Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fix this now

Indiana is at a full boil now over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act recently signed into law. I'll start with an editorial on the front page of today's Indianapolis Star, which is not a bastion of progressive views:

Gov. Mike Pence was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos on the ABC program "This Week." Pence was asked would an Indiana florist be allowed to discriminate under this new law. He refused to answer six times.

Later Pence claimed the issue was perception of the law, not the law itself. He scolded those who "mischaracterized" the law, though Pence was doing a fine job of that himself. Part of what Pence is saying, why the uproar? Our new law is just like the federal RFRA law that President Clinton signed in 1993.

That prompted Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who wrote the federal RFRA with Ted Kennedy, to blast Pence. There are two important differences between the federal law and the Indiana law. Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin explains it well.

* The federal was enacted so that a Jewish prisoner can get Kosher meals or a Native American prisoner can keep his long hair. These are cases between a citizen and the government. The Indiana law allows for cases between two citizens. That means if I'm refused service because I'm gay and sue, the other person can claim protection through the RFRA.

* The Indiana law expands the definition of "person" to include an organization, a non-profit charity, and a corporation.

The federal law protects the individual from onerous impositions of the government. The Indiana law is a shield for corporations to do harm.

Still think this bill is harmless? Take a look at who was at the signing ceremony. That was conducted behind closed doors. When a photo was released, Pence refused to identify those who witnessed his signature. So GLAAD did a bit of digging. Pence was surrounded by: Micah Clark, who believes homosexuality is treatable and raged when a lesbian wanted to attend a prom in a tuxedo. Eric Miller, who falsely claimed pastors could be jailed for preaching against homosexuality. Curt Smith, who equates homosexuality with bestiality and helped write the bill.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville, who lives in Indiana, tells us what kind of legislature the state has. In 2012 Glenda Ritz was the first Democrat to be elected to Superintendent of Public Instruction in 40 years. Pence was elected that same year. Immediately after taking office he and the GOP dominated legislature stripped that job of all power.

McEwen also responds to the idea that we should all give up on Indiana because it is a "lost cause." She reminds us that in 2008 both Hillary and Obama paid attention to the state and for the second time in 70 years Indiana voted for a Democrat for president. Commenter Aeryl notes that declaring Indiana to be a lost cause means the belief that there won't be any change. So a call to boycott that is supposed to be about forcing a change is really about punishment.

Not that we need any more proof... We know exactly what kind of person Jeb Bush is. He thinks the Indiana law is just dandy.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Model law

A few years ago a friend (not the debate partner) moved into Detroit and the North Rosedale Park neighborhood. He and his partner were able to get a big grand house built in the 1920s for about a third of the value of my small house in the 'burbs. He, of course, had to put a lot of money into restoration. One advantage of this neighborhood is it has its own community center, not owned by the city. For 50 years that center has hosted the Park Players, a community theater group. My friend has become an actor in the troupe and his partner has joined the costume crew. This afternoon I saw their production of The Addams Family Musical, in which daughter Wednesday falls in love with a boy from (gasp) Ohio. The acting and singing was at least as good (and many cases better) than my college students did in their own musical a month ago.

After the show I drove around the neighborhood a bit to admire the fine homes. I was reminded of one of the contrasts in Detroit. Going to and from North Rosedale Park I drove through Brightmoor, one of the poorest neighborhoods and one of the hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. These two neighborhoods are only a couple miles apart.

I've written several times about Gary Glenn, the nasty homophobe who authored Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage and is a new representative from Midland in the state House. Glenn is freaking out, this time because Tony Lascari, the new guy appointed as the news editor of the Midland Daily News, is gay.

Because of Glenn and people like him Michigan doesn't include sexual minorities in the state-wide civil rights law. Such an addition doesn't look like it will be approved soon. Because of that the Michigan Civil Rights Commission approved a model non-discrimination ordinance that local jurisdictions can use to offer protections to sexual minorities. There are at least 30 (I think the count is 38) towns and cities across the state that have adopted such ordinances, though they vary widely in structure and scope. The model will serve as a guide to cities who wish to add protections for us.

Here's why the state law won't be updated soon. Kevin Cotter is the new House Speaker. He is also from Midland and is also a leader in Glenn's American Family Association. Yeesh. Yes, a bigot has the top job in the Michigan House. Cotter said laws to protect us are a "solution in search of a problem" and that they "have a history of themselves being discriminatory."

Let me clarify that

A few days ago I wrote about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, um, license to discriminate act or even better the Persecution Protection Act recently signed by Gov. Pence in Indiana. In it I praised the stiff backbones of those, such as the gaming convention Gen Com, beginning a boycott of Indiana.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville strongly disagrees. I pay attention to her opinion because she lives in Indiana, not far from the Indiana Dunes and Lake Michigan. She is also a fiery feminist who has taught me a few things (when a woman says a guy is "creepy" believe her – and listen to what she wants to have done in the situation).

McEwan says a general boycott of Indiana is all wrong. It hurts the poor and the gay people, the most vulnerable. Their lives are already quite precarious. Do not ask her to move – Indiana is her home. Moving just means overturning a nasty law and demanding rights is impossible. If you want to do something, make a donation to an organization that will work to overturn the bill. Besides, how willing are you to boycott Indiana products? Boycott all corn and soybeans? Good luck with that (though I'm managing that fairly well, but not because they're from Indiana).

IndyFeminists has summarized how to be proactive. Look for businesses that display "Open for Service" stickers and patronize them. Check the list of businesses to avoid, such as Mister Ice, owned by Scott Schneider, the legislator who co-authored the nasty bill. Check the list of gay and human rights organizations that will work to repeal the law and make a donation.

