Saturday, May 31, 2014

Back to the source of pain

There was another mass killing last week, this time by Elliot Rodger. I won't get into the details of this particular case. Rather, I'll point out a couple articles talking about issues surrounding the case.

Brittney Cooper, in an article for Salon reprinted in AlterNet, takes a look at white male privilege behind this latest killing spree. White males expect to have certain privileges, in Rodger's case it was an expected access to pretty women, and when those privileges were denied his emotional core was devastated. This same response is what is behind the rollback in gains in women's rights and in gains by communities of color and the poor.
I’m not calling these guys [those rolling back rights] mass murderers. Of that I want to be clear. But I am saying that we cannot understand Elliot Rodger’s clear mental health issues and view of himself as the supremely forsaken victim here outside a context of racism, white supremacy and patriarchy. I’m also saying that white male privilege might be considered a mental health issue, because it allows these dudes to move through the world believing that their happiness, pleasure and well-being matters more than the death and suffering of others.

This is madness.
Hmm, that bit about happiness and pleasure mattering over the suffering of others sounds a lot like what the 1% is doing to the rest of us. So let's have more discussions of white male privilege and its effects.

The other article is one Lisa Hickey wrote for The Good Men Project and Salon. She examined 70 mass murders in the last 32 years (wow!). Out of that number, one was by a woman.

Most mass shooters are in pain and they go to the place that caused that pain. Women tend not to be mass murderers (defined as more than four dead) because the source of pain and their victims are usually their children.

One source of pain for men is a threat to his financial security when something doesn't go right at work. His identity is tied to being a breadwinner. When he is fired or doesn't get the raise he takes a gun to the workplace. Hickey noted these types of shootings have gone down since 2003. Men don't take it personally when it happens to everyone.

Another source of pain is the transition from boy to man. In these cases the scene is a school and the specific trigger more vague. So how do we help men make this transition successfully? This might include helping them share feelings rather than "suck it up." Also, encourage non-conformity, encourage a wide range of friendships, and encourage helping others.

Another source of pain has to do with man as protector. The shooter is targeting the "bad guys" as in immigrants, other races, or gays. And then there is male privilege, where men believe they are entitled to women's bodies and are frustrated when denied.

A way to improve the situation in all these cases is to discuss them. We have a crisis in masculinity. We need to give men a way out.

Stop subsidizing inequality

We frequently hear the claim from conservatives that liberals are hostile to religion. Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly points out a few fallacies of that claim:

* Why did Obama make a big deal of becoming a Christian during his 2008 campaign?

* Where are all the atheist Democrats running for Congress?

Which means liberals aren't hostile to Christianity, their hostile to the brand of Christianity conservatives are proclaiming. That leaves one more question: Is the conservative faith so weak it can't survive without state support?

Katrina vanden Heuvel, in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post, says we should stop subsidizing income inequality. She reports of states taking action because Congress is silent on the issue. The hotbed of action appears to be California. A bill in the legislature would have the state tax agency compute the pay ratio between the CEO and typical workers. If the ratio is under 100 the company gets a tax break. If over, the tax rate would increase. A voter initiative would cap the salaries of executives at not-for-profit hospitals (I can see this one backfiring -- hospitals would switch to being for-profit). In Massachusetts, nurses are pushing a ballot initiative to limit hospital executive pay to 100 times their lowest paid workers. And in Rhode Island a proposed bill says there would be a preference for state contracts to go to those companies where the top-to-bottom pay ratio is only 32. Activists are finding their voices are louder at the state level. More initiatives will come.

Proof of conspiracy

A couple weeks ago (yeah, I'm behind in my reading) Newsweek had a cover article on conspiracy theories and how they interfere with democracy. There are a lot of conspiracy theories floating around these days. Perhaps the best current example is Birthers, those who claim Obama wasn't born in America (though they seem to have quieted down). Newsweek notes that these theories are so numerous and their believers so strident they are now interfering with democracy. An example is a proposal for improved bike paths attacked as an insidious socialist scheme. Thoughtful discourse on issues is being shut down. There is also the problem that the more effort is made to disprove a conspiracy the more its adherents believe the speaker is a part of the conspiracy.

Alas, a great article was spoiled. In the examples the article mentioned was the supposed attempt by the Bush II administration to steal the 2004 election. Nope, sorry, that one is well documented both by What Went Wrong in Ohio written by Congressman John Conyers and What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election by Robert Fitrakis. In contrast, the birther conspiracy can be easily refuted by Obama's birth certificate (not that such evidence would change their minds).

That got me thinking about the difference between a conspiracy theory and a legitimate challenge to a power that the power wants to suppress or dismiss. It comes down to proof. But whose standards of proof gets used? I mention this because of the various challenges to power I'm involved with.

The first one is my change of diet and the nutritionist who has prompted it. Traditional medicine would say they have the proof a low-fat diet is the way to go (and my eye doctor ranted about that when he heard I am now eating a low-carb, high-fat diet). My nutritionist counters with proof -- studies of her methods and of collusion between government nutritionists and the food additive industry.

A second one, mentioned in the Newsweek article, is about the safety of fluoride in water. This is a "conspiracy" my nutritionist has proof to back up.

The third is bankruptcy proceedings in Detroit. The Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr, is currently at the Detroit Regional Chamber conference. He decried the "lies" being told about the Grand Bargain he put together. Yesterday, I took part in another Freedom Friday demonstration. There were only 30 of us in front of the Detroit Water & Sewerage Dept. The DWSD supplies water for the city and all the suburbs for quite a distance (I think Flint, 70 miles north, is working to get out of the Detroit water system) so it serves about 5 million people. We protested there because Orr is trying to work out a deal to transfer the water dept. to the suburbs so he can wring cash out of it. The suburbs are saying it doesn't make sense for their water to be a profit center for Detroit. Besides, money to improve the system was diverted to pay off a bad bank deal and improvements would have to come from suburban coffers. A good chunk of the protest is because DWSD is working real hard to shut off water to residents who may be as little as $150 behind in their payments while many of the big players in Detroit have huge bills -- reportedly Palmer Park Golf Club owes $200,000. So are the protesters spreading in a conspiracy theory? Is Orr the one who is lying?

Orr says the deal now on the table is the best one city pensioners can get. The numbers can't get any better. If they refuse their situation will only get worse. But there is another piece being ignored in Detroit. There is news today that Los Angeles is suing JPMorgan Chase for fraudulent mortgage practices that blighted that city. Why isn't Orr pursuing the same route? Getting money from the banks rather than giving it to the banks will make numbers for pensioners work out a whole lot better.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Life without parole is tough enough

Newsweek reports on Marc Hyden who has been making presentations at conservative events about how banning the death penalty should be a conservative cause. Yeah, this is a big change for a party with a reputation for being tough on crime (and doing all the wrong things to show that toughness). So the conservative case is:

* Not everyone on death row is guilty. It takes time to find the evidence to exonerate the innocent.

* Death penalty cases are hugely expensive due to the prolonged appeals process.

* "If you can’t really trust government to fill a pothole, how can you trust government do the right thing on a life and death decision?"

* Life without parole is plenty tough. Tough on crime doesn't require execution.

The article has to turn to Obama about another side of the death penalty: there's a huge racial bias on who is given a death sentence. But another aspect isn't mentioned at all: the death penalty is cruel.

Since I'm reading Newsweek (at least for another month) on my netbook computer I'm not as prompt at writing about stories of interest. They tend to accumulate in the browser tabs. Here's one from a couple months ago.

Over the last 20 years the big internet providers have been collecting extra fees (or at least charging higher rates) so they would have enough cash on hand to extend high-speed internet to every corner of the country by 2020. That goal became part of the FCC's National Broadband Plan in 2010.

But instead of using that stash of cash to lay fiber optic cable in small towns these companies are using it to lobby legislatures to get them out of the obligation. They've decided that if a metropolis doesn't have a sufficient population density it simply isn't worthwhile for them to lay the optic cable. And if you live in such a town, too bad, you're stuck with dial-up. This applies to places like Montana, right? Nope, southern New Jersey is stuck too.

