a federal judge (not the one who handed down the ruling last August) for clarification on what she should so, since everyone else seems more interested in adding to the confusion. This judge ruled that the clerk, in issuing a same-sex marriage license would not be engaging in violation of criminal or civil laws in Florida.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin provides a summary of the circus in Florida so far.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ernestine and Edith Ann

I watched the Kennedy Center Honors this evening. One of this year's honorees is Lily Tomlin who I first encountered on Laugh In when I was young. I mention it here because one of the actors honoring her mentioned Lily's wife Jane Wagner. Jane was there, seated in the spouse's chair behind Lily. I had wondered if the show might gloss over Lily being a lesbian. I'm glad they didn't.

Both reviled and mimicked

For many years ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, has had a strong influence on GOP state legislatures. ALEC develops model legislation to implement the conservative agenda and recruits state lawmakers to take them home, make any necessary local changes, and get them passed. Lots of corporations are members of ALEC, though lately a few have been shamed into dropping their support. ALEC says that across the country 1 in 4 state legislators are members and with the GOP increasing its control at the state level ALEC's influence will grow.

There's a new kid on the block, the State Innovation Exchange, or SiX, a progressive counterpart to ALEC. They will work to bring together progressive legislators and advocates to implement what is good for the working class and middle class. They'll start with a couple issues in a few states. They'll urge environmentalists and union people to join together. And on some issues, such as criminal justice reform, they might also work with small-gov't conservatives.

Bill Meierling, communications director for ALEC says, "It's certainly ironic that we can be reviled and mimicked all in the same breath."

In the pink

Jay Michaelson of The Daily Beast discusses "pinkwashing." It is similar to "greenwashing" in which a company does some small thing for the environment and trumpets it loudly to try to hide the huge amount of damage they are doing to the environment. An example (though maybe not a real one) of greenwashing is a coal company making a nominal donation to Yosemite National Park, then taking out a big ad in USA Today to congratulate itself.

Back to pinkwashing. Here's Michaelson's example: An organization promoting Canada's tar sands (though not the corporation actually extracting the stuff) says that Canada has a great record of rights of gay people. Various OPEC nations, such as Saudi Arabia, treat their gay people horribly. Therefore gay people should support the Keystone pipeline. "Say no to homophobic OPEC oil!"

There is also an ad proclaiming how much Israel is doing for gay rights and how willing Israel's enemies are to execute gays. Therefore, support Israel!

I'm sure my friend and debate partner could poke lots of holes in the logic. I could put in a few pokes as well. But I'll let Michaelson do the job. Yes, Canada is wonderful on gay rights. Yes, Israel is too. Yes, many OPEC countries as well as Israel's enemies persecute gay people. But... The biggest fallacy is these campaigns "assume that LGBT people are an interest group with only one interest: their own." Or put another way, "Look over here, gays! Pay no attention to the tar sands behind the curtain!" Pay no attention to how Israel treats Palestinians. These efforts are to divert debate from the environmental impact of mining tar sands, substituting discussion of anti-discrimination laws, civil liberties, and marriage equality. It is a debate bait-and-switch.

Michaelson shows evidence that the groups behind these campaigns are fiscal conservatives. Strange that they promote gay issues to get what they want.

Michaelson also shows evidence that the conservative "talking points" actually come from a small number of people. These points are effectively communicated so that a lot of conservative groups start talking the same line at the same time, giving the impression of a vast grass-roots movement (amusingly called "Astroturf"). Remember how quickly everybody was accusing Obama of not doing enough to stop Ebola? Notice how that subject was universally dropped after the election when it no longer served a purpose?

Another round in Florida

Back in the 1970s Anita Bryant was a successful singer and promoter of orange juice. Then Miami passed a non-discrimination law to protect their gay population. Bryant was incensed and worked diligently to overturn the law. She was successful. A few other places around the country followed her lead. Bryant's career collapsed and a few months later, while on TV, she got a pie to the face.

Florida's Attorney General Pam Bondi is being compared to Bryant by the Tampa Bay Times. The paper cites her relentlessness as part of their comparison, then also lists her clumsy communication skills, incompetence, and her antagonization of both the gay and Hispanic voters. Thus the Times gave her its "Loser of 2014" award.

The latest part is the mess over whether Florida clerks will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Bondi is doing all she can to confuse, rather than clarify, the situation.

The next day Bondi took action. She issued a press release saying the person who should clear up the confusion is the judge who declared the law unconstitutional. She couldn't just do it herself? The confusion is whether the ruling applies to the couple named in the suit or to the whole state.

In the meantime dozens of corporations have signed a brief as part of Florida's case before the 11th Circuit. They say they are "forced to bear unnecessary cost, complexity, and risk" as well as having to discriminate against their employees. They want same-sex couples to be able to marry in Florida on January 6.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Year on ice

I went to the Detroit Film Theater yesterday for the movie Antarctica: A Year on Ice. Filmmaker Anthony Powell decided to spend an entire year – summer and winter – at the bottom of the world to see what kind of people would choose to live there. Instead of the scientists we meet the workers who keep the place, in this case McMurdo Station, running. This place may have about 8,000 people during the summer, but it has only 700 over the six month winter. If you aren't on that last flight out in March you're stuck there until October. These people are your family and none of you can leave, so you had better figure out how to get along. You also must figure out how to deal with months in which the sun doesn't set and months in which it doesn't rise. Along the way we see beautiful time-lapse shots of the sun zooming low across the sky going right to left, the moon doing the same, great sunsets, wheeling stars, and southern lights. We also get time-lapse of such things as the supply ship unloading the thousands of tons of stuff they need for six months and reloading all the waste to be carried away.

Tom, who works with the fire department, talked about the arrival of the first plane at the end of winter. He goes to the cafeteria and there are all these extra people there (that plane easily bumped the population from 700 to over 1000). He is livid because he had to wait in line! These people didn't know how the system works! They're in the way! Come on, get moving! Instead of finding a table, he takes his tray back to his room and wonders why he is so angry. Moments later a few colleagues ask if they can take refuge with him.

A year's progress

Yeesh, just spent much of two days trying to figure out how the programs on the computer I bought last summer print address labels. I had not gotten Microsoft Works and got an open-source product instead. The way to print labels was not obvious and the documentation was scant. Which is the latest reason why Christmas cards haven't been sent yet.



The group Freedom to Marry has created two maps of marriage equality, one from the end of 2013, when Utah's ban had been overturned and appealed, the other from last week. Things have changed a lot in a year and for the better.




Idaho appealed the overturn of its same-sex marriage ban, and lost. The state has been ordered to pay the legal fees for the same-sex couples who brought the suit. That will be over $400,000. It seems wayward Idaho has a fund to cover such awards in constitutional law cases. It has been tapped six times in the last decade. The fund has $1.7 million in it and the Gov. asked for another million, which the legislature approved. Is this implying that Idaho has issues with the federal constitution?



The situation in Florida is much more complicated than it needs to be. Last August did the judge declare that denying marriage to a particular couple was unconstitutional, or did he mean for that to apply to all same-sex couples? Lots of clerks want to know. The judge has now asked state officials, probably with a bit of sarcasm, so what are you going to tell all those clerks? It seems he's itching for a smackdown. Just what part of "unconstitutional" don't you understand?

And yet a huge majority of clerks say they will not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on January 6th. The Attorney General wanted a ruling that eliminated the confusion but is now doing little to lessen that confusion.



Fifteen years ago there was a ruling in federal court saying students have a right to form Gay Straight Alliance clubs at their schools. Alas, there are still school districts who haven't gotten the memo. The ACLU filed a suit against the schools in Bainbridge, Indiana.



Somebody scratched the word "faggots" into the door of apartment 611. The gay residents of that apartment came up with a fabulous response.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Holy Terror, part 5: Fascism

There are a variety of "laws" that aren't passed by any legislature, yet seem to accurately describe a common aspect of every day life. The most famous is Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will. The internet and the web brought out many more, such as Moore's Law of 1970: The processing power of computers will double every two years.

Back in 1990 Mike Godwin created what is known as Godwin's Law: As online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1. For those who don't speak probability that means a comparison to Nazis will happen. Jon Stewart once did an episode of The Daily Show in which he replayed instances of leaders, left, right, and center who invoked fascism to slander opponents.

I'm well acquainted with the anti-gay crowd accusing us of being Nazis or acting like Hitler. It seems they resort to that because the terrors of the 1930s and '40s carry enough emotional baggage that their point is easily made in a way that will resonate with the common man (if it wasn't so stupidly inaccurate).