There were lots of protests outside the state Capitol this week. That and the threat of boycott prompted the Indy Star to say the new law created for the governor "the worst crisis of his political career." The heat is strong enough the Pence is now saying he will work to "clarify" the law so there isn't any actual discrimination.

The general response is good luck with that. In addition to general disbelief that "clarification" without repeal is possible the big gay groups – Human Rights Campaign, Lamda Legal, and Freedom Indiana – are saying his comments are a lot of bull. Want to show there is no intent to discriminate? Repeal this law and add all sexual minorities to the state civil rights laws. Pence responded to the second part by saying, "That's not on my agenda." Well then.

Will Pence try to say the bill has no intention of permitting discrimination? Let's turn our eyes to the Georgia legislature. In that state a similar Religious Freedom Act was debated in the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Mike Jacobs (R) called out his colleagues. You say this bill doesn't discriminate. Let's make that clear. So he pushed through an amendment that would explicitly prevent "discrimination on any ground prohibited by federal, state, or local law." Suddenly his colleagues lost interest. A motion to table the amended bill was passed.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Avoid Indiana

Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana has signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act for the state. Gay people know it for its effect, a License to Discriminate Act. The signing session was behind closed doors (why hide?). In a statement Pence wrote: "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it." That prompted a commenter to write: "Pence is either a complete imbecile or a disgusting liar. Or both."

George Takei says he will boycott the state (check out the fierce picture!).

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard loudly objected to the new act. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Senator Richard Lugar are strangely silent.

NCAA, the group that runs the college basketball tournament currently in progress, is annoyed. One of the Final Four games is in Indianapolis and NCAA is trying to figure out how to make sure its athletes and fans are safe. They're so annoyed that they, "intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce." My, what a stiff backbone you have.

Some backbones are indeed stiffer. The huge gaming convention Gen Con has said they will take their $5 million worth of business elsewhere. And cloud computing company Salesforce has canceled all projects that require travel to Indiana. CEO Marc Benioff says Pence wants to increase high-tech jobs in the state, but Pence doesn't realize that a big portion of the tech industry is gay.

The crazy conservative news out of Indiana keeps on coming. The state Supremes that public school districts don't have to provide bus service for students. Ya see, though the state constitution mentions a free public education, "the framers did not intend for every aspect of public education to be free." The schoolhouse doors will remain open even if you can't get there. Now add in two other bits of info:

* Moina Lucious was charged with neglect and faces up to three years in jail because her son was consistently absent or tardy. So a poor family is caught in a bind. They don't have a car to get that child to school, yet will be arrested if the child isn't there.

* Districts want to end bus service to minimize deficits. Yet the state budget has a $2 billion surplus. That surplus gives Pence conservative bragging rights, even if the kids in his state aren't educated.

So, in my travels this summer I'm either flying or if I'm driving I'll take the fastest route through Indiana, such as Michigan City to Chicago.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Conservative candidate

Yes, Ted Cruz announced he is running for president. Melissa McEwen of Shakesville describes the announcement this way:
It's pretty sweet that he's making no bones about the fact that he doesn't want to lead "the American people," but definitely just wants to lead conservatives to take back the country from the terrifying grip of moderates and liberals. Fresh take!

This is just the perfect Republican candidate, right here: A professional politician who hates government; who makes his living from taxpayer dollars but hates taxation of the wealthy and corporations; who wants to be president of the country, but hates most of it.
From commenter jeannebean:

NPR notes that Cruz was born in Canada and until a few years ago carried dual citizenship. His mother is American. Does he meet the constitution's mandate for "natural born"? The Supremes have never ruled on this situation.

Why aren't the birthers up in arms?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Thanks for the apology

Back in 1980 Bob Jones III, president of fundamentalist Bob Jones University, was with a group of Fundie pastors urging President Carter to not extend the Civil Rights Act to sexual Minorities. As part of his comments Jones called for homosexuals to be stoned.

This past week Jones, now University Chancellor, apologized. It looks to be genuine, not the sort that says, "sorry you were offended." He says that statement 35 years ago was reckless and does not fit his theology or his beliefs. It looks pretty clear he won't say it again. So thank you for your apology.


His reference to sinners implies (but does not state) he still considers homosexuality to be a sin. And I'm pretty sure (as are a lot of commenters) that the BJU policies concerning gay people have not changed. Jones didn't go far enough.

But we'd have to revise 20 forms!

A few days ago I posted that Texas set a record of 20 new anti-gay bills in any state legislature this year. I didn't know then that there was also a record set for the number of pro-gay bills introduced in the Texas legislature. I don't know the count, but I doubt it is 20. I also doubt any of them will pass.

Even so, one of them got a hearing this past Wednesday. It is a bill that allows both same-sex parents to have their names on the birth certificate of an adopted child. That hearing included this exchange:

Julie Drenner of Texas Values claimed the bill would lead to threesomes adopting and the state would need to revise 20 forms.

Rep. Byron Cool (a Republican!) said he is "struggling" with those arguments and noted same-sex couples were more willing to adopt special needs kids. Then he said:
That’s a terrible indictment on one group, to be honest with you. In regards to your issue that you have to change the forms, so what? I really don’t understand that argument at all. Right now in Texas, we are struggling. We do not have enough parents who are willing to adopt. Thank goodness for people that will adopt children and give them loving homes.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Persistent, prevalent, and instrumental

The Mattachine Society was one of the first organizations fighting for gay rights in the 1960s. At the time it was led by Frank Kameny, who was fired from his federal job as an astronomer for being gay. The Mattachine name has been revived by Charles Francis and Pate Felts. They and friends from the law office McDermott Will & Emery documented the systematic anti-gay discrimination by the federal government, starting with the Lavender Scare of the 1950s (part of the McCarthy Red Scare) and on through the 1960s, and 70s. They obtained details through the Freedom of Information Act and turned it into a brief that they submitted to the Supremes as part of the upcoming same-sex marriage case.

