Friday, May 31, 2013

Responding to power

This post was written May 31, 2013. It was expanded November 1, 2013 and March 29, 2014.

I have been referring to my explanation of Powers and how they oppress and doing that a lot lately. Because I'm doing it so much I thought I should create a post that is a much clearer description, that also includes some of what I've been thinking in the last year.

I'll start with a definition: A Power is a person or institution that uses a system of control. Most of the time the Power uses that control to oppress others.

A person (or institution) becomes a Power because:
* He (or she or it) is after power or control.

* He feels threatened.

* He has a privilege and feels that privilege is threatened. This describes many who are freaked out by a black man in the White House.

* He feels oppressed by another group and to counter that feeling oppresses others in return. An example of this point is the poor Southern white worker who is oppressed and who takes it out on black people. "I may have it bad but at least I'm better than they are."
The powerful maintains his Power through:
* Projecting power through laws. Break our laws and you will face our violence. That includes getting laws passed that reinforce the Power. Of course, not all laws are a projection of power: Traffic could get rather nasty if we didn't all obey traffic lights. Some laws limit oppression, such as the ones that demand full disclosure of mortgage forms.

* Making sure that others are unable to challenge that power. This is why public schools are now routinely underfunded. An uneducated person is unable to challenge the Power.

* Oppressing a target group, those that don't "know their place." That includes anyone who doesn't recognize and affirm the Power. The oppression is done through violence. There are four different kinds.
* Mental violence. This is done through several means:
* Convincing the oppressed they are supposed to be oppressed.

* Continuously humiliating the oppressed. This was the tactic of Jim Crow.

* Praising obedience to Power. This is the point of the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac in the Bible.

* Keeping people fearful of various threats so the people will look at the oppressor as protector (the current GOP is very good at this). This includes fear of immigrants, fear of those scary Muslims, fear of gay people, fear of blacks, fear of Saddam's (or Iran's, or Syria's) weapons of mass destruction.

* Use fear to force others to join in the oppression so they are equally guilty.
* Physical violence. This one is straightforward -- actual bodily harm. Sometimes the threat of harm is enough. Lynchings in the South were this type of oppression. Bullying is a combination of physical and mental violence.

* Economic violence. Impoverishment accomplishes two goals. The first is punishment for not knowing your place. The second is to prevent a challenge to the Power.

* Spiritual violence. Yes, the church can act like a Power. They do that every time they say, "Do as we say or you won't be allowed into heaven." I've seen many examples of people so worried about their own place in heaven that they'll use spiritual violence against someone else. I see that every week at the Ruth Ellis Center where gay kids are thrown out of the family because their parents believe their religion is telling them to do so. The church uses spiritual violence against the parents, who in turn use spiritual (or physical) violence against the child.
* Making government appear, or perhaps be, incompetent so that the oppressed will no longer trust it to represent them. A well functioning and responsive government has enough strength to counter a grab for Power. An incompetent or dismantled government cannot. Yes, that means a Power is both using government to reinforce its Power and dismantling government to prevent the oppressed from seeking justice.

* Enlisting a third party to support the oppression. I'll give you these benefits if you let us oppress or take part in the oppression Here are some examples:
* I'll let you have low prices on fruits and vegetables if you let me oppress migrant farm workers.

* I'll give you better stock dividends or higher stock prices if you let me bust the union.

* I'll donate significant amounts to your campaign fund if you enact laws to legalize my oppression of the poor.

* An example from the movie The Help: I'll let you join my high society club if you oppress your black servants.
This enlistment to support oppression is so pervasive and unnoticed that the only way to avoid it is to be poor. I summarize one of George Baldwin's points this way: Unless you are poor you have a financial interest in maintaining oppression of the poor.

Charity that provides food, clothing, and shelter for the poor is good, but is of limited help. It does see an oppressed person through a period of difficulty. But there are two major drawbacks to charity.
* Charity cannot replace justice.

* Charity allows the giver to believe he or she has done enough, leaving the oppression in place.
Consider this scenario: We see a line of victims struggling in a raging river. We can use a boat to take food out to feed them. We can also pull the victims out of the water and dry them off. And we can find the Power who is throwing them in the river and convince him to stop. Charity is the first step. Challenging Power is the second and third.

It is possible to respond to a Power, to make them stop (or at least lessen) their oppression. Our own mental health and the health of our communities demand a response. The response has these components.
* It must focus on liberation, in freeing the oppressed from the belief that they are supposed to be oppressed.

* It must be non-violent. Powers know violence and can out-violence any who are oppressed. I saw this in the movie Les Miserables. The students, who see evidence of oppression, create a barricade and man it with guns. The French Army (under the command of the oppressive government) simply pulls out bigger guns. Yes, Gandhi and Martin Luther King are right.

* The end of oppression must have justice as the goal. It must not aim for victory (and certainly not vanquishment) over the Power. A victory will only replace one Power with another.

