Thursday, January 30, 2014

Empathy gap

Stuff backed up in my browser tabs…

After the long lines for voting in 2012 Obama appointed an commission to make recommendations to fix the problem. Last week they gave their report. It has many of the usual things in it: early voting, vote by mail, online registration, etc. There were also several line management ideas: hand out numbers to allow people to sit, have workers walk the line to take care of registration issues before people get to the front of the line.

Alas, the commission doesn't have any money to give to states to fix problems such as outdated equipment (or simply having enough equipment). It didn't address such GOP hot-button items such as voter ID laws. And it can only recommend solutions and only persuade Congress and state legislatures to implement the ideas. And some states, especially battlegrounds, the GOP likes the idea that some people have a hard time voting.

A state representative in Oklahoma is proposing the state do away with all marriages -- at least not have the state recognize any marriage. That way it won't be illegal to ban gay marriages. Let's see, how many straight couples are willing to give up state marriage benefits or find they are only civil-unioned?

I didn't realize that Utah and Oklahoma are both a part of the 10th Circuit Court. In this court a random three-judge panel has been assigned to hear the Utah marriage equality case. The 10th Circuit has combined that case with the one from Oklahoma. So if these three judges rule in favor of marriage equality and the Supremes decline to hear the case then marriage equality comes to the entire 10th Circuit -- OK, KS, NM, CO, UT, WY.

Bloomberg News reports that sales of razor blades used in shaving have dropped 7.8%. The reason is the greater interest in beards. One response is some guys are shaving other parts of their bodies (definitely not for me), boosting razor sales in compensation. Another is guys are allowing beards to grow because razors have gotten so expensive.

Sean McElwee of Demos Policyshop wrote about our changing view of the poor. There has always been an aspect of cruelty in our portrayal of the poor. Treating them as morally corrupt allows us to justify our place in society. But we've gone from LBJ's "Poverty is not a trait of character," to McGovern getting tough on welfare, to Clinton promising and succeeding to "end welfare as we know it."

Why the change? With widening inequality the rich have separated from the poor and have no idea how the poor live. We have an empathy gap. Alas, a drop in empathy means a drop in trust. And that slows the economy and makes reducing inequality harder, creating a downward spiral.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Same love

As part of the Grammy Awards a couple days ago Macklemore and Lewis performed their song Same Love with Mary Lambert as 34 couples, gay and straight, were married by Queen Latifah. Madonna then sang an adapted version of her song Open Your Heart. I heard there was a lot of effort to keep the list of couples secret before the event.

Alas, I haven't seen a video of the event. Someone posted a the video to YouTube (which lots of news outlets linked to). But the Grammy organization demanded its removal based on copyright infringement (as is their right). So I went to the Grammy site. No video of the wedding segment, or at least not one I could find. Worth using up time during the broadcast, but not worth sharing afterward?

The trial is a good thing

One of the famous aspects of the California gay marriage case in Federal District Court in 2009 was that all but one the expert witnesses for the anti-gay side disappeared. Only one would agree to testify that gays and lesbians should not get married and he came close to contradicting his main point. There was some talk about the witness stand being a lonely place and a place where one cannot lie -- a direct critique that all our opponents had were lies.

So, perhaps, it is a good thing that the Michigan same-sex marriage case will go to trial, complete with witnesses, in February. According to Crystal Proxmire of Between the Lines the two sides have released their lists of witnesses. The state has four witnesses. The lesbian couple has a dozen. And a couple of them are well versed in the shoddy science and misuse of other studies that make up the anti-gay reasoning. A chance to flay their "research" in a court of law will be a an important aspect of the trial.

Appearing for the state (the BTL article has full bios):

Loren Marks wrote a study about the faults of same-sex parenting that criticize the techniques of studies that say same-sex parenting is just fine. The problems: he didn't actually read the studies he critiqued and his methodology lumped adoptive and gay parents together.

Mark Regnerus published a now-famous study that has been thoroughly debunked. The problem: he didn't study gay couples who remained together for the entire upbringing of the children.

Douglas Allen wrote a study on childhood instability. Again, he didn't study same-sex couples in long-term relationships. He criticizes a study by Michael Rosenfeld, who says his work was misused.

Joseph Price refutes the generally-accepted estimates of the number of people who are gay or lesbian.

Appearing for the family:

Dr. David Brodzinsky has studied child development, especially in areas of stress and coping. His work has included same-sex parenting, non-traditional families, and adoption.

Dr. Nancy Cott studies the institution of marriage. She will refute the state's claim that marriage is for procreation.

Dr. Gary Gates has used census data to explore characteristics of same-sex couples. He will testify that current state laws and denial of benefits leads to income discrepancies of same-sex couples and their children.

Dr. George Chauncey has been involved in several prominent legal battles over gay issues. Those included the Calif. marriage trial, the Texas sodomy trial, and the Colorado constitutional ban of gay rights.

Dr. Gregory Herek is an expert on prejudice and violence against gays and lesbians and of AIDS-related stigma.

Michael Rosenfeld will refute every aspect of the Regnerus study and tell how his own study has been misused (see above).

Jennifer Sanderson will testify on the economic burdens of same-sex couples who cannot marry.

Kathi Nelson works with an adoption agency and will talk about whether same-sex couples are fit parents.

Jane Bassett will testify about the costs we must bear to protect our relationships because the law won't.

Dr. Vivek Sankaran will testify about the burdens special needs children place on the Michigan foster care system and how second-parent adoption and same-sex parents might relieve that situation.

Luke Feltz, 23, was raised by lesbian parents. He earned a double major in Political Science and Globalization Studies. He has interned at the White House, the US House, and the Senate.

Zoe Almquist, 24, was raised by lesbian parents. She is an Assistant Field Hockey Coach at Northwestern University.

On their side, dubious (if not outright fraudulent science), only able to say gay people are bad parents. On our side, experts in science, adoption, marriage, personal finance, gay rights and legal battles, and of life experience.

Actually having both sides in the courtroom and our side able to show the bad science of their side as well as the harm the current laws inflict is an important precedent for marriage and gay rights cases around the nation. Alas, assembling all those witnesses and paying for travel might cost as much as $760,000. Follow links to the donation page.

Hitting the reset button

Now that a marriage protection amendment is before the full Indiana House, leaders are counting votes. In spite of a huge GOP advantage, the vote appears to be a lot closer than is comfortable: 38 in favor, 38 opposed, 11 not saying, and 13 undecided.

The text of the amendment is:
Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.
It is that second sentence that is the problem. It would ban civil unions (and all kinds of other mischief as Michigan discovered). And that becomes too uncomfortable for voters, likely the difference between rejection and approval.

So the House voted to amend the amendment. By a healthy margin they cut the second sentence.

The House has now passed the version without the second sentence.

That means if the Senate passes this version it cannot go before voters this November. The amendment process essentially starts over and the legislature would have to pass this text after the 2014 election to put it before voters in 2016. By then the mood in the country will have shifted more in our favor. Or the Supremes might make the vote irrelevant.

Strange that the leaders of the National Organization for Marriage aren't in Indiana urging lawmakers on. They're in Utah hosting rallies in a place where the debate is out of the legislature's hands.

It was Milo Smith, head of the House Elections Committee that got the amendment through committee and before the full chamber. His gay son Chris is not too happy with his father right now.

Decriminalized across Europe

When I got up this morning the thermometer showed -4F. I checked the college website and saw it is closed today. So I get a free afternoon. I got on to for their temperature map. The light blue band that meanders from Virginia through Arkansas and beyond is in the range 10 to 20F. The map shows how far south the cold is stretching. The marker at Detroit is over a darker purple showing -10 to 0F. The paler area in Minnesota and Wisconsin is below -20F.

The Turkish part of Cyprus has repealed the law that criminalized gay sex. That means there are no such laws in all of Europe. North America and Australia are the other continents free of such laws.

The Brokeback Mountain opera will premier soon. Production photos are now available and the opera will be streamed over the internet for 90 days starting February 7th. Alas, it might be a week before I have an evening free to see it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Saying goodbye and hello

It is official. This is the snowiest January in Detroit. As of Saturday 31.5 inches of snow has fallen, beating the 29.6 inches that fell in January 1978. More snow fell today and more forecast for tonight. We've had two bouts of cold weather, with temperatures topping out below 10F, with a third freezing week ahead. No January thaw this year. Shoveling is a challenge because I am running out of places to put the stuff. The mound in my front yard is about three feet high.