There is a reason to go through the effort. One is to document the historical record. Another is to demonstrate anti-equality laws have long been based on hostility, or animus, and that is not permitted as a justification for discriminatory laws.

A reason for the need for the historical record is from Justice John Roberts' dissent in the last big gay case before the Supremes. Roberts claimed there was insufficient evidence of animus, calling it "snippets of legislative history." The brief responds:
For decades, this animus was one of the basic assumptions of American life. It was so persistent, so prevalent, and so instrumental to the way that we structured our institutions, treated our fellow citizens, and organized our lives that, in retrospect, it is often overlooked.

The brief documents this animus, including the language used to describe gay people: “unnatural,” “uniquely nasty,” “immoral,” “deviant,” “pervert[ed],” and an “abomination.”

One of the cases cited was that of William Dew who was fired in 1958. At the time he had a pregnant wife. The reason for his dismissal was he applied to the CIA and as part of the application admitted to experimenting with gay sex many years before. The Supremes agreed to hear the case, which prompted the gov't to settle. But it also prompted the gov't to redouble its efforts to "crush" homosexuals.

The brief's closing argument, explaining why it is appropriate for a same-sex marriage case:
The Dew case is important for another reason as well—one that goes to the heart of the cases now before this Court. For decades, there was no limit to the animus meted out against LGBT Americans and no end to its reach. It poisoned every institution in the United States and seeped into the lives of all Americans, not merely those of gays and lesbians. So too, the language of animus became commonplace among those in the highest positions in government: “homo,” “sexual deviant,” “pervert,” “abomination,” “uniquely nasty,” and other derogatory terms and phrases were used with bureaucratic ease as a way to define, cabin, and limit the citizenship of LGBT Americans. As the Dew case perfectly illustrates, the animus even extended to those who were not gay.

It was the courts—and in the case of Dew, this Court—that ultimately stepped in to set the course right. This Court knows animus when it sees it, and it has a well-established line of cases overturning laws that by their text, background history, and effect, relegate a class of citizens to second-class status. See, e.g., Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996); Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003); and United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013). Indeed, this Court has already recognized the long history of discrimination and animus against homosexuals. See, e.g., Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 571.

The newly revealed documents cited herein merely reinforce what this Court already knows. For decades, there was a culture of animus against LGBT Americans that permeated every aspect of American life and every American institution. In many places, that culture continues to this day. To say that the marriage bans now at issue are not somehow the product of this historical animus is to ignore reality. We may not see the air that feeds the flame. But, for decades, animus against LGBT Americans fed the flames of hatred, revulsion, and disgust from which the current marriage bans arose.
One commenter essentially said, great start … but it should document more recent cases, including up through today and this marriage case before the court.

My bigotry is bigger

My friend and debate partner responded to one of my posts on the same-sex marriage circus in Alabama by writing, "The 2016 primaries could feature the many Republican 'presidential' candidates having a 'my bigotry is bigger than your bigotry' fight." I wrote back saying it isn't "could" but "will." My example is Ted Cruz.

But it looks like that comment should leave out the word "presidential." Pastor Rick Scarborough has created a pledge that says signers are so completely against same-sex marriage they will refuse to obey any ruling by the Supremes (and, somehow, Obama), even if it means they'll go to jail. Scarborough says there are Congressmen lining up to sign, along with lots of Fundie pastors.

I can understand the sincerity of a signature to this pledge if it is from a florist or cake baker. And I can see a pastor getting in trouble if he also runs a hospital and ordered to provide marriage benefits to same-sex couples. But a Congressman? Even if there is a plausible scenario, I can't see any of them willing to go to jail for any beliefs.

Sylvia and Charity

News of the week...

A bill to allow adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couple using taxpayer dollars has passed the Michigan House. John Wright of Towleroad reports that Michigan isn't an isolated state. His post includes a map showing which states are working to pass or have enacted bills that permit religious refusals, promote discredited "conversion therapy," nullify local protections, and restrict transgender people. Alas, this map highlights 25 states.

During the Calif. same-sex marriage case Justice Alito claimed it is an "Institution which is newer than cellphones or the Internet." In speaking of gov't recognized marriages he is correct. But same-sex marriage is much older. Consider the story of Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant, who met in Vermont in 1807 and were together for 44 years. It is a good example because it is well documented, with a book written about them by Rachel Hope Cleves. The relationship was public, an "open secret." That was possible because townspeople could compare it to marriage without actually calling it marriage.

As we've seen with some of the same-sex marriage cases, especially the one in Alabama, the anti-gay crowd works hard to try to limit the ruling to the couples actually named in the suit. If Jim and Dave brought the suit and it was ruled in their favor, then only Jim and Dave may get married. Other couples who want to get married must then also file suit.

According to William Baude, writing for the New York Times Opinion Pages, perhaps that same idea can be brought to the Affordable Care Act case currently before the Supremes. The case was brought by a Mr. King, who has a federal subsidy to buy health care and says he shouldn't be allowed to have it. So, according to this idea, if Obama loses the case he could say, fine, Mr. King doesn't get a subsidy. Anyone else who has a subsidy and feels they shouldn't, please contact the GOP, who will gladly file a lawsuit on your behalf. Thanks to my friend and debate partner for sending the link.

