Monday, March 30, 2009

Sitting in the dark to demonstrate public concern

I probably should have posted something about Earth Hour in time for you to take part in it (the event was last Saturday). However, I wasn't completely out of it -- I did tell my church. For those who didn't hear, Earth Hour was an event to draw attention to environmental issues by turning off all unnecessary lights for an hour. The event is promoted by the World Wildlife Fund and 2009 was its third year. This time over 4000 city governments worldwide participated. There were also tens of thousands of corporations and millions of private citizens turning out lights. WWF says it was the "largest demonstration of public concern" in history. I mention it now because assembled a series of pictures showing city scenes before and during Earth Hour. Click on each image (except the first) to fade between the two.

A green revenue stream

Back last summer my city hosted a neighborhood picnic to allow residents to meet and interact with city officials. This was the first such event in the 27 years I've lived here. Granted, the picnic food wasn't much -- a hot dog and a bag of chips. But I was able to see the plans for the redesigned intersection near me (one where I need to make a left turn to get to my church and occasionally had to sit through 5 cycles of the light to make that turn -- all better now), and sign up to participate in Mission Green, an effort to make city operations more environmentally sound. Alas, all the Mission Green meetings have been at 6:00 on nights I had bell rehearsal at 7:00.

The mayor and the head of Mission Green made a big deal of getting all supporters to the City Council meeting in which the mayor presented the new plans for curbside recycling. He wanted to show the Council there was a lot of support for the issue. So I went this evening for the first half hour (before leaving for bell rehearsal). The place was packed, with 90 residents inside the chambers and another 15 standing outside. I can't say how this compares to other Council meetings because this is the first I've attended.

We've had curbside recycling before, but the revenue stream was all wonky, so it didn't work well. The main problem is that those who participated were billed for the privilege and had to pay that bill directly to the trash company rather than part of city taxes. Not surprisingly, only 3% of the households bothered. The trash company eventually gave up because they would forget to collect too many of the bins when they came around a second time for the recyclables.

This time looks to be different. Though separate special containers are used, residents don't need to buy them. Even better, each container has a barcode and when the mechanism on the truck hoists the container it also weighs it and scans the code. Residents get a refund from the Recycle Bank based on the amount of stuff recycled. The refund should average $240 (yearly?) with a cap at $550. The only irritant is the refund isn't cash, but in the form of coupons redeemable at stores in the city. At least the revenue stream is in the right direction. Council will vote on it at their meeting in two weeks and the containers could be given to residents by the June 1 with the first collection two weeks later.

How we got into this mess and why we can't get out

The NPR program This American Life has two episodes that explain the current economic crisis quite well. Each is an hour long and can be streamed through the internet.

From May 9, 2008, The Giant Pool of Money about how we got into the mess.

From February 27, 2009, Bad Bank about why it is so hard to get out of the mess. One of the recommended solutions to deal with a problematic bank is for the government to take it over, clean it up, and sell what remains. But when the problem is all of the biggest banks who has enough money to buy the remains? That comes after you convince the banker his bank really doesn't have enough money and he is about to lose his job. And if he contributed to your campaign…

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Undoing the damage

A second amendment to the Calif. constitution has been approved for signature-gathering with the intent of getting it on the state ballot soon. The first one will to get the state out of the marriage business by converting all legal relationships to domestic partnerships. The second one will simply repeal the gay marriage ban passed last November. It contains phrases to say it will not mandate changes to any school curriculum and will not mandate that any church perform gay marriages.

Sticking someone else with the bill

I wrote a while back about school districts that spend close to a half million dollars in legal fees to attempt to ban Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools. They always lose because the law is very clear that if any after-school clubs are offered (such as a bible club), then all clubs must be permitted. Districts also know they are going to lose. So why spend a half-mil to accomplish nothing except annoy gays for a while rather than spend that money on something like, oh, actually educating students? Because they know their insurance companies will reimburse the expense. Hopefully soon an insurance company will start quoting the exceptions for frivolous lawsuits.

Never been "next"

My friend and debate partner lives up to the second half of his description in response to my post "You may not be gay, but you may be next." The delay in posting is mine, not his. He was actually rather prompt in his reply. I will only make one comment. While I am a lot more out now than I was 7-8 years ago there are still people I have not come out to. This includes my church and one brother and his family.

I'm Jewish -- I always feel that I can be "next". And so far never been "next".

I don't know what will come down in California, but gays are being overly fearful here.

There are a LOT of case law precedents and much settled opinion, here and internationally, that people have rights and they are not subject to majority whims. Nazis and neocons may take over the world and violate those rights, but that principle of the rule of law won't be overturned, ever.

There is a problem here that discrimination against LGBTs is still legal, just as discrimination against blacks was legal in the South a century ago. That changed during my lifetime. The rights that LGBTs need and should have aren't yet recognized -- emphasis on "yet". It's coming, more slowly than we wish, as always, but coming. I've seen a vast sea change in my lifetime and the next generation will carry those changes further. Almost no one was out of the closet in 1980; you are openly gay today.

This is no time for gays to turn pessimistic. Fight, fight, fight! March, march, march!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Working for The Big O

Who knew that Barack's teleprompter was sophisticated enough to write its own blog? Give it a 52 inch LCD screen and stand back! It can sure give a behind-the-scenes look at what it's like to work for The Big O and the rest of the gang.

You may not be gay, but you may be next

I wrote before about the Calif. Supremes heard oral arguments on the state's gay marriage ban. Though the Court hasn’t ruled yet (though they must by early June), those that ponder how the Court acted during those arguments think it doesn't look good for our side. One of the hot topics during that debate was whether civil rights denials can amend the constitution through simple majority or whether a much more rigorous process should have been used. This issue didn't arise in Michigan back in 2004 because, to enact amendments, there is no alternative to a simple majority vote.

I've wondered about the central question. If this isn't the time to demand the more stringent Calif. amendment method be used, when is? What kind of issue constitutes a "revision" to the constitution rather than an "amendment" if it isn't civil, unalienable, rights? That leads to…

Blogger Terrence Heath is bothered by that lack of a firm stance on civil rights and concludes that if the court lets the ban remain the result will be the death of civil rights.