In most other developed countries the internet provider is a public utility. And most of them have speeds for everybody much faster than the fastest in America. Internet access is on my list of things that should not be privatized.

Right to know who influences the vote

The National Organization for Marriage (just not yours) has a long record of spending huge amounts of money to defeat marriage equality ballot campaigns. Fortunately, their string of victories ended a couple years ago. As part of their method of operation they have consistently refused to reveal their donors (rumored to be two or three deep pockets, spoiling their illusion of being a grass-roots organization) and defying state laws when necessary to do so.

Yes, they've been taken to court and each stage of the battle has gone against them. So far, though, names have not been released. The latest news of the skirmish comes from Maine and that state's equality battle in 2009 (it was the redo in 2012 that allowed gays to marry there). The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices had found NOM guilty of money laundering and failure to file necessary campaign forms. The penalty is a fine of over $50K and a release of their donor names. NOM, of course, remains defiant. It now goes up the legal hierarchy. Similar investigations are underway in Iowa, New Hampshire, and (I think) Washington state.

The Bangor Daily News praises the ruling by the Ethics Comission, saying voters have a right to know who tries to influence a vote. Alas, BDN has something strange in their website -- one must answer a couple advertising related questions (Do you know this brand?) to read beyond the first paragraph. My one sentence summary is probably enough.

Where is all that money going?

The latest issue of The Washington Spectator arrived today. I've read most of it. Alas, the website is being redesigned, so I can't link to individual stories.

The cover issue is about how the Louisiana legislature serves the interests of the oil industry. The current complaint is oil companies have refused to do any restoration work and the barrier islands are sliding into the sea. There will be no buffer when the next hurricane arrives. A Green Army is now rising up to offer more than token opposition. That coalition is being led by Lt. General Russel Honoré. He earned his fame when Katrina struck New Orleans and he helped rescue some victims. Along the way he was instrumental in changing the news stories because he recognized the racial subtext in the media.

Now Honoré is taking on big oil. And when he calls an oil company, they at least listen. Here is part of his standard speech, covering more than oil controlling the gov't.
Why is Louisiana the third-largest energy producer, but the second-poorest state in the nation? There are 100 refineries and chemical plants between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. They're making money. Where is all that money going? Why don't our kids have broadband in their schools? Why are we ranked 46th in public education? Why do we have some of the lowest health care standards in the nation? This is not politics, this is warfare.

The other important Washington Spectator story discusses the double tax subsidy many companies in the restaurant industry get. First: the workers are paid so little they qualify for government assistance of food stamps and Medicaid. So taxpayers subsidize worker wages to the tune of $7 billion a year. Second: the compensation packages for most restaurant corporations doesn't come as salary but as "performance based" bonuses. Corporations are taxed for salary, not these kinds of bonuses. The top 20 corporations paid $662 million in such packages and avoided $232 million in taxes. Just think about how much this could add to the food stamp program their employees rely on.

Ask us

I had written last week about a coalition of progressive pastors and church people who declared their support for marriage equality in Michigan in contrast to a group the week before who had trumpeted how anti-gay they said the church should be. Between the Lines has more on the pro-gay event.

It was very much a press conference, a presentation for the media. And some of it was aimed at the media. As in a demand to stop portraying the hateful voices as mainstream Christian voices. You want stories on what the church thinks of marriage equality? Ask us. That other stuff you hear is not our voice. We believe in a God of love, compassion, and inclusion. We oppose a portrayal in the medial of Christians who talk about hate of the gay community. The rest of what was said is what we expect to hear from progressive denominations.

Every year many of the state politicians head to Mackinac Island for the Policy Conference put on by the Detroit Regional Chamber. I think it used to be mostly a GOP thing, but I hear lots of Dems now go too. Today, at this year's event, Gov. Rick Snyder declared his support for adding sexual minorities to the state's civil rights act. Good news indeed! This is, of course, after a slew of Michigan corporations demanded our inclusion in the law. House Speaker Jase Bolger is still trying to balance our rights with religious liberty -- which is a mental exercise able to tie a politician's brain into enough knots that he can't do anything.

GOP Representative Charlie Dent from Pennsylvania has stated his support for marriage equality! Life is too short for government to stand in the way of love. He is one of only three GOP members in the House in favor of equality. There are another three in the Senate. Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin notes Dent's pronouncement doesn't cost him a whole lot. It was a week ago that GOP Gov. Corbett announced there would be no appeal of the marriage equality ruling. Also, Dent's district is moderate. He has no GOP primary opponent and no Dem opponent in the fall. Even so, we appreciate any GOP voice for equality.

The Human Rights Campaign sent a letter to Pope Francis asking him to meet with nine teachers who lost jobs at Catholic schools for either being LGBT or being an LGBT ally. The activist group Queer Nation is not impressed and is calling HRC hypocritical. The big reason is HRC is supporting a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that has an expansive religious exemption allowing, for example, the firings these Catholic schools just did. Some folks are calling for dropping ENDA. It is time to include sexual minorities in existing civil rights legislation. That avoids the messy religious exemptions.

My spirea bloomed this year, one of the few plants in my yard that did. I planted it many years ago in honor of my grandmother who had several bushes of spirea around her house.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Poverty of values

I wrote yesterday about how the rich attribute poverty to bad morals, yet the poor are more ethical than the rich. Charles Blow, in an opinion piece for The New York Times expands on the idea.

It seems the latest idea trumpeted by the GOP is that all one needs to do to get out of poverty is embrace "the attributes of friendship, accountability and love," as Paul Ryan put it last week. And where does one find friendship, accountability and love? Why, in marriage, of course -- and it had better be the traditional male-female variety. Jeb Bush said something similar.

Yo, dudes, a lot of traditionally married loving couples accountable to each other are still stuck in poverty. So simply saying get married to get out of poverty is condescending. And stupid. Besides, as Blow puts it, "you can't simply hug the cashier and walk away with groceries."

From a USA Today poll that Blow included:

Which means the rich are blind to their advantages. I've heard it described this way: They're born on third base and can't figure out why so few people are able to hit a home run. To justify their wealth they equate it to morality. Yes, let's discuss poverty, but a poverty of resources is not the same as a poverty of values.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The poor are more ethical

I've written several times about how the rich equate wealth with morality. Paul Buchheit of AlterNet disputes that claim and backs it up with numbers. Five ways the poor are more ethical:

* The rich complain the poor are lazy cheats. However, they cheat much less than the rich.

* The poor care about other people. Part of that is they need other people simply to survive.

* The rich focus on themselves.

* The rich are less generous and the money they donate doesn't go to help those in need. Instead, it goes to universities and cultural institutions.

* The middle class is much better than the rich at creating jobs. Alas, the middle class is getting smaller.

A female harem for the queen

The city council in Topeka, Kansas has passed an equality package. One bill establishes a partnership registry. Yeah, with marriage bans being declared unconstitutional across the country a partnership registry is so last decade, but it is better than nothing. Another bans discrimination based on gender identity (I don't know if sexual orientation is missing from the news report or the ordinance).

And why is this one, in spite of its halfway measures, so sweet? Topeka is the location of Westboro Baptist Church.

I wrote last Friday that gay rights has shifted from a wedge issue wielded by the GOP against rights to a wedge issue wielded by the Dems in favor of rights. That is being played out in the Attorney General race in Utah. The Dem candidate, Charles Stormont, says it is time to leave same-sex couples alone, allow them their fundamental freedoms, and stop wasting money on a losing battle. The GOP candidate (and incumbent) is Sean Reyes. He says he doesn't have the liberty or luxury of deciding what laws to defend.

Translation: Conservative says gotta play by the rules. Progressive says some rules are stupid.

Slate has a map of America, reposted from Mother Jones, which shows where same-sex marriage is (1) legal, (2) banned and is struck down and on appeal, (3) banned and challenged, and (4) banned. There is only North Dakota in that last category. One can click on each state for a summary of the status.

Things are changing a bit in the Southern Baptist Convention. They still consider our behavior to be sinful, but their preachers are much less likely to be flamethrowers when they talk about us. They are aiming to be more compassionate. Right. We'll take the baby step. But we'll consider you to be compassionate when we can be married in your churches.