Ronald Wimberly of The Nib has a great discussion of racism in the comic industry. He makes a lot of references to hexadecimal color IDs, which are made up of two digits each for red, green, and blue with each digit ranging 0-9 and then a-f for 10 to 15. So #000000 is black, #ff0000 is bright red, and #ffffff is white.

And just for fun... Johanna Basford has created a series of intricate and beautiful black and white drawings gathered together into a coloring book for adults. She has already sold a million copies. These images are way too intricate for crayons, so get out your huge set of colored pencils and have a sharpener handy.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Marriage circus

I'm not sure I can summarize the latest round of the marriage circus in Alabama. Prior to this point federal Judge Granade had struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban. Mobile County Judge Davis complied and issued licenses to the couples named in the suit. Other marriages happened around the state. Then the state Supremes put a halt to all marriages.

As the story continues, Davis told Granade the original couples are now married and the Supremes ordered me to stop, so please issue a stay. I don't want to be caught in the middle. Granade refused the stay. Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses for the county.

Cari Searcy was one of those original plaintiffs. She wants to adopt her wife's child, which they are raising together. The state is refusing to recognize the marriage so won't permit the adoption. Davis granted temporary parental rights. Searcy sued him to force the adoption. Davis noted he is now party to a suit and recused himself.

Granade says her original order is not yet in compliance because the state isn't recognizing the marriages that have been performed. Granade is in the process of expanding the case into a class action order. This story will definitely have several more chapters.

Traditionally a man and a woman

The 1.8 million member Presbyterian Church USA is divided into 171 regions. To change the church constitution a resolution must be approved by a national convention and then by at least half of the regions. Though more than 30 regions have yet to vote, 86 regions have now approved the resolution to change the denomination's definition of marriage from "a man and a woman" to "two people, traditionally a man and a woman." Yay! That little bit about "traditionally" could have been left out, but if that was what it took to get it passed, go for it. The change does not require conservative pastors to officiate at same-sex weddings. There were 41 regions that voted to oppose and one vote was tied.

Texas has set a record for the greatest number of anti-gay bills in one session of a legislature. At least 20 such bills have been filed. That tops Oklahoma's 16 bills. How worried should we be? Already, 15 of Oklahoma's bills have died. And Equality Texas says the state view of sexual minorities has changed in the last decade and today a lot of businesses will push against the bills because they don't want to damage the "Texas brand."

Rep. Cecil Bell, leading the Texas charge with 4 bills, says it is all about states rights, as he plugs his ears against the words tyranny of the majority.

In service of trade

A bit before I went to Venice, Italy in 2012 the book City of Fortune, How Venice Ruled the Seas by Roger Crowley was published. I waited for it to be published in paperback, then it sat on my reading shelf for a while. I finished it yesterday. The book is about when Venice was the powerhouse of the Mediterranean.

My niece has said she doesn't like to study history because it is all about the battles. At her age I probably felt the same way. Since then I've read some fascinating books on history that focus on the ideas and everyday life rather than on the battles. For example, there is The History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage. The City of Fortune book discusses both ideas and battles, though I think it spent too much time and detail on those battles.

By 1200 AD Venice had created a Republic. There is an elected leader, the doge, and a tight set of rules and review to keep him from abusing that power. Of course, those who voted for the doge were the aristocracy, not the commoners. A good deal, perhaps all, of the city's efforts was towards commerce. Since the city couldn't grow its own food, trade was a necessity. By this time Venice had a trading network all along the Adriatic Sea, some of it imposed by force.

In 1201 the Pope called for the Fourth Crusade. Venice was contracted to build the ships. Alas, the number of crusaders who showed up were too small for Venice to earn back its investment. So instead of going to Jerusalem or Cairo (the power behind the Muslims in Jerusalem) they went to Constantinople, hoping to earn a bit of money with some quick plundering. It didn't go well and lasted three years. But the city was eventually defeated and sacked – lots of valuable and artistic stuff in homes and churches melted down for the gold and silver. These Crusades (there were a total of nine) taught Christians to settle disputes through war.

As a result of that win Venice became owners of a series of islands around Greece. Some of these were easily dominated, others, like Crete, were rebellious. While Venice may have been a republic in its domestic affairs, it acted like a nasty colonial power elsewhere (and served as a model for the British and Spanish empires that came later).

Venice used its position to dominate trade across the Mediterranean. They traded with the Muslims (even though the Pope said they shouldn't) in Cairo and Beirut bringing spices and other goods across land from Asia and India. They traded across the Black Sea with the Mongols. The list of traded goods is long. The city became rich by supplying Europe with all these exotic goods. During this time the men in charge of these various forts were held to high standards to avoid bribery and conflicts of interest. Everything the city did was in service of trade. During this time every action in the city and each of its ports was exhaustively documented – there were 45 miles of shelves holding these documents.

There were a series of wars with Genoa, also working the trade routes. At one point, in 1379, Genoa and the King of Hungary took that fight to the Venice lagoon. Venice squeaked out of that one and shortly after that the Genoa system collapsed, leaving Venice to dominate, which it did for about another 120 years.

The sacking of Constantinople severely weakened Byzantium, which allowed the Ottoman Turks to move in. So what gave rise to Venice was a major reason for its decline 300 years later. The other big reason was that Portugal established a trade route around Africa to Asia, cutting off the need to trade with both Muslims and Venice. Around 1500 the Venice trade economy collapsed.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Hometown opera

Though my Blogger profile is vague, I teach at Marygrove College in Detroit. I mention it now because there is a specific story to tell. I was at the college this afternoon for a performance of a new chamber opera Pat and Emilia. The libretto is by Marty Gervais and the music by Jeff Smallman (I hadn't heard of them either). It is a chamber opera because there are only two singers and the orchestra is violin, cello, clarinet, and piano. The two characters are real people: Pat Sturn, a photographer in Windsor, Ontario and Emilia Cundari, a singer from Windsor who had graduated from Marygrove College. When Emilia was just starting her career, Pat took some publicity photos and then followed the career of the hometown girl. Emilia made it big in opera in New York, then across Europe. After 17 years she became tired of living out of a suitcase and yearned for home. She moved back to Windsor with her Italian husband, had a son, and got a job teaching voice at Marygrove College. The son still lives in the area, though does not work in music. He was not able to attend the performance.