His reason is the Court will be signaling that majoritarianism wins. That fancy word means that everything can be decided by a vote of the majority. The majority is always right -- no matter what -- because it is the majority. The majority decides what is justice. (For the moment we'll set aside the Fundies who insist that decisions by today's majority must be preserved for all time.)

This means there are no "unalienable rights" because the majority can take away anything it wants. Minorities can't turn to the courts or legislatures because their purpose becomes enforcing the desires of the majority. And that is ironic because if the court upholds the ban they make themselves irrelevant.

When the majority is always right, they become unwilling or unable to set limits on their supreme power. Without limits, power becomes tyranny. At the moment, the courts define tyranny. If the marriage ban is upheld, we may enter an age where tyranny of the majority becomes the norm. If you think that statement is overblown, two words: activist judges. Yup, many have already been complaining loudly that judges have been getting in the way of the majority.

Terrence, who is black, gay, and not Christian, is very aware how life has been made better because of the courts, the biggest being Brown v. Board of Education. Others are Roe v. Wade, Loving v. Virginia, Lawrence v. Texas. Don't forget the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. What would life be like if these rulings could not have been made? What would life be like if an injustice is allowed to stand simply because a majority mistake it for justice?

As a civilized society we have decided it is better to settle our differences in the courtroom rather than in the street. Courts are a safety valve for social tension. They give the minority a voice, a chance at justice. Courts are a loud enough voice to be able to face the majority and say that might does not make right, the majority may be wrong, and commonly held ideas may be unjust.

Without the courts what options does the minority have? Either bloodshed in the streets (there goes our claim to be a civilized society), or a minority with a phenomenal capacity of patience. The minority must endure injustice while they engage in a public education campaign, which takes a lot longer. If majority rules many may decide to conveniently postpone any discussion of a contentious issue, even if they support the minority, until their party achieves majority status or they are no longer worried about maintaining majority status. And you know when that will be. (Though if unalienable rights are in question, so much for free speech and public education campaigns on a hated topic could simply be banned.) In the meantime, keep your head down and don't make waves.

Responders to the post note that if the Calif. Supremes uphold the ban they only make themselves obsolete, not the federal Supremes. However, that same terrifying precedent will be part of the majority's arguments when any minority takes their grievance to the federal level. Especially after the Bush years and their disregard for the constitution. Then again, the majority does have some nice things to say about reproductive rights, gun control, and gays serving in the military. Strange that Fundies refuse to allow majority rule in these cases.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I'll give it a 10

I volunteer at the Ruth Ellis Center once a week. Alas, that doesn't mean I know everything about it. For instance, I didn't realize it is now 10 years old. Here is a salute to those 10 years. I do know it has been in its current building only 18 months.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Poking into dark corners and kicking over pillars

So Limbaugh wants Obama to fail. Let's take that ugly statement and peek at what's behind it. One of the defining concepts of the GOP is individualism. What one does as an individual is what makes the world good. What one does collectively is counterproductive, ineffective, or corrupt. Individual retirement accounts -- good. Social Security -- bad. Never mind that it takes more than one person to design a car at GM. And though I'll write my symphonies all by myself, thank you very much, I'll need a whole orchestra to perform them in a way that does them justice.

Even so, the GOP has long and successfully peddled the idea that government is inefficient (more inefficient that GM?) and burdensome to the point that even progressives believe it. Who do you have more control over -- your state legislator or your HMO executive?

If Obama succeeds he proves that government can work, that us is better than me, and we are better off when government does work for the common good. It is useful and necessary. And a major pillar of the GOP will crumble. That makes this a vital topic of political discourse. So take Limbaugh (or at least the ideas he is fronting) seriously and refute it. It's the GOP's worst fear.

While we're on the topic of Limbaugh and the GOP (before I get tired of an easy target) there are other monsters dancing in the conservative psyche. We've long noted their authoritarian streak. From Glenn Greenwald at Salon:

The Coulter/Hannity/Limbaugh-led right wing is basically the Abu Ghraib rituals finding full expression in an authoritarian political movement. The reason people like Rush Limbaugh not only were unbothered, but actually delighted and even tickled by, Abu Ghraib is because that is the full-blooded manifestation of the impulses underlying this movement - feelings of power and strength from the most depraved spectacles of force.

Greenwald continues that this gang loves Ann Coulter so much because her words so openly emasculates Democratic men. GOP men will act from power and strength, Dem men are wimps.

As for Limbaugh himself, it seems not only has he become the head of the GOP, he is working to be God. From Deepak Chopra:

Limbaugh has been plowing the field of moral outrage for decades, but unlike Billy Sunday and the other hot-headed radio preachers who cashed in on social resentment in the Great Depression, Limbaugh threw out God. With no religious tradition to anchor himself, he can swing wider. Anything Limbaugh judges against is condemned, not by scripture, but simply by him being pissed off. Whatever Limbaugh hates -- however petty, personal, and arbitrary his animus -- is ipso facto wrong.

So, though the Right wants to trumpet how they stand for family morals, they adore a guy who defines morality by what he's pissed off at? Has that been fueling the lack of morality shown by many on the Right over the last 8 years? Alas, that doesn't help in crafting a pragmatic solution to anything.

Alas, it isn't just Limbaugh. He's just the public front at the moment.

One last poke into the psyche of the GOP: It is from a comment, which appeared about a week or so ago when Dick Cheney spouted off about how Obama dare not refuse to use torture because that would leave our country defenseless. Amazing how secretive Cheney was when he was VP and now he refuses to stay in his underground lair. I can't find the quote I read, but more than one person has come up with the same idea. Cheney's words made several people wonder if Cheney was incompetent and was able to cover it up by being a sadist.

Cheney's harsh criticism of Obama brought a mild joke-rebuke from Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs. That set off a teapot tempest by the mainstream media -- Cheney is a former vice president of the United States! Have you no decency? That prompts Glenn Greenwald (again) to note that our journalistic watchdogs are too loyal to the political establishment (or at least the GOP). But back up a second… While the press jumped all over Gibbs (representing Obama), they did not jump over Cheney. Obama is the president of the United States! Has Cheney no decency?