The sponsors of the nasty anti-gay laws in Africa like to proclaim homosexuality is an export from the West. We know how silly that sounds. Charles Upchurch, writing for the Advocate reminds us of the 1998 book Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, Studies in African Homosexualities. written by Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe. It catalogues the various indigenous African homosexual practices. An example: "The Lovedu people of Lesotho were ruled by queens who were required to take wives and even assembled female harems." Which means the only export from the West is homophobia.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Debtors prison

All this week NPR ran a series titled Guilty and Charged. Debtors prison was outlawed a long time ago and the Supremes have ruled that a person can't be sent to jail if he is too poor to pay a court fine. But that hasn't stopped judges in nearly all states of imposing fines, and, more importantly, court costs, and then putting a person in jail if the fines can't be paid. Part of the question is what does it mean to be well-off enough to pay? The presence of a cell phone? The presence of (expensive?) tattoos?

The practice can get weird. A man can't pay a fine. He is jailed for several days. He is charged room and board for his time in jail (some counties pay for their jail system this way). He can't pay that either. Jailed again. No way out.

Another man can't pay, but tells the judge he just got a job and will be able to pay by the end of the week. Don't pay today, you go to jail today. I'll lose my job! Too bad. And when you get out one of your conditions of parole is to keep a job -- don't keep it and you're back in jail. But, judge, I have a job now, which I'll lose if I go to jail.

One law-and-order type said punishment means giving up money or time. If you don't have one you must give up the other. Those are the only two choices available. But there are more choices: reparative justice programs, realistic payment plans, and community service.

Gay people exist

Jay Michaelson of The Daily Beast ponders whether marriage equality is indeed unstoppable. Yes, there have been a flurry of court rulings overturning bans to same-sex marriages. And all of those rulings are based on the Windsor case the Supremes handed down last summer, the one that overturned a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act. But, says Michaelson, all those recent state and federal rulings went way beyond what Justice Kennedy wrote in his Windsor decision.

There are four justices, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito, who have consistently voted against us. Another four, Ginsberg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor, have consistently voted for us. That leaves Kennedy in the middle. So Kennedy's words, and other courts' interpretation of them, matter.

According to Michaelson, Kennedy did not claim marriage as a right, nor that DOMA violated equal protection, nor that states must allow marriage equality. Kennedy only wrote that marriage conferred dignity and Congress, for no legitimate reason, had denied that of same-sex couples in a state that had granted this dignity.

In contrast, Judge Jones of Pennsylvania wrote that there is a fundamental right to marriage and the state can't get in the way. Even more, there is that equal protection thing. Other justices in other states have written similar legal flourishes.

So is Kennedy ready to overturn amendments to the constitutions in two dozen states? That would be unprecedented.

Perhaps he is. To conservatives, such as Scalia, there are no homosexuals, there are only homosexual acts. And homosexual acts can be regulated. But it was Kennedy, 20 years ago, who was the first of the Supremes to declare gay people exist. It is not proper to discriminate against gay people. That is what all these court cases are declaring. That is why Kennedy will likely rule in our favor.

A change of heart

Challenges to same-sex marriage bans in South Dakota and Montana have been filed. That means the only state with a ban and without a challenge is North Dakota.

The Dem governor of Montana thinks this is a great development. The GOP AG disagrees.

The challenge in South Dakota has some unique features. In addition to challenging the ban it also challenges the Defense of Marriage Act part 2 which allows states to refuse to recognize marriages performed in other states. In the challenge to the ban it adds a third way it violates the 14th Amendment: a right to travel -- with some bans still in place marriages disappear when crossing state lines.

I've written about the rainbow Equality House that more than a year ago appeared across the street from the venomously anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. At the time my friend and debate partner was sure the house would have some effect on the WBC clan. I've also written about the story that WBC founder Fred Phelps was excommunicated shortly before he died. Fred's grandson Zacharias Phelps-Roper, who has left WBC, now links the two. He says Fred had a change of heart and was overheard complementing the work the Equality House was doing. That was the cause of the excommunication.

There was a time -- a decade ago -- when the GOP used gay rights as a wedge issue. Their string of marriage protection amendments in 2004 showed how well that worked. But Nicholas Riccardi of Associated Press shows how much opinion has shifted. It is the Democrats who are using gay rights as a wedge issue. Examples: Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado is hitting his challenger for casting votes limiting gay rights. In Arizona, the scene of the failed license to discriminate bill, Democrats will be using it as an issue to hammer on GOP legislators who voted for it. A few conservative strategists, especially those with a Fundie bent, insist the courts are speaking contrary to the people's wishes and the public is on their side. Don't pay any attention to the polls that say otherwise.

We've come a long way.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Time to buy postage stamps

The City Council in Saginaw, Mich. voted unanimously to refuse an anti-discrimination ordinance that would protect gay people. One councilman, Dan Fitzpatrick, said he's not comparing gays to Nazis, but gays clamoring for this ordinance are sure acting a lot like the German youth of 1933.

A postage stamp honoring Harvey Milk was unveiled today. Time to stock up. And if you don't know who Milk is, see Sean Penn's movie.

No stay, no appeal

Pennsylvania is done. I had reported Gov. Tom Corbett is desperate to hold onto his job. So he decided to annoy the Fundies rather than the majority of voters who want to see same-sex marriage in the state. He also recognizes that an appeal is "extremely unlikely to succeed." Besides, think of the money saved in legal fees. That means he decided to not appeal the ruling overturning the ban on same-sex marriage. And with no appeal there is no need for a stay. Marrying has begun and may continue uninterrupted.

Note to Michigan (and Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Idaho, Arkansas, and Texas): See how easy this can be?

There is one more sweet detail about John Jones, the judge who overturned the Pennsylvania ban. Back when Bush II nominated him to the federal bench, it was Rick Santorum who highly praised the appointment. Santorum is the guy who said the infamous "man on dog" comment comparing our love to bestiality. He's also the one who was the target of an effective Google bomb by Dan Savage. So Santorum's guy is the one to permit same-sex marriage in Ricky's state. No way this judge could be activist.

The National Organization for Marriage (remember them? -- they used to crow about marriage protection amendment victories) is one of those Fundie groups annoyed by Corbett's decision to cut his losses. They are searching for ways to do the appeal in place of Corbett. NOM is the same group that got slapped down for trying to intervene in the Oregon case. They're also forgetting the reason why same-sex couples are now marrying in California -- the Supremes said the group that brought the appeal didn't have standing to do so. NOM doesn't either.

Ari Ezra Waldman, who writes on legal issues for Towleroad, has a review of both the Oregon and Pennsylvania rulings. This long string of victories is definitely changing public opinion.

Last week a group of pastors in Detroit, most of them black, made a lot of noise against same-sex marriage. They even filed a brief with the 6th Circuit Court asking to keep Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage.

A second group of pastors is now starting to make noise. This group wants same-sex marriage to happen. They've also filed a brief with the 6th Circuit. They don't want the first group to be the only voice on the issue.

Predictably, the head of the first group claims the pastors in the second group aren't true Christians.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Really loud

I received an email today from the Ruth Ellis Center describing some renovations they are doing. I work on the second floor of the building in the kitchen that is part of the drop-in center. The first floor is administrative offices and had been storage for food, clothing, and sometimes furniture used to help the youth establish places of their own. The renovations are being done to the first floor.

The admin offices have relocated, but will be back. The rest of the area will be turned into a primary health care facility for the youth. It is being done "in consultation with" the major health system in the region. Sounds great! Donations gladly accepted.

A lot of the stuff that had been stored downstairs has been moved up (one cupboard in the kitchen is crammed with toilet paper, but no paper towel). More has been moved to storage pods in the parking lot. The remediation work has started -- that's dealing with the asbestos and lead-based paint (the building is 100 years old, something I didn't know before). Over the summer the rest of the renovations will be done.

Which meant today I could hear various machine tools being used below me. It also meant evacuating the building when the fire alarm went off. That's the first time that has happened since I started working there. The alarm is really loud. The alarm was set off by lots of dust that smoke detectors took to be smoke.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Another domino falls. They seem to be coming thick and fast now. A federal district judge has struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage. This one wasn't in the state constitution. The reasons are the usual. The judge did not issue a stay, saying marriages may begin immediately -- and they have. No word yet of an appeal. The judge wrote:
We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.