* It must focus on grace, freely giving and receiving love, inviting everyone into the community. Only that will make the Power not feel threatened.
This response to Power is strong enough to liberate even the oppressor. Even so, be ready. The Power will likely respond with violence.

Nudging the conversation

I don't listen to the NPR show This American Life hosted by Ira Glass. The stories just don't resonate with me. But the promos for this one caught my attention. It is about how the debate in climate change is being nudged from the long-term stalemate.

In the first part we hear about Nolan Doesken, the State Climatologist for Colorado. Up to this year he had been able to say all the strange and extreme weather could be attributed to "variability" -- and he could name the year when something similar happened. But this year's early spring, summer heat, and drought convinced him that there might be something to this climate change stuff. Even so, he has been quite reluctant to say so as part of his job because so many of his clients -- the state's farmers -- are either skeptics or depend on the climate not changing. He saw no use in alienating them. However, in his annual address in January he did -- briefly -- talk about it. And he has been a bit bolder since then. The extreme weather of 2012 has finally permitted him to talk about it -- or has permitted his clients to listen.

Chapter two is about Bob Inglis, who makes it safe for Republicans to talk about climate change. He was a GOP representative from South Carolina and lost in the Tea Party wave of 2010 -- by 71%. Now he spends his time talking about the issue that got him defeated. Liberals, with data on their side, tend to overplay their hand -- soccer moms in SUVs are bad people (or so it seems by conservatives). But Inglis comes at it from the conservative point of view. He is targeting the difference between the 40% of GOP voters who believe climate change is real and 0% of GOP lawmakers willing to vote for it. Yeah, some are afraid of defying the orthodoxy even though they agree with the voters. One of his central messages is to tax pollution, something that is bad, and reduce taxes on other things such as income. Alas, at public events his crowds tend to be liberal -- waiting to hear a conservative say conservatives are wrong.

For the third part we turn to the Democratic side. Bill McKibben is trying to energize the progressive message, which has become too quiet. People are to ambivalent about going green because they like such things as cheap airfare. To change the debate, he says, there must be an enemy. And he has one: oil and coal companies. Now he works to organize an army against that enemy. If the earth's temperature rises two degrees (Celsius) we're screwed. At the current rate we produce enough CO2 to raise those two degrees in 14 years. The coal and oil companies have enough reserves (still in the ground), that if it were used, would pump out five times the CO2 needed to raise the temp by two degrees. And financial markets have priced the stock with the expectation that all those reserves will be brought to market. That's enough to brand them as enemies. Just like cigarette companies and those that invested in apartheid South Africa. McKibben is working to rouse college students to ask their administration to divest from oil and coal companies. But colleges are reluctant to actually do it, giving students a runaround, while praising them for bringing the issue to their attention. They say, "Want us to act? Make us. Be a nuisance." Even a few students making noise can shift the public perception.

A step forward, a step back

Every two years I've been attending a Convocation put on by Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization that is working to make the United Methodist Church more gay-friendly. The next Convo is Labor Day weekend this year to be held in Maryland outside Washington, DC. This is the first time Convo will be held in a state that has marriage equality (though it didn't when the site was chosen). Event organizers will take advantage of that. They will offer wedding ceremonies, complete with presiding pastors, for attending couples who, according to their home pastor, are ready for marriage. This includes having taken a marriage preparation course (which UMC pastors may do, they just can't perform the ceremony). Organizers say this is not a part of the regular program, so the entire assembly may not witness their happy moment (but wouldn't you want 700 people cheering wildly that your wedding is even possible?).

Back in 1999 oil company Exxon bought out Mobil and became ExxonMobil. As part of the deal the domestic partner benefits that Mobil employees enjoyed were canceled. That gave the new company a negative score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index (most other oil companies have scores around 85 out of 100). As has happened every year since then proposals for gay equality have been presented at the annual shareholder meeting and rejected. This year the vote was 81% against us, our worst showing yet. Whoever owns ExxonMobil stock really doesn't like us and wants their corporation to remain stuck in the middle of the last century.

At the start of the week I wrote about the presentation that Jim Harrington gave about just war and peace as justice. I remembered one more detail that is important. As a part of describing peace as justice I wrote:
People have a fundamental right to life, food, shelter, health care, education, and employment.
Harrington says the wars being fought today are about those issues, not about religion. Deal with those issues and the need for war subsides.

This is the end of the legislative session in Illinois and -- alas -- the marriage equality bill did not come up for a vote in the House. It had already passed the Senate. The bill's sponsor said he would only call for a vote if he had the 60 needed to pass, and he doesn't. Not yet. A few members said they will be holding conversations in their districts and expect to be able to vote yes when the legislature reconvenes in November. Maybe you can enjoy Chicago at Christmas.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Funding science

A year ago a nasty "study" was released claiming to prove that gays were bad parents. It was quickly debunked. It is back in the news because all that debunking prompted the editor of the journal in which it appeared to audit how the paper was approved for publication. The auditor, a member of the journal's editorial board, found huge conflicts of interest with the paper's reviewers, problems with the paper's funding source (a Fundie institute), and suspicious rush to publication. I'll let you read the details.