Excuse me while I scramble for the irony alarm

Congressman Dan Lundgren of California, peeved at the attempt to tax the AIG bonuses at 90%, said:

Let me tell you if we overturn the Constitution to show our outrage, no single American is safe. Because in the future what we will do is say, we have a precedent that when we have an unpopular group, when we have a group that deserves some punishment, we won’t go through the real laws.

He voted for the Calif. gay marriage ban.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Can science win over greed?

Our medical system is more screwed up that I thought possible.

Last Sunday's shooting in a Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois by Terry Sedlecek was apparently triggered by the gunman's mental imbalance caused by improperly treated Lyme disease. This prompted Sara Robinson to recount her own horrible battle with the disease. She contracted it in 1984 and only last year -- 24 years later -- did she get an accurate diagnosis and a start on an effective treatment. And that was from a doctor in Canada with follow-up by a doctor who doesn't accept insurance.

Hold onto your seats now. It used to be a doctor would do research into a medical condition or an infectious illness and publish papers to further general knowledge and gain fame and (some) fortune. It seems back in 1980, under Reagan, the rules changed. Now a doctor has a financial incentive in hoarding his discoveries as trade secrets, leverage the patents into a position to write the disease definition and control the approved treatment. The goal is speed, not correctness. Once the patent is in place the controlling doctor can threaten other doctors with revoking their license if they try to propose an alternate method of diagnosis and treatment. Further scientific discovery into the disease is essentially banned. Alas, many times the original doctor gets it wrong. And the patient is refused treatment that might work, putting him in a living hell. This is true for all kinds of infectious diseases, like Lyme disease, that have come to light since 1980. It's especially worrisome since a lot of well known illnesses (like heart attacks) are being shown to have a basis in infection.

Obama is going to have to work to get science to win out over greed, a much harder task than to win out over ideology.

Remind me not to get sick.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Avoiding red ink

Alas, the Ruth Ellis Center is cutting hours and staff to make sure they don't fall into the red. It used to be open 12:30 - 9:00 daily and serving both lunch and supper. Now it will be 3:00-9:00 Monday-Friday. When I started the evening staff included Rasool, April, Carol, Smoke, and Monty the intern, whose schedules were set up so every day was covered. Rasool has left, Monty's internship has ended, and Smoke now moves over to the Ruth Ellis House. That leaves Carol and April working a standard week. There is a new intern named Kelly who only comes Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I haven't met him.

Today's crowd was light because the weather was so nice. It didn't take long at all to fill the dishwasher.

You can't redefine marriage! Too late.

It's been done. Merriam-Webster Dictionary has officially included a second half to the first definition of the word:

the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of traditional marriage.

Even so, this could be improved by combining the two halves into:

…united to another adult in a consensual and contractual relationship recognize by law.

Of course, Fundies are shocked! at those dratted activist lexicographers.

Brightback Mountain?

Extreme shepherding? You would have a hard time convincing me there wasn't at least some computerized image "enhancement." If only Jack and Ennis could have helped out. Enjoy.

Doing some green math and not liking the numbers

Sharon Begley, the science reporter for Newsweek has some sobering and scary thoughts on global warming and energy consumption. Consider…

Before the Industrial Revolution the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million. The current level is 386 ppm. and we already see climate effects. Climate specialists say we dare not go above 450 ppm. To stop the rise we must get the level of CO2 emissions to below 80% of what they are now and do so by 2050 (only 40 years from now).

Total energy consumption is at the rate of 14 trillion watts (terawatts) per year (2006 figures). Assuming low population growth, slow economic growth, and unprecedented energy efficiency the forecast for energy use in 2050 is 28 terawatts. (Since all three of those assumptions are unlikely the actual figure is probably closer to 45 terawatts, but we'll stick with 28). But if we must get CO2 emissions 80% below of what they are now 26.5 terawatts in 2050 must be zero-carbon.

How we doing? Not good. Total solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear in 2006 was just over 1 terawatt.

To get only 10 terawatts out of nuclear we need another 10 thousand reactors worldwide. Get busy -- that comes out to one new reactor every other day. Starting today.

Wind? A million turbines will get us 3 terawatts. If we figure out how to store it for days when the wind doesn't blow.

Solar? Using current technology we would need to cover a million roofs per day (worldwide) in solar panels to get 10 terawatts.

And if we do that we still only have 24 of the needed 26.5 terawatts.

Conservation? Um, that's part of the difference between the 28 terawatt and 45 terawatt figures above.

Looks like we can't get there from here. How do we get out of this mess?

We need several breakthroughs in technology, each one worthy of a Nobel Prize. To do that we need to increase R&D spending by at least 10 times to $30 billion (still a pittance compared to the bank bailouts) and reform the national labs to be closer to the practical marketplace. And we need top stop focusing on cutting emissions by 20% by 2020. That's easy, and should take care of itself if we strive for the 80% cut by 2050.

Inciting the crazies

Alas, it is somewhat expected that hate crimes against gays have increased since the campaign to pass the Calif. marriage ban. Expected because during the campaign some people proposed creating explicit ads that link the hate talk of the campaign to injuries and deaths of gays. Those ideas were dismissed as "scare tactics."

In Santa Clara County, Calif. hate crimes against gays made up 15% of all hate crimes in 2007. In 2008 that jumped to 56%. Hate crimes follow headlines and controversies of the day. Those most likely to use violence, after messages that demonize a segment of the population, won't confine their actions to the ballot box. It was the $42 million campaign that stirred up these crimes, not the vote against us (though one can imagine if the vote went our way there would be fewer such crimes.

No doubt there are some Fundies hoping this threat of crimes with every rights campaign will keep gays from risking it again. Fight for your rights and we'll incite the crazies to bash your heads in.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The jester is a journalist

Jon Stewart took on Jim Cramer of CNBC a news journalist, who (according to Stewart) enabled the housing bubble. Blogs are full of the battle (whole series of videos here) and Mainstream Media is quite silent. It seems Stewart claims to be a comedian and is actually a fine journalist. Cramer claims to be both (at different times) and is shown to be a horrible journalist, someone who isn't in search of truth. While the end of the battle is important and worth watching (19 minutes), I was drawn to a commenter of the situation.