In the United Methodist Church pastors are appointed by the bishop and tend to serve 4 to 12 years before moving on (usually to a larger church and better pay). Since I moved into the area back in 1980 there have been six pastors in my local church. Two of them are regular readers of this blog.

I started attending that church (sorry for being oblique but I try to be anonymous here) just after New Year in 1980. Their new handbells arrived in February and they needed someone who knew what to do with them -- I had played in middle and high school. I was hooked. It was because of bells that I've done a lot of world traveling; I've attended ten International Handbell Symposiums in Japan, England, Korea, Australia, Canada, and here in America. Handbells are now how I make music.

I've done more than just bells. Over that last several years I served on the Stewardship Committee, talking about how we can be good stewards of the environment, our money, and of the church.

Alas, I am leaving that church. They have become stodgy and set in their ways, looking inward. I've been dissatisfied for a couple years now, but the bells and various projects associated with them have kept me there. But I went off to the Reconciling Ministries Network Convo at the end of summer and I'm inspired to take up various justice efforts. I realized this church had no interest in working with me. So I began to say I would not renew my committee work.

I began to search for another congregation and visited various options when my duties at my home church permitted. And I found one. Though twice as far away (four miles to the east instead of two to the south), I see that it is a welcoming place (perhaps we can make that official) and looking outward, thinking about what new ways can we help our community.

So just after New Year I said a few goodbyes. That church had been my home for 32 years (I was in Germany for two years, which is why it isn't 34). Since then I've been attending the new one.

Last Monday I told the bell choir. Alas, that group has dwindled to just four at the moment. They are in mourning at the moment. I will continue to lead them through a transition, but I don't think I can keep a foot in two churches.

The new church does have a bell choir. I haven't heard them yet. Alas, their rehearsal is at a time that is impossible for me.

This evening I attended the annual Variety Show at the new church. They don't call it a talent show because they don't discriminate against those with no talent. There were about two dozen acts. There were musicians, dancers, joke-tellers, and a few skits. Some were quite good, especially the drummer. One was a boy, perhaps 4th grade, who can now eke out three notes on his trumpet. The pastor told jokes with his sons (ages 8 and almost 6) delivering the punch lines. The kids of a couple families danced. It was all marvelous fun, even if I didn't know the personalities or in-jokes. It was a community enjoying each other's company and encouraging each other's talent.

Some day soon I'll have lunch with the pastor so he can get to know me and we can discuss what projects I might work on.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Is this what you meant by traditional marriage?

Sara Boboltz in Huffington Post reviews some major ideas in the history of marriage to show that today's much touted "traditional marriage" is nonsense.

In Ancient Greece marriage was to determine which heirs were legitimate. The ideal union was homosexual.

In many indigenous societies multiple wives were important simply because of the sheer amount of work that needed to be done.

In Ancient China the son had better side with his father even if it was against his wife. Family members married off deceased relations in ghost marriages so the dead would not be lonely.

In Egypt after the time of Alexander co-wives saw each other as a threat to the power of their own children.

Men in Ancient Rome were family managers. If he needed to form an alliance he would divorce a wife so his new friend could marry her.

In early Christianity sex was believed to interfere with spiritual salvation so celibacy was preferred. But if you must have sex, do it in a marriage.

In Medieval Europe marriage for the rich was a way for families to merge assets and create international support networks. For the poor marriage was a way to combine your small strip of land with your neighbor's. If the father's approved, the best match was the girl next door.

In 1563 the Catholic Church made marriage a religious sacrament. Just don't love your wife too much. This sacrament meant the church had a say in getting out of a marriage.

In the Enlightenment the idea of love in marriage finally gained ground and there was talk of companionship and cooperation. But not too much -- don't give women the idea they can undermine a man's authority.

Queen Victoria's wedding shifted the view of women from lusty to innocent. Men found it less stressful to visit prostitutes.

Marriage in the early 20th Century began emphasizing satisfying sex lives within marriage. Critics predicted the end of marriage in 50 years.

The 1950s (at least in America) emphasized the nuclear family and these held together pretty well. But there was a long list of kinds of people a white person couldn't marry.

Since then marriage has become to be seen as a human right, a partnership of the couple's own choice between equals. And that began to include same-sex couples.

Harming the sanctity of marriage

Benjamin Corey describes himself as a former fundamentalist. He writes a blog hosted by Pantheos. While still a fundie he repeated the often-told line that allowing gays to marry would harm the sanctity of marriage. But then he lived in states that allowed his gay friends to marry and noticed same-sex marriage hasn't affected the sanctity of his own marriage.
Not even a little. The fact that I’ve lived in states where my LGBT friends and neighbors are treated equal in the eyes of the law has not in the smallest way, done anything to harm the “sanctity” of my marriage.

But, you know who has?


Yeah, I’m the biggest threat to the sanctity of my marriage.

When I’m selfish, self-centered, put my needs ahead of my wife’s, and don’t treat her the way she deserves to be treated?

Yeah, that’s what affects the sanctity of my marriage. When my marriage has been at rocky points, and during the times it lost its sense of beauty, it can usually be traced back to yours truly.
The other big threat to the sanctity of marriage is divorce. And a big component of that is the conservative Protestant culture of divorce. Where fundie community norms and institutions are prevalent the rate of divorce increases, even when the couple is not a member of a fundie church.

On the list of things that threaten the sanctity of marriage, the gay community doesn't make the cut. So Corey offers an apology for opposing and slandering us.

Apology accepted.

In another post Corey describes why he is no longer a fundie. He wrote the post as a lover stating the reasons why he is leaving a relationship that isn't working. It isn't the beliefs, he says, it is the culture. His reasons:

He is tired of always trying to earn approval and acceptance. He is tired of the (fundie) church seeing people as objects to be converted instead of people to love. The church is more interested in changing him than in knowing him.

He is tired of the way the church treats women and his gay friends.

He is tired of the obsession with guns. That's a bizarre view of Jesus and creates a culture of violence.

He is tired of the insistence that Jesus was a Republican. Jesus said, "Follow me," not, "Follow the Republican National Committee."

He is tired of the obsession with power and control.

He is tired of finances going towards things like the Creation Museum and not social justice.

A few days later he responded with many of the things he does like about the fundie church, which is why it was so difficult to leave.

The church is great at lively worship. It is great at building community. It is great at its dedication of the Bible.

Security brought to you by Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola just got itself into a big PR disaster. I reported before about the Russian activist who unfurled the gay flag as the Olympic Torch passed by. There's another aspect to that story. A lot of Olympic officials, including the security staff, have uniforms that display the Coca-Cola logo. One such security guard is seen tussling with the activist, his Coke logo visible. So Coke was asked about it. They sided -- with the security guard. Gay organizations are, of course, jumping all over Coke's mishandling of the issue.

America is ready

Buzzfeed has an article about Evan Wolfson and his organization Freedom to Marry. The group essentially began 30 years ago when Wolfson was in law school and wrote papers justifying the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

Wolfson's goal now is to get another marriage case before the Supreme Court. He is planning with two timelines in mind -- in 2015-2016 or in 2017-2019. He can't tell when the Court might take up a case, though there will be several to choose from. Cases are already pending in the 6th, 9th, and 10th Circuit Courts.

To get a favorable outcome from the Supremes Wolfson has a three-part plan: change public opinion, win more states, and end federal marriage discrimination.

Win more states: Oregon is up next with a ballot proposal. It is important because it is voters overturning a marriage protection amendment they had previously approved. Other states are talking, but none likely to put it to a vote this year.

End federal discrimination: With DOMA gone this is well underway, though there are various laws and regulations that need to be challenged.

Change public opinion: Freedom did a poll in early December to check on public opinion. People were asked whether they were in favor of same-sex couples getting married.

I created the chart so that it shows all results listed here.

In all states that don't already have marriage equality: 51% in favor, 41% opposed.

That is broken down to Midwest states (Pennsylvania to Dakotas): 59% - 36%

Western states: 53% - 34%

Southern states: 46% - 46%.

And… 56% said they believe their state will have marriage equality in two years.

Wolfson's big task now: telling decision makers -- politicians and judges -- that America is ready for the freedom to marry.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Engineering a giant loss

I've been following the marriage protection amendment work its way through the Indiana legislature. It was passed by lawmakers in 2010 and must pass them again before appearing on the ballot. They apparently didn't try last year, waiting for the Supremes to rule on the Defense of Marriage Act. The amendment had been sent to the House Judiciary Committee where it got stuck. There weren't quite enough votes for it to pass. At the time Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin said if the GOP leadership was smart they would let the bill die in committee.

