Friday, July 31, 2015

Not a fear of gays

Some quotes from the week.

Nat Baimel summarizes homophobia this way:
Homophobia isn't a fear of gays. It's a fear you may BE gay.
The rest of his discussion is cute.

Imani Gandy on the latest Planned Parenthood fake scandal:
When it comes to advocating for policies that would actually support Black women and help them raise healthy children, far too many anti-choice activists are silent. But when it comes to using Black women as a cudgel to make a point about the evils of abortion and Planned Parenthood, it's damn near impossible to shut these activists up.

And an update. I had written that the lawyers in Michigan's same-sex marriage case asked the state for nearly $2 million in fees, since they won and the state lost. My friend and debate partner offers some clarification.
I've never heard that the winner in any civil lawsuit can file (essentially, sue the loser) for reimbursement of legal costs. But that is true in civil rights and civil liberties cases (and perhaps some others; I wouldn't know). The federal court where the original suit was argued decides how much to award (and that decision can be appealed).

Two pro-democracy reasons justify this practice:
(1) the winner was entitled to her / his rights or liberties; the loser (usually a government entity) should pay for denying those rights and putting the winner through so much effort and expense to obtain her / his rights; AND
(2) to give Powers (usually government) reason and incentive to respect the rights of the less powerful (me and you).

In this huge marriage equality case, the winners can indeed sue for reimbursement of legal fees and anyone could foresee a big bill.

Let us notice that we Michigan taxpayers get to pay TWICE -- for our Attorney General's spending on legal services to defend the indefensible AND for the winner's legal costs. All because our AG chose to fight to the end where other attorneys general around the country chose more wisely.

Facing a difficult path

Back in 1974 the Equality Act was introduced to Congress to add sexual orientation to the list of categories in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In 1994 an effort was started to pass a stripped down version, one that prevented discrimination only in employment. Gender identity was added in 2007. Yup, those efforts did not lead to actual laws.

Now the Equality Act is back. It covers both sexual orientation and gender identity and covers the same broad categories of the Civil Rights Act – protections in employment, housing, public accommodation, and such things as equal credit, education, jury selection, and all federal programs. The public accommodation part is expanded and those new areas affect the original categories of the Civil Rights Act, meaning this new bill also expands women's rights. The religious exemptions in the Civil Rights Act are not changed, so there can be no exemption for sexual minorities.

Yes, this is only a bill and it faces a difficult path through Congress, so it may take years. But the LGBT movement is the strongest it has ever been.

Properly vetted

I've finished reading the book The Nine, Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin. It covers the Court from about 1981 when Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to 2007 (my paperback version has an extra 15 pages covering parts of 2008). There is, of course, some discussion of the progressive Earl Warren and Warren Burger Courts that much of modern Court history since then is in reaction to.

The book has a look at all the justices of this time as well as all the major cases. For instance, after reading through the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas we read such things as: He is the most beloved by staff (he makes sure to know the names of all the clerks, not just his own, as well as the names of all the Court support staff). Because of his nasty confirmation he is the most reclusive, rarely talking to other justices in person. He has a huge motor home, which he and his wife, along with a great nephew in their custody, use to escape Washington on weekends, usually going to NASCAR events.

The major topics of the Court during this time are, of course, abortion and affirmative action. The author delves into the abortion cases during this time because each one was seen as an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. The closest attempt was Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Robert P. Casey (the state governor) in 1992. The state legislature had passed a whole slew of restrictions to abortion, then tried to argue that all must be kept (overturning Roe) or all tossed out. One restriction was that a married woman must have the consent of her husband. That didn't please O'Connor. She, Souter, and Kennedy teamed up to preserve the right to abortion. It was her ideas that brought in enough votes for a majority. Though William Rehnquist was Chief Justice the justice who mattered was O'Connor.

The other big case discussed in the book was Bush v. Gore\ of 2000. The author spends 50 pages on the details and discusses all the way this ruling was wrong and how it showed a majority of justices were highly partisan. O'Connor was a Republican and was desperate for her party to win. But O'Connor quickly found G.W. Bush to be appalling and damaging to the party and country. That was confirmed by the cases having to do with the Iraq war and Guantanamo detentions.

Alas, O'Connor's husband John was worsening under Alzheimer's, so she resigned to take care of him. Then shortly after that he had to be put into a home. He no longer remembered his wife and fell in love with a caretaker. O'Connor ended up not needing to care for him and felt she had resigned for nothing. She was especially annoyed because her replacement was Samuel Alito, who, with Roberts, pushed the court quite a bit to the right.

Some of the other things I learned through the book.

* Scalia may have the biggest mouth and the most colorful dissents, but he is annoyed at how little influence he has over the other justices. His opinions don't change their minds.

* The views of Clarence Thomas are so far to the right that he is rarely asked to write a majority opinion. He does write dissents, though other justices tend not to sign on to them.

* When Byron White left the Court Bill Clinton had a convoluted time coming up with a replacement. He finally settled on Ruth Bader Ginsberg. His nomination of Stephen Breyer went much more smoothly.

* The time 1994-2005 was the second longest in Court history without a change in justices. The longest was 1810-1823. All the tasks reserved for the justice with the least seniority were things Stephen Breyer did for 11 years.

A major theme of the book is the conservative and fundamentalists ongoing efforts to control the court. Their efforts could be summarized as, "Reverse Roe. Expand executive power. Speed executions. Welcome religion into the public sphere. Return the Constitution from its exile since the New Deal." That last refers to the Federalist belief that the Constitution has been ignored since FDR and practically banished under the Warren and Burger Courts. Conservatives know this would only happen through the Supreme Court and all their efforts are focused on making the politics happen so that the right president nominated the right justices (ones vetted by the likes of James Dobson). Roberts and Alito were very much vetted by the fundamentalists. They desperately wanted to avoid another Kennedy or O'Connor who had all the conservative credentials, yet voted much of the time with the liberal block.