There is a corollary to Godwin's law: Once such a comparison is made the debate is over and the person making the claim loses.

And yet Mel White, in his book Holy Terror, Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality not only compares Fundies to fascists, but spends 40 pages doing so. Doesn't Godwin's law and its corollary mean White has lost the debate? Well, no. "The law and its corollaries would not apply to discussions covering … totalitarian regimes and ideologies, if that was the explicit topic of conversation." On those 40 pages White does exactly that. One doesn't lose the debate when calling someone a fascist if that person really is a fascist.

First, a clarification or disclaimer. White is not implying that today's American Fundies are as brutal or deadly as Nazi's. What he is saying is that there are important similarities that should be examined.

Lawrence Britt is a businessman, novelist-historian, and fascinated by fascism. He studied he principles behind fascism in Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Chile, and Indonesia (I didn't know there were so many). He came up with 14 identifying characteristics.
Strong and constant use of patriotism.

Disdain for human rights. There is always a security "need" that trumps rights, and torture is even approved.

Identification of enemies and scapegoats as a unifier against a common threat. Enemies include various minorities (such as us), liberals, commies, etc.

Supremacy of the military. Money spent on the military is taken from much needed domestic programs. Military service is glamorized.

Rampant sexism. The exclusive male leadership makes homophobia and opposition to abortion to be national policy.

Controlled mass media. When there isn't gov't censorship large media outlets are controlled by sympathetic corporations.

Obsession with national security. Fear is a great tool.

Religion and government are combined, even when gov't policy and religious doctrine supposedly conflict.

Corporate power is protected.

Labor power is suppressed.

Disdain for intellectuals and the Arts, because the arts are a source of free expression.

Obsession with crime and punishment with police given unlimited powers.

Rampant cronyism and corruption.

Fraudulent elections.
I look at this list and see the GOP. I've written many times about how the GOP is acting like fascists. I started with this post about how fascism rises. You can read all 46 of my posts here. Though I won't list details I hope you can go through the list above and think of times (likely many times) the GOP has done each of those.

Davidson Loehr makes the link between fascism and fundamentalism. He says Britt's list of 14 characteristics of fascism
mirrors the social and political agenda of religious fundamentalism worldwide. It is both accurate and helpful for us to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. They both come from very primitive parts of us that have always been the default setting of our species: amity towards our in-group, enmity toward out-groups, hirarchican deference to alpha male figures, a powerful identification with our territory, and so forth. It is that brutal default setting that all civilizations have tried to rise above, but it is always a fragile thing, civilization, and has to be achieved over and over and over again.
So go through that list again and think about how the Fundies have done each one – or at least are trying to. Rampant sexism? Still going strong. Patriotism? See the previous post of this series that discusses making an idol out of America. Obsession with security? What are Fundies saying about torture? Controlled mass media? They have their own networks and manage to be persistent voices in mainstream media for the sake of "balance." Corporate power protected? Do any of them decry what Wall Street did to bring about the Great Recession? Who is complaining about all those mortgage foreclosures? Disdain for the arts? Who pushes Congress to try to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts? Supremacy of the military? How often to Fundies invoke war imagery when discussing their enemies? Who is pushing to redefine the phrase in the constitution "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion" normally referred to as the separation of church and state? I could go on.

White then takes the discussion into an interesting direction. He explores the question: What are personality traits of those most likely to support fascism? The answer comes from The Authoritarian Personality commissioned by the American Jewish Committee who wondered why Europeans were so willing to let Nazis murder six million Jews. The thousand-page report was issued in 1950. Those most likely to support fascism have these traits:
A desire for a strong leader. That desire results in a submissive, uncritical attitude towards authorities who become idealized moral authorities of the in-group.

Cultural narrowness that rigidly accepts the values of the in-group with a strong tendency to punish those who defy cultural norms.

Patriotic conformity that one's own nation is superior and should rightly dominate other nations, especially "enemy" nations.

Members of the out-groups are seen as stereotypes rather than as individuals.

Anti-introspection – resistance to self-understanding, to soul-searching, to cause-and-effect analysis of behavior. Belief in unexplainable phenomena. Disparages attempts to see life complexities.

Aggression towards an out-group that is declared to be intrinsically evil and must be eradicated to avoid contamination with the good.
White demonstrates that Fundie leaders, such as Jerry Falwell, understand these traits and appeal to them in their letters to stir their warriors to action. From a Falwell letter urging his followers to vote (for Bush): "We... may be God's instrument for saving America. … Shame on America for killing unborn babies and recognizing same-sex marriage … This election is clearly light against darkness. … May God bless America one more time. … We must elect the righteous into office who will see that righteousness prevail. … Any dummy knows what is means to vote Christian. … stir up a few extra million Americans to vote for someone who will not be soft on terrorism, who will hunt down and kill this evil man."

In 1944 Henry Wallace, Vice President under FDR, wrote an editorial in the New York Times about the dangers of the American Fascists. The public distaste for that opinion was enough for Roosevelt to dump Wallace and ask Harry Truman to be his running mate, which is how Truman got to be president. Wrote Wallace:
The American Fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a Fascist the problem is never how to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the Fascist and his group more money or more power.

Always and everywhere they can be identified by their appeal to prejudice and by the desire to play upon the fears and vanities of different groups in order to gain power. It is no coincidence that the growth of modern tyrants has in every case been heralded by the growth of prejudice … It may be shocking to some people in this country to realize that, without meaning to do so, they hold views in common with Hitler when they preach discrimination against other religions, racial or economic groups.
White takes his comparison of Nazis and today's Fundies one more step. "The very same techniques that the Nazis used against the Jews during the early stages of their campaign to demean dehumanize, and demonize them are being used against us today."

White wants us to be clear about his own methods:
In drawing this comparison, I am not in any way suggesting that the suffering of America's sexual and gender minorities is equal to the suffering of European Jewry. However, there is no doubt that propaganda leading to fear and hatred of any people always ends in suffering, one victim at a time. The tragic deaths of Anne Frank, Emmett Till, and Matthew Shepard are a direct result of a very similar sequence of events. Once the blame game begins, the urge to purge follows quickly. The arrest, imprisonment, and murder of six million Jews and the destruction of almost five thousand Jewish communities were an almost predictable consequence of Hitler's propaganda campaign against them.
White then shows how similar the Nazi propaganda is to what Fundies are saying about us. The Jews were described as diseased, so are we. Jews were described as sexually perverted, so are we. Both groups are described as a threat to children (which we've heard many times), a threat to family and family values (also heard frequently), a threat to the nation, a threat to Christians and the Christian Church, sinful and fallen creatures condemned by God, people with too much power and privilege, and the enemy against whom war must be waged.

The list of characteristics that are present in fascism are also present in modern fundamentalist goals. The list of traits in those who support fascism are well known to fundamentalist leaders and they craft their messages to exploit those traits. The propaganda messages used by Nazis to demonize Jews are being used by fundamentalists to demonize sexual minorities.

Are fundamentalists fascists? They're certainly acting as if they are.

Training the next generation

The Koch brothers are well known for flooding our political system with millions of dollars so that Congress and state legislators will do their bidding. Less known is their donations to universities, such as the Center for Applied Economics of the Kansas University School of Business.

Strange that the details of that bequest can't be made public. That makes lots of people suspicious of the gift. However, the gift to KU isn't the only one. Florida State University also got a Koch gift. In that case a few million produced a Koch-appointed board to scrutinize hiring, research funding and academic work. It seems the Kochs aren't doing this to be generous, but to advance long-term political objectives. It seems they are training the next generation of libertarian economic thinkers, businesspeople, and politicians.

Supporting all lifesaving services

Katie Klabusich wrote about her experiences with abortion and reproductive health procedures for the blog RH Reality Check. Because of those experiences she says the anti-abortion crowd is being hypocritical.

The latest round of anti-abortion legislation is to heap so many regulations on abortion clinics that they can't afford to meet them and must close. These are TRAP, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider laws. The lawmakers pushing these laws say they are protecting mothers and their unborn children.

Klabusich asks if that claim is true why are abortions treated differently than other reproductive health needs, such as the procedure to harvest cells to test for cervical cancer. This is a procedure that has more risk to a woman's health than an abortion does. Why does a doctor decide what is best for a woman in one case but lawmakers decide in the other case?