They're not smart.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, in a highly unusual move, switched the bill to the Elections Committee because there was a better chance to pass it. And indeed they did so, voting promptly (who needs testimony?) with a tally of 9-3 to send the bill on to the House floor.

Let's see now. The last win for the "traditional" marriage folks was North Carolina in May of 2012. At that time the number of states with marriage equality was six (plus DC). Since then three states won equality at the ballot box in 2012 and another eight this year through a variety of means (not counting Utah, which is on hold).

So, yeah, the traditional folks are desperate for another win. They need to show that marriage equality (and gay rights in general) isn't a foregone conclusion, that all those states that have it now are just flukes. How desperate? Just think about how conservatives do anything political these days. The scene this time will be Florida where they plan to engineer a giant loss. Ned Flaherty of the New Civil Rights Movement provides details in a seven part (four post) series.

There is a new political action committee with the name Equal Marriage Florida (EMFL). Great! we say. About time. But it was created with the help of Tim Mooney, a GOP strategist, and other GOP insiders. Yeah, something fishy. Vanessa Brito declared herself president and treasurer and put forth a plan for marriage equality in Florida. She said it would take $6 million.

The state voted for a marriage protection amendment in 2008 by 62% with only 38% against. That 38% opposition to the ban hasn't changed in six years. A change to the constitution (meaning a voter repeal) requires 60%.

Thirteen (gay rights?) organizations rejected Brito's plan as too costly, to divisive, too psychologically harmful, and doomed to failure. The loss would slow our rights in Florida and break our national winning streak.

When reporters began snooping around EMFL (which reporters do with any election organization) Brito clammed up. She claims to have money, but in finance reports mandated by state law she reports zero donations and zero expenditures (when she files at all). EMFL claims to have tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of signatures on petitions to get the issue on the ballot. But without money how were those names collected? The tally keeps changing. And Brito remains silent.

Flaherty contends EMFL was created not to win marriage equality, but defeat it. Along the way it would ruin activist morale and burn up gay dollars so they can't be spent elsewhere.

Flaherty documents the mischief Mooney has been making on behalf of the GOP, starting with running the marriage protection amendment campaign in Utah in 2004 (the one overturned last month). He also got Ralph Nader on the ballot in several states in 2004, splitting John Kerry's vote and giving the election to Bush II. Sweet guy.

EMFL is poised to hand us a defeat in either of two ways. The first is a failure to collect enough signatures. With a claim of 200,000 signatures in November and a million (a huge portion of Florida's 16 million potential voters) due by February 1 and no money or clamoring volunteers EMFL is almost guaranteed to not make it. Conservative organizations are poised to jump on that, saying, "HA! You couldn't even raise enough signatures! We WIN! And we didn't have to spend a dime!"

But that is preferable to the second way to defeat -- actually getting on the ballot. The campaign would unleash the forces pent up since the California battle in 2008. Yet EMFL says $6 million would be enough to counter that deluge of money. Sure it will.

Out of the 16 million potential voters, 7 million are over 50, mostly GOP, and very much want to keep the ban. How does EMFL intend to convince 2 million of them to switch their votes? Not necessary, they say. We'll focus on the young voters. But why spend $6 million on those already with you and ignore those who aren't?

Flaherty summarizes the damage of getting on the ballot:
Floridians — not to mention the rest of the nation — will then suffer through another bitter, vicious campaign in which billboards and broadcasts call LGBT people defective, deviant, depraved, and demonically possessed. While that campaign rages in this southernmost state, teenagers who are LGBT or who have same-gender parents are likely to be brutalized, and children from all age groups will be victims of the prejudice for which America’s deep-south theocrats are so famous.
And all that nastiness would be followed by a defeat at the polls.

The EMFL website and Facebook pages trumpet their efforts would "guarantee the freedom to marry." Nope. Their proposed repeal only repeals the constitutional ban. The statutory ban would continue because only lawmakers can repeal laws. The legislature is 63% GOP and they have all vowed to never repeal the ban. And Dem lawmakers don't dare mention a repeal and are even hesitant to propose domestic partnerships.

So, yes, politics played dirty and designed to lose. At our expense.

Will not defend the ban

The trial of another United Methodist pastor has been set. More on my brother blog.

A group of Oklahoma United Methodist clergy have declared their support for the judge who struck down the state's gay marriage ban.

The ACLU has sued the state of Utah on behalf of the more than 1300 same-sex couples who married there in December and January. Gov. Herbert has declared the state will not recognize those marriages until the repeal process has been concluded. The ACLU says they were legal when the ceremony happened. They remain legal. The state must recognize them.

A same-sex marriage case will go before a judge (not sure at which level) in Virginia on January 30. Mark Herring, the state's Attorney General has said he will not defend the ban. He says it is unconstitutional. That leaves the defendant, a county clerk who refused to issue a license to the plaintiffs, scrambling for legal representation.

A legal battle between two drug companies gave us a bonus. As part of their wrangling over AIDS related drugs, one side dismissed a gay juror. That part of the tussle went before the 9th Circuit Court. They said that people cannot be excluded from a jury because they are gay. The 9th Circuit went on to declare that for all of its business it will require heightened scrutiny in gay discrimination cases. That means a state must have more than a rational reason for its discrimination. When denying gay people something the law must be narrowly constructed to a specific purpose of vital interest to the state that can't be achieved any other way. Which means in the 9th Circuit the standard reasons for discrimination against gays won't be able to pass constitutional muster. This is especially important when the court examines same-sex marriage bans.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

We're not as bad

As the Olympic Torch went through the town of Voronezh, activist Pavel Lebedev came into the roadway and unfurled a small rainbow flag. He was arrested and hauled off to the police station "to clarify the circumstances of the incident." Perhaps he'll be fined for "violating public order." I note that the anti gay propaganda law isn't mentioned. Photos here.

On This Week (and probably not in response to the incident above) George Stephanopoulos asked Vladimir Putin about the anti-propaganda law and whether people wearing rainbow pins will be arrested in Sochi. Putin drew a distinction between protesting a law and actual gay propaganda. I don't know on which side the rainbow pin would land. Then he said, why criticize us? In some US states homosexuality remains a felony.

Stephanopoulos reminded him that the Supremes struck down those laws (and did so ten years ago).

That didn't slow Putin down much. These laws are in sync with the vast majority of our population, just as in many US states. So don't interfere with our laws. Besides we're not as bad as 70 other nations that consider homosexual behavior to be a crime.

I brought the first stone

Sweet! In December Shreveport, Louisiana became the second city in that state with an LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance. There was on dissenting vote -- Councilman Ron Webb. This month Webb introduced a proposal to repeal the ordinance. Then he came face-to-face with Pamela Raintree, a transgender woman, who came to a City Council meeting. She held up a stone and said (video here):
Leviticus 20:13 states, 'If a man lie also with mankind as he lieth with a woman, they shall surely put him to death.' I brought the first stone Mr. Webb, in case that your Bible talk isn't just a smoke screen for personal prejudices.
Webb withdrew his proposal.

When same-sex marriage erupted in Utah last month the state asked the 10th Circuit Court for a fast-track ruling. The Court agreed and set dates for when the opening briefs needed to be filed. Now the state is saying, um, could we have an extension? Say, ten days? We, um, just hired our legal counsel yesterday. The 10th Circuit responded that requests for extensions "are very strongly discouraged, and will be considered only under extraordinary circumstances."

Plaintiffs said these circumstances are not extraordinary. You're only slowing down the case you said needed to be sped up.

Commenters asked what should take ten days? You don't have any more lame reasons for discrimination to add to your case.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, embroiled in the scandal of backing up traffic to the George Washington Bridge, famously said, "I'm not a bully." That prompted lots of people in NJ to say, oh yes you are!

Terrence Heath explores the case and explains why Christie was the darling of the GOP, if not the Tea Party, at least until now. Back in 2011 at a private GOP event Christie summed up the internal GOP philosophy: "We spend too much. We borrow too much. We tax too much. It is time to turn those three things around." And … "Now, pain will be inflicted when we change that."

Heath says "Pain will be inflicted" is the creed of the bully and fits quite well with the GOP created "bully economy." And, as we see with the GOP refusal to renew jobless benefits, a great deal of pain is still being inflicted.