The opera takes place on Pat's 100th birthday. In the first act, the singer portraying Pat pages through a scrapbook as the one portraying Emilia, who is a faculty member of the college and thus Emilia's successor, sings a variety of opera arias that the real diva had sung. In the second act Pat reminisces, including becoming annoyed with Emilia for having a career and giving it up.

As the second act was winding down I thought the connection between the two women was rather flimsy and there wasn't much from which to create a coherent story. There was a discussion session afterward which explained it all. The basic idea behind the opera is that women choose family or career (or both) and the choice that is right for one may not be right for another. Emilia made one choice, Pat made another.

I talked to the chairperson of the Music Dept. (essentially my boss) after the program. She graduated from Marygrove College and had taken a class or two from Emilia. During the discussion the cellist, librettist, and someone in the audience also talked of personally knowing either Pat or Emilia.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Don't need this kind of love

Finally getting to a story that has been sitting in my browser tabs for almost a month... Rudy Giuliani ranted about how Obama doesn't "love America."

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville has the takedown: Yes, a frequent refrain by conservatives aimed at progressives in general is that we "hate America." We get labeled with that because we don't love all of America as it is. We despise America's entrenched bigotry, its disastrous foreign policy, its promotion of greed over community, its lack of compassion for the needy, its delight in ignorance, its belief that markets solve everything, its belief that it is God's gift to the world, its hostility to the idea that some could do with less so others could have a bit more. The list goes on from there.

These are the things that Republicans uphold, while refusing to own up to problems, wrapping themselves in the flag, and branding others as hating America – attack these ideas and you attack America.

These are the people who got us into Iraq, gerrymander state districts, disenfranchise voters, praise predatory lending that decimated Detroit, deny abortion and contraception, allow infrastructure to crumble, price college out of the reach of many students and overload the rest with debt, gut education funding, gut science funding, and many other things.

We don't need any more of this kind of love.

Refusing the guilt-trip

As I've reported, conservative Christianity is freaking out. Evidence: the frenzy of anti-abortion bills over the last few years. But this rush isn't in response to a rise in the number of abortions. That rate has been falling. It isn't because of adolescent sexualty – kids are waiting longer to have sex. So why the freaking out?

Because people are refusing to feel guilty about the sex they are having. They are refusing the church's guilt-tripping and demand for conformity. So conservative Christians are cracking down to regain control. Their "religious freedom" laws are easily seen as demanding the right to oppress others. And that only drives more people away from the church and organized religion. Which makes conservatives even more desperate for control. Now 22% of Americans have left religion entirely. The conservative church is hastening its own demise.

Not bottled in Cleveland

A long time ago I lived in Cleveland. The Cuyahoga River, which runs through the city was known to be quite polluted. Perhaps shortly after my family left the city Cleveland became infamous because the Cuyahoga River caught fire. The river and the city are much cleaner now.

But it is that reputation that allowed Fiji brand bottled water to advertise, "The labels says Fiji because it's not bottled in Cleveland." The message: You should fear your tap water. Our bottled water (and bottled water in general) is cleaner and safer and more healthy than city tap water. It has been a highly effective message and Big Beverage has been hauling in huge profits in America by charging up to 2000 times what one pays to get water from the tap.

Except the health and cleanliness claim isn't true.

Cleveland was pissed off by the comparison, so tested their own water against several brands of bottled water. The winner? Cleveland tap. A big reason is that city water is regulated by the EPA and the FDA. Bottled water isn't. City water must issue a report about the cleanliness of its water. Bottled water doesn't.

Big Beverage likes to disparage city water because it is fluoridated. While my nutritionist would agree with the implication that fluoride in water is not good, the Big Bev claim does not mean their water is free of fluoride – much of what they bottle is filtered tap water and most filtering processes don't remove fluoride. There is also the petroleum and energy consumption to make all those bottles, and the waste and pollution because so few are recycled.

The prevalence and sales of bottled water show that Big Bev have pulled off a mighty successful scam. It has been so successful that many new sports stadiums are being built without public drinking fountains, forcing patrons to buy bottled water or other beverages. Big Bev has stated its goal: relegate tap water to showers and washing dishes.

What do I drink? Tap water I've put through a filtering system.

The devil made me do it

The latest cover of Time shows Hillary in silhouette. It has been a bad week for her. Many have noticed that her head is positioned in such a way that the "M" in the title makes her look like she has devil horns. Yeah, a lot of conservatives think that is quite appropriate. When called out on it Time essentially said, gosh, that happens a lot. They put together a slideshow of 34 covers that appear to give people horns. Whaddaya gonna do with that big "M" in the name?

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville isn't satisfied. An independent woman, such as Hillary who "writes her own rules" as the Time article says, is already dehumanized as a harpie, demon, or devil. Time should not be feeding that narrative. And since this "happens a lot" then the magazine staff knows about it and has the power to prevent it.

I let my subscription to Newsweek run out about a year ago. After a while I realized I missed having the news analysis. Too many news websites have way too much fluff and not enough analysis. I thought about giving Time a try. Now I won't.

Happy Pi Day!