Ted Koppel, while still hosting Nightline, claimed that the job of a journalist is to report the news. Stewart disagreed. (This account makes it difficult to tell if Stewart was on Koppel's show.) According to Stewart, the problem of simply reporting the news was that it

was a license to promote liars then to the equivalence of truth. If we ignore context, meaning and history- we are always going to be subjected to the whims of manipulators and Machiavellian types. These types only thrive so long as we are ignorant. Once we pull back the curtain, we see the wizard.

One of the things that Cramer kept saying was, "They lied to me." Stewart didn't buy that line and eventually responded that the job of a journalist is to listen to the newsmaker and then go out and try to find the truth. Cramer failed that step.

Couldn't happen to more deserving people

My friend and debate partner sent a link to this article to me and I've seen it mentioned in a blog or two so it is time for me to read it for myself and to draw some threads of thought together.

Michael Spencer of the Christian Science Monitor is saying that within 10 years Evangelical Christianity will collapse. It will coincide with deterioration of the mainline Protestant denominations and will fundamentally change Western Culture. Along the way intolerance of and hostility towards Christianity will rise to the point where many will see Christianity the opponent to the common good. Perhaps if they didn't complain of persecution when they weren't we might believe it when they are.

Here are the reasons why Spencer believes the collapse will happen:

* Evangelicals combined their religion with the culture wars and politics, making them a threat to cultural progress. They confused religious faith with in believing in a cause.

* Those efforts depleted their resources to the point that they haven't adequately trained the next generation. In spite of all that's spent on youth ministers, the young know how to be culture warriors, but not Christians. They don't know how, in the face of a hostile culture, to articulate why Christianity is good. I personally believe, when done as Jesus intended, Christianity *is* good for the culture.

* The money will dry up.

What will remain?

* Because the Evangelical "good" is seen as "bad" by the rest of the culture, many ministries (such as feeding the poor) will take on a less distinctly Christian face.

* Preaching will shift from doctrine to pragmatic relevance, motivation, and personal success, further weakening the message.

* Catholic and Orthodox churches will grow as Evangelicals seek a new church home.

* There will be an attempt at reform through theological renewal, though perhaps not go far enough to be called a Second Reformation. These reformers face issues of biblical authority and doctrine.

* Perhaps renewal will come through Asian and African missionaries coming to America.

* The existing united front on the culture war will fragment.

The open question is whether this will bring Christianity back to actually following Christ. I'm one of those who think that much of the current church, at least the part that makes itself heard in the popular culture, has missed the point of the whole enterprise. Alas, Spencer thinks we probably can't shake off such things as the vacuousness of the megachurch nor the gospel of prosperity. The "purveyors of the evangelical circus" will still sell their wares.

On the good side the loss of political clout will replace cultural and political entitlement with church integrity as a countercultural movement. Christianity will renew its vitality and members will strive to hear the authentic voice of God.

I see the collapse of the Evangelicals a good thing because the antics of their loudest members over the last couple decades have done a lot to damage the reputations of Christians in general. That's a big reason for the decline in almost all denominations, Evangelical or not. Another big reason is the Christianity they shout isn't what Jesus taught and doesn't make sense to the secular society.

Spencer describes himself as a Postevangelical Reformation Christian.

That Fundie decline has already started.

Frank Rich wonders if Bush ignored an intelligence briefing about Bin Laden in August 2001 because he was preparing a big speech on stem cell research. To put it another way, stem cells were a big deal at the time. Obama just reversed Bush's stem cell rules -- without much noise. Oh sure, the anonymous successors to the dead, retired, and disgraced family-values dinosaurs (Falwell, etc.) sent out their emails to supporters but it didn't amount to anything. It seems we have decided that moral scolds are a luxury we can't afford at the moment. The same was true with Prohibition after the 1929 stock crash and the 1925 Scopes monkey trial.

There is another aspect at work. A lot of the family values leaders don't have exemplary lives -- Limbaugh (apparent GOP leader) is on his 3rd wife and has had drug addiction problems, Gingrich is on his 3rd wife, Mark Foley, David Vitter, Larry Craig, the Palins, etc., the list is long -- and Obama does. He obviously loves his (first) wife and dotes on his daughters.

In addition, the party they infiltrated has been thoroughly discredited. The GOP is seen as the cause of the economic meltdown. Their wedge issues don't work so well. They don't want to talk about Bush or the doomed demographics of their racist base.

Also like the 1930s, Americans aren't turning towards religion in tough times (in spite of the claims of the remaining scolds). They are, as then, turning to social consciousness and economic and social justice. Sounds good to me.

God Hates Figs!

When Fred Phelps appears he has signs that say "God Hates Fags!" However, Jesus said nothing about gays and did say something about a fig tree that wasn't bearing fruit at a time when Jesus was hungry. See Matthew 21:18-20 and Mark 11-12-14. This link has the full text. Even the prophet Jeremiah (in 29:17) said that God will send pestilence to nations that are as vile as figs. Condemning figs makes about as much sense as condemning fags, uh, gays.

What's with New England?

A bit of good news from New England! Vermont is considering updating their civil unions to marriage. In a change from other recent statewide battles, 200 clergy are speaking out in favor of marriage and only the Catholic Church is saying anything against it. In Maine, the legislature normally limits the number of co-sponsors for a bill to 10. For the same-sex marriage bill they dropped the limit and 60 legislators of both parties have signed on. That's almost a third of the legislators!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

In most countries they would be called traitors

Frank Schaeffer is an Evangelical who voted for Obama. He and his father, Francis, were some of the people who got the Religious Right movement going. The son now says the GOP is nothing but religious nutcases who would take the country over the cliff to prove America's moral decline, neocons who think any war is a good war, and the backwards rubes who don't know how to think for themselves and need Rush to explain it to them. 20 million people don't represent much in a 300 million nation except they happen to be loud. He has written the book Crazy for God, saying that believing the way many Fundies do will make you crazy. This link is an open letter (and a wonderful rant) to the GOP and includes an 8 minute interview on the DL Hughley Show. It is posted on the left-leaning Huffington Post where he is a regular contributor. I wish more media outlets would use him for "balance."