Ireland's economy recovered? Ireland's Celtic Tiger economy was trashed when the economic mess started back in 2008, though not as bad as the economies of Greece and Spain. Ireland was forced to endure the austerity measures to satisfy its creditors and is working its way out. So has its economy recovered? Ask the lenders and international corporations who moved there for low taxes and the answer is yes. Ask the residents and you get a different answer.

Terrence Heath explores the economies of Ireland and Europe as a whole. Growth has been quite slow. That's because the economies of Europe are under the austerity policies of the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). A big problem is that European citizens don't have a say in what these organizations do.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Why make distinctions on gender?

David Mixner finds that youth are working to do away with the concept of gender. There aren't girl's toys and boy's toys, there are simply toys. There aren't girl's clothes and boy's clothes, there are comfortable clothes that fit a personal style. There aren't women's jobs and men's job, there are simply jobs. There aren't women's household chores and men's household chores, there are chores for whoever is better at doing them.

One of Mixner's young friends explains it to him this way:
Really David if we all are truly equal why do we have to make distinctions on gender? Doesn't that concept literally become irrelevant? Just think everyone will be liberated from the current gender requirements and totally free to explore every aspect of themselves. Now, David, that is freedom.
Mixner ponders that and expands on it.
People can be exactly who they want to be at any particular moment. They are just people. They can dress how they want, explore every aspect of their personalities and have intimacy with whom they want at any time in their lives. No one is labeled, stereotypes are thrown out the window, judgment of others quickly disappears, the roles that are currently demanded by gender identity are ended and shame of such exploration is non-existent.
As this young generation makes their presence and ideas felt, it will be fascinating to watch how they change the country.

Being humane is economical

The Salt Lake Tribune did a poll last week about the view Utah residents have on same-sex marriage. Overall, the state is evenly divided with 48% in favor and 48% opposed. Civil unions fared a lot better with 72% in favor and 25% opposed.

Breaking down the marriage views a bit, only 32% of Mormons are in favor while 76% of non-Mormons are in favor. Only 30% of Republicans are in favor while 81% of Democrats are in favor.

As America was dealing with the Polar Vortex and blistering cold and as American talking heads were using that as proof that climate change didn't exist, Australia was experiencing a record setting heat wave. Actually, it started at the end of December and is still going on, breaking records, and playing havoc with the Australian Open tennis tournament. How hot is it? Several places have topped 105F, a few have pushed past 110F, and a few places in the interior are getting close to 120F. That's hot.

For 40 years conservatives have been using a divide-and-conquer strategy. Label the poor as lazy, dependent on our tax dollars, and overwhelmingly black. Essentially "them." The working class was working harder to stay in one place (even sending wives to work), proudly independent, and white. The strategy capitalized on racial prejudice and economic anxiety, fueled resentment for gov't taxes and spending, and distracted everyone from the real cause of the misery -- the 1% busting unions, outsourcing jobs, and replacing workers with automation.

That strategy isn't working anymore. Too many of the white working class are in poverty or have had a brush with it. A lot more face economic insecurity. "They" are becoming "us."

Terrence Heath reviews the chemical spill that left 300,000 residents in West Virginia without water to drink, wash clothes, or bathe for a week. The culprit -- the conservative desire to deregulate. The tank that leaked was described as an antique, maybe 70 years old. So much for the idea that corporations are responsible citizens willing and able to do what it takes to keep the public safe. Thankfully, no one died. This time.

What to do with all the homeless people? They've always been around, but the ongoing economic mess has increased their numbers. But people sleeping in parks looks unsightly and makes others (read: respectable citizens) feel unsafe. Take a sledgehammer to the shopping carts that hold all they own? Threaten them with arrest? Ban panhandling? Ban religious groups from going to parks to feed them?

Utah, one of the reddest states, did a bit of calculation. Emergency room visits and jail stays came to over $16,000 for each homeless person. Providing that person with an apartment and a social worker was only $11,000. So Utah ended its homeless problem by giving them homes. Now the GOP in Washington would have probably attached strings: require a drug test, deny those with criminal records, or kick them out if not self-sufficient within five years. But Utah attached no strings. Permanent housing is cheaper than criminalization. It's humane -- and economical. Other states are considering the idea.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Lesbian couple v. ?

Who had role of defendant in the Oklahoma marriage equality case is a convoluted, but important story. The original case (way back in 2004) named the Gov. and AG. But they argued, eventually successfully, that it is county clerks who issue marriage licenses and they are part of the Judiciary branch of state gov't. So in 2009 the Gov. and AG were off the case -- along with the state's legal dept.

Next in the defense seat were the US AG (because of DOMA), the Tulsa County Court Clerk, and the State of Oklahoma. The court dismissed the state as defendant, and Eric Holder, the US AG, said he would not defend DOMA.

Next the US House GOP leadership stepped into this case, in the same way they stepped into the DOMA case before the Supremes. But when the Supremes canned part of DOMA the House leadership dropped their participation in the Oklahoma case.

That left the county clerk, represented by county lawyers. The national organization Alliance Defending Freedom stepped in, offering their services. And the ADF has an astonishing record -- for losing cases.

A commenter notes the ADF isn't made up of lawyers, but of fundraisers. And a legal win would mess up their Christians are being discriminated against! Send money! spiel.

Puzzles in Uganda

The anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda had hung around for three years before being passed suddenly last month. Uganda's president has withheld his assent and sent the bill back to Parliament. It isn't that he disagrees with the bill. It's that he objects to the way Parliament passed it -- there apparently wasn't a quorum present.

But there are a lot of puzzles. The president's letter to Parliament is dated Dec. 28 and made public only yesterday. Is it a formal rejection? Or a refusal to recognize a bill that not lawfully enacted? Was the action to remove the death penalty from the bill also not lawful? Is the death penalty back in the bill?

Or perhaps the president was thinking out loud while working through the issue (the text of the letter has now been posted) and isn't a formal refusal or formal complaint about Parliament's lack of quorum. But he better do something official quickly. If he does nothing in 30 days (which might be next week) the bill becomes law without his assent.

Wilde time

I saw a performance at the Hilberry Theatre yesterday. The weather was quite messy, so if I hadn't ordered and paid for a ticket I would not have bothered. Snow fell while I taught yesterday afternoon and highways were slow going for the evening commute. But instead of going home I went to Detroit's Midtown area.

First stop, after a slow drive from the college, was Whole Foods, as in while I'm in the area… By the time I parked near the theater I had only a half hour for supper (though I could have -- and did -- delve into what I had just bought at Whole Foods). I dashed into a Mid-East fast food place on the Wayne State University campus (of which the Hilberry is a part).

The preshow discussion for a very sparse crowd started a bit late. The speaker was John Corvino, a WSU philosophy professor and known as the Gay Moralist. It is his reputation that prompted me to attend last night's performance rather than one with better weather. He gave a bit of background and context for the evening's play, though he didn't enhance the evening's experience all that much.

The play was Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. The script was written/assembled by Moises Kaufman. He's the same guy who created The Laramie Project about the death of Matthew Shepard and both plays have actors playing multiple roles. Material was taken from the various descriptions of the trial (including the official transcript) and writings of the participants.

Yes, we're talking about the famous Oscar Wilde, the one who wrote the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and the play The Importance of Being Ernest among lots of other things that skewered Victorian England. I had known the outlines of the 1895 trials: Wilde took Lord Alfred Douglas as an "intimate friend." Alfred's father, Marquess Queensberry who was estranged from his son, objected to the relationship and threatened Wilde. Queensberry left a calling card at Wilde's club, which contained the words, "For Oscar Wilde, posing as a somdomite." He wasn't a good speller. Wilde sued for libel. Queensberry responded that it wasn't libel because it was true. During the trial when Queensberry's lawyer threatened to call several of Wilde's boy-toys as witnesses, Wilde withdrew the suit. That implied Queensberry was telling the truth. And that implied the Crown has a case of gross indecency against Wilde.

I didn't know the second trial ended in a hung jury or that there had been a third trial. I did know the final trial (which I thought was the second) ended in a guilty verdict. Because the crime was so detestable the judge sentenced Wilde to two years of hard labor. The judge thought Wilde deserved more, but the law limited the sentence to two years. Serving that time broke his health. The nature of the crime and the cost of the trials caused his finances to collapse. Wilde died three years after release at the age of 46.

There were two telling moments in the trials. At one time Wilde was asked by the opposing lawyer if he had kissed a particular boy. Wilde said he had not. Why not? "Because he was ugly." Wrong answer. The second was when he was asked, "What is the love that dare not speak its name?" Wilde's response was eloquent and too long to reproduce here. The text is in Wilde's Wikipedia entry.