Yes, tomorrow is a once-in-a-century Pi Day, especially in mid morning when the date and time will be 3/14/15 9:26:53.

But it doesn't have anything to do with pie – other than the sound of the name and that pies are usually round.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Unconscious racism

Yeah, we've got a black president, so we're supposedly in a post-racial society. Yeah, right. We also hear a lot of comments on the line of, "I have _____ friends!" The Good Men Project lists five ways in which we might, perhaps unconsciously, participate in racism.

1. You are afraid of people of color. One might dismiss this by calling the feeling "unfamiliarity." This fear is likely from the culture around us that frequently portrays people of color as scary by talking about black on black violence or using the terms "thug" and "gang."

2. You disregard international atrocities against people of color. These atrocities are based on attitudes that came from capitalism and colonialism.

3. You disregard intersecting identities. A person of color from Mexico is different from one from Africa, and both might also be gay. Know the people as individuals as you know the people of your own race as individuals.

4. You tokenize your workplace. The one minority person in the group shouldn't automatically lead the diversity campaign.

5. White silence. One shouldn't take a stand against racism only when one is "comfortable" or when there is no accountability.

Racism is still quite pervasive and will require a response from everyone.

Fear as mobilizing tool

I saw a notice in an old Albion College alumni magazine about the book Gun Crusaders: The NRA's Culture War by Scott Melzer. The mag mentions the book because Melzer is a professor at the college. I haven't read it. From the magazine, Melzer's book
examines the National Rifle Association's dramatic transformation from a recreational firearms interest group into a conservative activist organization. The change began to appear, Melzer contends, in the 1960s when gun control legislation was introduced in response to the assassinations of President John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy. The predominantly male NRA members felt threatened at the same time by movements promoting women's, civil, and gay rights, he says.

"The book reveals how men respond to threats from changes in society," Melzer says. "Fear is a driving factor, and it has been the NRA's most effective mobilizing tool."
Melzer's idea that the NRA is definer of manhood and an enforcer of straight white male privilege must be accurate – all three customer reviews on Amazon gave the book a 1 out of 5.

A prominent notice

If your state has a license to discriminate law and you intend to make full use of it, state Rep. Emily Virgin of Oklahoma wants you to own it. She is proposing an amendment to her state's bill to require placing a prominent notice that you intend to discriminate. That way you can save the rest of us a lot of hassle of not walking through the door. Commenters like the idea – as a temporary measure until the license to discriminate laws can be declared unconstitutional.

A new poll says 59% of voters support same-sex marriage. This is an all-time high and nearly double the 30% support of 2004. National attitudes towards gay marriage are changing faster than they did for such things as women's rights and interracial marriage. Go here for a chart that shows the progress.

I posted a brief note in my brother blog about two United Methodist pastors who performed same-sex marriages in Virginia.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The victims are children

Over the last six years there have been four emergency managers in quick succession for the Detroit Public Schools. There were also two more a few years before the current block. The last few have tended to stay only 18 months because after that the elected school board can show the manager the door, but if he leaves before then the governor can appoint another one and reset the clock.

So, how are they doing? With that amount of time, the DPS system should be humming along just fine. Well, no.

The DPS system enrollment is about half of what it was and the budget has gone from a slight surplus to $170 million deficit and more than $2.1 billion of debt. The education the students get is no better. Some of the student drop is because students are fleeing the system. Some of it is inflicted by the state, which put the worst 15 schools under an Education Achievement Authority, and those also haven't improved.

The latest emergency manager has been in office for only a short time. As he was being introduced to the public he said he would be opening up the budget and looking for places to cut. Gee, why didn't someone think of that six years ago?

The Metro Times has a good story about the whole sorry mess. From all the shenanigans, it seems the state wants the city school district to fail. I couldn't possibly think of why.

How we got into this mess is part 1 of the story. I read it when I was in midtown Detroit and picked up a copy. I didn't realize there was a part 2 until I got onto the Metro Times website to provide you with a link to part 1. Both parts were written by Curt Guyette of the Metro Times staff.

The topic of part 2 is simple: What to do about it?

Michigan school funding from the state is mostly per pupil. Which means as the enrollment in DPS schools drops the state funding drops. According to Peter Hammer, economist and law professor of Wayne State University, that means there is no way the emergency manager can succeed. The more he cuts, the more students flee, the less income he has to work with. The job outline as defined by state law means the EM cannot deal with the root problem of insufficient funding from the state. Hammer says if the state intended to eliminate traditional public schools it would have been hard to create a better method to do so.

Legislators have been pushing the idea of school choice, that if DPS doesn't shape up students will choose alternate schools that are better. One little problem with that grand idea. The charter schools available to Detroit students are no better than the public schools. Part of the reason is that the state legislature has refused to enact any accountability of charter operators. The state hands out cash without any oversight. And legislators don't seem to be in any hurry to change that.

There are a variety of coalitions talking about how to fix Detroit schools. There are local, state, and national justice groups looking at what to do. There is much discussion of whether the board should be appointed or elected. But many of the changes suggested by these groups have been tried. And failed. That means the root problem isn't a governance issue. It is a funding issue. Unless the state legislature fixes that issue (and they're the only ones who can) Detroit schools will not improve. I can come to only one conclusion: The state legislature wants Detroit schools to not be able to educate Detroit's youth.

Many of these legislators represent the highly religious western part of Michigan. These lawmakers no doubt use lots of Christian references when they speak. I wrote a post three years ago showing how un-Christian it is to set up a tax structure that perpetuates poverty.