If organizations declare themselves to be pro-life, why aren't they supporting all lifesaving services at these clinics? Klabusich wrote:
You never see them screaming on their capitol building’s steps demanding the expansion of preventive care like Pap tests, STI testing, prenatal support, and the like. They aren’t passing out condoms at AIDS walks, or even offering child-care assistance for the children a patient already has. If a National Right to Life, Pro-Life League, or Operation Rescue member is holding a sign somewhere, their only concern is forcing a pregnant person to carry to term.
Commenter fiona64 summarizes it this way:
Yep. They only care that the "s!ut takes responsibility for opening her legs." What happens after an infant is produced is irrelevant ...

Florida, again

Yesterday I wrote that in Florida some clerks might be hesitant about giving out marriage licenses to same-sex couples when the stay is lifted on January 6th because they might be taken to court for violating an (unenforceable) law on the books. So, they might be taken to court if they do issue marriage licenses.

It didn't take long for Equality Florida to respond: Clerks will be taken to court if they don't issue marriage licenses.

EQFL has lined up various law firms, private attorneys, and legal organizations ready to provide pro bono legal counseling to clerks. There is also a statement saying the memo that urged clerks to not issue licenses is not protection against being sued.

Various attorneys for the state say there would be no suits against clerks who issue licenses. The Attorney General, a much more reluctant supporter, says her office must comply with the ruling and the lifting of the stay.

Clerks are working to revise forms and are deciding whether to open at 12:01 am. on the 6th.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Florida?

The question about marriage equality in Florida isn't over the lifting of the stay. The question is whether various clerks will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Florida Association of Clerks and Comptrollers says that the lifting of the stay does not erase the ban from the books. Therefore issuing a license to a same-sex couple remains a criminal act. Clerks who violate that act may face up to a year in jail.

I'm not sure what legal technicality this group is waiting for. A federal judge says the law is bad and cannot be enforced once his stay is lifted. The Circuit Court and the Supremes haven't changed that. Will they be satisfied only when the 11th Circuit or the Supremes rule? Are they hung up because an unenforceable law is on the books and they want to try to enforce it anyway? As I've written about before, laws that ban gay sex still exist in several states (including Michigan) even though the Supremes ruled them unenforceable more than a decade ago. Even so, Louisiana uses its law to intimidate gays, no matter that the case gets thrown out when it gets before a judge.

So this association of clerks pounces on a clerk who issues a license to a same-sex couple. The clerk would be backed by the ACLU or Human Rights Campaign. And a responsible judge would throw the case out. Still, there is the hassle and intimidation factors, which might restrain a few clerks.

I have a small correction to what I wrote yesterday. According to the article linked to above the stay is lifted on January 5th, but marriages don't begin until the 6th.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Harry Reid smile

Just before the Senate voted on the $1.1 trillion dollar budget deal Republican Ted Cruz of Texas pulled a parliamentary move to demand a vote to defund Obama's executive actions on immigration. It didn't get very far. I'm not sure why it worked, but Cruz's stunt and delay gave permission to Harry Reid to push through 24 nominations that the GOP had bottled up. They all passed. The GOP doesn't like it when Reid smiles.

That means we have a new Surgeon General and a bunch of new district and circuit court judges. And that means the national judiciary is more diverse (a gay judge in the 5th Circuit, which includes Texas, a black female district judge in North Carolina). It also means Obama has now confirmed more judges in six years of office than his predecessors.

As for that budget deal and the nasty gifts to Wall Street buried in its pages I'll only repeat what I said to my friend and debate partner. Republicans have clearly shown in issue after issue they are enemies of principles I hold dear. However, Democrats aren't able to convince me they are my friends.

Florida!

Last August a federal judge declared Florida's ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. That judge put a temporary stay on the order. It expires January 5. The stay is to give the Florida AG time to appeal the decision to the 11th Circuit. The case is indeed before the 11th Circuit, but won't hear the case before Jan. 5. They also refused to extend the stay.

So the AG went to the Supremes and Clarence Thomas, who heads the 11th Circuit. Thomas referred the case to the Court as a whole (as has been done with all the same-sex marriage cases). The Supremes denied the request to extend the stay, though the order says that Scalia and Thomas would have granted it.

All that means same-sex weddings may begin in Florida on January 5!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The birds will help

Yesterday evening I went to the Detroit Film Theater to see the movie The King and the Mockingbird. It is an animated film from France first released in the 1950s in a highly butchered version – the producers said animator Paul Grimault was taking too long. Grimault restored the cuts and released the updated version in 1979. This version is cited as an influence on Studio Ghibli of Japan, the origin of to Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.

Enough of the pedigree. On to the story. The king of the title is a pompous fool who disdains his people who are quite happy to disdain him right back. He likes to shoot little birds (though he never actually hits them), which makes him the enemy of the bird's papa, the mockingbird of the title. We are taken to the king's private apartment on the 296th floor of the palace. The room has lots of artwork, most of it of the king. A young shepherdess on one wall comes alive and falls in love with the chimney sweeper on the adjacent wall. But a portrait of the king falls in love with the shepherdess. The portrait king sends the real king through a trap door (lots of these in the story) and the portrait takes off after the young lovers, who work to escape the palace. Along the way the sweeper rescues the little bird, so the papa bird says if the lad ever gets in trouble, he only need call and the birds will help him out. At one point the lovers are put in a lion's den. That's when we find out that the mockingbird speaks several languages, including lion. After lots of delights, visual and story, the movie ends mostly as one would expect.

I was a bit surprised that a section of this French film looked a lot like Venice – not just lots of canals, but several landmarks too.

Pursue any recourse you believe is available

Back in January I told about a United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Indiana that ousted its gay choir director. In response 80% of the church left. That particular church will close at the end of this year due to falling attendance, membership and financing problems. The pastor, who did the ousting, says the closure "is not due to that situation whatsoever." Rather it is due to a general "downward spiral" across the whole United Methodist denomination. Commenters think the pastor has a bad case of denial. Even with falling membership not many churches lose 80% of their membership in a year.



Back in October Gov. Matt Mead of Wyoming conceded the legal landscape in states in the 10th Circuit and declined to appeal when the state's ban on same-sex marriage was struck down. Who was he going to appeal to? The 10th Circuit that had already struck down bans in Utah and Oklahoma? The Supremes, who refused to hear those two cases?

No matter. GOP leaders in Wyoming are still in a snit. They wrote a letter to the Gov. slamming him for not filing an appeal.

Mead, who was re-elected last month, said this group of leaders is "free to pursue any recourse they believe is available. Interestingly, when I was fighting the case in Wyoming federal district court and a separate case in Wyoming state court, I did not hear from this group."



OutSports lists 109 sports people who came out in 2014. This sets a record, topping the count of 77 last year. The list includes athletes, coaches, officials, administrators, and media people at the high school, college, and professional levels. Most of those on the list are Americans, though there are many from other countries. The sports at the top of the list are swimming, football, and track & field, though 34 sports are in the list.



A new analysis from the Pew Research shows the wealth gap between the rich and the middle class has set a new record. The rich have 6.6 times the wealth of the middle class. Back in 2010 the multiple was 6.2 and in 2007 was 4.5. The ratio between the rich and poor is now 70.

The background question is what defines rich or upper-income. That appears to depend on the number of people in the family, similar to the federal definition of poverty. A single person is upper-income at $66K a year and a family of four is upper-income at $132K.

Melissa McEwen of the blog Shakesville wrote:
This is not justice. The people who keep collecting more and more, hoarding vast amounts of wealth, cannot keep pretending that they "deserve" it on the basis of "hard work." They can't keep pretending that they're just generating more wealth, instead of stealing it from the lower classes.

Well, they can, but the situation is untenable. This system can't be sustained; it will collapse under the weight of need or revolution.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dancing umbrellas

On the lighter side, OK Go, has a new video out. This is the group that got their start dancing on treadmills and has been doing elaborate videos ever since. This one is influenced by Busby Berkeley and features lots of umbrellas and a camera on a drone. There is both the official video and another of how the intricate shots were made. Yeah, it was released about 7 weeks ago and I just now had time to watch it. And by this time more than 16 million other people have seen it.

Worst for sexual minorities

The Michigan legislature ends its lame-duck session today. They finally came up with a way to fund road maintenance ($1.2B needed a year). Alas, they did it with an increase to the regressive sales tax rather than the more responsible gasoline tax. And since the sales tax is to be raised, voters have to approve it – next May. I just had my car's front end aligned because of a pothole last winter. There is one bright spot in the bill that was passed – the House had passed a version that funded roads by taking more money away from schools so that taxes didn't have to be raised.