Creating legal tangles over a simple ruling

Supreme Court followers in Calif. believe the court will uphold the marriage ban, yet keep the 18,000 gay marriages intact (amendments are not by default retroactive). That kind of ruling makes sense in isolation -- the people did vote in a constitutional amendment and that amendment did not say anything about being retroactive. But out in the real world will create legal tangles. Calif. will have some gays who are married and other gays who can't get married. The big issue is how does this fare under the equal protection clause of either state or federal constitutions? There could be an appeal to the federal Supremes. But there are other issues. If DOMA is overturned to federally recognize marriages in Mass. what about those in Calif. who are married and get full federal rights and those who can't get marriage or those rights? What about those married in Massachusetts and move to Calif.? Does it count only if the marriage was done when it was legal in Calif.? Or should Calif. get out of the marriage business? If so do none of its residents qualify for federal benefits?

Fighting free speech with free speech

On rare occasions the antics of a frat house are not only appropriate but a delight. I know it is rare because as an undergrad my dorm window faced a block of 6 houses. But in this case… Members of the Fred Phelps clan came to picket the University of Chicago (because Obama taught there? Sheesh, guys give it rest) and the nearby Chicago Theological Seminary (a seminary with a frat house?). The boys were ready. They hung a banner saying "No Tolerance for Intolerance" produced signs that mocked the ever present "God Hates Fags" with "God Hates dial-up", and when the clan came by the boys came out to dance -- as only frat boys can -- to gay themed songs blaring from the windows. Students in the area joined the festive atmosphere. A good time was had by all -- except for maybe the Phelps clan. Follow the link to a 2 minute video.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Might have been taken seriously

This week's Newsweek cover story is an article by David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative organization. It is Frum's analysis of why Rush Limbaugh is wrong. It's rather simple: Limbaugh is a radio personality in it for the ratings. The more listeners he has and the more he makes headlines the better for his paycheck. 20 million listeners make for a good paycheck and he has to keep them listening. So what if another 100 million refuse to listen? Those disgusted with Limbaugh, however, vote against GOP candidates. He is a convenient target for Obama and progressives and the GOP gets the blame. If anyone in the GOP crosses him, he demands an apology (and usually gets it) or declares they aren't a true conservative. He and his listeners have become a cult.

Alas, for the GOP, Limbaugh declares his brand of conservatism is as old as the constitution (like the current definition of marriage is as old as civilization), when it is only as old as Reagan. The ideas that were important then are no longer what the middle class is interested in. The party has to change with the times to survive.

Frum ends with this:

Should conservatives be trying to provoke or persuade? To narrow the coalition or enlarge it? To enflame or govern? And finally (and above all): to profit -- or to serve?

Frum says the state of conservatism is such that Obama and the Dems proposed a huge expansion in all things conservatives are against and the GOP essentially rolled over and played dead. That's not quite true, there was a spirited rebuttal of the stimulus package but in ways that were easily dismissed.

There are a large number of things in the stimulus package that were not there for stimulus (money to be spent in 2011, not 2009). There were many other things that Dems put into the bill simply because they could and it was a chance to make up for 8 years of GOP spending priorities. Newsweek columnist Robert Samuelson did a story about that a few weeks ago.

But the GOP didn't list legitimate complaints about the bill. They attacked things like condoms (we're tired of the GOP view of sex ed), mice (merely a publicity stunt), and how the bill would bloat the federal deficit and debt.

While that last point is true, the GOP would have been taken seriously if they hadn't let Bush run up the debt over the last 8 years. They might be taken seriously in other issues if they offered serious criticisms instead of insisting more deregulation was necessary when it is obvious that deregulation played a big part in today's financial mess, if their compassionate conservatism was actually compassionate, if their view of science wasn't so obviously tainted by ideology, if their reasons for positions on social issues weren't so filled with cruelty and racism. I'm sure the list is much longer.

In short, we didn't get the debate the stimulus package needed.

Learning that gays are icky

Is the ick factor learned? One of the big things that gets in the way of approval of gay marriage (besides religion) is the ick factor. Anna Quindlen of Newsweek wrote an article about how most of the country, with Congress as a big exception, has seen through the fallacy of abstinence only sex education. In it she comments that abstinence is stressed through the "eww factor with photographs of lesions" the kinds of things one gets through STDs that one wouldn't get if virginity is maintained until marriage. Is this where the ick factor associated with gays comes from? A good bet it does.

Quindlen includes this gem (emphasis added):

Because we hear so often that there are two sides to an issue, we've become accustomed to thinking there are two equal sides to most of them, especially the ones on which people scream the loudest. You can see this reflected in coverage of demonstrations, in which tens of thousands can march against the war, or for gay rights, and a chunk of the story will be taken up by quotes from 11 people with American flags or verses from Leviticus on their signs.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We'll give you the word marriage if you'll stick around to use it

A petition drive has been launched in Calif. to get the state out of the marriage business. If some 650,000 signatures can be gathered by August there will be a proposal on the ballot that says Calif. recognizes domestic partnerships for everyone regardless of sexual orientation. Then churches could use the word marriage however they want.

Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune believes gays should not have gone back to the Calif. Supremes when voters put the marriage ban in the constitution. He has 3 reasons.

1. The power of the government really does rest with the people. It is better to persuade the people then to enforce a your point of view (yeah, we get annoyed when the other side does it to us).

2. Gays (at least in Calif.) are close to overturning the ban anyway (approval for gay marriage has gone up 9% in 8 years -- another 3 years should do it).

3. It isn't good to get the Supremes to overturn the rule of the people when you may need to turn to the people for a different outcome in a few years.