At the start of the second act the playwright, portrayed by an actor, interviews a college professor about Wilde. It covered some of the same material John Corvino did. One point presented: Is it appropriate for Wilde to be described as gay when he didn't see himself as gay? Part of that is the concept of homosexuality was just making its way into English. That could be argued for a long time.

More importantly is Wilde's contribution to modern thought. Wilde defended Dorian Grey, in spite of its unsavory characters, because the story is told artistically. By the end of the trials Wilde began to see himself as a homosexual. Alas, the "professor" in the play was rambling and the Wikipedia entry doesn't have a section on cultural contributions.

I knew the Hilberry was color-blind when casting. There was a show a few years ago in which a senator in 1950s America had a black actress playing his wife. But I didn't think their casting was gender-blind. This play has nine actors on stage, all but two playing multiple roles. I was surprised that the actor playing lawyer Sir Edward Clarke was female. She and the female playing the judge (and one of the insolent boy-toys) did a marvelous job. In reading the program afterward I found out why women had those roles. There are only a dozen actors in the company this year (usually 18-20) and seven of them are male. They didn't have enough men for all the roles.

I also noticed something in the program that raises another question. The Hilberry Theatre company awards a Master degree in acting and takes three years. Actors are listed as "2nd year" etc. But this time there are no "1st year" students. Is the program ending or downsizing? Perhaps changing focus? There are 1st year students listed in the other departments -- acting, scene and light design, stage and theater management.

A review of the play is here, though this blog doesn't allow extracting an isolated entry. Scroll down to find it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Can you hear me now?

There was a big abortion case before the Supremes today. It wasn't about the process itself, but about how close protesters could get to the patients. Massachusetts says there is a buffer zone of 35 feet outside a clinic. Those against abortion say they have a free speech right to quietly counsel those going into the clinic. Those for women's choice say that such counseling is rarely quiet. Nina Toetenberg summarizes the debate in the court.

It seems to me one key aspect was missing, something my friend and debate partner reminds me of occasionally. It wasn't mentioned by the lawyers or the justices. While the protester has the right of free speech the patient has a right to not listen. And if the protester is allowed to quietly counsel (read: get in her face), the right to not listen becomes difficult.

During today's proceedings Chief Justice John Roberts was uncharacteristically silent. He might be the deciding vote.

Criminalized, not banned

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin has a clarification for reporters covering the nasty anti-gay law in Nigeria that just went into effect: Places like Michigan banned gay marriage. If a same-sex couple gets married in Michigan what happens is the state ignores the marriage. But Nigeria criminalized gay marriage. A same-sex couple who gets married there gets hauled off to jail where they sit for 14 years (if the experience doesn't kill them).

The new law also criminalizes everything related to being gay. And local law enforcement are already acting (some before the law was signed). Known gays are arrested and tortured to reveal names of their gay friends. Police confiscate cell phones and those are used to lure the friends. The list of names expands. If the police feel kind they might settle for bribes in exchange for letting the victim go.

Because the new law doesn't require much evidence there is a way for victims to fight back. When tortured for the names of their friends they should say it includes the policeman's brother or father, local pastors, politicians, city mayors, and anyone else in power.

More details of the law and its consequences here.

This is what "substantially similar" means

Indiana is one of the few states without marriage equality that doesn't have a ban in its constitution. The Right Wing in the state is trying to change that. But the constitution doesn't make that easy -- the exact same amendment text must be passed by the legislature twice with a legislative election in between.

The first such vote was in 2010. At the time the text was one that bans everything -- no gay marriage, no civil unions, no recognition of any kind. But the mood has shifted and progress has been made. Banning civil unions appears to be too cruel. Lots of big corporations and universities in Indiana are very much against the amendment because it compromises their attempt to recruit top talent. Who wants to be the last Hate State?

But if the GOP changes the text of the amendment they have to start over and their chances for voter approval in 2016 will be even lower.

So, the GOP is trying to have it both ways. They are working to pass the original text and a bill that says: This is what we mean by that text about "substantially similar" to marriage.

Watchers are quick to point out the amendment will be in the constitution and the explaining law will not. Their language conflicts. When judges get a case (and they will) they are obligated to look at one which might lead them to strike down the other. In addition, watchers are quick to point out all the mischief (Michigan banned domestic partner benefits for state and city workers because of its amendment) that "substantially similar" clause has caused.

The whole thing is currently in the House Judiciary Committee and on Monday they adjourned without voting. And today Indiana Governor Mike Pence repeated he is for the amendment and urged lawmakers to resolve it this year -- meaning don't change the text. Pence is also the keynote speaker for an anti-gay group next week.

According to the United Methodist Book of Discipline "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church." According to lots of church leaders at all levels, especially those hiring church musicians, this phrase has always been interpreted to refer to only clergy.

But the interim pastor of a United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Indiana took the "appointed to serve" phrase to mean all people in local church leadership. His District Superintendent backed him up. So a beloved choir director was not rehired (the history of the situation is convoluted enough that I won't go into why rehiring was necessary). The dispute also forced out an intermediary (it isn't clear which official church position he held).

The result: 80% of the congregation stopped attending.


Federal District Judge Terence Kern struck down Oklahoma's constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage. He also immediately stayed the ruling pending appeal, so no gay marriages yet. Yes, this amendment was passed with 75% of voters approving it back in 2004. Almost immediately it was challenged. The state sat on the case for nine years, making lots of people think nothing was happening. Then this ruling popped up. Perhaps we should be pleased with the last year of the delay because it allowed the Supremes to rule in gay relationships last summer.

The reasoning behind the ruling are becoming blessedly familiar -- our opponents have only so many reasons for their discrimination and each is easily refuted. Is a defense of traditional marriage only a guise for impermissible discrimination? Kern pulled it apart this way:

The amendment targets only same-sex couples. The effect is not small; it is "a total exclusion of only one group." That exclusion was not an unintended consequence. It was the reason advertised when the amendment was sold to the voters.

Moral disapproval is not a permissible justification for a law. The state has shown no other reason for the law.

There is no evidence of a rational link between the goal of promoting responsible procreation within marriage and excluding same-sex couples from marriage.
Permitting same-sex couples to receive a marriage license does not harm, erode, or somehow water-down the "procreative" origins of the marriage institution, any more than marriages of couples who cannot "naturally procreate" or do not ever wish to "naturally procreate."
Same-sex couples are being subjected to a "naturally procreative" requirement to which no other Oklahoma citizens are subjected, including the infertile, the elderly, and those who simply do not wish to ever procreate.

Barrring gays from marriage does not make it more likely that same-sex couples raising children will switch to marry an opposite-sex partner. The ban also does not make it more likely that opposite-sex marriages will stay together.
Excluding same-sex couples from marriage has done little to keep Oklahoma families together thus far, as Oklahoma consistently has one of the highest divorce rates in the country.
A threat to marriage? It may be a threat to one view of marriage, a view based on procreation, an "ideal" parenting model, and fidelity. But the marriage clerk (the defendant in the case) doesn't ask opposite-sex couples whether they intend to be faithful, if they intend to procreate, or if they might consider divorce, leaving children to be raised by a single parent. Calling same-sex marriage a threat is only another way of declaring moral disapproval.

Thus, the amendment is "an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit." And, "Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights." For these reasons the amendment is unconstitutional.

Gov. Mary Fallon, apparently not reading the conclusion, declared "I support the right of Oklahoma’s voters to govern themselves on this and other policy matters." So, yes, she is in favor of tyranny of the majority over the constitution. A commenter responds that Fallon has been divorced twice, her daughter divorced twice, and her son divorced once. Another wonders if straights have botched marriage so badly shouldn't we let gays have a try? A third notes that if this was a case of gun control she would be screaming about constitutional rights.

Monday, January 13, 2014

My family deserves protection too

Gay men are better bosses? There is a book about that: The G Quotient: Why Gay Executives Are Excelling as Leaders . . . and What Every Manager Needs to Know. We're better managers because we respect subordinates as actual people with actual lives and treat them with compassion. Our coming out taught us to adapt and be resilient and to avoid or confront discrimination. We know who we are and that security means we don't need to assert dominance over others.