But there are two things to note:

The first is that the auditor sees two chilling developments: (1) Congress is discussing they might cut the entire social science budget of the National Science Foundation. That means the gov't won't be able to fund research into social sciences. And (2) the funding for such research by Fundie institutes is increasing. As in the case above, such "research" will likely have a conclusion before study begins. Meaning it is science that pushes an agenda and may be the only source of funding for such work.

The second thing to note is in how that original flawed study is being used. We know it was published in time to be used in last fall's marriage equality battles and as "research" for the cases before the Supremes. Commenter (and gadfly on this case) Straight Grandmother reports the study has also been used against us in Puerto Rico, France, Belize, Jamaica, and Croatia.

Losing prime leadership material

I'm home from Austin, arriving yesterday evening. Though there were quiet moments where nothing much seemed to happen, there were lots of moments that made the trip worthwhile. The wedding reception (for my nephew) was fun though not many such events start at 4:00 and are all wrapped up by 9:00. But when there are a slew of young kids partying must end before bedtime. The Memorial Day cookout was also fun, with 35 people (at least by my count) attending. There were also great visits with individual families, though not enough of them. And, yes, we (the bachelor party) saw the new Star Trek movie. Nice to see the characters again, some great and funny lines, and a movie that was incredibly violent.

Now to catch up on the news of the last week:

The big news came the day after I went to Austin. The voting members of the Boy Scouts of America approved, by 61%, the lifting of the ban on gay scouts. That is half the battle -- gay leaders are still banned. That means once a gay kid, even if he earns his Eagle, is tossed out once he turns 18. Prime leadership material lost. And an emotional blow to the kid.

The states with the highest percentage of gay couples who are raising children are in states that ban gay marriage. The highest is Mississippi with 26% of gay couples raising kinds. Wouldn't we expect the opposite -- gay friendly states having more gay couples with children?

Gary Gates, the researcher at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, thinks he has an explanation. In conservative states, gays tried (felt pressured into) a straight marriage, had kids, then came out as gay. They're raising kids from the failed straight marriage.

There was lots of stories written about Jason Collins as the first openly gay man in the big professional sports. One little detail -- he's between teams and hasn't actually played since his announcement (and his sport doesn't resume until the fall).

That left the door wide open for Robbie Rogers. After declaring he is gay he participated with the LA Galaxy against the Seattle Sounders in Major League Soccer. Thus he is the first to play after announcing he is gay.

Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin looks at the latest nonsense coming from Maggie Gallagher, formerly a spokesperson for the National Organization for Marriage. And yes, Tisinai is very good at pointing out the nonsense. Her arguments purposefully confuse these two statements:
1. Responsible procreation is an important reason for marriage.
2. Responsible procreation is the only important reason for marriage.
Gallagher says #1 and then proceeds as if she has proven #2. Then she goes on to give reassuring noise to those who agree with her but don't look closely.

Timothy Kincaid responds by simplifying the Fundie argument: Marriage is permission to have sex. Fundies are so up in arms over marriage equality because that would give gay couples permission to have sex.

And news of today. Four Democratic state senators in Michigan have introduced a series of bills to repeal the gay marriage ban that was added to the state constitution in 2004 and to legalize marriage equality. The part about repealing the amendment would have to go before voters. Alas, since the senate has a clear GOP majority, these bills aren't expected to go far (perhaps you can annoy your senator?).

I'm not at all surprised that Gov. Rick Snyder refused to express an opinion about the bills. He's too focused on "jobs and kids." And not doing all that well with either.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Loud, thundering, irritating voices

While here in Austin I attended Trinity United Methodist Church for their morning service. I found it because it is a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network. Several UMC churches around the University of Texas are gay-friendly.

This church is small. As I approached it I passed a big Baptist Church, big enough that it built a parking structure.

We met in the social hall because the air conditioning system for the sanctuary wasn't working. The replacement unit had been delivered, but there was too much rain last Friday (yeah, in Austin) to get it installed. There were about 60 in the congregation and the service had a laid back style. Music was provided by piano, a few guitars, and a harmonica.

The sections of the service were titled in the bulletin with such things as “befriending creation,” “befriending letting go,” “befriending creativity” and “befriending compassion.” The speaker was Jim Harrington, a human rights attorney with nearly 4 decades of experience. He has done lots of work advocating for the poor and set up a pro bono legal clinic for them. Harrington said that Memorial Day is a good time to honor our servicemenbers and also to question war. Here is a summary of what he said. I couldn't take notes during the service, so asked if his ideas were online. He gave me his speaking notes.

Yes, it is appropriate to honor and commemorate those who have protected our country. Harrington told the stories of his father, uncle, and grandfather who served our country. But as we honor them and others who serve we should consider our country's propensity for war and whether those wars have been just. “To the living, we owe our respect. To the dead, we owe the truth.”