The judge is John Edward Jones III. He is a Republican and once ran for Congress. He was appointed to his seat by Bush II. He's likely to be called an activist judge for this case, but been there, done that -- he was the judge in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the famous case that removed the mandate for teaching intelligent design in public schools back in 2005. After that case, when he was asked to speak, he would talk about the role of the judiciary, including siding with the Constitution and perhaps against popular will. Whoever updates this judge's Wikipedia page is on the ball -- it already lists today's same-sex marriage ruling.

The state Attorney General refused to defend the law. So the job fell to GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, who had one of his legal team before this judge. Today is primary day and Corbett's opponent for November is being decided. That race will likely go against Corbett because he is unpopular. So at the moment he is being really quiet. Commenter Jack says Corbett doesn't have a good option. Appeal this case he loses more general support. Not appeal and the Fundies go berserk. Appeal and then lose in Nov. and the new Dem. governor almost certainly drops the appeal.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Can't mention the best solution

Obama and the White House called last week Infrastructure Week to focus attention on the need to replenish the Highway Trust Fund. That's the pot of money that pays for lots of national road rebuilding projects. And in Michigan we could use whatever we can get.

When that fund was set up a long time ago the source of money was a federal gas tax. But the gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993 and since then we have more efficient cars and drive fewer miles. For the last several years Congress has had to transfer money into the HTF to keep it going.

The best solution? Raise the gas tax. That's the only way to insure the funding will be secure. In addition a higher gas tax is good for the environment.

One little problem. If the GOP proposes raising the gas tax (or any tax) they get blasted by the Tea Party. If the Dems propose a raise they get blasted by the GOP. So the best solution is one that politicians can't talk about.

No appeal

As I mentioned earlier today Oregon now permits same-sex marriage. Since there was no defense of the ban read into the court record, the judge had to argue the hypothetical. And since there was no defense, there is no appeal. So, it is done. That means the ruling won't have much influence outside of Oregon. Blessings to the newly married couples.


Today federal Judge Michael McShane struck down the Oregon's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. There was no stay and marriages began promptly (once the clerks came back from lunch). Since nobody on the side of the state defended the ban there is likely nobody to request an appeal. I haven't gotten confirmation yet, but this one might be for keeps -- Oregon was well on the way to repealing the amendment anyway.

Since the big ruling by the Supremes last June, this is 13th consecutive win for marriage equality in federal court with another four wins in state court.

Judge McShane wrote as part of his ruling:
With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Take our nation back

A group of black pastors from Detroit have filed a brief in the Michigan's same-sex marriage case now before the 6th Circuit. Put simply, they don't like us. They essentially said in their press conference: If you don't work against homosexuality like they do then you don't believe in God. It is "ignorant and myopic" to compare gay civil rights to black civil rights. Gays will "destroy the backbone of our society." And… "It's time to take our nation back."

Did you catch that last one? Do you remember who has been saying it the most lately? Yup, the Tea Party folks, who want to take the country back from the clutches of the black and brown folk. And now black people want to take the country back from gay people. Pardon my while I go find the off-switch for the Irony Alarm.

The latest in Idaho is that the 9th Circuit issued a stay on same-sex marriage. That happened in time to prevent any couples from actually getting married. This stay is in effect until the 9th Circuit decides what to do with the case. If they take it the stay would likely be extended.

The lower court judge in Arkansas fixed the problems with his ruling by mentioning the second law. Same-sex marriages resumed for a moment. Then state Supremes quickly issued a stay. Marriages stopped. It might be a year before they get to the case.

Ten years ago tomorrow same-sex couples in Massachusetts started getting marriage licenses and be able to legally wed. The timeline looks something like this:

2004 Massachusetts
2008 Connecticut, California (come and gone)
2009 Iowa, Vermont, and Washington DC
2010 New Hampshire
2011 New York
2012 Maryland, Maine, Washington state
2013 Rhode Island, Dela, Minn, New Jersey, Hawaii, New Mexico, Illinois, Calif.
---- and Utah struck down, then stayed.
2014 Okla, Virginia, Texas, Mich, Idaho, Ark. -- full rights, but stayed.
---- Ohio, Kentucky -- partial rights, also stayed.

Anti-democracy tactics

The Moratorium Now group in Detroit held their second Freedom Friday rally. This time I went. I got downtown and saw how small the crowd was and drove around a couple blocks while I decided whether to head straight home.

But I paid for parking and stayed. By then a few more had gathered. I counted 40. One speaker said this was double last week's numbers (though it rained last week). This is not to the level of issue inclusiveness of the North Carolina Moral Monday rallies, at least not yet. The Detroit bunch is way too focused on the city's bankruptcy and their own loss of pensions.

I asked one of the organizers two important questions. (1) How goes the case declaring the emergency manager law illegal? It is in the limbo between the hearing and the ruling. (2) Early on the bankruptcy judge said it looked like there is enough evidence to convict several of the banks of fraud. Is anything happening? No. The EM and the city and state gov't haven't pursued prosecution and the judge apparently can't or won't do it on his own.

The Michigan Constitution has a provision for citizen initiatives. If citizens collect enough signatures on an issue and if the legislature doesn't act on that issue it is placed on the next November ballot. With the way the GOP dominated legislature has been refusing to do what the people want done there have been a lot of these petitions lately. The GOP, of course, believes we can't have that so has concocted a couple workarounds.

I haven't been a lawmaker so I don't know what goes into a bill's innards, especially when a bill modifies a previous law. I'm sure there is a standard way of saying this bill modifies that law in these ways. That apparently also applies to citizen petitions.

As I mentioned, if citizens collect enough signatures on an issue the first stop is the legislature. If the legislature acts, all is well. If they don't act, the issue goes on the ballot. However, the GOP leadership had found another way to act and still get their way. When they act they don't amend the previous law, they abolish it and create a new law. That leaves the citizen initiative hanging because the law it is to modify doesn't exist anymore. Then they tend to put some spending into the bill because spending bills can't be overturned by citizen initiative (this was done for the Emergency Manager law).

The legislature has used that tactic already with wolf hunting. The wolves of the Upper Peninsula were recently taken off the Endangered Species List. Residents began to be fearful of encounters of wolves. The legislature approved a wolf hunt law. Citizens collected enough signatures. The legislature abolished that law and passed a new one. There was a wolf hunt last fall. There will be two citizen petitions on the ballot this fall asking for a ban on wolf hunting, one referencing the first law, the other referencing the second. I've heard their might even be a third question -- this one asking for permission to hold a hunt.

The GOP leadership is at it again. There is a petition drive to raise the minimum wage in Michigan. It apparently looks like it will succeed in getting enough signatures. But a business controlled GOP can't have that. So they came up with a bill that abolished the old minimum of $7.40 an hour and wrote a new bill raising it over a few years to $8.15. The petition asks to raise the minimum to $10.10 over a few years and then link it to the Consumer Price Index. A more important part of the petition is to raise the wages of tipped workers (restaurant waiters) from a measly $2.65 (at the mercy of stingy tippers) to the same $10.10 as everyone else. The GOP increase was only to $2.93. Citizen initiative foiled again.

Though the GOP could have pushed that through on its own, they decided it would be better to attract a few Democrats to their cause -- perhaps to spread voter anger to them too? So the bill the state Senate passed yesterday is a bit kinder. It would raise regular wages to $9.20 and tipped wages to $3.50 over three years and it would also then index to the CPI. The indexing is a big gain over the current law. But indexing from $9.20 is not as good as indexing from $10.10. And restaurant workers are left in the cold.

The petition gatherers are furious at the GOP's anti-democracy tactics.