A commenter says that may be true -- except for the drama queens

I mentioned the Let it Stand rally at Utah's Capitol a couple days ago. One of the speakers was 12-year-old Riley Hackford-Peer, son of a lesbian couple. His basic message:
Governor Herbert wants to treat my moms unfairly. He says he wants to protect families. But I want to tell him that my family deserves protection too! I have two moms. And I love them. And they deserve to have their marriage recognized everywhere.
He's quite poised for a 12-year-old. So if same-sex parents are supposedly so detrimental to a child how do they become so self-assured? The video is under 4 minutes.

David Mixner reports the Nigerian president has now signed a draconian anti-gay laws. A person can get sent to prison for 14 years for being gay, for owning a gay club or social organization, for taking part in a gay advocacy group, or even meeting to discuss a gay issue. And Nigerian prisons are so shockingly bad that entering one is essentially a death sentence.

Why was the bill signed, and why now? It was signed because public opinion is about 90% in favor of the bill. The why now is because it appears to be a distraction from how poorly the president is handling the Boko Haram insurgency that will probably send the country into civil war.

Yes, Sec'y of State John Kerry has expressed America's shock and concern. Will anything else happen. Probably not. Nigeria produces a lot of oil.

Guaranteed to produce shoddy journalism

I usually don't listen to the NPR show On the Media. It seems to be one of those self-referential things -- reporting about reporting or journalism about journalism -- though that can be useful. But yesterday afternoon I went to a great concert in the northwestern suburbs and I figured I better stop at Plum Market and Whole Foods (snacking on their samples of cheese) while in the neighborhood. So it was about 7:00 by the time I headed home and wanted something to listen to. Fortunately, it was a topic I found interesting.

It was all about how the media gets sucked into reporting bogus stories. I found four of the seven segments of the show to be worth sharing.

The first segment is Sucked Into the Polar Vortex all about reporting of the bad weather over the last couple weeks. There is a tendency of lots of people (especially in the media) to pontificate on things they know little about. Andrew Rivkin, writer of the Dot Earth blog of the New York Times, has a caution sign he uses when faced with the Single Study Syndrome -- something trumpeted in the media whose underlying science is shaky at best. While it might produce a great moment of radio or television it gives the public reason to distrust what is being said. Rivkin closes by commenting on Snowstorm Hercules (the name given by the Weather Channel -- coincidence that a Hercules moving is coming out soon?). It wasn't strong enough, says Rivkin, to warrant a name. It was like saying you're getting over Sinus Infection Fred.

On to Bogus "Blue Monday". This is supposedly the first working Monday in January, declared to be the most depressing day of the year. Holidays are over and we're back to work and the tough slog until spring. The scientific evidence? There isn't any. The whole thing was made up. Yet Big Media now trumpets Blue Monday every year.

According to Dr. Ben Goldacre, writer of Bad Science blog, Blue Monday was created by a guy in the travel industry trying to prompt people to book vacations for next summer (or even the coming February). He came up with an equation to "prove" it.

Now lots of publicity companies ask scientists for such equations, such as an equation to verify which fashion model has the sexiest walk. The scientist is given the goal, such as which model is supposed to win, and defines parameters accordingly.

These PR companies know more notice is paid when they get a mention in a news story than in an advertisement. They also know the science writers and editors at most newspapers don't have a feel for science and can't tell good science from bad. They're also short of staff. Which means many of them don't have much journalistic integrity.

Journalists claim it is in fun -- if so, please flag it as such. Or they get a check from the PR company and don't care.

In Obamacare Horror Story Maggie Mahar, writer of Health Beat blog, tells about a newspaper article written in Fort Worth. She has read the actual Affordable Care Act law three times. Some things in the article didn't add up, so Mahar dug deeper. The writer of the article said she had only two days to write the story. While she found people with insurance horror stories she didn't have time to check details -- such as a couple of them were Tea Party members out to repeal Obamacare.

The constraints on the writer were almost guaranteed to produce shoddy journalism: Fewer reporters who are now overworked, lack of resources, lack of time to fact-check, a writer covering too many fields and without much knowledge of any of them, and being used to covering the politics (winners and losers here!), not the policy.

And finally, Edward Caudill, author of Intelligently Designed: How Creationists Built the Campaign Against Evolution, tells how modern media helps their cause. Creationists exploited a template that Media has for political stories -- there are two sides in conflict. And in such stories they know to be fair and tell both sides. But that elevates creationism to be as equally valid as evolution. Then Creationists rebranded their product as Intelligent Design, removing explicit references to religion and making it sound more scientific. That also gets it around the prohibition of establishing a national religion in their effort to get it into the national curriculum. Then they bundled it in with gay rights, abortion, and other Fundie causes and made it all a part of the GOP platform as part of a general cry for religious freedom against those liberal bullies.

I delved into the comments of this segment. One said this story is old. The debate as presented hides a much more interesting story of how the Intelligent Design issue is being debated within Fundie circles.

There's another aspect of all this. Stories like these explain why reporting on what is a healthy American diet is so contrary to what my nutritionist says it should be. I see how easy it is for processed food companies to make us believe their product is the healthy way to eat. And modern Media doesn't have the resources, the time, or the interest in discovering the truth.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Let it stand

It looks like the polar vortex earlier this week froze parts of the American side of Niagara Falls. Click for pictures.

I wrote yesterday of the Texas representative who filed a bill that would prevent the federal gov't from recognizing same-sex marriages in states that ban such marriages. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin doesn't think the House will take it up:
While the good ol’ boys at the local Elks Lodge may all think his proposal is a fine idea, the Republican Party leadership will bury this dog. They know that the ship has sailed and that equality is the future and they want nothing more than to have the issue behind them. Preferable before 2016 so they can blame President Obama and the Supreme Court and move on to other issues.

Thousands of same-sex marriage supporters filled the Capitol in Salt Lake City. They were there to protest the governor's appeal of the marriage equality decision and to give him 58,000 signatures asking him not to waste $2 million on the appeal. Their slogan is "Let it Stand." Many of the protesters were, of course, same-sex couples who were married in the last few weeks. Here are some pictures of the protest.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Feeding the world

I've been reading yet another booklet from my nutritionist. This one is only 30 pages and doesn't go into the scientific details. Much of this is the same (though condensed) as in the previous two handouts. But there are a few things that I learned.

If your teeth show signs of crowding or your teeth are a bit crooked it is because your parents abandoned a healthy diet and adopted the Western diet of processed foods.

This booklet devotes three pages to the dangers of soy. Yes, it is used in Asian cooking, but mostly as a flavoring, not a source of nutrition. In addition, the traditional diets in Asia used fermented soy, which removes some of its harshness. It is a mistake to use it as a primary source of protein or a replacement for milk. A problem is that soy contains isoflavones, which are a form of estrogen. That speeds up maturity in girls, delays it in boys, and otherwise plays havoc with a person's endocrine system. All that is why the first thing my nutritionist told me is to eliminate soy.

In booklet's section of mythbusting it says vegetarians do not live longer than carnivores and do not have less heart disease. Another section stresses there are nutrients that are available in animal fat that aren't in plants. This got me thinking. Several books have said that unless all humans aim for a vegetarian (perhaps even vegan) diet we won't be able to feed the world's growing population. Now this booklet says we would be undernourished on a vegetarian diet. Which implies we cannot properly feed the world's population and that the world is now overpopulated. Are we aiming for a population crash?

There was a small piece that mentioned the nutritional benefits of soups made with bones. So I bought a turkey drumstick, put it in the crock-pot with water, added a bit of olive oil and herbs, and let it sit all day. This evening I took the drumstick out, dumped in frozen vegetables to cook, pulled the meat off the bones, and dumped the meat back in the pot. For a first try without following a recipe it came out pretty good. And compared with my struggle to debone a drumstick at Thanksgiving this worked quite well.

We're great at gentrification

Rep. Randy Weber, a Republican from Texas (which explains it all) has filed a bill that is red meat for his base. His "State Marriage Defense Act" says that if a state bans same-sex marriage the federal gov't can't recognize the same-sex marriages in that state. It also shifts the definition of marriage from the state of celebration to the state of residence -- so sneaking off to New Mexico won't help you. I don't know about the prospects for this in the House, but thankfully it has no chance in the Senate and would be vetoed by Obama. And the Supremes would likely stomp all over it.