Harrington listed what makes a just war.

A war is just if it is waged for self-defense against imminent aggression or a massive violation of a population's basic human rights (such as genocide). This is about protecting human life, It is not about capturing things, material gain, maintaining economies, or punishing people who have done wrong.

A just war is last resort, self-defense, and not pre-emptive, and is waged after exhausting all peaceful alternatives. War must not be directed towards non-combatants caught in circumstances they did not create. Fighting must use minimum force to limit excessive and unnecessary death and destruction. Methods should not include mass rape or weapons whose effects cannot be controlled, such as nuclear or biological weapons.

The Iraq war was not just. Afghanistan was probably excessive and disproportionate. Several other war through history have been unjust.

Obama recently discussed his drone policy. For the first time a president discussed concepts of a just war. Whether or not he actually follows them is another question.

Harrington then turned his discussion to peace. There is no peace without justice. There are some principles of social justice.

All people are sacred. They do not lose dignity because of disability, poverty, age, lack of success, or race. People are more important than things.

Our dignity and right are in relationship with our community.

People have a fundamental right to life, food, shelter, health care, education, and employment. All have a right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. With that we have duties and responsibilities to respect the rights of others and to work for the common good.

The moral test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members and the poor have the most urgent moral clam on the conscience of the nation. Public policy decisions should consider how those policies affect the poor.

People have a right to decent and productive work at fair wages with economic initiative. The economy exists to serve the people.

We are one human family. Our responsibilities to each other cross national, racial, economic, and ideological differences.

We are called to care for creation, be stewards and trustees, not just consumers and users.

The church is amazingly quiet on these issues of war and justice. We should be the loud, thundering, irritating voices like Isaiah, Micah, and Jesus. But believing and talking is not doing. We are called to do. Are we up to it?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Leaving on a jet plane

I leave for Austin, Texas Wednesday morning and may not have time to write tomorrow. I'll be flying with my parents to attend a nephew's wedding. The bachelor party will be to attend the new Star Trek movie. I'll be gone a week.

I'll be taking my netbook computer, so may post during the trip. However, I doubt I'll report much on gay news.

First feel of summer

I guess the Detroit area has entered summer. Temperatures above 80F and much of the week will be cloudy with afternoon thunderstorms. Such storms passed over Michigan this afternoon, though they missed Detroit.

Early summer flowers are in bloom around the yard. There is wisteria.

And spirea.

A storm surge in Detroit

Detroit Eviction Defense held a meeting today. They invited representatives from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to tour Detroit and then meet with homeowners to see firsthand what their policies are doing to the city. Late last week those representatives backed out, saying meeting with homeowners would be "awkward." How's that for an understatement! The meeting proceeded with empty chairs representing the mortgage backers and cameramen were there to film the proceedings to be delivered to Fannie Mae officials.

The crowd was a respectable size, perhaps a hundred or two. I didn't count.

The speakers were homeowners, community organizers, and legal defense workers. Each was given 5 minutes to tell a piece of the story. I didn't stay for the whole two hours because I had an evening bell rehearsal. Here is some of what I heard:

Organizer: This battle cannot be won in courts -- most of the time the courts side with the banks. This battle must be waged in the streets.

Homeowner: He told the story of waking up one morning to find a Dumpster outside his house. He's still there and still battling.

Housing counselor: What happens when the eviction goes through? The owner is forbidden to buy it back. It sits empty. It is given to the city for demolition. That has happened to 10,000 homes so far. That costs the city $6-10 million in demolition. That amount could have paid for 3,000 mortgages. The city loses tax base, surrounding owners lose property value. Alternately, the house is sold to an "investor" at a rock-bottom price who works to flip it or find renters.

Homeowner representative: The bank was incompetent, the owner defiant. This was a call to fight and a call to unity.

Attorney: Banks are notorious for asking for documentation many times -- We can't find page six, gosh now page 10 is missing -- sometimes over 20 requests for documents. Why so clumsy with documents? Because every time a bank reviews a mortgage (not when they approve a modification), they collect a fee. Lose a document 20 times you have to review that mortgage 20 times and collect 20 fees. You say this fight doesn't concern you? Check your property value lately?

Homeowner: Lost job and asked for modification. Worked through a HUD counselor. Got the runaround from Bank of America -- got to know every service center across the country and each one told a different story. Was given a preliminary reduction, but because payments were not made "in full" each payment dinged her credit rating, trashing it.

Homeowner: Hit with a devastating illness (now recovered), and asked the bank for a reduction. He got to the point that when he called the bank he would almost immediately ask for the vice president. That still didn't help. He's still fighting.

Legal service counselor: Those "investors" that buy blocks of foreclosed homes -- when they sell the contract is usually fraudulent. If not, the house is rented to people who don't have a stake in its upkeep and the investor becomes an absentee landlord. Fannie Mae is pretty consistent in refusing to help homeowners -- even when they say how much help they are offering. Fannie Mae and the banks would rather spend tens of thousands to evict and demolish than to modify the loan. Fannie claims that they are afraid that people will simply walk away from their homes. This counselor says that everyone she meets is doing all they can to keep their homes.