Steven Singer wrote about his experiences as a middle school teacher near Pittsburgh. He says he deals with a lot beyond what is in the textbooks and curriculum. That includes neighborhood violence. If he doesn't deal with at least the emotional fallout, kids don't learn. He actually enjoys dealing with all this extra stuff. He is quite annoyed with one aspect: If he can't fix some of these insurmountable problems because of a lack of tools his job is on the line. And speaking of violence, Singer wrote:
Keeping public schools defunded and dysfunctional is also a form of violence. Promoting privatization and competition when kids really just need resources is also cruelty. Pretending that standardized curriculum and tests are a Civil Right is also savagery.

It’s called class warfare. Its most prominent victims are children. Its most active soldiers are teachers. And we’re on the front lines every day.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Nebraska won't be soon

The Nebraska ruling to permit same-sex marriage has been stayed by the 8th Circuit. No marriages next week. That case has been combined with the ones from South Dakota, Missouri, and Arkansas. It will be heard after the Supremes hear the Michigan case and before the Supremes issue their ruling.

Th Mormon Church has backed a non-discrimination bill in Utah! Even better, this version has no religious exemptions for individuals or businesses. It is good enough that the Human Rights Campaign will support it.

The nasty anti-homosexuality law in Uganda was overturned on a technicality about a year ago. Members of Parliament are working to bring it back. But this time pro-gay groups in Uganda are rallying their opposition. They're doing it by talking about rights in general, not just gay rights.

Those in favor say...

Michigan's same-sex marriage case will be before the Supremes on April 28. Leading up to that various groups are writing briefs explaining to the justices how they should rule. Here are some of them:

Over 300 corporations and organizations have signed a brief in favor of same-sex marriage. The list includes Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Disney.

Another brief includes a list of 300 GOP former and current campaign operators and lawmakers who are again in favor of same-sex marriage. Alas, the list is heavier on the former and the campaign operators part of the party.

The Obama Administration has filed a brief in favor.

The Human Rights Campaign has created The People's Brief, which common citizens may sign. This is a chance for us to tell the Supremes that the country is ready for same-sex marriage. They have more than 207,000 signatures. Alas, I procrastinated a bit too long to be among that number – the signatures were delivered to the court yesterday. You can download the brief from the site and read it, or at least see what goes into a brief.

Bad hair

I went off to the Detroit Film Theater to see the movie Bad Hair. It is set in Caracas, Venezuela. The main character is a 9 year old boy called Junior. He is being raised by single mother Marta, who is currently unemployed. There is also an infant brother. Junior has curly hair, but he desperately wants it to be straight just like the famous pop singers. Mother and son do not get along. Part of it is because Marta thinks Junior shows signs of being gay, which she wants to prevent. Junior's grandmother, Marta's mother-in-law, wants to encourage the boy's unconventional spirit. But that backfires when Grandma makes a singer's suit and Junior is sure it is actually a dress. With all this going on we also see a bit of life in Caracas (or at least its traffic jams and slums), and what Marta has to do to regain her previous job.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Family Acceptance Project

Jerry Peterson, director of the Ruth Ellis Center, talked about the Family Acceptance Project last Sunday. You can find the full story on my brother blog.

Approaching Lord of the Flies

Edwin Lyngar, in an article for Salon, says he used to be a fan of libertarianism. Then he went to Honduras, which has embraced libertarian politics. He found that every business has its private armed security force. All the rich live in citadels topped with barbed wire. The infrastructure is crumbling – enterprising people fill potholes, then stand beside them hoping for tips. The description gets worse.

Lyngar wrote:
In America, libertarian ideas are attractive to mostly young, white men with high ideals and no life experience that live off of the previous generation’s investments and sacrifice. I know this because as a young, white idiot, I subscribed to this system of discredited ideas: Selfishness is good, government is bad. Take what you want, when you want and however you can. Poor people deserve what they get, and the smartest, hardworking people always win. So get yours before someone else does. … Eliminate all taxes, privatize everything, load a country up with guns and oppose all public expenditures, you end up with Honduras.
One can dismiss the core of near-sociopathic libertarian ideas with one simple question: What kind of society maximizes freedom while providing the best outcomes for the greatest number of human beings? You cannot start with the assumption that a Russian novel writer from the ’50s is a genius, so therefore all ideas about government and society must fit between the pages of “Atlas Shrugged.” That concept is stupid, and sends you on the opposite course of “good outcomes for human beings.” The closer you get to totally untamed, uncontrolled privatization, the nearer you approach “Lord of the Flies.”
Best outcomes for the greatest number of people? America isn't having that discussion.


Slovenia has approved same-sex marriage! The bill was hotly contested, but passed by a wide margin. An anti-gay group will push for a referendum on the law. That already happened back in 2012, when voters rejected an earlier marriage law. But getting to a referendum won't be easy because in 2013 the referendum law was changed so referendums on human rights issues are no longer allowed. (What a great idea! Wish we had done that here.)

I had written about Arkansas enacting a law that prevents cities from passing non-discrimination laws. Cities are now responding. (1) North Little Rock stated their commitment to fair and equal opportunities regardless of sexual orientation. (2) Businesses in Little Rock have started displaying stickers showing a rainbow hued state outline and the words "We serve and hire equally."

For a while there has been a Prayer Station inside the City Hall of Warren, Michigan. An atheist proposed putting up a Reason Station as well. The city refused. The cit said it wanted to avoid conflict and disruption in City Hall. Besides, the city didn't want an anti-religion presence, depriving religious groups of their constitutional freedoms. The ACLU sued, and won. So a Reason Station should appear in Warren's City Hall soon.

A recent poll found that more that 2/3 of Americans think the wealthy pay too little in federal tax and more that 60% say the middle class pays too much.