The Washington Spectator (alas, links only for subscribers) in their January issue reports of a lawsuit to end the Senate filibuster. The defendant is Joe Biden in his role of President of the Senate. One plaintiff is Rep. John Lewis, who was physically beaten during a civil rights march in the 1960s. He says one of his bills passed overwhelmingly in the House didn't get 60 votes in the Senate. Other plaintiffs are undocumented residents of Arizona. Their complaint was the DREAM act, which would legalize their status, passed by a large margin in the House and died in the Senate. The filibuster isn't in the Constitution. It was created in 1805.

The case goes before the CD Circuit Court of Appeals. Prior to the change in filibuster rules last November this court had a slight GOP advantage with several vacant seats. Now that judges can't be filibustered this court has a Dem advantage and there are still two seats for Obama to fill. The constitutionality of the filibuster rests with a court whose makeup was affected by restricting the use of the filibuster.

What's a great way to revitalize Detroit? Bring in the gays! Several years ago I heard of Richard Florida, who studied the success of urban areas and found the most vital had a high creativity index. A big component of that is openness to different kinds of ideas and people. And the most telling component of that is gay people. In addition, we're great at gentrification.

Big problem: Detroit doesn't currently have a gay neighborhood (the closest thing to it is in Ferndale). One would have to be developed from scratch. Perhaps Palmer Park, Midtown, or Downtown would be good areas. Next problem: The state isn't exactly welcoming to gays and the mayor who took office last week was the first to specifically say nice things about us (though there was that gay City Council president who mysteriously disappeared one day (no foul play suspected)). So to make Detroit rise again start saying a lot of nice and helpful things about us.

Budget surplus? Tax Cut!

Lawmakers, especially the GOP variety, can be so annoying. The state news on Michigan Radio this morning first told about how the state legislature can't seem to come up with the money for the much needed repair to state roads. The difficulty is the GOP senators refuse to raise any taxes (income, gasoline, etc.) or fees (vehicle licenses).

That news was followed immediately by the coming GOP list of legislative priorities for the year. At the top of the list is a reduction in the income tax rate -- an "election-year tax cut" as news reports put it -- because there are projections of a budget surplus. The "election-year" phrase tells me it is for buying votes. There is also the representative who is aiming to zero out the income tax.

Of course, Democrats aren't all that far behind in pandering to the masses in saying a tax cut is a good idea. Though they temper that with a longing to do something for retirees (who only had to pay income tax starting a couple years ago), the middle class, and the poor. And wouldn't it be nice if we did something for the schools (whose budgets have been slashed over the last few years).

The GOP would likely insist on an income tax reduction. That's because the Michigan constitution requires the income tax to be a flat tax -- the rich benefit the most when it is cut. The GOP is also quite aware that a tax cut is a lot easier to vote for than a tax increase. Which means at the next downturn Michigan would have a hard time (again) taking care of its citizens -- another goal of the GOP.

Amazingly (because he is GOP), Gov. Rick Snyder is acting like the adult in the room and isn't in favor of a tax cut. With his business background he understands financial health. Cutting taxes at every hint of a surplus doesn't lead to fiscal responsibility.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Haggling over price with your doctor

David Cay Johnston in Newsweek explores the myth that healthcare is and should be a free market. The article was prompted by calls that healthcare's ills will be eliminated by a free and fair market.

More than four decades ago the Supremes defined a fair market as the
price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.
If these things don't exist price gouging happens.

So let's explore the details.
* Do we know the relevant data to check the price of an MRI or a dozen stitches?
* Price seems to be confidential and none of the patient's business until the bill is sent.
* Haggling with the doctor about price makes as much sense as haggling with an airline pilot.

Reasonable knowledge of relevant facts:
* What procedures and medications are essential to treatment?
* Is the treatment even necessary?
* What are the alternatives and their cost? Which one is best?

Free of Compulsion:
* Is that possible after an accident when you're writhing in pain and bleeding profusely?

If there is a free market there would be a narrow range of price for the same service. But prices for medical procedures vary widely. In addition the prices in America are much above the rest of the world. For example, the average cost for a day in the hospital is $853 in France and $4287 in America.

Johnston's proposal: Medicare for all. Switching everyone to Medicare would save enough money to flip the federal budget to surplus.

A year of progressive victories

Peter Dreier is a Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College. Last year he wrote an article for Huffington Post listing the 25 best progressive victories for the year. This year's list makes it an annual event. He has extensive documentation for each of his choices, so his article is long. And all those words mean I'd have to read them all to get a good summary. So I'll just give some highlights (and leave out some points).

1. Some notable progressives were elected this year, with Bill de Blasio of NYC at the top of the list.

2. Labor is starting a comeback with its protests for living wages.

3. There is momentum towards increasing the minimum wage locally and nationally.

4. The Occupy Wall Street movement has effectively changed the discussion of income inequality with its terms 99% and 1%.

6. In spite of the Supremes gutting a key part of the Voting Rights Act, local and state efforts have prevented some bad laws from being enacted and even got a few good ones passed.

7. LGBT rights have indeed made big progress with nearly doubling the number of states with marriage equality (Utah still up in the air) and the election of some gay mayors.

9. Maryland abolished the death penalty, the 18th state to do so, and other states are using it a lot less.

10. While laws to lessen gun violence are stuck at the national level, progress is being made at the state and local level.

11. Though Michigan just passed a law banning abortion insurance from healthcare policies, several other states have blocked restrictions to abortion or improved access to it.

12. There have been a few victories against Wall Street. That includes the Volker Rule to curb speculative trading by banks.

13. Environmental issues grow, including emphasis on sustainability, blockage of the Keystone Pipeline, and making fracking a national issue.

14. A continuing series of rallies for immigration reform.

15. Growing opposition to corporate-backed education reform, including teachers refusing to administer standardized tests.

16. For years the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would draft corporate-friendly policies and get them passed by various states. Now many of its corporate contributors have been exposed and then embarrassed enough to drop out.

17. Links to shadowy campaign money are being exposed. Public financing of campaigns is growing.

18. There is mounting protest of excessive student debt along with experiments in funding higher education to keep it affordable.

22. The Affordable Care Act, despite glitches and efforts to repeal it, is poised to expand healthcare coverage and be the stepping stone to healthcare cost reductions.

24. In spite of corporate-run media, several progressives have become popular figures. At the top of the list are Senator Elizabeth Warren and Rev. William Barber who leads NC's Moral Monday movement.

Yup, its because we don't like you

The state of Utah has declared that since the Supremes put same-sex marriages on hold all state services related to same-sex couples are also on hold. This is not a case where the state is saying if you're married, we'll treat you as married. Ari Ezra Waldman of Towleroad explains why that is unjust. Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin says that this demonstrates that the ban on same-sex marriages was only because of animus towards gay people. And passing laws based on only animus does not please the Supremes.

A commenter thinks part of this might be the state telling the 10th Circuit: We told you there would be harm to gay couples if you didn't issue a stay. You didn't believe us. So now there is.

Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin went poking around in the blog The Thinking Housewife (no direct link from me!). This appears to be the articulate person's guide to ultra-conservative Catholic views (they're rather suspicious of Francis and are not sure he deserves the title of Pope). Tisinai presents the case of Charles, who is safely ensconced in a suburban, white, hetero, conservative (with one lefty exception) social circle. He is horrified that the lefties wants to invite a gay couple into their midst. Charles feels that their wish to be included is an act of aggression that would take the group into the abyss.

Tisinai confirms that Charles will feel threatened. He concludes with:
It’s time for proponents of the anti-gay agenda simply to give up, admit defeat, be honest with themselves and change their own minds. They’re already admitting that direct contact with gay people is a threat to their beliefs. They’re already admitting that openness and truth are a danger to their cause. Once you’ve come that far, folks, it’s only the tiniest and most honest of steps to admitting you’re just plain wrong.

There's a new opera to celebrate at the end of the month. It is Brokeback Mountain, the story by Annie Proulx that was made into a movie by Ang Lee that many consider was robbed of its Oscar for Best Picture. Proulx wrote the libretto for the opera and Charles Wuorinen wrote the music. I've heard of him but can't say I know his music. The opera will be premiered by Teatro Real in Madrid. It appears the opera will be played for a couple weeks in rotation with Tristan und Isolda of Wagner, another tale of forbidden love.

I hear some grumbling that one of America's many gay composers should have been given the chance to compose this opera. Alas, Aaron Copland has been dead for 23 years and stopped composing 30 years before that. As I said I don't know much about Wuorinen, so I looked him up. I'm pleased to discover he is gay and married to his longtime partner.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Its own best opponent

My friend and debate partner has said many times that the answer to nasty free speech is more free speech. The incident of Phil of Duck Dynasty and its aftermath prompted similar thinking from Rob Tisinai.