Legal service counselor: She is puzzled why Fannie thinks their current mode of operation makes financial sense. Fannie spends huge amounts of money to evict -- sometimes using the services of five different legal firms. Then they make zero money on the sale of the house. That means the taxpayer is making up the difference.

Homeowner/organizer: There are a lot of reports that the foreclosure crisis is over. They're false.

Community organizer: There are about 1000 homes in her section of Detroit. It used to be enough well off that when homes sold, which wasn't often, a buyer was usually found before the house officially went on the market. No more. Now 80-100 houses are vacant at a time. Foreclosure shreds the neighborhood. evicted homeowners leave. That's one less customer for area businesses, and many of those soon close. Banks don't maintain the homes, so community organizations try to do that but that takes money and effort. It becomes impossible when it is 10% of the neighborhood. The whole community loses value.

Homeowner: I refuse to be faceless. Help me to stand up to bullies.

I was given a 12 page booklet titled A Hurricane Without Water. It describes the situation in a way that is easily understood. A few tidbits:

Fannie May and Freddie Mac are responsible for 16,000 foreclosures in Wayne County since 2008 with thousands more in Oakland and Macomb counties. Foreclosure rate in Detroit is triple the national average. Of the 70,000 foreclosed homes in Detroit, 45,000 are still vacant.

Fannie and Freddie offered foreclosure moratoriums to victims of Hurricane Sandy. Detroit has been hit even harder. We should also have a moratorium.

Marriage equality is a health issue

Morning Edition on NPR this morning had a segment on mental health of gay and lesbians in states that passed marriage protection amendments. Just before a slew of states passed gay marriage bans in 2004 the NIH conducted a huge mental health survey. After more bans were enacted in 2005 the NIH revisited most of the same people. Gays in states with newly enacted marriage bans had a huge increase -- more than double -- in psychiatric disorders, most of them associated with stress. That didn't happen with straight couples or with gays in states that didn't enact the ban. Social policies are health policies.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Extending the rainbow

Revolution Church in Minneapolis is so excited about the approval of gay marriage that they served rainbow colored communion bread.

Recipe here.

The ditch of partisan politics

In another column for the Free Press, Brian Dickerson discusses recent comments from former Michigan Supreme Court justices. Both say the court is unacceptably partisan.

Before the justices spoke, retiring justice Marilyn Kelly and US Court of Appeals judge Jim Ryan issued a report about the court's partisanship, how alarming that is, and urged a slate of reforms, including a new way to nominate justices. The current method is nomination by the political parties (along with campaign funding), for a "non-partisan" race.

The first justice to speak is Elizabeth Weaver, GOP appointee, who left the court in 2010. She wrote a 750 page book (well, the manuscript is that long) documenting just how partisan the court is, and what should be done about it.

The other voice is Chief Justice Thomas Brennan, also GOP. He left the court in 1973 to become the first dean of the Thomas E. Cooley Law School. His attack came a few weeks ago at the 25th anniversary of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society. He called for the passage of the Ryan-Kelly recommendations, saying "It is time for the Supreme Court to dig itself out of the ditch of partisan politics."

Alas, neither Gov. Snyder, whose campaign theme was "Reinvent Michigan" nor the GOP controlled legislature show a whole lot of interest in taking up the reforms.

It's time, Michigan

Yes! In a big article centered on the front of the News+Views section (as in only page 1A is more prominent), Brian Dickerson, editorial columnist for the Free Press, wrote that same-sex marriage should be a no-brainer for Michigan. His reasons:

* In the nine years since the marriage protection amendment was passed, the approve-disapprove percentages have flipped. He quoted the recent Glengariff Group poll that says voters back gay marriage by a 57%-38% margin. This poll is consistent with other recent polls.

* The state's "constitutional ban is repelling the professionals and college-educated residents [Gov.] Snyder seeks to attract."

* A "54% majority of GOP voters younger than 40 support it."

Sigh. He doesn't list love as one of his reasons. Even so…

Yeah, the legislature is trying to do as much anti-gay mischief as possible and Dickerson notes a "ballot initiative [in 2014] could pose a political challenge for Snyder and other Republican candidates walking the tightrope between growing majority of Michiganders who support same-sex marriage and the dwindling-but-still-significant number of GOP voters who continue to oppose it." And if it is on the ballot sidestepping the issue will be difficult for GOP candidates.

There are three possible routes to gay marriage in Michigan. The first is a ruling by the US Supremes in June, possible but not likely. The second is a case, currently on hold, that may declare the marriage protection amendment to be unconstitutional. And the third is getting it on the ballot in 2014.

"The question is whether Snyder and his fellow Republicans will elect to participate in that historic sea change -- or stand agape as it washes over them."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Every so often procrastination pays off

Back at the end of January Newsweek discontinued its print edition. I could still access the subscriber's version online, but I fell behind in my reading. That's because I used to read it at my dining room table and my computer wasn't visible from there and because I do all kinds of other reading on my computer (like gay news).