The book is quite detailed about hashing out the various cases. We rarely hear about any of it. The author says he research included long discussions with the justices and with many of their clerks. However, justices and clerks said not to identify who said what. So, yes, this is the inside story.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Time to be paid

The practice in a civil lawsuit is the loser must pay the attorney fees of the winner. Now that the Supremes have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, resolving the suit brought by Michigan residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, their lawyers are now asking to be paid. The bill: almost $2 million. Since the losing side was the state's governor and attorney general acting in official capacity that money will come out of the state budget. Meaning the taxpayers are paying. Gee, thanks guys, for putting up such a vigorous defense on my behalf!

The National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America have lifted the ban on gay adult leaders. The vote was 79% in favor. Regional governing councils and such things as scout camps cannot discriminate. Each troop can decide whether to permit or continue to ban gay adult leaders, meaning church-based troops can still discriminate.


My aunt sent me a link to I Side With, and its survey that asks me about my views on a variety of topics in the current presidential campaign. It then compares my answers with the positions of many of the candidates. Some of the candidates and the percent my positions match theirs:

Bernie Sanders, 99%
Hillary Clinton, 84%
Martin O'Malley, 72%
Chris Christie, 41%
and on down to
Ted Cruz, 1%

I looked at how my answers compared to Bernie's positions. It seems the big difference was the question "Should the federal government increase funding for health care for low income individuals (Medicaid)?" My answer: yes. Bernie's answer: "Yes, but I prefer switching to a singer payer healthcare system." I like his answer better! Alas, I was about 3/4 of the way through before I paid much attention to the third choice in the survey which revealed more nuanced options.

So I should root for Bernie! Well...

Aphra Behn writes for the blog Shakesville, which looks at feminism, racism, and related issues. She wrote four long essays on the political career of Sanders, from his start in 1972 to today. Her intention is to see Sanders clearly, not to convince readers to vote for or against him. Here is a link to the 4th one which has links to the other three. My brief reaction on all that:

* Sanders is a much better politician today than when he started (I certainly hope so!), many times going for the pragmatic compromise.

* His votes, once he got to Congress, are much to the right of his stated rhetoric. It may be his willingness to get what he can. It may be his words are one thing and his actions another.

* The comments and claims of Bernie's fans don't always match what their candidate has said and done. They see him as a progressive savior. His record doesn't back those claims. That's a big reason why this series got written.

* Sanders appears to have a bad case of white male privilege. He seems clueless when dealing with oppressed groups, such as women, blacks, and gays. He also gets cantankerous when called out on his privilege.

* Is that cantankerousness an asset or a liability? Lots of people like when he uses it against his GOP rivals. But he also uses it against the oppressed (see above). Do we want someone who is cantankerous when a major part of being a president is diplomacy with constituents, members of Congress, and foreign heads of state (many of whom are tyrants)?

No, Sanders isn't the perfect candidate. But even with these flaws, is he a better choice than Hillary? I have several months to ponder that question.

As for those 16 GOP candidates, Christie is a bully and he and all the rest work against what I value.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cultivated toxins

I wrote a few days ago that Donald Trump is saying what the other GOP candidates for president believe but are trying real hard to not say. Timothy Egan, writing for the Opinion Pages of the New York Times, expands on that idea.

Trump dismissed John McCain as a war hero, something about he likes his heroes to not get caught. Jeb Bush was quick to respond by saying, "All of our veterans, particularly P.O.W.s, deserve our respect and admiration." So where was that respect and admiration when John Kerry, a decorated Navy veteran, was smeared in a multimillion-dollar effort that put Jeb's brother back in the White House?

Egan's point: The racism and other toxic elements have been brewing in the GOP for more than a decade (I think it has been much longer than that – it was Nixon who pushed the Southern Strategy). When Republicans used it against Democrats it was just fine. But Trump, appealing to the GOP base others have cultivated with these toxins, is now using it against fellow Republicans.

With flair and energy

I decided today was a day for a movie. I had thought about seeing Mr. Holmes but since it received only a 65 on, I decided it could wait until it got to the second-run theater. So I looked at what is playing at that second-run theater and Spy caught my attention. As mentioned on, the director Paul Feig saw a James Bond movie and decided it was time to make a comedic version of Bond. The story revolves around Susan Cooper, a spy handler back at headquarters. Because things go wrong she volunteers for field work, though she isn't sure she can do it (neither does anyone else). Of course, she comes through with flying colors.

If you see it be warned there is a tiny scene after the credits.

I liked the movie. It is funny and enjoyable. The plot is convoluted enough that the various twists were were a surprise, though I knew Susan Cooper would succeed – this wasn't a tragedy. The big reason why I liked it is Susan Cooper is a woman of size. She defies society's view of fat people and does so with flair and energy. Of course, it helps she is played by Melissa McCarthy.

Even so, there were a couple things I didn't like, the big one being the over-the-top violence (as I expect is true of James Bond movies the list of stunt performers is long). The death toll is mighty high. There is almost a flippant attitude towards life. And some of the violence is too direct and gruesome. There were also brief shots of private anatomy, and that was especially bad because I think whatever it added to the plot or character definition could have been accomplished some other way. This movie definitely earned its R rating.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Nine pastors face charges

Nine United Methodist pastors, who participated in the wedding of the ousted gay pastor, had their names submitted for disciplinary procedures. Details at my brother blog.

Same-sex partnerships are a human right

The latest poll from Gallup shows that support for same-sex marriage has fallen only slightly since the Supremes ruled that such marriages must be legal across the country. The high point for support was reached in May at 60%. It is now at 58%. Strangely, Gallup says approval percentages are most likely not done shifting. Of course, support will keep changing and for the better! Wait, did you think Gallup was implying support would sharply decline?

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that same-sex partnerships are a human right and governments are required to offer some kind of legally recognized same-sex unions. This ruling applies to European Union countries – Italy was the one named in the suit – and also to all countries that have signed the European Convention on Human Rights. In particular, that means Russia and Turkey, though it might be hard to enforce the ruling there.