I got an email alert saying the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by the House just might see a vote in the Senate before the night is out. As of this posting there is no news. I got an alert yesterday calling for protesters to come to the Capitol this afternoon to be a silent protest if it ever came up. The RFRA was supposed to be the companion to an expansion of Michigan's civil rights law to include sexual minorities so that our rights to public accommodation were defined to be less important to the Fundie right to discriminate. Alas, our half of the pair died. And apparently state senators are desperate for it to pass, with only the GOP Majority Leader of the Senate standing in the way. If only he can stand there a few more hours.

In the last couple days there have been voices calling for this bill. They say those claiming it is a license to discriminate are wrong. There's nothing in the bill that would allow that! Where could they get such an idea? Well, let's see now. Might it be because similar bills in other states were all about discrimination? Perhaps because the RFRA was introduced to blunt the inclusion of sexual minorities in the civil rights law? Is it because sponsors of the law can't come up with any other credible scenario for why the law is needed? Yeah, the text of the bill is carefully crafted. Here's the text as passed by the House.



Peter Hammer is a professor in the Wayne State University Law School and discusses the social and economic conditions of sexual minorities in Michigan. He says Michigan has been ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the five worst states for sexual minorities. Our companions are Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Louisiana. Such fine company. Which is why we've been hearing "Mich-issippi" lately. And why my sister and her partner want to move to a friendlier state.

Hammer reviews several Michigan laws that prove the animus lawmakers have for sexual minorities. I'll let you read the list. Thankfully, some of the laws have been overturned. Alas, not enough of them.

Slowing down the bandwagon

The Supremes will decide whether to take the Louisiana same-sex marriage case on January 9, the same day they'll decide whether to take the Michigan case. The LA case is of interest because the district judge said bans on same-sex marriage are just fine with him, in contrast to more than 30 other recent rulings around the state.

The announcement of the Supremes considering the LA case seemed premature to me. I read the article again. No, the 5th Circuit hasn't ruled yet – the LA case will be in oral argument before that court on the same day the Supremes will decide whether to take it.

Meanwhile, Butch Otter, Gov. of Idaho is shouting Wait for Me! He doesn't want the Supremes to take a same-sex marriage case until it can include the one from his state in the mix. He filed a brief with the Supremes saying they should wait for Idaho's case because he says it is a better case. In particular it would challenge the 9th Circuit's level of scrutiny and has a religious liberty component. Otter's brief isn't attached to a case yet because it is still before the 9th Circuit and a plea for another hearing – even though the 9th Circuit has said same-sex marriage is just fine with them. One might think Otter wants to jump on the bandwagon to make sure the Supremes don't get to it this year.

Besides, Michigan has the better case – there was an actual trial, producing actual evidence.

Money is more important

The fall semester is over. I submitted grades this afternoon, though I hadn't caught on that they were due at noon today instead of 5 pm. I learned that in an email that was sent at 10:45 this morning and I saw at 3 this afternoon. I called the dept. chair. She says the worst that might happen is that I end up on somebody's black list. Whatever. Grades were submitted by 3:30. Next semester begins January 13, so almost 4 weeks off. I already have a long list of things I want to do.



Billionaire David Koch, one of the Koch brothers doing all they can to eliminate democracy in America, was interviewed by Barbara Walters as one of her "10 Most Fascinating People of 2014." He gave his political philosophy as "conservative on economic matters" and a "social liberal." So, yes, he back's gay marriage. But why does he back so many candidates who are against gay marriage or even gay rights? Because money (and related power) is so much more important to him and those candidates are willing to do his fiscal bidding.

Which makes me think... A big reason why the GOP still gets votes even though they are working against the economic interests of the poor and middle class is because on social issues they are working to implement the Fundie position. Those who don't like democracy for monetary reasons have teamed up with those who don't like democracy for theological reasons.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Corralled and steered

Adam Lee of AlterNet ponders whether Fundie churches want people to be destitute in sharp contrast to the command of Jesus to feed the hungry. Many Fundie churches are out to stop our gov't from funding various programs to help the needy. It is up to churches to handle such things, they say. It has historically been up to the churches, not the gov't. But they seem to be ignoring (or trying to hide) that charity for the poor has never been enough (there was a reason for the New Deal). To cover all the need – the gov't spends $105 billion a year and doesn't meet it all – every church in the nation would need to raise an extra $50,000 or more. That's an impossible task for a majority of our churches, which currently run at a loss. Don't these Fundie churches know that a lot of need, for millions of people, simply would not be met?

Yeah, they know. And the unmet need is intentional.

The Fundie churches decrying gov't programs for the poor are after two things:

(1) The ability to deny aid. Some people don't deserve aid. As a gay man I know who is at the top of that list, though the list would be long and include blacks, Jews, atheists, addicts, and those who have a criminal record. Due to discrimination sexual minorities tend to be poorer than the comparable straight person. The denial of aid after a denial of a job would be a double discrimination.

(2) A captive audience. In exchange for a ladle of soup the church can demand you sit through a sermon or require membership or a loyalty test of some sort.

Here's the summary:
If government charity were to be cut off, the churches wouldn't be able to come close to supplying the wants of everyone, and so they'd have strong incentive to impose stringent conditions on the people they did help. Only the most faithful, the most compliant, the most submissive would be able to get through the door.

And that's precisely the state of affairs that the religious right yearns for. What they want is to build a theocracy from the ground up, where the poor and the needy are abjectly dependent on a church that can yank away the necessities of life if it judges them insufficiently compliant, and so the masses will have no choice but to be corralled and steered.
Lee offers Mississippi as proof of his statements. It has the most churches per capita yet is the poorest and sickest (measured by life expectancy).

Out on ice

Yeah, it has been a while since I've written. It has been a busy couple of weeks between end of classes, final exams (one done, two to go), concerts (both attending and performing), and regular rehearsals and volunteer work. So, on to the things that have been accumulating in my browser tabs.



The International Olympic Committee has revised its non-discrimination policy that will be required for every new host city. Part of the change is because it is the right thing to do. Part is to avoid another Sochi PR disaster. The key sentence:
The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, color, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
This may not mean much for a while because the contracts for the host cities for 2016 (Rio de Janeiro), 2018 (Pyeongchang, South Korea), and 2020 (Tokyo) have already been signed. But it could be quite important for 2022 where the finalists are down to Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan (a few other cities withdrew). Gays face harassment in both countries.



After last winter's Olympics I wrote about the tension in figure skating, where many of the male skaters are gay, but with an audience that may not support a "gay" sport. Gay athletes in the sport were cautioned to not come out until they're done competing.

Eric Radford apparently didn't get the memo. He's a pairs skater from Canada and won silver in Sochi. He definitely waited until after the Sochi games to come out, though he intends to continue competing in World Championships and is aiming to compete in 2018 in Korea. Being gay in pairs skating means his female partner won't distract him with an off-ice romance. Radford and his partner of four years are raising a daughter.



Back in October I wrote about how much I enjoyed the movie Pride in which lesbian and gay activists supported the Welsh miner's strike in 1984. It has now been named Best Film at the British Independent Film Awards.



The year isn't over yet and there are predictions that 2014 will be the hottest on record. Ocean heat content is up. There were heat waves in South Africa and Tunisia, the ice breakup on the River Ob in Siberia began two weeks early. Droughts were recorded in South Africa (while other parts flooded), China, Brazil, California, Nevada, and Texas. Rainfall was low in India and New Zealand. Extreme heavy rainfall was recorded in Russia, Japan, Argentina, Serbia, France, and parts of America. In contrast, in Antarctica the extent of the sea ice has been growing, with a big increase over 2013.



Ideas to combat global warming are being discussed, but the big debate is whether research into tinkering with the atmosphere should be done. The idea is solar radiation management – sprinkling substances into the upper atmosphere that would block solar radiation and prevent higher temperatures. The research would be into what stuff works best and how well it works. But there is opposition in whether the research should be done. Various voices say: We shouldn't tamper with the atmosphere. We should put our efforts into the important efforts of weaning the world off coal and oil. Others respond: This is basic science, which is always good. There is still time to debate whether actually attempting to change the climate is a good idea. Alas, while the debate rages, there isn't much funding.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The next battle, over rights

My sister and her partner are threatening to move out of Michigan again. Sis, let me know when I should come help you load the truck. She does have reason to want to leave the state – again.

During the lame-duck session of the Michigan Legislature there has been a big push to include gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders in Michigan's civil rights law. 90% of the residents of the state think such protections are already there. 75% think they should be there. But they're not.