To recap: Phil, the patriarch of the clan featured on the TV show Duck Dynasty said some nasty things about us, about blacks, and about women. Tisinai has details. A&E broadcasts the show and, because of the backlash from GLAAD and HRC, quickly suspended Phil. The good-ole-boys cried foul and A&E relented.

Tisinai responds by saying he's "worried by the sort of attitude that says: Let’s create such an uproar that no person will dare say such things again in public, even if it’s what they really believe." The better response is to engage those comments in public and show how wrong and damaging they are.

Those who want to shun nasty speech ask about the harm to gay kids who hear it. Tisinai, who heard it growing up, replies that if the nasty speech is shunned in public it will be expressed in private. Gay kids will hear it and won't be able to hear our rebuttal. And they need to hear that rebuttal, not just media spouting off positive thoughts.

Tisinai lists three ways in which we need to trust ourselves.

1. The truth is with us. If we shut down debate our truth won't be heard.

2. The other side is its own best opponent. The more disgusting the comments -- the more we wish it wasn't said -- the more those in the middle say I don't want to be associated with that.

3. Bigotry runs deep. They are rarely bigots about only one category of people. We can show that comments against us are bundled with lots of other toxic views.

Tisinai concludes:
Our opponents’ only chance to defeat us is to keep us closeted, invisible, and silent. Our best chance to defeat them is to make sure everyone out there hears what they have to say. What a heartening moral truth that is.


Since perhaps November, Obama has been talking about income inequality. He is starting to build his policy around it, leading off with calls for raising the minimum wage. A few Republicans are starting to say, hey, income inequality really is a big deal and we should do something about it. There aren't many proposals on the table yet, but I'm sure you can guess how many of those proposals will actually reduce inequality and how many will make inequality worse. Hint: one proposal on the table to reduce inequality is repeal Obamacare.

Jon Stewart said he didn't want to talk about politics at the start of the year. So that left … the weather. After a series of clips of newspeople remarking about how cold it is (my digital thermometer ranged from -8 to +1 F today) we get to the big issue: All these record cold temperatures (as far south as Atlanta) disprove Global Warming. Enjoy Stewart's takedown in two segments about 6 minutes each. Forget the War on Christmas, this is a War on Carbon. A commenter tells us Finland is having a comparable heat wave (I guess that's what happens when the polar vortex slips in our direction). Even the far north of the country is in the mid 20sF (link isn't date specific). Another commenter says we should ditch the phrase "Global Warming" for "Global Climate Disruption."

Lake Superior State University has come out with their annual list of words that should be banished. It actually came out last week when I was not paying attention. If you don't know the meaning of these words you are definitely disconnected from popular culture. This year's list:
Selfie -- A self-snapped photo is too selfie-centered.
Twerk -- The fastest overused word of the 21st Century.
Hashtag -- Use it within Twitter if you must, inappropriate elsewhere.
Twittersphere -- Definitely oxygen-free.
Mister Mom -- Cute as the title of the 1983 movie. But is a working woman Mrs. Dad?
T-Bone -- no need to compare a car accident to a steak.
___ on Steroids -- No, restaurant service can't be on steroids.
—ageddon and —pocalypse. None of the made up words with these suffixes appear in the Book of Revelations.
Intellectually/Morally Bankrupt -- Are there intellectual or moral creditors?
Obamacare -- The Affordable Care Act is just fine.
Adversity -- facing a sport opponent when you have millions in the bank is not adversity.
Fan base -- Word inflation. It's enough to have fans.

Monday, January 6, 2014

You are the one who is abnormal

Compared to other areas in Michigan and around the country I seem to have gotten off easy. I shoveled only 6 inches of show from my driveway (though the piles on either side are encroaching, making for a bit of an obstacle course). And my digital thermometer shows minus 2 right now. That could be because it is in the flower box and thus insulated under 6 inches of snow.

Here's a view of my back yard this morning. The planter in the foreground is almost hidden in the snow with a mound of snow on top.

I did go out this afternoon to visit the nutritionist and buy food. Roads, though plowed, were bad enough that I canceled tonight's rehearsal (also because two out of five had called to say they weren't coming). I made the mistake of not filling up my car yesterday and had to do it this evening in the cold wind.

While we wait for the president of Uganda to decide what to do with the nasty anti-gay bill the prime minister had a couple things to say about us. Compared to what is usually said in Uganda this is an improvement. So, yeah, he says, homosexuality is abnormal. But if your child were abnormal in another way you wouldn't kill it or imprison it for life, you would get help for it. So if you demand the death penalty for gays, you are the one who is abnormal.

I reported about a month ago that the groups All Out and Athlete Ally created clothing featuring the Olympic Principle 6, which the Charter's anti-discrimination clause. Those groups have now partnered with the men's and women's bobsled teams from Australia. Their machines now feature the Principle 6 logo and they appear at the World Cup event in Lake Placid. When they get to the Olympics, will they keep the logo or will it be considered advertising, which is banned?

Utah (sigh)

Supreme Justice Sonia Sotomayor referred the request from Utah for a stay to all of the justices. Today the Supremes issued their usual terse reply. The stay is granted, pending final ruling from the 10th Circuit Court. No dissenters were listed so it appears to be a unanimous decision. No reasoning was given (this is a stay, not a ruling) so there is no telling which arguments given by the state swayed the Supremes. Marriages legalized in the last couple weeks remain valid, but no more gay couples may marry until after a favorable ruling from the 10th Circuit. Or the Supremes.

Of course, there is lots of speculation on why the justices issued the stay and what this means. Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog says,
The order, however, cannot be interpreted as a dependable indication of how the Court will rule on the issue when it finally decides to do so directly.

The ruling can be interpreted as an indication that the Court wants to have further exploration in lower courts of the basic constitutional question of state power to limit marriage to a man and a woman. Had it refused the state’s request for delay, that would have at least left the impression that the Court was comfortable allowing same-sex marriages to go forward in the 33 states where they are still banned.
So perhaps the Supremes are letting the process play out so they don't have to rule against 2/3 of the states.

Nina Totenberg of NPR says the justices couldn't let this decision stand without a stay because there are 42 same-sex marriage cases in process around the country. If the Utah case was left alone judges in the other cases would see this case as a stamp of approval without the Supremes actually ruling on the case. The issue is way too important for that. This is one of three marriage cases headed to Circuit Courts. The Supremes will not take up any of them before June this year. And the Supremes may not bother next year; they might let the Circuit Court rulings, whatever they are, stand without their review. But this issue seems to be moving faster every year.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Welcome sinners

Gays serving openly in the military will have unintended consequences! Well, yeah. Such as this: On New Year's Eve in Neighbor's Bar, a gay hangout, in Seattle someone poured gasoline on the stairwell and set it on fire. A couple soldiers, who happen to be gay and visiting the bar, sprang into action to start putting the fire out while the patrons evacuated safely. A commenter muses that here we are dealing with being firebombed and the Fundies whine that they're being persecuted.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin has long been annoyed with the phrase, "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin." His objection has been with the "sin" part -- the speaker is the one who defines what is sin. In addition, the speaker's actions make it clear the sinner is hated as much as the sin.

Micah Murray of Huffington Post gives another reason why that phrase is so vile. The target is never allowed to shed the label of sinner, never becomes part of "us." He also notes the phrase targets only gays. He sums it up this way:
We embrace them with arms full of disclaimers about how all the sinners are welcome here. And yet, they’re the only ones we constantly remind of their status as sinners, welcome sinners.

Alvin McEwen of the blog Justice For All is annoyed with the way Fundies lie about us, twist science to support their claims, and even propose gay genocide. Then when challenged they claim their faith permits (requires) them to say such nasty things. This vile talk did not begin with the persecution of gay people. Similar things were used in support of slavery and Jim Crow.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Stupid and contradictory arguments

The stay of same-sex marriages in Utah is before Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court. Both sides have submitted their arguments.

Commenters make a couple interesting points:

The state says their reason that a stay is necessary because same-sex couples would suffer "dignitary and financial losses from the invalidation of their marriages" if the 10th Circuit or Supremes should rule against us. But, the commenter says, the state can't say being stripped of one's marital status causes huge harm while at the same time asking the 10th Circuit and the Supremes to do exactly that to those already married.

Another commenter says the "dignitary and financial loss" is a stupid argument for the state because it is their refusal to permit same-sex marriage that causes dignitary and financial loss.