Houston, TX has a lesbian mayor, Annise Parker. I think she is nearing the end of her second term and cannot run again. As part of her legacy she and the city council passed HERO, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. This being Texas, there were many who were outraged at being denied the right to discriminate against sexual minorities. So they gathered signatures to put the ordinance on the ballot. That effort failed because too many of the signatures were declared forged. HERO went into effect.

But the opposition wasn't done. They took their petitions to the Texas Supremes, where all justices were appointed by Republicans. The justice used a technicality to rule that city must stop enforcing HERO and that the city council must either repeal it or put it on the ballot. Houston is the last major city without protections for sexual minorities.

Be my whole self

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville has two fascinating essays from the female perspective.

In the first she discusses how her husband Iain likes women. She immediately runs into a problem. Our language and culture interprets that to mean Iain is a skirt-chaser, a man intent on bedding women. But Iain likes women and listens to them because he finds them interesting to listen to, not because he will be rewarded with time in bed, not because he considers women as objects to be controlled by men, but because he genuinely wants to hear about what women have to say. Our language is so patriarchy oriented it simply doesn't have the words to describe how Iain relates to women.

In the second essay McEwen says that when she meets a man she must remain guarded because she can't know whether her identity as a woman will be used against her. She isn't talking about physical violence. She's talking about men who make comments or "jokes," talk down to her or over her, or engage in an endless number of piggish behaviors that demonstrate "they view me as less than, and want to make damn sure that I know that is how they see me."
What I'm talking about is how I can't walk into a room and leave my womanhood behind, and thus any man who wants to trade on his male privilege and use misogynistic stereotypes against me has a ready-made weapon for harming me.

What I'm talking about is how I cannot magically discern which men are going to do this to me; I don't know until they reveal themselves, and by then it is too late—I am no longer safe.

What I'm talking about is how I know from a lifetime of experience that the men who choose not to harm me in this way are way more rare than the men who do.

When I say I want to be safe, what I mean is that I want to be able to be my whole self, without the fear that revealing my whole self will invite abuse.

I cannot afford the emotional cost of good faith, not anymore. My posture changes; my humor becomes more barbed; I am wary, as I size up whether there is even a chance that I might be safe.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Medicine's scientific rigor

Dr. Vikram Reddy, a director at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, wrote a local commentary essay that appeared in the editorial section of last Sunday's Detroit Free Press. This essay takes a look at functional medicine (what I'm doing with my nutritionist) and traditional medicine, such as what my dad is getting at the hospital.

Practitioners of functional medicine describe their differences with traditional medicine this way:

* Traditional medicine is divided into specialties (cardiology, etc.) without treating the whole patient. I've seen this several times when dealing with my dad's treatment.

* Traditional medicine treats symptoms, not underlying causes.

* Functional medicine tailors the treatment to the individual. Two people with the same complaints may be given two quite different treatment plans.

Reddy agrees with most of these charges, though he insists doctors do search for underlying causes. I've seen both sides of this since my dad became ill. His primary care physician (whom Dad no longer trusts) didn't see past the symptoms. Once Dad was in the hospital the underlying cancer was quickly found. But the standard treatment for Dad's type of cancer seems to have done as much harm as good.

Reddy says what is lacking in functional medicine is scientific rigor. He knows that when each person is treated differently it is difficult to create that scientific validation. But not doing so means functional medicine is no different than alchemy or hucksterism. Online commenters say the scientific study has been done. My nutritionist would likely say the research wasn't published because the peers doing the reviewing were from traditional medicine and saw it as threatening (as did their Pharma, Food, and Diet Industry backers).

Reddy admits that much of traditional medicine doesn't have that scientific rigor either. He does things, such as surgery, a certain way because that is how he was taught. I add the unproven assertion that thinness equals health that I've discusses several times.

Functional medicine attracts those who are dissatisfied with traditional medicine (that includes me). My frustration was the Heart Healthy way to lose weight, which I found impossible to follow. Others say it is the severe headaches that persist even after all the fancy tests doctors can devise.

Democracy talent crisis

Brian Dickerson, a member of the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press wrote an editorial for Sunday's edition about the purpose of college. He is responding to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's talk of "alignment" between what training employers need and what colleges provide. Snyder isn't the only governor saying such things. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to cut funding for colleges and universities that don't equip workers for the job market.

Dickerson asks: When should job-specific training to be paid by the taxpayers and when should it be paid by the employer?

Eric Johnson is a student aid administrator at the University of North Carolina. He wrote an essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He says what employers are doing is to "offload" the expense of training workers for job-specific tasks. The employee or the society is asked to pay instead.
The trick is to relabel it education, then complain that your prospective employees aren't getting the right kind.
This shift is part of the fierce bidding between states for the big employers. To sweeten the pot a state may offer to subsidize training costs.

Dickerson says there are a few things wrong with this way of doing education.

First: What employers say are critical skills now are not necessarily the critical skills a few years from now – such as when the student graduates.

Second: Employers themselves say what they look for is evidence a student can "design and execute a four-year plan" no matter the degree or major. Put another way, the top skill is "how to evaluate raw information, be it from people or a spreadsheet, and make reasoned and critical decisions." As my own liberal arts professors told me many times our job is to teach you how to think.

Third: The historical idea behind American education, says Dickerson, is to equip students to become citizens and voters, someone "who can discriminate between a documented news story and an urban legend or Onion satire."

This last point makes me think of those want to wield power. One way to do that is to make sure your opponents aren't smart enough of knowledgeable enough to question your power over them.

Employers say they don't have workers with the right talents. Dickerson says, "Democracy is confronting its own talent crisis, and colleges and universities are an indispensable part of the solution."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Return on investment

Terrence Heath, in his personal blog, asks the big question this campaign season: Why are there fifteen candidates in the GOP field? Most of them know they aren't going to get very far. Heath lists some reasons:

They can parley their name recognition into fame, fortune, or influence. See Mike Huckabee and his Fox News show.

Those already rich or famous (such as Donald Trump) can use their campaigns to raise interest in whatever they do afterward.

Others are looking for redemption (Rick Perry and his "oops" moment) or have lots of ambition – Obama became president after one term in the Senate. Marco Rubio is likely thinking if he can, so can I.