As the Latino population in some cities, such as Yakima, Washington, grows, local politicians have a way of keeping them out of government. Yakima is one-third Latino but there are no Latinos on the city council. The reason is all city council representatives are "at large." That means 50% of the voters can control 100% of the seats. That's even better than Gerrymandering and similar to what was (and is again) done to prevent blacks from serving in city gov't. Lawsuits can be effective in solving this problem. Alas, they're also expensive and take lots of time.

Discrimination maintains diversity

A license to discriminate bill has passed the Michigan House Committee on Families, Seniors, and Children. Lawmakers and faith-based adoption agencies are freaked out about the possibility of same-sex marriage becoming legal in Michigan with same-sex couples having a right to adopt. The vote to pass the bill out of committee was along party lines. GOP lawmakers are spouting such nonsense as wanting to make sure agencies that take state money aren't forced to choose between their values and their mission to find homes for kids (wait a minute... there's a difference?). Since 45% of the kids are served by agencies that are faith-based, lawmakers don't want to eliminate so many providers. Catholic leaders are touting that this bill would maintain a "diversity" of agencies.

Of course, there was no mention of my viewpoint: sure, you can discriminate all you want – but not if you take my tax dollars.

Jean Howard, retired from the University of Illinois Center for Adoption Studies notes that when discrimination is banned, faith-based agencies adapt and children benefit.
We have empirical evidence to support this widely held view that states that have anti-gay policies end up with fewer children adopted from foster care.
Besides, same-sex couples are more likely to take the hardest-to-adopt special needs kids.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Shimmering, golden glow

The Supreme Court of Alabama has declared their interpretation of the state's same-sex marriage ban trumps that of the federal district judge, who had ruled the ban unconstitutional. And they did this without Chief Justice Roy Moore (though some commenters think his fingerprints are all over the text). You can read this ruling, though be prepared for a whole lot of head scratching while trying to make sense of it. Summary: they pulled out all the anti-gay arguments used against us. Though illogical, they're defiant. The only court that they say can overrule them is the Supremes.

The anti-gay crowd is, of course, ecstatic. Especially since all counties have stopped issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Up to this point only 48 of Alabama's 67 counties had followed the federal order. Now none are. The battle between state and federal courts could get entertaining – if it wasn't for the mental anguish experienced by same-sex couples in Alabama.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville responded:
This is all about straight bigots who feel like their rights are being eroded because they can't distinguish between "rights" and "privileges." Their right to get married is wholly intact; their privilege of being conferred that right while it is denied to others based on sexual orientation is vanishing.

What feels like a loss of "rights" is actually just a desperate insecurity about their super-special relationships losing the shimmering, golden glow that only denying marriage equality to same-sex couples conveys upon their gloriously gilded unions.

Lots of people are calling this ruling despicable. Here is the best response: George Takei and his husband give this ruling a one-finger salute – using the fingers with their wedding rings.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Who draws the districts?

On Monday the Supremes heard a case about Gerrymandering. In 2000 Arizona voters turned redistricting over to a separate commission, taking it out of the hands of the legislature. In 2012 the new map appears to favor Democrats. There was an attempt to impeach the chair of the commission, but the state Supremes prevented it. So the GOP is suing to have the law that created the commission overturned. Their reason is this phrase from the Constitution: "The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof." The GOP contends that means redistricting must be done by the legislature. And that implies the Constitution permits Gerrymandering.

The vote is likely to come down to Anthony Kennedy – and from his questions in oral arguments it isn't easy to tell which side of the debate he is on. The ruling will likely come in June.


A federal district judge has struck down the same-sex marriage ban in Nebraska. The state has a week to ask the 8th Circuit for a stay and an appeal. The state intends to file that appeal.

Only North Dakota and Georgia haven't had any level of federal ruling on their same-sex marriage bans.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The convoluted and bumpy road

The Detroit Free Press has an editorial to explain Michigan's road funding deal and the sales tax increase that is going before voters in May. As I understand it, this is the entire package:

* The current fuel tax to pay for road maintenance hasn't been raised in 20 years and the problem is made more acute because we drive fewer miles in more fuel efficient vehicles.

* The most straightforward way to pay for roads would be to raise the fuel tax and raise car registration fees.

* But the Michigan legislature determined drivers would balk at the sticker shock at the pump, so they exempted fuel purchases from the general sales tax.

* Car registration fees are being raised and will no longer be reduced as the value of the car depreciates. Alas, this step also reclassifies the registration fee so that it would no longer be deductible on federal income tax forms.

* The increase in fuel tax and registration fees should – eventually – generate enough money to pay for road maintenance plus help improve public transit. The reason for the delay is first some road-related debt will be repaid.

* Exempting fuels from the sales tax means those things the fuel sales tax paid for – schools and municipalities – would lose money. That's why the sales tax needs to be raised.

* The increase in the sales tax would raise about $830 million. It would be allocated: $292 million to the School Aid Fund, $90 million to cities, $14 million for public transit, $269 million to restore the Earned Income Tax Credit (gutted by the GOP in 2010) so poor people hurt by the higher income tax get some relief, and the rest to the general fund. In the past a designation of money to the School Aid Fund meant schools did not receive the corresponding amount from the state's general budget, so there was no actual increase going to schools.

All this is dependent on voters approving the sales tax increase in May. And if it is rejected?

The legislature that began work last January is much more beholden to the Tea Party. Two things might happen:

* Refuse to raise any taxes so any road funding would be their chance to force huge reductions on gov't worker pay, public health, and general social services. This would likely not pass both legislative houses nor get the governor's signature.

* Nothing. The legislature would refuse to raise taxes or cut gov't services and so would dither over the problem for another year or two.

Put another way: There is no Plan B.