GOP Jase Bolger, House Speaker, said a while back that if there is a bill to protect the rights of sexual minorities there should also be a companion bill to protect religious freedoms. Then there was a second version of the rights bill that excluded transgenders, in hopes of attracting more GOP votes. That only annoyed gay rights groups and Democrats, who withdrew support. After a nasty rant by a black pastor, Bolger has now declared both versions of the bill dead … while the bill to protect religious freedoms sailed through the House. I don't think the bill has a better chance of passing in January once new members are sworn in because the GOP majority will be larger and more conservative.



On January 9 the Supremes will decide whether to take Michigan's gay marriage case. It looks like the corresponding cases from Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee aren't on the calendar yet.



Yes, it may soon be possible for gay couples to be married in Michigan (though not before July) and then the happy couple could lose their jobs when the boss finds out. The New York Times says that since the battle for marriage equality is well under way it is time to prepare for the next battle, which will be over gay rights.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Finland!

The Finnish Parliament voted 105-92 to legalize same-sex marriage. It is the last of the Nordic countries to do so. Alas, it will take them about a year to get all the laws revised properly, so no actual marriages until 2016.



When the Supremes struck down bans of interracial marriage there were only 16 states where it was still illegal. They struck down laws against gay sex when only 13 states still had such laws. It seems the Supremes are willing to tackle an issue when two-thirds of the states have already approved it. Two-thirds of 50 is 33. Same sex marriage is currently legal in 35 states. Does the magic ratio still hold up?

Ending Obama's evolution

Marc Solomon works with Freedom to Marry an organization lobbying for same-sex marriage. He also writes an occasional article for Salon. A recent one is about the effort in 2011 and 2012 to get Obama to complete his "evolution" and say he was in favor of same-sex marriage. It involved several steps, a few of which I wouldn't have guessed.

In Mid July of 2011 he and colleagues from Freedom to Marry asked pollsters from the Obama and Bush II campaigns to assess the national mood for gay marriage. It came back positive with indications support would only grow.

Towards the end of 2011 came meetings with White House staff. Obama continued to be supportive of our causes, which the staff was eager to point out. But an election was looming. Would a declaration for same-sex marriage help or hurt?

Time for indirect pressure. In February of 2012 Solomon and his team began contacting Democratic Senators and other party leaders and asked them to support a plank in the party platform in favor of same-sex marriage. It would be difficult for Obama to try to defeat it or ignore it. Of course, there were twists and turns along the way.

Then in May VP Biden gave his support. And three days later the Prez. did the same.

The story is much more personal than a news report would be. I guess it is an example of effective lobbying. I'm glad these people are on our side. I suspect the corporate and Fundie lobbyists are much better at the game (and can pass around much bigger checks) than these people are.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Holy Terror, part 4: Idols

In the last post of this series I was feeling a bit glum because I reported on the false statements used against us. Now comes a topic I report with glee. This post covers what is false about the Fundamentalist Christian religion. This is a core part of Mel White's book Holy Terror, Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality.

Right there at the top of the Top Ten, those Commandments Fundies want to carve into monuments, paint on walls in school cafeterias, and use as a substitute for American law (but don't actually intend to follow), are these:
* You shall have no other gods before me.
* You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven or on earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.

Simplified, that second one means don't create idols or false gods and worship them. White proceeds to list and describe the idols that Fundies worship.

God as Idol
This god isn't the god of the bible. Yeah, this god is created by stringing together unrelated biblical verses, but it was created to justify prejudices. And it is the same god that approved of the Inquisition, the Crusades, the war against Native Americans, and slavery, and opposed women's rights.

But this doesn't describe the God of the bible – the whole bible. All of the bible points to Jesus. Jesus summarized the Top Ten into two Great Commandments:
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
White responds to those gathered at Glen Eyrie, the retreat that presented the battle plan against us:
Wasn't it plain to them that this ancient holiness passage from Leviticus [the one that calls for homosexuals to be put to death] that they were using as a law to support their prejudice was trumped, invalidated, annulled, quashed, overthrown by the two great commandments? Had they learned nothing about how God views the "untouchables" from the example of Jesus, who embraced the "untouchable" leper; who praised the "untouchable" bleeding woman; who drank from the bucket of the "untouchable" Samaritan whore; who dined with the "untouchable" Jews who collected taxes for Rome; who let the "untouchable" prostitute pour expensive perfume on his feet and dry them with her hair; and who healed the "untouchable" homosexual companion of the "untouchable" Roman centurion?
The lesser god, the one who supports Fundie prejudices, is an idol. He who worships a lesser god violates the Top Ten and the Two Great commandments.

Bible as Idol
Fundies speak of an inerrant bible, one that was essentially dictated by God. This is bibliolatry, defined as "having an excessive reverence for the letter of the Bible" The Fundie says: God said it. I believe it. That settles it. No questions. No discussions. No possible change of mind or heart.

But... The commandments of Jesus contradict those of Moses. Who wins? The bible is the story of God and those who encounter him. It wasn't supposed to be a guide to biology, geology, or astronomy. What about the Spirit of Truth who has been speaking through "Copernicus, Galileo, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Bach, Handel, Newton, Darwin, Kepler, Jefferson, Lincoln, Pasteur, Einstein, George Washington Carver, Rachel Carson" and many others? White wrote:
Nevertheless, an inerrant Bible as they define it is the frame through which fundamentalists view the world. That frame can bounce off every idea you throw at it if your understanding of a biblical verse doesn't agree with theirs. They aren't interested in the meaning you find in a biblical passage. They aren't even interested in the truths scholars, historians, and linguists find there. For fundamentalists, the canon is closed. No more inspiration is needed. The Holy Spirit is as unnecessary for understanding holy writ as is the knowledge of Greek or Hebrew. Fundamentalists know exactly what every verse means and woe be unto those who disagree.

Many Fundie leaders pull out particular verses to create bogus spiritual laws. An example: Want to be rich? See Luke 6:38 – "Give [to my ministry] and it shall be given to you..." This implies that the giver, or the Fundie preacher, can control God – my giving requires God to give me wealth. Other spiritual laws promise health, success, and salvation. But religion isn't a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

Fundies worship the text of the bible, not God. This is idolatry.

Family as Idol
Every Fundie organization that exists to harm us either has the word "family" in its name or at least has protection of the family as a top goal. Declaring harm to the family is the easiest and most emotionally charged (and thus vote getting) way for them to reach their goal of declaring homosexuality harmful in general.

In the previous post of this series I included a quote from Robert Skolrood, one of the leaders. I repeat it here (and add some more):
It is impossible for Christianity to make peace with homosexuality because homosexuality denies, really, the fundamental values of Christianity. It denies life, it denies God's expressed desire that men and women cohabit, and it denies the root structure that the Bible prescribes for all mankind and the family. What these people are against is absolute values. And Christianity is one of the stumbling blocks in their way.
White breaks it down in more detail than in the previous chapter.

"… impossible … to make peace... " That's mostly because Fundies have decided it is impossible. Our existence is too much of a challenge to their beliefs. So another way to reach them must be found.

Homosexuality "denies, really, the fundamental values of Christianity" Oh? Rick Warren, sounding very Fundie, wants to force candidates for public office to answer questions about abortion, embryonic stem cells, same-sex marriage, cloning, and euthanasia. Warren declares them as non-negotiable, as if they were foundation principles of Christianity. But aren't the foundation principles, taken from Matthew 25, supposed to be about feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, finding shelter for the homeless, and all the rest?

Homosexuality "denies life" Homosexuals don't make babies and without babies there is no national future. Never mind that many same-sex couples make great parents.

Homosexuality "denies God's expressed desire that men and women cohabit" It is this claim that prompts a lot of screeching about gays not really wanting to marry and wanting to destroy marriage.

Homosexuality "denies the root structure that the Bible prescribes for all mankind and the family." Ah, now we get to the core of the matter. When the family is described as a root structure there is a particular structure, a chain of command, in mind. White wrote:
God speaks to Jesus; Jesus speaks to men; men speak to women; women speak to children (and then to men of color, women of color, children of … but that's another story)
White expands on that:
For Fundamentalist Christians, if God's chain of command is broken, chaos will prevail in the family as it does in the military, and homosexuals represent the greatest threat to that chain. …

Then along comes "Steve," the dangerous "homosexual activist" who is definitely not submissive to authority but insists on defying it. … Rigid gender roles have been established since the beginning of recorded history. Keeping men in charge and women in their place is the way civilization has always worked. Accepting homosexuality not only flies in the face of natural creation (or so they think) but it threatens the overthrow of heterosexism, sexism, and homophobia … all established cultural norms.
Yeah, gay men might give women ideas. So Fundie men are fearful of losing their position at the top of the heap. This is a very strong fear.