I checked into the nook, but the one I liked needed Wi-Fi and if I was to get that I might as well use the netbook computer I already have. I did get as far as pricing Wi-Fi routers, but decided not to purchase until after the school year ended. So in the last few weeks I began to think it was about time I completed the deal.

A couple weeks ago Comcast, my network provider, said I needed a new modem, which I rent from them. No big deal, my current one is already the second one they've provided, and the rental fee for the new one would stay the same. They promised faster internet speeds (though with a stodgy computer I wasn't sure I would be able to tell), so I ordered it to be delivered.

Much to my surprise and delight, the modem box includes a Wi-Fi router! It also includes connections to all the other services Comcast supplies, such as phone. So I spent the morning connecting it up (and calling them to initialize it). Then I spent time updating the netbook with new versions of various tools. That meant I could spend part of this afternoon sitting on my porch, netbook in hand, reading a back issue of Newsweek
. I'm glad I didn't buy that separate router.

Friday, May 17, 2013

God and nature seem to forbid them

Back in 1874 Andrew Kinney, a black man, and Mahala Miller, a white woman were living together in Virginia. They already had 3 sons. The couple wanted to avoid the charges of unmarried cohabitation, but couldn't marry in Virginia due to miscegenation laws. So they went to Washington DC for the ceremony.

That didn't protect them from prosecution back in Virginia. The case went all the way to the state Supremes which ruled in the case Kinney v. Commonwealth that:
The purity of public morals, the moral and physical development of both races, and the highest advancement of our cherished southern civilization, under which two distinct races are to work out and accomplish the destiny to which the Almighty has assigned them on this continent—all require that they should be kept distinct and separate, and that connections and alliances so unnatural that God and nature seem to forbid them, should be prohibited by positive law, and be subject to no evasion.
There was a hefty fine and threat of further prosecution. Even so the family stayed in Augusta County, where the 1880 census showed two more sons.

I found this story in the book Tell the Court I Love My Wife: Race, Marriage, and Law -- An American History by Peter Wallenstein. The story starts on page 153. A Google search found the story in Google Books.

The law used against Andrew Kinney didn't fall until 1967 and the famous Loving v. Virginia which struck down all miscegenation laws.

I was prompted to search for that story from a blog posting by Laurel Ramseyer which discusses the friend of the court brief in the Calif. marriage equality case written by Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic. The brief compares the arguments against interracial marriage with those against gay marriage and finds that though the words have changed, the ideas are identical. Those ideas include:

* This type of marriage is a threat to social order and to the institutions of marriage and family.

* This type of marriage is unnatural (this is where I saw the mention of the case above).

* This type of marriage is an offense to God.

* This type of marriage is damaging to children.

Yup, those in favor of traditional marriage are using traditional talking-points, arguments that have been around for about 300 years.

Stories of Beethoven

While in graduate school I took a class in 19th Century classical music. For that class I had to write a term paper and did it on Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. I focused on what the variations might teach a composition student (such as me). As part of the research I found a source that contradicted a detail of a story in the class textbook.

Back in 1819 Anton Diabelli, a publisher in Vienna, wrote a little waltz tune and asked 50 prominent composers to write a variation. He would publish the set as a special edition. Of course, Beethoven was asked. Anton Schindler, whose calling card had the words Friend of Beethoven, told Diabelli the tune was vulgar and Beethoven wasn't interested. But Beethoven changed his mind and in 1823 Beethoven gave to Diabelli a set of 33 variations on that "vulgar" tune.

The second source said that Schindler, a biographer of Beethoven, was (to be kind) notoriously inaccurate. Beethoven was interested from the start and composed a few variations before setting them aside to finish much larger commissions, such as the Missa Solemnis.

So I was quite intrigued when, in 2009, I heard of a new play on Broadway, 33 Variations by Moises Kaufman. News of the play said it was about the creation of the Diabelli Variations as seen through the eyes of a modern female musicologist.

I was finally able to see the play last night at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Mich. The researcher is Katherine who has ALS, but still travels to Bonn to research the origins of the variations, hoping to finish before she dies. There is also the daughter Clara, male nurse Mike (who falls in love with Clara), and Gertie, the German research assistant. Their stories are intermingled with those of Beethoven, Schindler, and Diabelli.

The show was, of course, very well done, though a few things grated in my ear -- hearing about seeing the woods where Beethoven wandered on the flight from New York to Bonn (weren't those woods outside Vienna?) and not pronouncing the "w" in Ludwig as a "v" as the Germans would have done. I paid particular attention to whether Katherine's research dealt with the discrepancy I noted above. My biggest complaint (though still small) was the squishy analysis of the music -- from the way Beethoven did such-and-so we see that the great man wanted us to learn this little lesson about life. That was in contrast to some rather cool scenes, such as the end of Act 1 where Katherine, Clara, Mike, and Gertie are arguing and Beethoven, Schindler, and Diabelli are arguing all on stage together with rapid dialogue cuts between the two sets of characters and the arguments carrying identical phrases. I thought it would make a great opera ensemble moment.