Heath gets to the major point of his essay. A viable run takes money. Lots of it. Likely at least $50 million. That gives us another reason for so many candidates: GOP sugar daddies (Heath lists them, including the Koch brothers) have money to spend. A presidential candidate is likely less money than a yacht. What's $50 million when you have $40 billion? Especially when a bought candidate can produce a huge payoff.

In the Citizens United decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that huge political contributions “do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption.” My response to that is these guys are spending all that cash to get something. They're making an investment and expect a return. That is even more obvious with the "Billionaire Primaries" where candidates audition for the cash. Have you noticed that all 15 of these candidates are saying the same thing?

A lesbian wedding

I forgot to mention that yesterday that it was the first day this summer hot enough for me to turn on the air conditioner. I don't think I've previously waited until the middle of July for that milestone. It is also a good long time, perhaps two months in which I've run the furnace only once. So far, it has (for me) been a low-energy summer.

I attended a lesbian wedding this afternoon! The happy couple are members of my church. They've been together for 23 years. The ceremony was held in their back yard. A canvas and screen gazebo served as the central platform with much of the small yard filled with tables with umbrellas. I stood under an umbrella. The brides did not dress up – they wore t-shirts, slacks, and sport shoes. Our pastor was there but did not officiate (staying within church policy) – an almost retired lesbian (I think) Episcopal pastor conducted the ceremony, which lasted about 20 minutes. I guess there were about 30 guests. They served a nice lunch afterward (though many of us had just eaten at the church potluck). Some of us stayed around talking for another hour. And that was it. We were ready to get home to the air conditioning.

It was so nice to hear, "By the power invested in me by the state of Michigan..."

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A major Galileo issue

Huffington Post has determined that Donald Trump isn't a legitimate presidential candidate (even though he currently leads in the polls). "Trump's campaign is a sideshow." Therefore further coverage of Trump will be in the entertainment section, not politics, next to stories about the Kardashians.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville says the GOP may bluster but is secretly delighted with that move. Yes, what Trump says is outrageous. But Trump's message is actually GOP policy but served straight up without the dog whistles. Says McEwen:
The truth is, when Trump asserts he's only saying out loud what other people believe, he's talking about the other candidates. Those are the things that they believe. It's frankly the most honest thing he says.
Instead of dismissing Trump as a joke, we should point out over and over that he's just plainly articulating mainstream GOP policies. Every chance we get.

Scott Walker says he is running for president because God revealed "My plan for you." Someone with the Twitter handle TheTweetOfGod replied:
Yes. Scott. Running for president is the first part of "My plan for you." The second part: your humiliating defeat.

In America anybody can grow up to believe I want them to be President.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Their ruling is based on the idea that discrimination based on sexual orientation must mean there is discrimination based on sex. This ruling likely will end up before the Supremes.

Ragen Chastain of Dances with Fat takes a look at weight loss being touted as a miracle cure for whatever ails you, that the life of our dreams is merely a diet away. Let's ignore for a moment the claim that thin people are happier – there are lots of miserable thin people. Instead, let's look at a couple key points of the argument: (1) We do not know how to help people lose weight and keep it off long term. (2) We haven't shown that weight loss leads to better health. These two points are "a major Galileo issue of our time – widely believed, fervently defended, and unsupported by the evidence."

The Executive Committee of Boy Scouts of America has approved a resolution that allows each individual troop (and its sponsoring church or organization) to decide if it will allow gay adults to serve as scoutmasters and other leaders. Scouts for Equality say this is a big step in the right direction, but it isn't perfect. Religious chartering partners will be allowed to continue to discriminate. The National Executive Board will vote on the resolution at the end of July.

Pastor resigns

A gay pastor was forced to resign from a United Methodist Church in Michigan. Details in my brother blog.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Talking to city hall

Every two or three years my suburb has a community gathering at a park about a mile from my house. Some fun things for the kids – bouncy castle, a chance to see inside a police car or fire truck – and hot dogs for everyone. A large number of city officials are also in attendance and circulating through the crowd, so it is a good time to talk to them.

Rain has fallen periodically through today, so I was sure the event would be canceled. But during a break in the rain (and with the weather map showing nothing barreling down on us) I decided to walk over. I would at least get the date of the postponed event and some needed exercise. To my surprise the event was in full swing. I skipped the hot dogs, but did talk to a member of the city council, the mayor, and the city planner.

My big question was what is happening with the golf course behind my house that closed four years ago. There is a clubhouse / banquet hall / restaurant along the main road. The rest of the almost 60 acres is a river floodplain and had been the golf course. Both the city council person and the mayor said there are investors looking at the area along the road. One of two or three ideas shared with the council is to build an artist colony. The rest of the land is now owned by the city. One idea for that is to merge it with the county park that is on the other side of the course from my house. I like that idea – especially since I've been thinking the same thing.

While talking another rainstorm blew through. Lots of people huddled in the tent and under the pavilion. Many of the kids had been playing in the water slide, so more rain made no difference.

The other question I had for all of them was safe routes for bicyclists. The city is beginning to talk about bike lanes. I've been an avid bicyclist for about a decade and have ridden all over the western suburbs. My complaint to the city is certain main roads do not have sidewalks, a safe place for me to ride. The mayor said bikes on sidewalks is actually illegal, but the city doesn't enforce that law because of the lack of bike lanes. Then the mayor asked if I'd be interested in joining a new committee to guide him and the city planner in developing bike paths. I thought this was not something I needed in my life right now. But I dutifully talked to the city planner about it. He said discussions about creating the committee are still going on and announcements of its actual formation will be in the newspaper. I didn't tell him I don't bother reading the suburban newspaper, except close to the election to see who is running for city government (and I found there are twelve candidates for four city council seats in the August primary).

By attending today's event I can skip "Mornings with the Mayor" tomorrow at 9:00.