With the way religion is faring in America, if we leave marriage to the churches might we end up not using the word sometime soon? The American Religious Identification Survey has published its 2008 results, based on 54,000 interviews, and compared it to their 1990 results. In that time America has 50 million more adults yet almost all denominations have lost membership. In terms of percent of population (rather than percent of membership) church affiliation is down drastically. In particular, non-Catholic Christians have lost population percentages in 46 states and gained in only two. Those who describe themselves as having no religion have gained percentage in all states, from 2% in Arkansas to 21% in Vermont. That translates to those declaring no religion now being 15% of the population, up from 8% in 1990.

Putting it another way, Christian denominations are working hard to make themselves irrelevant to today's world. No need to reserve the word marriage for the churches because soon churches won't be around to use it.

So what is a good signing statement?

This is disappointing. First the good news: Obama issued an order that all government officials much first check with his attorney general before following any of Bush's signing statements. Alas, the bad news: Obama also declared he might use the signing statement himself. Yeah, he taught constitution law and I'd trust him more than the frat boy who recently left office, but there are better ways. If there are constitutional problems with a bill he is to sign, isn't he supposed to veto it or use his own Justice Department to challenge it? How does one tell the difference between a good signing statement and a bad one? Where in the constitution does it say that a president can modify the law with a signing statement?

One commenter says we shouldn't be so hard on the new guy. Bush wasn't the only one to use signing statements and Obama doesn't (yet) have legal or moral authority to wag his finger at the whole lot of them.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Health care brought to you by the same people...

Maybe banks should fail, even the big ones. That's the line many in the GOP are now proclaiming, as reported on the NPR show Marketplace today. I've got an immediate problem with that -- the GOP has lied to me so often and so consistently I can only assume they are doing it again. Perhaps to put it another way, I can only assume their hatred for Obama is so intense they are proposing ideas to make the economic situation worse.

Though my rant today isn't about banks, it is about GOP and believability. There is a group called Conservatives for Patients Rights, ready to torpedo any health plan Obama and the Dems may come up with. They even base it on four goals that sound reasonable, but easily tipped over.

1. Every patient has a right to choose a doctor and an insurance plan that fits their budget.

When you don't have health care -- an increasing problem these days -- you can't choose a doctor anyway. And the GOP has said nothing about addressing the needs of the uninsured.

2. Use marketplace competition to drive down costs and enhance outcomes.

Nice idea, in theory. But there are so few players competition is a myth. Only a public system would offer any competition. In addition, existing companies declare so much information to be proprietary there is no way to find out which one has better outcomes for any given medical situation or how much of any given procedure is covered.

3. Make health care more accessible, transparent, and standardized.

Yeah, there are things that would help improve health care, such as electronic medical forms, but this goal says nothing about making health care insurance more accessible, transparent, and standardized. Far too often patients hear, "Sure, you can get the care you need. We're just not going to cover it." And it is different with each company.

4. Patients need to take personal responsibility for their care, including maintaining a healthy lifestyle, so that they have the freedom to live without government intrusion.

Sounds good -- only if you make it a two-way street and demand corporate responsibility of the insurer. Otherwise this goal and the other three are as hollow as the conservative principles that have led to disasters in foreign policy, food safety, and finance. A health care system brought to you by the same people and ideals that brought you Citibank? Shiver.

My choice would be Medicare for All.

Up next for an arrest warrant

The International Criminal's Court (under the auspices of the United Nations) recently issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. This is the first time the court has indicted a sitting head of state. It may take a while for this court to try al-Bashir because they don't have the power to actually arrest him and must rely on a member country to carry out the arrest if al-Bashir ever happens to be in their territory (or at least away from Sudan).

The next people in the court's sights? Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush. They will begin by investigating their crimes, which include invasion of Iraq and the million deaths there, mishandling Afghanistan, and the authorization of torture. There appears to be enough evidence to proceed with Rumsfeld. No doubt various people in the USA would be glad to help with evidence against Bush.

Another dandy marriage "compromise"

Not long ago there was the "compromise" proposal for federal civil unions which I, and several others, declared to be a non-starter because the Fundies would never compromise enough to make it happen. Here's another twist of a compromise: bundle together gay marriage and covenant marriage.

Covenant marriage and other divorce reduction ideas stress longer waiting periods between separation and actual divorce, premarital education, and family courts that stress mediation. The advantage of the combination is that gays and straights together can say we are for the sanctity of marriage. Or it will at least flush out the Fundies who don't care about preserving marriage but only want to stick it to the homos.

Pam Spaulding, the blogmistress where this idea is discussed carefully did not say she was for it, only that she wrote about it to see what other gay people thought. She got an earful.

Covenant marriage ideas trade away women's rights. That's no better than trading away gay rights. Besides, covenant marriage is only another way for the church to intrude on a civil relationship.

Why should we compromise with the small number of loud voices who are hostile to us? Why deal with people who believe our happiness threatens theirs? Better we should work on converting the apathetic to our cause.

One of the advantages of gay relationships at this time in history is we get to define our relationships, whether or not we do so under the banner of marriage. There is no such thing as a "proper" gay marriage. A few straight marriages could learn from our freedom.

That gay marriages strengthen the institution instead of harming it should be debated on its own merits. Fundies haven't provided any counter-evidence.

Fundies weren't going to support federal civil unions. They're not going to support this bundling either.

Deputized gender police

I've written about blogger Terrence Heath a few times. One of the things he's done is written a series of articles he calls The LGBT Hate Crimes Project. Terrence knew he needed to write about Larry King, but the prospect scared him, even as the one year anniversary of King's death passed by. It took him a while to realize why -- his experiences in middle school were way too close of those that ended in King's death.

Terrence, like Larry, came out in middle school. In Terrence's case, he said it was because it was so obvious there was no reason not to. He was getting bullied anyway. His teachers looked the other way. His parents suggested he read Leviticus. His only way to fight back -- having no place to hide and not being a star in sports -- was to flirt with his tormenters. Throwing gas on the fire? Perhaps, but the only alternative was to simply take it.

