Wednesday, December 31, 2014


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


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.


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


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.