Different and related histories

Dearborn is a city alongside the southwest side of Detroit. From 1942 to 1978 its mayor was Orville Hubbard, yes, elected 15 times. He did lots of good things for the growing city, but he was also racist, determined to keep Dearborn white while Detroit became majority black. For example, in addition to racist housing laws (some perpetrated by federal policies) Hubbard made sure that city parks had signs saying city parks were for residents only.

I started working in Dearborn in 1979 for the auto industry, and continued until I retired in 2007. In that time Dearborn became the center of the largest Middle-East population outside the Middle-East. A week ago Fatina Abdrabboh wrote a letter to the editor of the Detroit Free Press. Abdrabboh is the director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's Michigan Regional Office. Her office is perhaps in the Arab-American National Museum across the street from Dearborn's City Hall – which features a statue of Orville Hubbard on the plaza. Abdrabboh made many of the same arguments as were made about Confederate flag in the South. Perhaps Orville should be moved to a museum.

This past Sunday Stephen Henderson, the Freep Editorial Page Editor, discussed Abdrabboh's letter and includes a discussion he had with Kidada Williams, a professor of history at Wayne State University in Detroit. Williams discusses something my friend and debate partner has said many times: the solution to offensive free speech (a statue of Hubbard) is more free speech.
Williams, whose studies have been about race and racism, racial progress and struggle, said she doesn't support "sanitizing" history, wiping away painful reminders of what was in the name of delivering justice to an aggrieved population. She would have Confederate flags taken down, for instance, because they hold no real historical significance.

But she would preserve Confederate monuments, which adorn parks and squares in cities all over the country, and insist that they be accompanied by their proper historic context.

"The figures memorialized are important to history, whether local, regional, state or national," Williams said. "At the same time, there is a history in the memorial campaigns — who gets memorialized when and who doesn't — that intersects with the rise of Jim Crow that should be taught along with more accurate, integrated histories of the United States."

She'd also make important additions to displays.

"I would support counter-memorials, ones that tell different but related histories, and ideally these would appear in the same spaces as the original ones," Williams said.
Henderson proposes a series of questions for the residents of Dearborn to discuss: Why was a statue of Hubbard erected? Was there opposition? How was that handled? Should a counter-monument be placed beside the statue? What other historical stories should be included in that new display?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The legacy of slavery

Now that the Confederate battle flag is gone from the South Carolina Capitol grounds, what's next? Blogger Terrence Heath, in his own blog, shares his ideas.

There are the symbolic displays of white supremacy across the South and elsewhere. The first place is the state flags for seven states across the South. Some, like Tennessee have plausible deniability. But there is Mississippi, which incorporates the battle flag directly into the state flag, and Georgia, which added the state seal to the national flag of the Confederacy.

Then there are Confederate leaders sent by states for Statuary Hall at the US Capitol. And there are the names of various university and school buildings name for advocates of slaves or the Confederacy. That's the easy stuff.

The legacy of slavery is much harder erase, but just as necessary. This legacy includes underfunding schools for black kids built on a property tax system that perpetuates the problem (more here). It includes negative attitudes towards blacks where the plantation system was dominant in the economy. It includes states rejecting the boost in Medicaid offered through the Affordable Care Act because too many of Those People would benefit (a big reason why we don't have European style health and welfare programs in America). It includes a legacy of redefining slaves from those who are in economic difficulty to those who are less than human. It includes a legacy of textbooks that describe the Civil War as being about State's Rights and not slavery (And what particular right did states want? The right to own slaves.).

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Science of scarcity

These two have been sitting in my browser tabs for a while.

Andrea Fuller wrote a perspectives article for the Bill Moyers and Company website. She wrote about life in poverty:
Poverty is exhausting. Poverty is despair and desperation-inducing. Poverty is soul, dream and hope crushing. Poverty is like being enclosed in a prison cell with no doors or windows. It feels claustrophobic, as if there is no way out. Only the most resilient do not give up. Still, there is no guarantee that life will get better — and those in poverty know this all too well. They either become hardened or submit to fate. You don’t live life, you don’t thrive — you survive. You wonder if you are predestined, like a caste in another country, to live out a life destitute of fulfillment — whether financial, professional or just having a better life.
Yes, some people escape poverty:
Enduring poverty is not the end of hope or life. The key things needed to break down the walls that imprison those within poverty are: outside influences, support networks such as friends or family, awareness of other opportunities and access to resources.

With this combination, a new life is possible.
I see part of the solution is to bring those in poverty into a community, one that can provide resources and opportunities.

The Harvard Magazine has an article written by Cara Feinberg that discusses the research of behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan. He has been studying the effects of scarcity on the brain.

If a mind focuses on one thing, other abilities, such as self-control and long-term planning, often suffer. When a person experiences scarcity of something he or she focuses on whatever is scarce, to the detriment of other things. The important point of this research is that this can happen to anyone who experiences scarcity.
Their argument: qualities often considered part of someone’s basic character—impulsive behavior, poor performance in school, poor financial decisions—may in fact be the products of a pervasive feeling of scarcity. And when that feeling is constant, as it is for people mired in poverty, it captures and compromises the mind.

This is one of scarcity’s most insidious effects, they argue: creating mindsets that rarely consider long-term best interests. “To put it bluntly,” says Mullainathan, “if I made you poor tomorrow, you’d probably start behaving in many of the same ways we associate with poor people.” And just like many poor people, he adds, you’d likely get stuck in the scarcity trap.
There is a type of scarcity – scarcity of time – that will help everyone relate to the scarcity of money. When a person overcommits a looming deadline can increase motivation and focus. But while the most important task is getting done lots of other tasks are slighted and put off.

One of Mullainathan's studies was of sugar cane farmers in the south of India. They harvest their crop once, maybe twice, a year. Before harvest finances can be tight, after harvest the farmers had no financial worries. IQ tests taken before harvest resulted in scores noticeably lower than tests taken after harvest.

This research builds on work done by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, which led to a Nobel Prize.
The pair’s work inverts the long-held thinking that the poor are poor because they make bad decisions, Kahneman added. “Instead, people make bad decisions because they are poor.”
For example, to most people payday lending is high-risk borrowing and seems ridiculous. But for the poor the scarcity of today clouds thinking of long-term consequences. And actions taken under the influence of scarcity usually lead to more scarcity.