And what happens if heterosexism, sexism, and homophobia are overthrown? Suzanne Pharr gives us an idea. There won't be tomboys or sissies. We will love anyone we want. We will be free to show affection to anyone even if they aren't a potential mate. Isolation will diminish. Jobs will be open to all. Men who don't have to assert their manhood will become less violent – something that will affect national and international politics. We'll wear whatever clothes match our personal comfort and style. There will be no gender roles.

All of that sounds pretty good to me.

Hollywood is very good at displaying the idealized family. That's bad enough for those who don't come from an ideal family. But Fundies take it one more step, condemning those who don't conform to their ideal. And a lot of families simply cannot match the Fundie ideal family. The family is an idol worshiped by fundamentalists.

Nation as Idol
We've heard the loud voices proclaim that: (1) America is a Christian nation that is held in special favor by God. (2) because of homosexuality God is (or will) withhold that favor and America will be destroyed. Therefore there must be an effort to (3) reclaim America for Christ. That comes with the understanding that something must be done about "the gay problem."

We've also long heard that the Founding Father's were Christian (actually, most were Deist) who intended America to be Christian (never mind that the only mention of religion in the Constitution is that pesky bit about not establishing a state religion). So we've been arguing over the real meaning of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

But the claim to America being a Christian nation uses a much older document – the Mayflower Compact signed on November 11, 1620. That's a little document written and signed by a group of fundamentalists fleeing persecution but intent on establishing some persecution of their own. Yes, the Mayflower Compact says the colony was established "for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith." But this claim that it is our founding document ignores that the majority of the passengers on the Mayflower were colonists without religious convictions and did not sign the Compact.

As we've seen and heard over the last 20 years there has been a strong effort to make that establishment clause in the First Amendment become meaningless. White documents the efforts and the rhetoric that go into the Fundie claim, much I've already analyzed here.

Back in 2002 Bush II gave a speech on Ellis Island surrounded by the Fundie leaders who worked hard to get him elected. In that speech Bush referred to American as he used the phrase "that light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it."

A British commentator noticed the similarity of that phrase to one in the bible referring to Jesus. That means with Fundie encouragement America is ranked with Jesus as
one brought into the world to bring God's plans into fulfillment. To suggest that a sovereign nation state with political priorities and military budgets has somehow a divine status is in my opinion at least as close as you can come to idolatry.
White concludes this section by writing:
When the Bible, or the family, or the nation are adored, blindly, excessively, when they are so important that they take the place of God, they become idols. Unfortunately, idols fail. And when the people who believed in those idols with all their heart experience that failure, it leaves their lives in chaos.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Holy Terror, part 3: Battle plan

For many years my parents (or my grandparents, when they were alive) would organize family reunions. I rarely saw more distant relations outside of these gatherings. Alas, my parents and their siblings and cousins are too old to do the work to make these events happen.

Back in 2003 a distant cousin (I couldn't tell you the relationship) volunteered to host a reunion of my Dad's family at her place near Colorado Springs. This was quite a change from our usual venues in northern Ohio. So, it was more than a one-day trip. We had a chance to see many sights in the area. I had a chance to see how big the Focus on the Family compound is (though I had no intention of going inside).

One of those sights was Glen Eyrie. It is a big house built in 1871 and remodeled in 1881 to resemble a castle. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places and used as a conference and retreat center. During our visit I'm pretty sure we didn't go into any of the buildings. Instead, we were given a CD we could put in the car's sound system to drive around the grounds and look at the exterior of the buildings. The CD talked of the fine religious work done on the grounds by The Navigators, a Christian group that owns the place that has the purpose of training people to share their faith. That means they are Evangelical, though not necessarily fundamentalist.

I mention all this because in 1994 Glen Eyrie was the site of a three day conference that planned the "short term" solution to gay and lesbian Americans. With this I continue my series of posts on Mel White's book Holy Terror, Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality. White relied on conference materials and audio tapes of the event to tell us about it. The attendees were leaders of anti-gay groups from across the country, though specifically excluding the big names (mentioned in part 2) so that the movement would have the appearance of being grass-roots and that the big players couldn't get it done without the little guy's help. The urgency and importance of the meeting were asserted from the start with Will Perkins saying, "If we lose this battle, there are no moral absolutes left for this nation." White wrote:
From the opening moments of their Glen Eyrie conference these fundamentalists Christians were evoking God's guidance on their plan to deprive lesbian and gay Americans of all the civil rights and protections guaranteed them by the U.S. Constitution. It was obvious that they believed that the war they were waging against us was a holy war and that their efforts to "end homosexuality in America" were done in God's name and with God's blessing.
A big part of the problem, according to the attendees, was that most pastors were wimps on the issue and they didn't know how to present a compelling argument against homosexuality. So this conference planned to supply that without drawing the pastor into controversies.

The main part of the Glen Eyrie conference was a presentation of the Glen Eyrie Protocol, how the Fundies were to wage war against us, their battle plan. It has three main parts.

First, prove that heterosexuality is best for individuals and society. Translation: homosexuality is destructive to both the individual and society. Yeah, the tone was supposed to be positive, but that didn't last. Attendees were cautioned to use scientific data, not biblical arguments. That's because biblical arguments didn't resonate with those who weren't religious.

The AIDS epidemic had been ravaging gay communities for more than a decade by the time of this conference. That became the prime piece of evidence that homosexuality was destructive. There were lots of examples of gay men coming out to their parents by telling Mom and Dad they were dying of AIDS.

As for actual "science" there was Paul Cameron, who back in 1983 has been tossed out of the American Psychological Association for shoddy "research." But why quibble over that detail when Cameron was able to produce such useful studies as The Medical Consequences of What Homosexuals Do, Child Molestation and Homosexuality, What Causes Homosexual Desire and Can it Be Changed?, and Same Sex Marriage: Til Death Do Us Part? Yes, every one of these is as vile as their title suggests and every one of them is stuffed full of lies. But they provided the needed scientific foundation for the battle. That "toxic waste," as White calls it, is still being used to poison minds.

Second, prove that homosexuality is NOT immutable. Translation: homosexuality is a choice and that homosexuals can change. To help with this was the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuals, or NARTH. This was the top organization in reparative therapy and they had the roster of psychoanalysts and psychologists to back them up. Several denominational organizations sprang up: Courage for Catholics, Evergreen for Mormons, JONAH for Orthodox Jews, and the big one Exodus. There was a ready supply of "ex-gays" to give testimony to religious broadcast programs.

Nearly all participants of these programs discovered they didn't work. Alas, many concluded the fault was their own and suffered great psychological harm and many committed suicide. We can rejoice that in 2013 the head of Exodus admitted failure to change anyone's orientation, apologized for the pain, and closed the organization.

Even so, this part of the battle plan has been effective. From a 2003 survey by the Pew Forum:
People who believe homosexuality is a choice, as opposed to a trait people are born with, are far more opposed to gay marriage, as are people who believe homosexuals can change.

Third, demonstrate why society needs to make certain demands on people sexually. Translation: government needs to be persuaded to use its power to enforce fundamentalist Christian sexual morality, especially on homosexuals. This part of the plan is deeply rooted in the idea that America is supposed to be a Christian nation built on absolute, God-given morals. The pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness are supposedly dependent on these absolute morals.

This part of the plan is built on four principles:
* Convince elected officials to take a stand against pro-gay legislation.
* Eliminate government funding of immoral behavior – including funding for AIDS research and prevention (yup, it's our own fault if we contract AIDS and we deserve to die).
* See a spiritual awakening. Translation: give gays and lesbians a last chance to confess their sin and be guided into an ex-gay ministry.
* To strengthen the male/father image. Translation: reinforce patriarchy and make sure sex education is only about abstinence until marriage.

Robert Skolrood, one of the leaders, gave this rallying cry:
Homosexuality denies, really, the fundamental values of Christianity. It denies life, it denies God's expressed desire that men and women cohabit, and it denies the root structure that the Bible prescribes for all mankind and the family. What these people are against is absolute values. And Christianity is one of the stumbling blocks in their way.
White explains the "root structure":
God has given each of us a role to play in sustaining life on this planet. A gay man who refuses to do his God-given duty as husband and father helps bring down the entire structure.

I've heard the comment that when the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, Fundie groups needed a new way to raise money. Raising the specter of Godless Communism just didn't sweeten the pot like it used to. So Fundies turned to demonizing us to raise funds. White dismisses that comment. While Fundies did indeed raise millions off our backs and did so not long after the Iron Curtain fell, we weren't just a convenient target. These people genuinely believed we were (and are still) a dire threat to everything they hold dear.