A big part of the problem is the long schoolyard tradition of policing gender. Kids are naturally conservative -- they learn how the world is supposed to be and work hard to make things fit. Dan Savage wrote about that problem in The Commitment (highly recommended) when he talked to his 6-year-old son about marrying his partner. The boy insisted men only marry women. This policing is strong, pushing many boys away from anything that might put their manhood in question. Alas, these gender police have so much power because adults give it to them. Kids are bullied for all kinds of reasons (like the size of your front teeth). But as gays gain influence these bullies know they've been deputized. They know the adults around them want gay kids to be bullied to make sure the gays stay invisible. The bullies certainly won't be punished for their crimes, and are sometimes even encouraged with a wink and nod. How many coaches terrorize their boys by saying a girl could do better? But even with anti-bullying laws gay kids know the adult and the law may not help. There will be a time when it is just the gay kid and the bully.

Another way these bullies know they've been deputized is that after such incidents as Larry King's murder, a large number, even a large percentage, of stories are about how the gay kid could have escaped bullying by toning it down. Terrence uses this example: being a gay kid and having to "tone it down" is like putting on shoes a size and a half too small and never being allowed to take them off, in spite of the pain.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Documenting and defining America

I had an enjoyable day yesterday, though not quite all I was hoping for. The noontime concert at the WSU music department was cancelled and they didn't even post a note on the venue door. Somehow all the students knew and didn't show…

That meant I was able to get to Part 2 of my day earlier than expected, which was the Detroit Institute of Arts, including member previews for their Norman Rockwell exhibit. More in a moment.

Part 3 was the show at the Hilberry Theatre of Born Yesterday. It's the story of a junk man who has become wealthy through WWII and is now in Washington to buy a senator. The story is actually more about his ditsy blond girlfriend whom he rescued from the chorus line of a Broadway show. He sees she will embarrass him as they move through high society, so he hires a newspaper reporter to make her a bit smarter. Two months later we see that plan works a little bit too well.

The Hilberry troupe has both black and white members, which can lead to some interesting casting decisions. The one black in this show, a woman, didn't play the hotel maid, but the senator's wife. In 1946 there would have been no white senators with a black wife, or at least not without drawing a great deal of comment. But the play offered no such comment. I applaud Hilberry for being color blind in their casting -- better yet of avoiding the easy way out by casting her as the maid -- even as I watch a black woman and thinking she's playing the role of a white woman. It is perhaps good for Detroit audiences to see a black person out of context and the situation taken in stride, showing why should there be anything out of the ordinary in this?

The Norman Rockwell exhibit showed a large number of the artists works (including and beyond the Saturday Evening Post covers) and put him into historical context. At the end were all 322 Post covers stretching over 47 years. First of all, the show demonstrated that Rockwell is a fine artist, especially good at facial expressions. His scenes are understood quickly, showing an instant from a story. It is usually obvious what brought the scene about and how it will probably play out. In that sense, he is a master storyteller.

The historical context first mentioned how Rockwell's art is a product of his time, but also how it shaped how American's view themselves, what it means to be American. One big example is Rockwell's Four Freedoms posters. The ideas came from a F.D. Roosevelt speech in which the president said freedom of speech, of religion, from fear, and from want are universal ideals and should be available around the world. But in portraying the Freedom From Want as a Thanksgiving feast Rockwell made Americans think the Four Freedoms were uniquely American ideals.

Another influence is in children. Rockwell was able to use cuteness and nostalgia to portray an idealized childhood. The exhibit's historical context said that Rockwell influenced early television and most TV families of the 50s and early 60s (and onward, including the Cosby show in the 80s) portrayed kids the same way Rockwell did. That got me wondering, as I stared at yet another cute kid (created for a cereal box), whether the Fundie's claim that everything they do is "for the children" is another Rockwell legacy.

While I come away with a higher appreciation of Rockwell's skills as an artist and storyteller, all that cuteness, white bread wholesomeness, and nostalgia can leave an excessively sweet taste behind. That is why I was pleased to see the second-to-last room of the exhibit (the last room had the 322 Post covers). These were paintings from the 50s and 60s when Rockwell began to be disturbed by institutionalized racism. One of the paintings here was about a young black girl being escorted by US Marshals so she could integrate a school (you can see this image in Rockwell's Wikipedia entry). The other was of two white and one black civil rights workers -- one white man is already down and the other is trying to hold up the black man who has been severely injured. The standing white man is facing the mob (we only see their shadows), knowing he's next. He did more art on racism in the 1960s for Look magazine.

Do we really need to explain the difference between hate and love?

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) got its start tracking violent White Supremacist groups. Alas, it has had to branch out to both tracking hate groups of all sorts and making sure the rest of the country knows they are hate groups. As expected, a few anti-gay and "pro-marriage" groups also made the list, some only recently added.

The Christian Anti-Defamation Commission is miffed that these Christian groups are included. Predictably, they claim that Christian bashing needs to stop. Strangely, they don't say which groups are unfairly labeled.

One would think that a Christian group, one that believes in a bible in which the primary emphasis is on "God is love," would take stock of what they are doing when someone labels them a hate group. The SPLC is clear that there labeling is not because of a disagreement about homosexuality. It is because these groups are "subjecting gays and lesbians to campaigns of personal vilification."

Loving your enemy is hard. I get that. Over eight years I wasn't able to figure out how to love Bush. Even so, there is still a long way between having a disagreement or not being able to love and vilification. And that's what brings about the label of hate and my claim they are not Christian.

Where your education tax dollars go

Back when churches were first upset about the ban of prayer in schools Congress passed the Equal Access Act to make sure bible clubs could form. Funny thing about that law -- it’s the one that gets used to force schools to grant Gay Straight Alliance clubs to meet. Every time this issue has gone to court, the GSA has won. It is also expensive -- recently, a school district paid $326,000 in attorney fees. Isn't our education money better spent actually teaching kids? Sigh.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tyranny of the majority is a part of democracy

Today the Calif. Supremes heard oral arguments about whether the gay marriage ban in the state constitution was proper and should stand. The technical issue for them to decide is whether the ban is an amendment or whether it is a fundamental revision, requiring a much more stringent approval process than a simple voter majority. Of course, it is never that simple, and arguments to the court didn't restrict themselves to that point. Along with that question is whether the 18 thousand existing same-sex marriages will stand or whether they will devolve back to being domestic partnerships.