So how to get out of poverty? Policymakers needs a shift in perspective. Not what's wrong with the person, but what's wrong with the situation.

An example is a job-training program. A poor person must deal with being poor then arrange child care and transportation to attend class. Frequently, they are mentally depleted by the time the get to the classroom door. It is likely they will miss a session. Such students have a harder time recovering from a missed week. Dropping out becomes likely.

So tweak the class schedules a bit. Start a second class a week or two behind the first. If a student misses a class they can switch to the second session. Some say this is coddling, a substitute for personal responsibility. The researchers say no, it is adding a bit of fault tolerance into a system where poor people do take on responsibility. Slipups, common when stressed by poverty, don't undo hard work.

Policymakers are showing interest in how to use this research. Last year the White House formed a Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (the "Nudge Unit"). And the research continues. The social aspect of a solution is as important as the technological solutions.

The article discusses scarcity of money (and food) and scarcity of time. That led to an interesting question that came to me from reading some of the comments. What scarcity do the wealthy face? Scarcity of emotion? Spirit? Community? Do they hide it with obsessions about food and status?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Underpants Rule

Ragen Chastain of Dances with Fat has what she calls the Underpants Rule:
The Underpants Rule is simple: everyone is the boss of their own underpants so you get to choose for you and other people get to choose from them and it’s not your job to tell other people what to do and it’s not their job to tell you what to do.
So if someone starts a sentence with, "People should," it probably means they're about to violate the Underpants Rule.

Yes, telling you to follow the Underpants Rule violates the Underpants Rule. So this is only a suggestion.

She goes on to say:
The war on obesity is an underpants rule breakdown on a massive scale. A group of government, public and private interests (with various profit and political motivations) has chosen a group of people who are identifiable by sight and is now trying to tell us everything from how we have to prioritize health, to the path we have to take to become healthy, to how our bodies have to look. Who died and made them Underpants Overlord? Nobody.
Then watch out for this mental image:
My metaphorical underpants and my actual underpants have something in common: if I want somebody else in them, that person will be among the very first to know. I have definitely not invited the executives at HBO, Kaiser Permanente, the government, or the diet industry into my underpants.
Though Chastain doesn't stray from a discussion of weight I see other places where the Underpants Rule is routinely violated. At the top of the list are abortion and gay rights. I've been hearing another scary area that violates the Underpants Rule: GOP lawmakers telling people on public assistance what they can and cannot spend that assistance money on.

Asking them for advice?

Yay! The Confederate flag will be removed from the South Carolina Capitol grounds in a ceremony tomorrow morning. The vote in the House was a delightful 94-20. Gov. Nikki Haley quickly signed the bill. Bye!

Chris Jobe is clerk in Lawrence County, Kentucky and president of the Kentucky Clerks Association. He sent a letter to Gov. Steve Beshear saying that 57 county clerks, nearly half of those in the state, face conflict between religious beliefs and job duties over issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Jobe asked Beshear to (according to the Louisville Courier-Journal) "call a special session of the state legislature to address the issue of gay marriage licenses." Beshear responded, what is there to address? The Supremes have spoken.

Attention has been so focused on Texas, Louisiana, and elsewhere in the South there hasn't been much news about Kansas. Same-sex couples have been marrying in the state since November, but other things that go with it have been made difficult to impossible. Only a couple days ago did Gov. Sam Brownback finally tell state agencies they have to provide marriage benefits to same-sex couples and to allow marriage-related name changes. As part of his executive order he also added,
Today's Executive Order protects Kansas clergy and religious organizations from being forced to participate in activities that violate their sincerely and deeply held beliefs.
Equality Kansas says that sentence and the few that follow are one part scare tactic and one part suggestion that religious based social services my discriminate against gays and lesbian couples.

In Alabama 13 counties have stopped issuing marriage licenses to anyone, gay or straight. In other state news, the Alabama Supreme Court asked two conservative advocacy groups for advice. I'll pause here a moment to ask, Huh? The state's highest justices are asking a policy institute and a think tank (likely not made up of lawyers or legal scholars) for advice? Then again, these groups are peddling what the justices want to hear: a state court has the power to refuse to accept what the Supremes have ruled, and they have a constitutional duty to protect state officials with religious objections. Hey, guys, there is only one place this case can go: the US Supreme Court. Have fun!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Cowboy couple

John Duffy, a clinical psychologist writing for Huffington Post, says there is another impact from the same-sex marriage ruling. He will see a lot fewer young people who come to him because they are ashamed of being gay and want him to help make them straight.

Katie Lang, clerk of Hood County, Texas has been denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples because to her religious beliefs. A couple cowboys, or a cowboy couple together for 27 years, filed a lawsuit. Lang immediately offered the men a license. The couple say they will not drop the suit until Lang agrees to issue licenses to all same-sex couples and to pay their attorneys' fees.

Russ Towers, clerk of conservative Paris, Texas, is gay. He was appointed clerk in April. He is delighted to be able to hand out licenses to same-sex couples. He faces election next year, but trusts by then voters will notice how he has improved the voting experience.

Lonn Taylor, writing for Washington Spectator, is a born and bred Southern boy. He tells us the Confederate flag currently at the center of a lot of fuss, was not the national flag of the Confederacy, but a battle flag. The national flag looked too much like the Union flag for the heat of battle. This battle flag was mostly ignored by Southerners after the war until Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 as a candidate of the States Rights Democratic Party. That prompted its adoption as a symbol of racist opposition to integration. That is all it is now.

Intentional policy

The city of Ferguson has been in the news this past year because of a white cop killing a black teen. There's lots of news about how it is a predominantly black city, mostly poor, with a mostly white police force. There's lots of commentary about how the police should become more racially mixed or maybe even predominantly black. The police also need a great deal of racial sensitivity training. This solution was also recommended for other cities with racial conflicts between police and residents.

Richard Rothstein, a Research Associate at the Economic Policy Institute writing for Washington Spectator, says that isn't enough. To explain why he delves into how Ferguson got to be predominantly black.