Getting our rights quickly

I recently heard a speaker connect Tolstoy with Gandhi, who is connected to Martin Luther King, who is connected to Nelson Mandela (there were a couple more links along the way). As part of his story he remarked that the campaign for women to get the right to vote took 70 years. He said that it looked like the campaign for rights for sexual minorities will take a lot less time. Afterward I reminded him that we've been at this campaign for 50 years already. We're now marking the 50th anniversary of some of the earliest gay rights demonstrations. And the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been before Congress in some form or another for 40 years, only getting approval in the Senate last November. And John Boehner vows it will never come up for a vote in the House while he is its leader. Even so, I think it is likely we'll finish the job in less than 20 years.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


I've been working with my nutritionist since last August (I'll supply an update at some future date). One of the things she and her colleagues talk about is how the traditional medical industry does not give out accurate nutritional information. Here's one reason why they don't. The annual conference of the California Dietetic Association had hundreds of dietitians and nutritionists attending from across California. The conference was sponsored by: McDonalds (who supplied a lunch), Sizzle, Boston Market, California Pizza Kitchen (the three catered a dinner), Corn Refiners Association (they make high fructose corn syrup), Domino's Pizza, Kraft, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Hershey's, Nestle, Mars, Butter Buds, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Sara Lee and perhaps 25 other food corporations. The attendees can be seen as the gatekeepers of nutritional information and they're getting it from the food industry. One said, "I feel like we're sleeping with the enemy."

Not much of a threat

A while back I lamented that Newsweek under new owners didn't seem to be covering much in gay issues. The magazine had completely sidestepped the series of court rulings overturning same-sex marriage bans. The only issue they did cover was around the time of the Olympics. It discussed how most of the male figure skaters are gay, yet they need to remain closeted to attract an audience. Not the best view of us.

So I'm quite pleased Newsweek has a decent article on the rising trend of states working to ban conversion therapy. That is the attempt to make a gay person straight. The article follows the tribulations of a young man going through such therapy to where he decides it doesn't work and his reconciliation with his father who had signed him up. The article includes the rise of the ex-gay movement, the number of psychological organizations that condemn it, and the number of ex-gay groups that have apologized and closed shop. A pretty good effort.

Alas, I must contrast that with a truly awful article. The general premise is that the Koch brothers, rich as they are and tossing money into elections as much as they are, don't have all that much to show for their efforts. They're not that much of a threat. In the 2012 election cycle their $400 million didn't capture the presidency and made only a few gains in the Senate and House. And while the Left likes to raise the Koch brothers as conservative bogeymen their influence isn't all that great. A hundred TV commercials aren't all that much more effective than ten commercials.

As I read this I was thinking it completely misses the point. Though all that money doesn't capture the heart of the voter it has captured the heart of the candidate. Those running for office see the campaign as hugely expensive and the only way to win is to ask for money. Much of that money comes from the 1%. Therefore candidates feel beholden to the rich and do their bidding, doing such things as busting unions, refusing tax increases while the national infrastructure crumbles, ranting against regulations, refusing to act on climate change, and trashing the social safety net. That's the return on the dollar the Koch brothers are looking for.

There were three comments to the article. The one by AmericanPlutocracy fills in some details I missed. According to this comment Koch money has:

* Funded the Tea Party.

* Subverted public school systems in the South.

* Through Fox News has promoted the faulty idea of "all Government is bad" which has taken over the GOP.

* Shifted attention away from income inequality and a struggling health care industry.

I'll summarize it with this:

* In general the Koch brothers are doing all they can to trash democracy, reaching into and twisting to their benefit state and local elections across the nation.

So, no, their influence is not minimal, affecting only a few Congressional races.

After the blog post in which I noted Newsweek has new owners, IBT Media, and wondered about their commitment to gay rights my dad gave me a copy of the May/June edition of Mother Jones. I haven't read all of the article he indicated, but have read enough. IBT is owned by David Jang, who is also the head of The Community, a religious organization that comes across as a cult. IBT is to support the goals of The Community.

The awful article on the Koch brothers makes me think Newsweek is hushing up what the Koch brothers are doing because Jang's politics are similar. Because of that article and with The Community in the background I have decided that I will not renew my subscription when it runs out in about 45 days.

The slow march towards equality is never in vain

It appears in Arkansas there were two separate laws concerning same-sex marriage. One of them, written into the constitution, said gay couples could not get married. The other said county clerks couldn't issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The recent ruling by a state judge struck down only the amendment. When the state, as defendants, went to the state Supremes the court said we can't issue a stay (yet) because the case is premature. So it is back to the original judge. In the meantime a stay is effectively in place because of that second law.

Ari Ezra Waldman of Towleroad has a review of the Virginia marriage equality case before the 4th Circuit. He listened to the entire oral argument. He noted how vehement judge Paul Niemeyer was against our side. This judge kept insisting gay marriage was a "new right," to "get gay married." And that isn't in the Constitution. We have "B relationships."

Waldman says Niemeyer's goal was to make gay people the "other." It is one of the oldest conservative tricks and when that happens it is much easier to discriminate against someone. Waldman says Niemeyer comments expressed two ideas. The first is the legal argument and included the claim that since this is a new right there are no previous precedents (so much for what the Supremes said last summer). The second is a plain homophobic rant, a swipe at our dignity, showing the deepest unease about gay people. It is a preview of what Antonin Scalia might say. Another part of Niemeyer's comments was resignation. Whatever the outcome he and his colleagues would only be a speed bump on the way to the Supremes.

The other two members of the 4th Circuit panel, Roger Gregory and Henry Floyd, did their best to ignore Niemeyer. Gregory is clearly on our side. After arguing with the state about their concern for children as a reason to stop same-sex marriage he said, "It’s really disingenuous, your interest in children." Floyd's vote may be a bit harder to predict, though he did say the real issue is equal dignity, not a mom and a dad.

Ari Ezra Waldman, in another article for Towleroad, reviews the marriage equality ruling out of Idaho. Yes, the usual stuff. The major issues are due process, equal protection, and whether the federal gov't can intervene. The state came back and asked for a stay. The judge essentially said no -- you're going to lose anyway. There is no need to postpone the trauma inflicted on gay couples. Are we getting to a point where stays will routinely not be included in these rulings?

Jim, Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin lists a few more issues in the ruling.

Tyranny of the majority:
This case asks a basic and enduring question about the essence of American government: Whether the will of the majority, based as it often is on sincere beliefs and democratic consensus, may trump the rights of a minority.

After careful consideration, the Court finds Idaho’s Marriage Laws unconstitutional. This conclusion reaffirms a longstanding maxim underlying our system of government—a state’s broad authority to regulate matters of state concern does not include the power to violate an individual’s protected constitutional rights.

More recently, the Supreme Court confirmed that gay and lesbian individuals do not forfeit their constitutional liberties simply because of their sexual orientation.

Finally, and most critically, the Supreme Court’s marriage cases demonstrate that the right to marry is an individual right, belonging to all.
What about the kids?
The best that can be said for Defendants’ position is that some social scientists quibble with the prevailing consensus that the children of same-sex parents, on average, fare no better or worse than the children of opposite-sex parents.
And besides… Straight couples do not have to follow the norm of raising children. Idaho doesn't hand out licenses based on the couple's ability or desire to have children. Licenses are not withheld if the couple "might be, or are, non-optimal parents." Withholding legal, financial, and social benefits of marriage harms the children the state says they want to protect.

And religious liberty: The state doesn't have the right to prevent churches from officiating at same-sex ceremonies that is a part of their religion.

"Slow as the march toward equality may seem, it is never in vain."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Say no to homosexuality

After all that good news today I have a story that's a downer. Tim McCarthy describes himself as a gay video historian. He travels the world to record our stories "as a gift for our sisters and brothers 100 years from now. This is a time of firsts for LGBTI people around the world, including the mounting homophobic backlash. I have been to 90 countries and all 7 continents, so far."

Great, yes? This particular story is about his visit to Uganda. He attended the day of National Thanksgiving held in response to the signing of the nasty anti-gay law. A big part of this story is getting into the event. He's white and wasn't on the approved list of journalists. He had to spend the day as a member of an ex-gay organization, including wearing a shirt with the slogan, "Say no to homosexuality, change is possible." Even with such a shirt he felt the anger of the crowd and he and his colleagues felt unsafe. Each of those colleagues was ready with a story of how he had been seduced into the gay life by a foreigner. The program was several hours long and it was difficult to hear that much hate speech.. He ends by saying, "I know in my heart that this was the beginning of a LGBTI genocide in Uganda."