The justices now have 90 days to publish their ruling. In the meantime there is lots of speculation based on how justices acted during today's questioning. And the general consensus is: It doesn't look good.

The L.A. Times reported that the ruling could come as early as tomorrow. The paper claims the ruling has been written (perhaps standard practice?) and oral arguments will only result in tweaking the details. That could be to do such things as to specifically address some of the points brought up during orals. The justices may have even officially voted on the ruling. The guess is that the ban will be upheld, yet the existing gay marriages will be allowed to remain.

The court activities brought out large and large numbers of demonstrations across the state last night. There was even a jumbotron set up outside the courthouse so that a crowd could watch the proceedings. It was also netcast, but I didn't watch.

The reason why it appears to not look good is based on the actions of one justice. Justice Joyce Kennard voted for permitting gay marriage last year (in a 4 to 3 decision), but when the issue of overturning the ban came before the justices she voted against hearing the case. That tags her as a swing vote. At today's hearing she seemed "aggressive" towards those challenging the ban. The difference appears to be that in both cases she was following the constitution and this year the constitution is different because of the amendment. She said that gays were not left with nothing. They still have a bundle of rights under California's domestic partnership laws. And gays have the right to present a canceling amendment of their own for voter approval. She said the court must choose between "two rights … the inalienable right to marry and the right of the people to change the constitution as they see fit. And what I'm picking up from the oral argument in this case is this court should willy-nilly disregard the will of the people." Willy-nilly?

Only two justices gave a definite impression of overturning the ban.

Chief Justice Roland George zeroed in on the crux of the argument. The original question of amendment or revision is because the authors of the Calif. constitution knew some things should not be subjected to the tyranny of the majority, unless you had a really big majority and took the effort to go through extra hoops. So much of the argument was about how far tyranny of the majority can go. Put another way, does that amendment/revision clause have meaning and under what circumstances must it be invoked? Or is it in the constitution only for show? The Michigan Supremes determined that the gay marriage ban also bans domestic partner benefits because they are similar to marriage and, by golly, those extra words in the constitution are there for a reason and we're going to enforce them. It is now time for the Calif. Supremes to make the same kind of decision.

So Justice George debated Ken Starr (yes that Ken Starr, the one of Monica Lewinsky fame) who presented the bigot side of things. Starr claims that voters have the right to amend the constitution with a simple majority any way they want, including over "things that tug at the equality principle." George asks, what about if we were voting on whether gays have no right to adopt or form families? Starr says yes. How about whether we were voting on removing the right to free speech? Starr says yes. Scary dude. George didn't ask what if the vote was to ban your marriage? Or your right to adopt?

Alas, there are many people who believe as Starr does, even about free speech. If the majority wants to impose some tyranny on some minority then, by golly, this is a democracy and that's how we do things. Which means there is no such thing as a universal human right. All you need is to convince enough of your pals to impose whatever you want. Leading up to this debate many progressives were making this very point. If that "revision" clause means nothing (and it might not), then the rights of immigrants, blacks, Latinos, and any other bogeyman the majority wants to conjure are subject to the whims and bigotry of the majority.

Justice Ming Chin went back to an argument in last year's ruling. The justices said we are required by equal protection clauses to make gays and straights equal in terms of the fundamental right of marriage. It would be difficult to not allow straights to use the term marriage, so we have to give it to gays, too. Now with the ban in place, we can't give that word to gays, so Chin asks perhaps we should take that word away from straights? The state would recognize domestic partnerships for everyone and religious institutions could do whatever they wanted with marriage. Ken Starr did not like that idea.

Justice Chin didn't say (but others caught) that his remedy has consequences. If Calif. recognizes no marriages, what does one check on their federal income tax forms? Will that prompt a hasty repeal of federal Defense of Marriage? Perhaps a hasty repeal of the marriage ban? Perhaps a law that says "A Calif. domestic partnership is the same as marriage everywhere else." Perhaps justices who like this idea would be recalled?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Is the blowback worth it?

Several couples and widowers are being represented by the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Massachusetts in filing a suit to overturn the small part of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay marriages. It would not challenge the part that allows other states to refuse to recognize such marriages. At the moment, this only affects marriages in Mass. and Connecticut. The case will eventually get to the Supremes.

This, of course, leads to a big debate: Even though couples in Mass. will be ahead, is the blowback in other states worth the risk? This is a big issue with gay rights groups in North Carolina, the only southern state without a marriage protection amendment and where a bill for such an amendment has been submitted yet again (3rd time?). Will most of the South have to wait until the Supremes rule? Is it safe to put the issue before the Supremes -- are we sure of a win? Should Mass. widowers have to suffer the lack of their dead partner's Social Security pension because the rest of the country is so backward? Are gays in Mass. focused only on themselves or will they help when the blowback hits NC? Are lawsuits the best way forward or should we spend more effort getting the hearts and minds of the people ready for gay marriage? If not now, when? There will be blowback for many years. Obama has said he will repeal DOMA. Should we wait for him to do it?

Fabricated out of thin air

A book as been written about how the military came up with the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that Clinton signed in the early 1990s. It is an important book now that legislation has just been introduced to replace DADT with a law banning discrimination in the military based on sexual orientation. Apparently, it wasn't just a beast from Congress, senior military also had a hand in it. The short version: they freaked and let their prejudices rule over sound policy and sound psychology. Some aspects of the long answer:

The claim that gays in the military would ruin unit cohesion was fabricated out of thin air. It was used because they couldn't say their objection was due to religious and cultural bias. Put another way, straight soldiers had a "moral right" to not serve with open gays.

There was no empirical study that would indicate what would really happen. Many in the Military Working Group weren't sure what "sexual orientation" really meant.

Hearings into the policy were rigged -- no one in favor of allowing gays to serve openly were allowed to testify.

Military culture has a component of homoerotic desire. Refusing to allow gays to serve openly was to repress that desire. Note that gays were allowed to serve -- but not openly.

Some of the testimony was "passing the buck" -- senior military claiming that the ban was necessary because fresh recruits wouldn't serve with gays. That may not have been true in the 1990s and certainly isn't true today when younger people are a lot more accepting of gays than their elders.