Short answer: Intentional segregationist government policy.

In detail: A century ago St. Louis was one of several cities that prohibited integrated neighborhoods. The Supremes banned such laws in 1917. St. Louis responded by requiring white neighborhoods to have only single-family homes (which blacks had a hard time to afford) and black neighborhoods have multi-family structures, saloons, and factories. Baltimore would condemn a house if it was black owned and in a white neighborhood.

In the 1930s the federal gov't financed razing old neighborhoods and building explicitly segregated housing. During WWII housing for defense workers was also segregated. Funding of segregated housing continued in 1949 in spite of an effort towards integration.

When the federal gov't promoted suburbanization the Federal Housing Administration guaranteed bank loans to builders only if homes were not sold to blacks. The FHA provided model deeds showing how to prevent resale to blacks. It also did "redlining," refusing to insure houses in black neighborhoods and declaring them to be uncreditworthy.

Factories – jobs in general – followed whites to the suburbs. Blacks couldn't follow. They were restricted to areas where rents became high through high demand and low availability. Or they were given mortgages that never gave them equity. Many had to share housing. Overcrowded neighborhoods near city centers became targets of "slum clearance" programs. The residents were given vouchers that only certain landlords would accept. That's how blacks were moved out of St. Louis and crowded into Ferguson.

White families could use home equity to send their children to college. Black families could not. Black income is now about 60% of white income (that's bad enough), but black home equity is only 5% of white home equity.

Federal policy, with help at the state and local level, prohibited blacks from accumulating equity during the suburban boom. These policies have never been remedied. Without that remedy – policies to facilitate desegregation – incidents like Ferguson will continue.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A 50th anniversary

Perhaps a year ago someone commented to me that it seemed that gay rights have come along quickly. This person said it took women 70 years to get the right to vote. The Seneca Falls Convention was in 1848 and the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, giving women the right to vote. My friend implied it took 70 years for black people as well, but I don't know what came in 1895 that culminated in the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in 1964 and '65.

Yes, lots of people feel gay rights, or at least gay acceptance, has rolled over the country with astonishing swiftness. But these people don't know history and weren't paying attention.

With the arrival of marriage equality, which some say marks the arrival point of our movement, a few media people have been looking back to the Stonewall Riots of 1969. This is usually seen as the start of the gay pride movement because the following year was the start of the Christopher Street Liberation Day event, which was soon copied around the country as gay pride celebrations. Because the riot and the Christopher Street event were in June, most pride parties are in June.

I reminded my friend that though gay acceptance appears to have come quickly, it had been close to 50 years. And today is the 50th anniversary of the start of an important series of protests. The East Coast Homophile Organizations held their first protest outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1965. There was probably a protest or two before then and protests at the White House followed. The leaders were Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings. Kameny was the one who insisted participants dress for the office – suits for men, dresses and heels for women (in Philly in July) – because a major complaint was that the federal government banned gay employees and protesters should look employable. Kameny had been fired by the gov't for being gay. It is good to know Kameny, one of the pioneers of our movement.

These protests continued through 1969. That year the protest was just two weeks after the Stonewall Riots and this time some of the protesters were no longer interested in conforming to the society's view of respectability. This tension between "establishment" leaders and those no longer wanting to conform and also the start of the Christopher Street events in 1970 meant the Philly protests became pride parades.

Even so, those Philadelphia protests were considered important enough that in 2005 a historical marker was put in front of Independence Hall to honor them. This was the first such marker for LGBT history.

This year the 50th anniversary of the first march will include a ceremony in front of the Hall, legal panels, and a VIP lunch with Judy Shepard (mother of slain Matthew) and Edie Windsor (whose case overturned the Defense of Marriage Act two years ago). Area museums will have related special exhibits. There will also be parties, especially in the nearby Philly Gayborhood.

There is much to celebrate for 50 years of effort. Inclusion in the national Hate Crimes law. Protection from discrimination in some states. Openly gay and lesbian candidates routinely elected to office. The right to marry. And a lot of societal acceptance.

But women will tell us that even with almost a century of voting rights they aren't equal to men in pay and position in society. And blacks will tell us their right to vote 50 years ago didn't end segregation and allow them to escape the slums. So it is with us. Our ability get married nationwide does not end the discrimination against us, as various voices have been saying all last week.

The latest example is from Mike Huckabee's facebook page. It says, "An attack on Christians and their religious liberty is a Hate Crime that must be prosecuted." He vows to implement that as an executive order on his first day as president. Alas, we know that "attack" translates as "even the mildest disagreement" and "religious liberty" translates as "our God requires us to persecute gay people."

A sarcastic commenter (scroll down) on the blog Joe.My.God included the image of Jesus paging through a big Bible and exclaiming, "Oh, here it is... Thou shalt not fixeth the gay cars or serveth the gay pizza."

Celebrate our progress. Honor those who made it possible. Then get back to work.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Appropriate for a teenager

On the marriage front:

All three employees of the clerk's office in Decatur County, Tennessee have resigned. They refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Bye! At least they have the decency to resign when they won't fulfill all of the duties of their job. Other clerks elsewhere across the South have also resigned.

And some clerks need a push. The ACLU has filed suit against Rowan County, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis who has refused to issue marriage licenses to all couples. Plaintiffs in the suit include both straight and same-sex couples.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been slow to allow same-sex marriage even though the Supremes and the 5th Circuit have ordered him to do so. He was waiting for the Federal District Court, the one that had said refusing same-sex marriage is permissible. The 5th Circuit had given that lower court until July 17th to rescind their earlier ruling, now that it conflicts with the Supremes. The District Court managed to do it in a day. Commenter Franck Rabeson characterized the conversation this way:
Jindal: “We won’t allow same-sex couples to marry in Louisiana until Supreme Court of the United States says othewise.”
SCOTUS, June 26, 2015: “Ahem.”
Jindal: “… all right. Well, there’s also the Fifth Circuit of Appeals that needs to…”
5th Circuit, July 1, 2015: “Ahem.”
Jindal: “Dammit. Well I’m waiting for the relevant district c–”
District court, July 2, 2015: “A-freaking-HEM, dude, get the hint already!”
No matter. At the time all but two parish clerks were ignoring Jindal and issuing licenses to same-sex couples. And now all of them are.