Overall, I thought the play and production were quite theatrical emphasizing to great effect the things that a play can do.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Growing support at home

The I-35 bridge across the Mississippi in Minneapolis is sporting some cool new lighting.

The Detroit News has a front page article on a new poll taken in the state of Michigan. Support for same-sex marriage is now at 56.8%. 54% are willing to vote for a repeal of the amendment that bans marriage equality and replace it with an amendment permitting marriage equality. That's quite a contrast to 2004 when the ban was voted in with 59%.

That report has left commenters questioning the accuracy of the polls. Michigan has a legislature dominated by the GOP who are enacting anti-gay measures every chance they get. Other commenters note the difference between statewide votes and polls and votes in gerrymandered districts.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Matt Baume of Americans for Equal Rights puts out a weekly update on marriage equality. I rarely watch to the 2 minute video because it seems he's covering news I've already heard. But this time he looks a bit into the future. Minnesota gets proper praise. Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, New Mexico, and (long term) Nevada may act soon. There appears to be movement in Ohio and Pennsylvania. But then who?

Alas, 30 states have constitutional amendments we must remove. And those take a lot more work, time, and money to repeal. It could be a while before those start to fall.

Unless the Supremes short-circuit the process…

Michelangelo Signorile lists a couple reasons why the win in Minnesota is so sweet. First, this is the home state of Michelle Bachmann, who has built her career on bashing gays. Second, the state was facing a gay marriage ban being placed in the constitution and it didn't look good for our side. And that was only 6 months ago! A sweet byproduct of our win last November was that the overreach by the GOP for putting the proposal on the ballot was one of the reasons why voters flipped both the state House and Senate from GOP to Dem control.

Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones noted that last October we had six states (with DC) with marriage equality. We've now doubled that. What has contributed to that doubling? She says one of the big ones is that the Mormons stayed home. Not a peep out of them in about a year.

The Mormon church has been involved with the marriage issue since it became an issue with Hawaii back in 1996 (need to brush up on gay history?). They were hugely involved in the Calif. marriage ban and were severely criticized for it. That prompted their leadership to distinguish between the appropriateness of gay marriage (still a strong no) and whether they should make it a political issue.

But with the Mormons with their deep pockets and strong organizing skills out of the picture the anti-gay crowd was left with the Catholic Church and the National Organization for Marriage. And NOM was revealed to be incompetent.

The absence of the Mormons had another effect -- it allowed GOP lawmakers, especially in Rhode Island, to vote for equality. That has been crucial to our victories.


Brazil has a National Council of Justice that oversees the country's judicial system. It is headed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The NCJ has said that the gov't offices that issue marriage licenses have "no standing to reject gay couples" and they "affirmed that the expression of homosexuality and homosexual affection cannot serve as a basis for discriminatory treatment, which has no support in the Constitution." And one last bit of the statement: There is no need to wait for the Congress to act.

So all of Brazil now has marriage equality, the 15th country to do so. It has already been true in 14 of 27 states.

The decision can be appealed -- to the Brazilian Supremes. But since the chief justice of the Supremes announced the ruling above it is doubtful an appeal would get far. My source doesn't say if anyone is actually clamoring for an appeal.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Minnesota! You Betcha!

Marriage equality passed the state Senate 37-30. On to the governor's signature. It is the 12th state (but don't forget DC) and the first in the Midwest to get marriage equality through legislation (Iowa did it through court order).

That's three states in three weeks.

Before the vote Chris Colman, mayor of St. Paul, renamed the Wabash Street Bridge as the "Freedom to Marry Bridge" for this week and had it decorated with rainbow flags. One confident dude!

Next up? Maybe Illinois, but a commenter says that legislature is gridlocked on other issues and the session may end before a marriage equality vote could be held. Then we wait for the end of June (only 6 weeks!) to see what the Supremes say about Calif.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Just want him gone

Within two months of Obama's inauguration back in 2009 various GOP members and outspoken conservatives started talking about impeachment. They didn't care which crime Obama supposedly committed (there's been quite a list of possibilities). They had determined he was ruining the country and wanted him gone. Some voices even suggested of impeaching Obama simply as a distraction so the prez. wouldn't be able to do as much damage (apparently simply obstructing his initiatives wasn't enough). They're still looking for the crime.

Rachel Maddow, in a 17 minute segment, lists all the efforts to stir up impeachment. She then dissects the latest effort -- the deaths of embassy personnel in Bengazi. This one has the possibility of a twofer -- damage Hillary prior to 2016 as well as Obama now. But even that effort isn't going well -- Obama has been supplying information as fast as they ask for it so there isn't even a coverup.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Profit and the purpose of prisons

I've written about three areas of society that are incompatible with the profit motive, meaning they should be run government, not privatized. Two of them are education and health care. Sorry, it would be difficult for me to come up with links.