The kiss seen across America

One of the nice things that happened over the weekend was that Michael Sam, a gay man, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams football team. There's a lot more to the story than what I had reported before. The draft process is drawing to a close and Sam hadn't been chosen yet. So when he finally is selected his response is naturally exuberant. And that included an energetic kiss, a "smackfest," with his boyfriend. Oooh, yeah, he's gay. It's one thing for Same to declare he is gay at a press conference. It's another for him to demonstrate it. ESPN most definitely broadcast that smooch -- several times. And it was repeated on various social media.

Yes, there were people revolted by that kiss. At least one responded by saying, please, my children were watching! But many commentators say this kiss will do a lot for our movement. In the same manner as a gay couple moving next door, most people seeing a beefy football payer kissing like that will have their views of us adjusted for the better.

Stephen Colbert watches the kiss and throws a yellow flag on the play. The video is about 4 minutes.

For the best response we turn to ESPN Producer Seth Markman (the guy who put the kiss on the air), his wife and son:
When Markman's wife explained to their 7-year-old son that dad was busy working on something that was controversial, Sam’s kiss on TV, the boy replied: “Is it because they’re not married?”
So the sports world wobbled over the weekend -- into a better place.


This is like watching dominos fall. Late this afternoon a federal judge declared Idaho's same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional. The reasons are the usual. The ruling takes effect -- and couples may start to marry -- Friday morning. The governor vows to appeal and has asked for a stay.

The Virginia case was before the 4th Circuit today. Of the three judge panel one was antagonistic, insisting a child needed a mother and father, another appeared to be on our side, and the third was rather quiet. There is no date set for the ruling.

In Arkansas the state's Supremes put a deadline of tomorrow to file briefs on the question of a stay of the same-sex marriage ruling.

A challenge to the same-sex marriage ban in Alaska was filed on Monday. A challenge to the ban in South Dakota will be filed within a few days. The current tally:

17 states permit same-sex marriage.
33 states ban same-sex marriage. Out of those…
31 states have or will soon have a challenge to that ban. Leaving…
2 states -- North Dakota and Montana -- without a challenge.

One by one.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The simple presence of guns

You may have heard the story of Cliven Bundy, near the town of Bunkerville, Nevada, who has been grazing cattle on federal land for years without paying for it and now owes over a million dollars in past fees and fines. The issue is that Bundy doesn't recognize the existence of the federal government. The federal Bureau of Land Management came to collect the money. Bundy was defiant. Lots of members of armed citizen militias who also don't recognize the feds came to Bundy's defense. Many in the GOP praised Bundy, until he got into a racist rant. Not wanting another Waco or Ruby Ridge, the BLM backed down.

But the militias didn't go home. They set up checkpoints and required locals to show proof of residence, among other things. They are doing a lot of gun bullying -- using an open display of guns to intimidate other people. They're itching for a fight and, with the BLM gone, they have nothing to shoot at. Except perhaps each other.

Now just imagine what would happen if the defiant militia members had brown or black skin instead of white. The view of this lawlessness would be quite different. They wouldn't be seen as a bunch of good ol' boys.

Patrick Blanchfield of the New York Times describes it this way: "But as a transaction between the state and citizens not decided by the rule of law, nor by vote or debate, but rather by the simple presence of guns, Bunkerville is deeply troubling." Yes, a threat to democracy. It's not, and can't be, over.

Scraggly spring

I already mentioned the forsythia didn't bloom this year. Lots of other plants had a hard time with the long hard winter or the last snowfall that broke the record. The dogwood tree isn't blooming, though it is starting to put out leaves. Most of the kerria bush died and those branches need to be cut out. One of the two redbud trees is putting out a feeble effort, though the other is doing OK (and my neighbor's redbud is glorious, but she is an active gardener). The crabapple didn't bloom, though it doesn't many years. The azalea did bloom, as you can see below. The scraggliness is not because of the winter. It has been scraggly for a while. When my yard guy next shows up I'll ask him to add some fertilizer.

There's always a typewriter

A stay hasn't been issued in Arkansas yet so a few more counties performed same-sex marriages today. The original suit listed six counties, so the rest said we don't have to abide by the ruling. And at least one of the six didn't allow same-sex couples to marry because, gosh, the computer form lists "man" and "woman." To which another county clerk (one that didn't allow gays to marry) responded there's always a typewriter.

So hundreds of same-sex couples in Arkansas (and Texas and Oklahoma) hurried to the handful of county offices to get married today. The busiest was for Pulaski County, which includes Little Rock.

Ari Ezra Waldman of Towleroad reviews the Arkansas decision. This went before a state court because the suit included the claim that the marriage ban violated the Arkansas Constitution. A reader wondered why the ban could be in conflict with the Constitution since it is a part of the Constitution. It's because with the ban the document is in conflict with itself and some parts -- the stuff about equal rights -- takes precedence.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Three great things in one day

News of the past week…

Yesterday I went to Ann Arbor to listen to Frank Schaefer speak. He is the pastor who was defrocked last fall. My report is posted to my brother blog.

David Mixner is delighted about three great things that happened yesterday.

* Same-sex marriages in Arkansas.

* Conchita Wurst, a gender-defying singer from Austria, won the Eurovision! contest (much to the horror of eastern European countries).

* Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams to be the first openly gay player in the National Football League. He was chosen 249th out of (I think) 256, but he was still chosen.

A campaign was started in Michigan to get a repeal of the state's same-sex marriage ban on the ballot for 2016. This is in case the legal challenges fail.

Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney are a lesbian couple in Indiana. Quasney is terminally ill and they sued the state so that Amy would be listed as the spouse when Quasney dies. A federal judge agreed, though saying his ruling applies to only this one couple. A ruling on the state ban on same-sex marriage may come later.

As we've come to expect, a stay was requested and an appeal filed with the 7th District Court. The stay was requested because the state doesn't want to raise false hopes in other same-sex couples. That last bit was denounced as a "shameful display of cruelty."


I didn't see this one coming. A state judge in Arkansas struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban. Not only does the ban violate the federal Constitution (in ways we've seen before) it is inconsistent with the rest of the Arkansas Constitution. The judge wrote:
These rights vest in every person over whom the Constitution has authority and, because they are so important, an individual’s fundamental rights “may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”
The judge is aware of activist judges and said that when it comes to fundamental rights the judiciary has failed unpopular minorities in the past.

The ruling came out late on a Friday. It did not include a stay. And most county clerk offices are closed on Saturday. The one exception in Eureka Springs, which happens to be the gay hotspot of the Ozarks (there is such a thing?). The county clerk was unsure of what to do and closed the office. The deputy clerk had no problems and reopened it. So there were about 15 same-sex weddings in Arkansas yesterday, the first time in the Old South. More photos here and here. Alas, yes, an appeal is coming.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Biggest lies about income inequality

Robert Reich debunks the four biggest lies told about income inequality.

* The rich are job creators, so don't tax them. Reality: what creates jobs is the poor and middle class purchasing goods and services. If the poor and middle class aren't paid enough for their work the economy stagnates.

* In a market economy employees are paid what they're worth, so don't tamper with pay. Reality: CEO pay has gone from 30 times the average worker to 300 times in forty years. They're 10 times more valuable? Nope, they control the compensation committee. As for lower class workers, they are working just as hard and earning less than 40 years ago. The reason is busted unions.

* Any American with enough guts and gumption can make it, so no need to do anything for the poor. Reality: ain't gonna happen with the abysmal state of schools in poor districts. "We’re the only rich nation to spend less educating poor kids than we do educating kids from wealthy families."

* Increasing the minimum wage results in fewer jobs, so don't change it. Reality: recent studies at UC Berkeley contradict that claim.

Solutions: Tax rich to pay for schools in poor areas, raise minimum wage, strengthen unions.

Alas, it is clear that a thorough debunking won't stop the 1% and their minions from endlessly repeating those lies.