This Glen Eyrie meeting described the "short term" solution. This solution included: deny all rights to same-sex couples, end all sex education except abstinence, stop gov't support of safe-sex progams and AIDS research, prevent gays from adopting, remove lesbian and gay teachers and pastors, remove hate-crime protections, prevent laws that ban discrimination, ban gays and lesbians from the military, recriminalize homosexual behavior, and do whatever else they can to keep us in the closet (or convince us to become straight). White asks the important question: If this is the short term solution, what is the long term solution?
Once fundamentalist Christians have successfully dehumanized our lives, demeaned our relationships, denied us our rights, devastated our families, destroyed our influence in church and society, and driven us back into our closets, what comes next?

This was a difficult post for me to write. It wasn't because the words didn't flow. It was having to spell out one false statement after another, knowing they were intentionally false and with the purpose of doing harm to me and my kind. We have been living with, trying to combat, and suffering from the poisons these statements have injected into the national conversation for 20 years now. I take great comfort that even with these poisons regularly hurled at us the public opinion of same-sex marriage, public accommodation laws, and hate crime laws has consistently shifted in our favor over the last 20 years and is now a majority opinion. Because of this very effective campaign, the GOP is still against us. In spite of it the nation is embracing us. These false statements are still out there and still do harm. Thankfully, more and more people see them as false.

There is another sign of hope, though it comes with pain. At the age of 12 Ryan Robertson told his parents he was gay. They, Rob and Linda, guided Ryan into a reparative therapy program. It didn't work and Ryan died of a drug overdose at the age of 18. Rob and Linda could have left their church. Instead, they chose to challenge the false teaching. The church leadership is having harder time simply branding them as no longer being a "real" Christian. Rob and Linda are using blogs and social media to find and band together with other parents who choose the love of a child over church doctrine. Various seminary scholars are becoming more vocal in their challenge to doctrine. The closure of Exodus has raised the question, "If I can't change my kid into being a straight Christian, then what?" Linda Robertson said:
I got a lot of emails from parents who said, "I don't know one other parent of a gay child. I feel like in my community, I don't have permission to love my child." They have a lot of questions. But then they're going back to their churches and speaking to their pastors, speaking to their elders and speaking to their friends, saying, "We have a gay child. We love them and we don't want to kick them out. How do we go forward?"

Thursday, November 27, 2014

In another's shoes

In an article reprinted on AlterNet Roman Krznaric talks about empathy. That word is gaining buzz because of "empathy marketing." The more a corporation can see the world through their customer's eyes, the more effective the sales. But instead of selling another pair of shoes why not walk in someone else's? Krznaric tells us of five people who did just that.

Goivanni Bernadone, a son of a wealthy merchant, was troubled by the contrast between the beauty of St. Peter's at the Vatican and the beggars outside. So he swapped clothes with one of the beggars for a day. He became Francis of Assisi and founded the Franciscans, a religious order of brothers dedicated to living in poverty like those they serve.

Beatrice Webb was doing research into urban poverty in 1887. She stepped away from her comfortable life to experience work in an East London textile factory. From that experience she published Pages From a Work-Girl's Diary which caused a sensation. Webb campaigned for improved factory conditions and for the trade union movement.

In 1959, white John Howard Griffin used medication and sun lamps to darken his skin. He then spent six weeks traveling the Deep South as a black man, experiencing racism. He wrote the book Black Like Me and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1983 G√ľnther Walraff of Germany started two years living as a Turkish immigrant worker, enduring harsh working conditions and harsh treatment by other Germans. His book Lowest of the Low led to criminal investigations of illegal labor and resulted in improved protection for contract workers.

In the late 1970s at the age of 26 Patricia Moore put on makeup to look old, wore fogged glasses to simulate vision problems, wrapped limbs and hands to simulate arthritis, and wore uneven shoes so that she hobbled. She traveled around America trying to walk up and down subway stairs, open store doors, and use can openers. She used that experience to design products, such as thick-handled potato peelers, that are now common in kitchens. She was also influential in getting the Americans With Disabilities Act passed.

There are ways each of us can practice experiential empathy, including a "wealth swap" or a "God swap."

The love you feel for your family

A pleasant Thanksgiving Day today. Dad, Mom, Sis, and Niece came for the afternoon. I roasted turkey (not a whole bird) and supplied the mixed veggies and squash. Sis brought the rest – fries (definitely not traditional), drinks (non-alcoholic!), and pie. Niece brought the game Clue and we (all but Mom) played a round. A pleasant day.



I've been posting so sporadically lately that I forgot to mention that as of ten days ago I've been writing this blog for seven years. This post is number 2766.



The big marriage equality case in Michigan, the one headed to the Supremes, started out as an adoption case. It was the judge who said to the lesbian couple the reason why they couldn't adopt each other's kids was because they couldn't get married. The couple, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, had adopted three special needs kids – more precisely, one is the legal parent of two of them and the other is legal parent of the third. The kids would be in a big mess if their legal guardian was incapacitated or died. The other parent is legally a stranger.

Here's an indication how good DeBoer and Rowse are as parents – they've adopted a fourth special needs child. The judge in the case said, "I've had a chance to follow the love you feel for your entire family."



Many years ago gay organizations took on Westboro Baptist Church. It wasn't through confrontation, but by using Westboro's visit to a town as a fundraiser. Gays and allies would pledge per minute of protest. The longer the protest, the more money was raised. The money would go to a local gay organization.

That idea is spreading. The German town of Wunsiedel is where Rudolf Hess, a deputy of Hitler, was buried. So for the last 25 years a neo-Nazi group has held a march through town. This year others pledged by meter walked with donations going to a program to help neo-Nazi members leave the organization. All this was a surprise to the marchers.



I had written about the stinging dissent when the 6th Circuit refused to declare bans of same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. There is one notable person who paid attention to that dissent. He is Paul Pfeifer, Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. His interest is personal – he is quite fond of his two grandchildren and their two moms. Now, he's not quite sure of this same-sex marriage thing, but those grandchildren need more protection they currently get under Ohio law. He also says the marriage ban doesn't belong in the Ohio constitution, so let's hurry up and vote for a repeal. Good to see he gets it – somewhat.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Arkansas, Mississippi!

A federal judge struck down the ban to same-sex marriage in Arkansas. The ruling came with a stay, pending an expected appeal to the 8th Circuit. There is a separate case before the state's Supremes. That one is an appeal of a county circuit judge's ruling that allowed 541 same-sex couples to wed earlier this year before the state Supremes put a stop to them.

A few hours later another federal judge did the same to the ban in Mississippi. It also came with a stay, pending appeal to the 5th Circuit, where there is already a case from Texas.

Isn't it nice that these rulings are becoming so routine I don't exclaim over the various ideas in the rulings? I didn't even read them.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Caught between

Instead of listening to Obama's speech on immigration this past Thursday evening I went to a Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert. Four of the five works on the program were new to the orchestra, one a world premier. I had a fine time.

So I heard about what the prez. did through the regular news media, mostly NPR. The big question pundits batted around was why did Obama do it and why do it now after John Boehner said such action would "poison the well" (never mind that Boehner put a concrete cap over the well long ago). The answer to that question seemed to be such things as: (1) Because the Senate passed an immigration bill 16 months ago and the House hasn't taken it up and likely won't. Or (2) Because Obama could.

Essayist Terrence Heath proposes another possibility, one he considers "brilliant." This has a few pieces to it:

* There really isn't anything the GOP can do in response because the steps Obama took are all legal.

* The news is bringing out the conservative crazies, who are spouting all kinds of nasty – accusing Obama of such things as leading up to a civil war. Latinos know they are the target of that nastiness.

* The GOP can placate the crazies only by alienating Latinos. The GOP needs the crazies to stay in power now but will need the Latino vote to keep power in 2016. Because of Obama's move they won't get both.

One big regret – Obama didn't do this a month ago when it might have made a difference in the last election.

Using his senses

After my post yesterday I went out to a movie. It is one with rave reviews, but the only time I could see it during it's weeklong run was 9:45 on a Friday night. The movie is The Way He Looks and was shown at Cinema Detroit. I've been at this cinema once before. It's in an old elementary school and is minimal operation, but it shows movies not shown anywhere else in the area. I'm still puzzled by the pool table in the boys room.

Alas, there was a glitch last night. The movie is from Brazil, so is in Portuguese. When it started the subtitles weren't showing and it took a couple minutes for the staff to catch on. Then it took 25 minutes of fussing over the equipment and another false start before the small audience could watch and understand. The subtitles were finally in place, though we also got a frame counter on the screen as well. When the movie was over (at midnight) the owner gave us passes for a future show.