The Episcopal Church, at a convention this week, has approved by a wide margin two new liturgies on a trial basis. These liturgies will be used when marrying same-sex couples. One of them is a gender-neutral version of the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer.

Tobin Grant of the Religion News Service did some surveying of the opinions of members of various church denominations. He also looked at various denomination official positions. He then ranked all of them by acceptance of homosexuality. United Methodists are in the middle. Grant found that denominations towards the top and bottom of the lists were the ones most likely to issue a statement on same-sex marriage, those towards the top in favor, those towards the bottom stating their displeasure. Those in the middle, respecting the split opinions of their members tended to stay quiet.

Ari Ezra Waldman, a lawyer writing for Towleroad, takes a look at the dissents issued by Alito, Thomas, and Scalia in last week's case that brought marriage equality. He'll discuss the Roberts dissent in another post.

Scalia: Yeah, he was as rude as we expected him to be. Many of his talking points were from conservatives who think liberals talk down to them. Scalia sneers that Kennedy found a right that "lesser legal minds" – Scalia lists some of the great names of the Court – did not. Waldman reviews those legal minds and says,
True, none of these great jurists declared that the Constitution protects a gay person’s right to marry the person that he or she loves. But they never had the occasion to do so.

Alito's dissent appears to be built around protection of the majority. This ruling, Alito says, "facilitates the marginalization" of Christians. Oh, that old line. Waldman wrote:
Alito’s concern is misplaced. At worst, he is doing what he and Scalia do best: fear monger and predict gloom and doom. Such overreaction is more appropriate for a teenager, not a Supreme Court justice.

Thomas: The most quoted part of his dissent begins:
Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved.
According to Waldman, in just a few words Thomas (1) absolved those who held slaves, (2) reduced same-sex marriage to "governmental benefits, " and (3) denied that dignity is harmed by institutionalized discrimination. But the issue is whether the Constitution allows states to damage a person's dignity.

Not running for prez.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin analyzes the comments of Ted Cruz in an NPR interview. Kincaid concludes:
Which leads me to believe that Ted Cruz is not serious about Presidential aspirations. He’s not saying things that push one down the path to Presidency. Wacko statements like these do not cause donors to support you, papers to endorse you, or fellow politicians to bring their political machine to your service.

They do, however, get media attention and raise your profile in right-wing media. They do fire up the uninformed and earn the adoration of the single minded. As does a “campaign” designed not to win votes but to showcase image.

And, as it turns out, Ted Cruz has a book to sell, A Time For Truth. In the short NPR interview, he manages to mention or reference his book 22 times.

Ted Cruz is not running for President. Ted Cruz is selling a book.
Commenters suggest Cruz is not the only one.

We're being victimized

Over much of June my readership in Russia has jumped. For the last month the number of page views from Russia is more than double the count from America. On some individual days the count from Russia has been 3 and up to 4 times the count here in the US. Alas, my readers don't leave comments. Friends, I'd be delighted to hear from you and what you find in my blog.

I am delighted at the speed at which many governments in the South are realizing the Confederate flag no longer belongs on gov't buildings. William Danaher, an Episcopal priest and professor of theology and ethics, wrote a commentary about the Confederate flag in last Sunday's Detroit Free Press. He wrote about the background of the flag, how it started out before the Civil War as an emblem of the belief that the South was about to be overrun by the North. The South believed this was to be done both "materially and culturally, primarily through industrialization and urbanization." After the war honoring the soldiers of the South included a "sacred narrative of victimization."

Perhaps I'll paraphrase: We're being victimized because we're being prevented from enslaving and oppressing black people. Sound familiar? Let me change just a few words: We're being victimized because we're being prevented from oppressing gay people. What is it in the culture of the South that makes so many people so insecure they need to oppress someone else to feel good?

In the same issue Nancy Kaffer of the Freep's editorial board has an important question. Her topic is the recently enacted law that lets adoption agencies refuse service to same-sex couples. Her question: What about the sexual minority kids in the foster care system? An example is a kid who had been adopted as an infant, but was rejected by the mother when he came out as transgender. Refuse to welcome same-sex couples to your agency and what happens to this kid? A hard life is now even harder.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Kicking and screaming

Officials in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana had declared that same-sex marriage would not come to their state until the 5th Circuit Court lifts its stay. The 5th Circuit has now done so. In Louisiana, because a District Court had ruled against same-sex marriage the orders from the 5th Circuit must go through that District Court. The District judge has until July 17th, though he was urged to resolve the issue as fast as possible. Some Louisiana clerk offices are giving licenses to same-sex couples anyway.

In Alabama, the state has been battling a District Court order from earlier this year. The federal judge had ruled for equality and several state judges had done all they can to say the federal ruling didn't apply to them. The federal judge has now said the Supremes say it does apply. Get to it.

Even so, as Rachel Maddow points out, several local officials across the South are still kicking and screaming and individual court actions may be necessary.

No reason to endure them

A few links brought me to a post Ragen Chastain wrote for her blog Dances With Fat in 2012 in which she links to a bunch of studies on the lack of connection between obesity and disease. I'll leave the links in her article and summarize her summaries. There are studies on:

* Weight loss diets do not lead to sustained weight loss and do not lead to a significant health improvements. Therefore there is no reason to ask people to endure them.

* Healthy lifestyle habits are associated with a significant increase in health regardless of body mass index. It's not the obesity, it's the fitness.

* If a person is cardiorespiratorily fit there is very little difference in mortality between those of normal weight and obese. There is a marked difference between the fit and unfit, even for those of a normal weight.

* Doctors tend to view obese patients as ugly and noncompliant and some add in sloppy and lazy.

A patient tagged as noncompliant will have a much harder time getting proper treatment for other issues and getting proper insurance payment.