Protect the dignity of voters

I mentioned yesterday that Michigan AG Bill Schuette had used Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's reasoning in the recent affirmative action case to argue the voters have a right to deny same-sex marriage. Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin expands on the story.

The big difference between the filings at the district level (which we won back in March) and the filing with the 6th Circuit is that the infamous and discredited Mark Regnerus study is missing. Completely gone, never mentioned. That's a good thing.

Instead, Schuette embraced what Kennedy wrote in the affirmative action case. That's important because most court observers see Kennedy as the deciding vote in a same-sex marriage case. We don't have to wait for Kennedy's colleagues to use his words against him, Schuette is doing it for them. Schuette's reasoning now goes something like this:

This appeal of marriage rights isn't about gay people. Nope. Not at all. They're really nice people and surely make good parents.

Justice Kennedy wrote, "It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds." So we must protect the dignity of the millions of voters who approved that marriage protection amendment. Because, well, they're rational people and not at all guided by animus.

So if voters have made a rational and reasonable conclusion that straight people make the best parents and that children deserve a mother and a father the court should honor that decision.

Translation: Even though that Regnerus study was thoroughly debunked, I like his argument so much I'm going to pull it out of the mouths of voters. Besides, it is the only argument I've got.

Two months later

I got an email announcement saying that a Detroit equivalent to North Carolina's Moral Mondays was starting up. The Detroit version is called Freedom Fridays. The first rally was this afternoon. When I left home, already late, it started to rain. So I circled the block and went home. Yeah, a bit of rain stopped me. Perhaps a good thing because an important phone call came when I would have been gone.

Remember that car accident, the one that crumpled the hood of my car? Yeah, over two months ago. When I paid for the rental car I found that my insurance never told the rental company that I was to get the insurance rate. I complained, but the rental manager stood firm. He did agree to take off the daily insurance fee they charge customers.

So I contacted my insurance company with the complaint nobody told the rental car company about this being an insurance rental. I was shifted to a supervisor and we talked on the phone with her making noises about it being worked out. She issued a check for the standard daily rate of their coverage, even included a couple extra days because I picked up the rental two days before taking my car to the shop. They have a clause they will only pay for rentals while the car was actually being repaired. That had prompted me to ask the shop to take my car early even if it was going to sit in their lot for a week.

I told the insurance supervisor the check was great, but didn't cover my bill. I explained why.

But nothing happened. I emailed. I called. And called again. These contacts were usually a week or more apart with hopes something would happen in between. Finally, she called back at the end of April, leaving a message saying she had done all she could. I called and left a message saying the rental company had told me that if someone had told them the rate would have been changed. More silence.

I called again this morning, leaving a message and making sure she knew how annoyed I was at how long this was dragging on. She called back. As part of that conversation she said that one of her employees had started the paperwork to tell the rental company, but never actually told them or me. There was a reprimand. She also told me part of the delay was because she had been ill (with no one else to take over?)

She called back later, saying she contacted the rental company again and was prodding them for a resolution. And another call saying there was an agreement, but the amount still didn't cover what I had paid. She forwarded what she had received and I spotted the discrepancy. When I requested a car I asked for a compact. They gave me a full-size, saying that's all they had and the rate wouldn't go up. I objected to the increase in gas costs, but took it. Now the refund was being calculated on the insurance rate for full-size cars, not the compact rate.

At a time when I would have been at the rally the rental manager called. We worked out the correct refund, more than I thought I was owed. Since insurance had already covered some of that I asked him to work it out with the insurance supervisor. They agreed I would get the full amount as a little extra for all the delay and trouble I went through. So finally, two months later, the issue looks to be resolved.

The rental manager asked what it would take for me to consider his company again. I was annoyed enough over my earlier dealings I didn't have an answer for him.

Though I didn't get to the rally, I did go to a movie this evening. The rain had stopped, and if it hadn't I was inside. The movie was The Grand Budapest Hotel directed by Wes Anderson. The best word to describe the movie is eccentric. Everything is stylized, including the camera angles, which are precisely framed and either full front or exact profile. The plot centers on Gustave, a well trusted concierge of the hotel. He takes on a new lobby boy named Zero. A grand matriarch dies and leaves a small but important bit of her estate to Gustave. The family thinks it highly inappropriate. Shenanigans ensue. Quite fun. I've seen one other Wes Anderson movie, Moonrise Kingdom I also describe that one as eccentric.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Honor voters wishes

When the Supremes had ruled that Michigan voters were allowed to ban affirmative action I wrote about whether Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette would use that same argument -- voters get to decide -- in the same-sex marriage case. One news commentator took one side, one took the other. The debate is over. Schuette has filed a brief in the marriage case making that exact claim. He says it's more important to honor voters wishes than allow gay couples to marry.

Several other states are factoring that affirmative action ruling into their same-sex marriage cases.

Enough commonality

Some of us are (or were) annoyed with Ralph Nader pulling enough votes in Florida in 2000 to prevent Al Gore from becoming president (though you can read about the spoiler controversy in his Wikipedia entry). That didn't stop me from buying Nader's book The Seventeen Solutions about ways to improve America. I haven't read it yet, partly from a feeling of futility -- what good are great solutions if the GOP won't allow any to be implemented?

There is now a glimmer of hope for that last point. And, yes, that comes from another book by Ralph Nader, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. From the Amazon description:
Large segments from the progressive, conservative, and libertarian political camps find themselves aligned in opposition to the destruction of civil liberties, the economically draining corporate welfare state, the relentless perpetuation of America’s wars, sovereignty-shredding trade agreements, and the unpunished crimes of Wall Street against Main Street. Nader shows how Left-Right coalitions can prevail over the corporate state and crony capitalism.
Alas, the user reviewers aren't helpful in explaining what the book is about. Even so, I'm delighted in the major point. There are many, on both the Left and Right who are annoyed with the corporate takeover of America. Though the two sides have differences in philosophy of what government should be and do, there is enough commonality of that important goal that we should and need to unite for that goal. If we do, we will be unstoppable.

An interview with Nader on NPR fills in some of the details missing from the Amazon reviews. One detail is how to go about forging Left-Right alliances. Sidestep the manipulative ideologies of both sides and look at details. Nader gives an example:
What I do is I go down where people live and work and say, look, you're a Republican. You don't like federal regulation. Right, I don't like federal regulation. You have a car? Yeah. Well, if the auto company discovers a serious dangerous defect in your car after you bought it and the auto company doesn't recall it, would you favor the government requiring General Motors or Ford or VW to recall it? Most of them say yes.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Not the party of everyone

I've written before about state legislators who vote in our favor and are rewarded in the polls. I wrote about such a situation in Illinois just a couple weeks ago. Alas, that is not the case in neighboring Indiana. Kathy Heuer and Rebecca Kubacki of the Indiana House voted against the marriage protection amendment (which got pushed back to 2016 anyway). Both lost in yesterday's GOP primary.

And while I'm on the topic of the GOP and their views of us… In 45 states the GOP Party platform includes opposition to same-sex marriage. Some even call for an amendment to the national constitution. Yeah, they're really getting into the idea of being the party of everyone.

Friday, May 2, 2014

No to weddings, yes to employee benefits

The United Methodist Church doesn't allow same-sex couples to get married in its churches or by its pastors. However, if part of the couple works at one of the various general agencies and they live in a state with marriage equality, the couple can get marriage benefits. That policy was announced last October and confirmed by the denomination's Judicial Council last week. Of course, Fundies are annoyed.

Other judicial rulings:

* Candidates for clergy who are gay should be given a job interview, even though noncelibate clergy are prohibited.

* A gay rights resolution from the Desert Southwest region was examined. The part that supported clergy who perform same-sex weddings was struck down.

The United Church of Christ has challenged the ban on same-sex marriage in North Carolina as discriminatory. The reasoning is slightly different from other cases. The church is saying it is being discriminated against because they cannot conduct legal same-sex weddings. There is already a case in NC brought by same-sex couples.

Don't brand an opponent

Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin considers the resignation of Brendan Eich from Mozilla and forced removal of Don Sterling from the Clippers. That prompts him to ponder: Is everyone who opposes same-sex marriage a bigot?