The story is about Leonardo and his friend Giovana. They are in high school. Some of their classmates make fun of Leo because he is blind. He uses a noisy braille typewriter in class, appears to stare straight ahead, and needs Giovana to walk him home. His parents are overly protective to the point he considers a foreign exchange program to get out from under them.

Then Gabriel joins the class. Soon Giovana feels ignored and it takes a while to sort through all that, with lots of misunderstanding along the way. So what in all that teenage angst caught my attention? The story explores (at least a little bit) the idea of sexual attraction in the blind. If Leo can't see and be aroused by the human form how does he discover he is gay?

The actor who played Leo did such a convincing job playing blind that I wondered if they found a blind actor. I don't know the answer to that. Though I thought the other aspects of the story were a bit lightweight, Brazil has nominated the film as their submission for best foreign film Oscar.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Montana and South Carolina!

The same-sex marriage ban in South Carolina was struck down at the district court level. The 4th Circuit denied an appeal. The Supremes didn't grant a stay. Even before that stay was officially denied, a judge began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.



A district court in Montana declared that state's same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional. The state AG has vowed an appeal, though he probably won't get very far – the 9th Circuit has already ruled that such bans are unconstitutional. Marriages have begun.



So, yeah, South Carolina is getting same-sex marriage before Michigan – where the AG has filed briefs saying that because of the 6th Circuit decision to uphold the state's ban he wants to declare those 300 same-sex marriages from last March to be voided. Which makes this cartoon appropriate. I'm sure we'll get same-sex marriage before Mississippi – won't we?



The National Organization for Marriage has seen its fundraising plummet (only 50% of what they took in last year) and appear to be near death. Yay! Alas, since they are losing traction in America they are looking for friendly countries to set up shop – like Russia.

Truth and Reconciliation

I am finally able to publish my post about the Just Resolutions between Rev. Ed Rowe and Rev. Mike Tupper and those who filed complaints against them. The details were presented at a gathering in East Lansing last week. Ed and Mike are the Michigan United Methodist pastors who performed same-sex weddings. The Just Resolutions are the agreements they reached with the Michigan bishop. More details in my brother blog.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Holy Terror, part 2: Cast of characters

White discusses several leading people in the modern fundamentalist movement and what they contributed to where we are today. Some are well known – we've been battling them for 30 years. Others are new to me. White knew most of them personally and worked with them on a variety of book and film projects. The first one mentioned is Billy Graham, but mostly to say that while Graham was the best known Evangelical of the 20th Century, he was not a Fundamentalist. So, onward.

Next is Francis Schaeffer. He expounded on fundamentalist principles at L'abri, his compound in Switzerland. He wanted to restore fundamentalist principles to a religion that had strayed too far and he wanted to restore those same principles to America, which had also strayed too far (much more on this later). He was waging war to save both church and state. Schaeffer's 1981 book A Christian Manifesto was a call for fundamentalists to become politically active, to reclaim America for Christ.

No doubt Schaeffer was sincere in his beliefs and his goals. But his writings and speeches were full of incorrect interpretations (such as the Supreme Court and their ruling on prayer in public school) and hyperbole to rally the troops. Those techniques have been used consistently since then.

Though Schaeffer considered homosexuality to be "a part of the abnormality of the fallen world," he didn't exploit fear of gays for his fundraising.

The son of Francis is Frank Schaeffer, who grew up in the compound and is now repudiating his father's work. I wrote about Frank a few times in the past: here, here, and here. He apparently has a regular gig at Huffinton Post explaining fundamentalism while debunking it. This Frank Schaeffer is not the United Methodist pastor who performed a same-sex wedding for his gay son. That one spells his name with only one "f" and I frequently misspelled it when I wrote about him.

W. A. Criswell was for fifty years the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. In 1969 he preached a sermon titled, "Why I Preach the Bible is Literally True." This was the "shot heard round the denomination" and started the purge of progressives and moderates from the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In 1980 Criswell preached his first sermon against homosexuality. This sermon is the source of most of the lies that have been told and retold about us: He said the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexuality rather than inhospitality as the bible itself says. He misused the six other "clobber" passages to condemn us. He used faulty science to claim homosexuality is an acquired sickness that is curable. He conjured fear of gays and lesbians, on the march to secure rights. He railed against the teaching of sex education in schools. He used a few examples to declare all gay people live miserable lives. He concluded by saying gays may also accept the healing power of Jesus. And if they don't...

Before he died in 2002 at the age of 92 Criswell saw and regretted the pain caused by his demand that everyone agree with him about the inerrancy of the bible. Though Criswell laid the foundation of the Fundie view of homosexuality (and probably didn't regret that), he did not use homosexuality and fear of it to raise money.

About the time Francis Schaeffer was writing his Christian Manifesto Jerry Falwell was developing the Moral Majority. Schaeffer had put out the call to war; Falwell recruited and trained the troops. His first difficulty was getting over a psychological barrier – all his training was towards shunning those outside his denomination, but he needed fundamentalists in other denominations to help wage his war. Falwell later said, "Francis Schaeffer told me that in the past God used pagans to accomplish his will. Why shouldn't we?"

Falwell was a master of spin. His platform has four planks: Pro-life (women shouldn't have control over their reproductive rights), pro-family (no rights for gay people), pro-moral (but our definition of morality), and pro-American (making this a Christian nation by ending the separation of church and state).

Falwell, Paul Weyrich (a Jew), and Richard Viguerie (Roman Catholic) mastered mass-market mail to rally the troops to begin electing like-minded supporters to every level of government. In the 1980s they exploited fear of the "godless Soviet empire." Once communism collapsed in Europe Falwell and company exploited fears of millions of unborn babies and of the gay agenda. His letters described all this as a declaration of war. Their high point (so far) was in 2004 when their minions elected a fundamentalist president and established a firm hold on the House and Senate.

Pat Robertson created his own separate media empire and used it to push the Fundie agenda, including bashing sexual minorities. That empire is huge, reaching millions, and is well funded.

James Dobson also had a huge following through his own media outlet, Focus on the Family. He became the enforcer. If he didn't like what a politician was doing he would rant about it, prompting his listeners to inundate the politician's mail, email, and phone. It got to the point that some politicians called Dobson before a major decision. That was especially true of Bush II when the decision was judges for federal courts and justices for the Supreme Court (more on this later). Through this Dobson showed his intent of driving moderates out of the GOP.

Dobson created action councils around the country. While many of them had the word "family" in the organization's name, the names were different enough to avoid easy tracing back to Dobson. These local councils could do the political enforcement at the local and state level. Through his empire Dobson has become "the most powerful and the most influential voice on the religious right."

A key part of Dobson's efforts was to use the lies Criswell developed to demonize gay people. Part of it was because he saw us as a threat, part of it was because he could raise millions of dollars that way.

Mel White includes D. James Kennedy in this cast of characters. Kennedy is the head pastor of the huge Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in South Florida. Kennedy uses that platform to spout a more extreme version of what Dobson, Robertson, and Falwell say.
D. James Kennedy was the perfect shepherd to guide his flock away from the real problems of justice, mercy, and truth every Sunday with a fundamentalist Christian mix of patriotism, cheap grace, pseudopsychology, and scary apocalyptic warnings of what might happen to America if... If the evil Soviet empire triumphs... If homosexuals have their way with our children... If feminists destroy the family... If pro-abortionists continue killing a million unborn babies yearly... If criminals, teenage gangsters, drug peddlers continue to roam our streets.. If pornographers... If the internet... If Hollywood... If activist judges... If Hillary Clinton...
Kennedy was a signer, though not author, of A Manifesto for the Christian Church that was signed by 460 Fundies in 1986. This document includes a list of essential truths. At the top of the list is the inerrancy of the bible, which is
the test for all truth, including philosophies, books, values, actions, and plans, and the final measurement of all God wants mankind to know about law, government, economics, business, education, arts and communication, medicine, psychology, and science.
According to the Manifesto when a nation obeys the bible it will be blessed, when it disobeys it will be cursed. It is America's task to teach the rest of the world of God's laws. In the list of social evils, abortion is at the top followed by homosexuality, well above treatment of the poor (#5) and racial discrimination (#8). Since the bible must be taken literally the response to homosexuality must be the death penalty.

Schaeffer issued the call to arms. Criswell supplied the propaganda and the urge to purge. Falwell and Robertson supplied the troops. Dobson bullied the politicians. And Kennedy trumpeted their ultimate dream.