A commenter checks definitions and says yes. So I'll rephrase the question this way: Does everyone who opposes same-sex marriage hate us?

The answer is no. Many are following convention. Others follow guidance from their pastor or priest. They oppose same-sex marriage because they can hold two contradictory beliefs: Marriage is between a man and a woman, and The gays I know are good and decent people. When they become unable to avoid the contradiction they change their mind and support marriage equality. It is these people we are reaching and who have made our recent victories possible.

But the true bigots, or haters, won't change their mind easily and will only become more shrill.

Which brings us back to Eich and Sterling. Eich has two data points for action against us: support of Pat Buchanan a couple decades ago and support for the Calif. marriage ban in 2008 with no indication he believes differently today. Bigot? Tisinai says maybe not.

In contrast Sterling bigoted comments on race (not just blacks) and women are frequent and ongoing. Bigot? Definitely, so much so that those in a minority can't trust him and work for him only with difficulty.

Don't be quick to brand an opponent as a bigot or hater. There may not be any hate behind their words or actions. And they may soon be an ally.

Balancing rights

Michigan Radio has been running a story in its few minutes of NPR local news that says Michigan business leaders are calling for sexual minorities to be included in the state non-discrimination laws. They say discrimination of us hurts recruitment. This is great news!

Alas, the GOP dominated state legislature isn't jumping on the opportunity. The news clips feature GOP talking heads say they haven't figured out how to balance the rights of gay people with the rights of religious people.

Since religious people are claiming the right of discriminating against gay people, balancing religious rights with gay non-discrimination rights is quite impossible. So, yeah, the GOP refusal is a smokescreen.

Which means we're to the question of whether there should be a religious right to discriminate against gay people. Considering 50 years ago white religious people were proclaiming a right to discriminate against black people the answer is simple and obvious: No there isn't a religious right to discriminate against gays.

Money is not speech

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is back in the news. One reason is the publication of his new book Six Amendments, How and Why We Should Change the Constitution. The other reason is he was before Congress in a hearing on "dark money," secret campaign donations. Short summary of his testimony: "Money is not speech." And slightly longer: there is a difference in permissibility of speech "because of a very strong state interest in trying to establish equality of opportunity for competing candidates to get elected."

Stevens is the third longest serving Justice, retiring in 2010. He is now 94. His dissent in Bush v. Gore, which decided the 2000 election, is important. He also dissented in the Citizens United case that unleashed campaign spending.

The NPR stories this week (links above) only briefly mentioned the six amendments Stevens thinks are appropriate, not saying much about what those amendments are. So I turned to another source: Amazon and its book reviews. The ones by William Springer and Loyd Eskildson fill in the details. Springer tries to review the book and not say how he feels about each amendment. I won't limit myself that way. Here is a description of the six amendments. Not all of them seem important.

* The Supremacy Clause says the federal gov't says judges can compel states to enforce federal laws. Stevens would expand that to include other public officials.

* A limit to gerrymandering. Political districts must be compact and contiguous. Springer's review seems to imply that the Supremes could take on the issue now, though they have only done so in gerrymandering involving race. I think this one is very important, though one part is missing: district maps must be drawn up by independent and impartial boards.

* Congress and the states may impose reasonable limits to campaign spending. Yes, it means Congress and legislatures define what "reasonable" means, but that would be reviewed by the Supremes. I think another method is better, to have public funding of campaigns. This is another one of high importance.

* Clarifies that a state, its agencies, and its officers are subject to acts of Congress and the Constitution.

* The death penalty should be banned. I agree and think this one might have the easiest chance of getting passed.

* The right to bear arms is restricted to when serving in the Militia. This is the one that will grab the attention. It is another of high importance and one I agree with.

I'm pleased to see my two top issues -- gerrymandering and campaign finance -- are in the list. Once these are in place, other issues, such as gun control and death penalty, would be easier to do.

Springer concludes by saying the book is a disappointment. The arguments Stevens uses aren't sufficiently convincing that the solutions Stevens proposes are the best. It is a missed opportunity. Eskildson is disappointed Stevens doesn't cover the difficulty in getting the Constitution amended. There is essentially zero chance these amendments would get through 2/3 of both the Senate and House and 3/4 of the states. Perhaps the first thing to change is to make amending the Constitution easier.

I have a hard time agreeing with the last point. The Michigan Constitution is too easy to amend and all kinds of (forgive me for saying it) crap, such as the same-sex marriage ban, has been crammed into it.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Celibacy is never forced

Randy Roberts Potts, gay grandson of Evangelist Orel Roberts, talks about how to make gay people palatable to the Fundie. He is prompted to write about the topic because of a new book, God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines.

Previous efforts to reconcile gays and fundamentalism appealed to Fundies through the heart or mind. Appealing through the heart didn't work because the work of salvation is supposed to be difficult. Too bad if it is more difficult for the gay person to overcome his sexual tendencies. That couldn't be any harder (in their eyes) than a sex addict or pedophile. The struggle of salvation is what makes it worthwhile.

Appealing to the mind didn't work because Fundies don't come to their faith through intellect, reason, or logic. They come by faith.

So Vines takes the argument inside fundamentalism. His reasoning works this way:

* Celibacy has always been a choice, never forced on someone. Yes, some people choose to be celibate, and priests choose celibacy as they choose their profession.

* Orientation cannot be changed. This idea is gaining acceptance with the collapse of Exodus International, the prominent ex-gay ministry. Its leaders began to say that 99% of their clients remain gay. Yes, older Fundies won't buy into that idea, but younger ones assume it to be true.

* So if it is unethical to demand gays to be celibate and unethical to demand they change then there must be some other conservative Christian approved expression of sexuality for gay people. According to Vines, there is: same-sex marriage.

And that means being gay no longer needs to be a right to be different, a right to flout norms. It becomes the right to fit in.

Refuse to propagate the race

From a flyer in my email I saw this was a good week to visit the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills several miles north of me. Dad has remarked from time to time that he would like to see it too. So we agreed to visit today as I took a break from grading final exams. Mom came too. We had lunch together, visited the Center for most of the afternoon, then had an early and fast supper before he joined rush hour traffic for the trip home.

We paid for admission (sheesh, even I got the senior discount) and joined a tour that started shortly before we got there. It took us through the main exhibit sequence. I appreciated hearing what the guide had to say but I missed studying some of the displays. At the end of the day we went back into the main exhibit to look in more detail as time permitted.

Displays in the main exhibit are expected for such a place -- a bit of Jewish history and life up through the 1920s (including a list of Nobel prizes held by Jews -- 27% of the total), the rise of Hitler, the development of the Ghettos (especially in Warsaw), the concentration camps (with boxcar), what was found when the camps were liberated, what happened to the Jews when the war was over (some were not welcomed home), and displays of those who defied the Nazis to help Jews. The tour ended with a talk by a survivor, about how she endured and how she came to America. Alas, she was boring.

So I went on to the special exhibit hall (and soon followed by Mom and Dad). The flyer mentioned before was about this exhibit, with indications that it ends this Sunday. This hall had panels describing the Nazi treatment of homosexual men. That all centered around Paragraph 175 of the criminal code, which had been around for a long time and made homosexual acts illegal. There was talk of repealing #175 in 1920s Berlin. But when the Nazis took power they instead made it more severe. One prominent Nazi was gay and helped Hitler to power, but it didn't take Hitler long to turn on his ally.

A few things I learned or understood more clearly today:

A big reason for the rise of the Nazis and WWII was because Germany, the center of civilization (in their eyes), was soundly defeated in WWI. After the first war, Germans started wrestling with how could we, such a great nation, have possibly lost? Who on our side betrayed us? Who didn't believe correctly or strongly enough in our cause to help us win? (That last one reminds me a lot of Christian conservatives and their view of America.) From those questions and others like them came the need to purify the race, to eliminate the undesirables and the weak. That meant the Jews because, well, they're Jews. It also meant homosexuals because they were immoral and by their actions refused to propagate the race. The image was for manly men who ran everything and for women to stay home, support their men, and produce lots of Aryan babies. Lesbians were frowned upon, but not made illegal.