Stephen Henderson, editor of the editorial page of the Free Press, documents why the third area, prisons, should not be privatized. The goal of a prison should not be warehousing inmates, but preparing them for life after prison. A component of that should be community based work to help the inmate adapt to society. And that costs money. Another aspect is justice-based sentencing and parole.

But privatizing prisons would mean such things as skimping on meals (the issue that got Henderson started) which means a released inmate is ill or malnourished, giving him a harder time to reenter society. That's if the prisoners don't riot over food. It also means the company running prisons will push for sentencing guidelines that increase the inmate population, their source of profit. That's counter to justice.

The way to measure prison success is through social and justice measurements. The bottom line won't tell you that. Privatizing prisons works against the worthwhile outcomes.

Heady evening entertainment

Thursday evening I finally saw the movie Quartet. One of my church friends kept telling me I would love it. My verdict: Wonderful to see a movie built around classical music. Many of the secondary characters actually had careers in opera or classical music. Fine performances by the leads (to be expected when Maggie Smith is one of them). Some interesting and quirky characters. And a predictable story -- didn't Mickey Rooney and friends perfect the plot of doing a show to save a beloved institution and having to convince a recalcitrant person to join them and didn't they do that more than a half century ago?

Last evening I went to the Hilberry Theatre to see Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss. When I was an undergrad (um, 37 years ago) I took a class in theater lighting design. So I was part of the lighting crew when the college put on that play. It seems we had one too many people in the class because I had to be there for every show but didn't have all that much to do other than watch it.

Alas, I didn't remember much of it and this interpretation was quite different from what the college had done. This one even had singers. The play-within-a-play tells the story of Jean-Paul Marat, one of the firebrand writers behind the French Revolution. Many of his ideas eventually evolved into socialism. The author put him together with the Marquis de Sade, whose name became the root of sadism. So we have the peasants demanding Marat give them their rights, Marat expounding on how to overthrow the powers of the time and what kind of society could be the replacement, and de Sade poking holes in Marat's thinking. To make it even more interesting all the characters of the interior play are played by residents of an insane asylum. The exception is de Sade, who is directing the play (and apparently wading into the midst of it). A heady brew for an evening's entertainment.

One thing the de Sade character said stuck with me. It is a criticism of socialism (or perhaps of communism). Suppose you have a society in which everyone is doing a job they love (I guess one of the ideas of socialism). What happens if a worker aspires to better him or herself? Does he hit a ceiling beyond which there is no advancement? Do leaders or administrators have to force him back into place?

Ultimate reality TV

Last weekend I attended a rally about how banks are draining money out of Detroit. The local newspaper Metro Times has a fine article about the event. It explains the situation a lot better than I could.

A nonprofit organization in the Netherlands with the name Mars One has invited people to apply for a pretty nifty job: be colonists on Mars. It took only a few days for them to get 78,000 applications. How are they planning to fund the whole thing? Treat it as the ultimate Reality TV show. As someone who has had a life-long love of science fiction my mind rebels at the thought.

George Takei narrates a new fun Public Service Announcement for marriage equality. Says Takei:
There is one person living on this street whose orientation threatens to destroy society....Dale looks normal, but he gives off clues of his prejudice with buzzwords like 'pro-family', 'traditional marriage' or .... 'pole smoker'.

Yeah, it's been perhaps two weeks since Congress exempted the FAA from the Sequester budget cuts, ending delays at airports from low staffing of traffic controllers. Terrence Heath wrote about the indifference of lawmakers and included this little quote from Rep. Lee Terry, GOP from Nebraska:
I vote to shift funds to stop FAA furloughs and now U.S. AIR says my plane home is delayed. Oh the irony!
Oh the cluelessness!

Blossoms without maintenance

My bike ride this afternoon was a bit chilly. We didn't quite hit 60F today. The temp will fall into the 30s tonight and frost warnings are posted for tomorrow night. The ride along Hines Drive was quite pretty with so many redbud trees in the park. Yeah, this is Michigan.

The dogwood is also in bloom. Here is the view with me standing between my house and my neighbor's with my dogwood on the left and his red maple on the right.

And a view across my front yard with the blooming kerria beside the house, the dogwood, and with my neighbor's red maple and redbud.

You might think I'm quite the avid gardener. Well, no. Several flowering plants -- wisteria (almost blooming), crabapple, dogwood -- were in place when I moved in. Others, like the forsythia and coming spirea, need very little maintenance. And the trimming that happens is done by the guy that does all the yard work.

Yeah, I'm glad all those plants bloom, and I do so little of the work.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


My afternoon yesterday was interrupted. The power went out. The golf course next door, since it went out of business two years ago, hasn't been maintained. Even when it was, they weren't all that good about removing dead trees. One of those trees fell over on top of a utility pole. That by itself didn't cause the power interruption. It was cut when the crew started cutting the tree down.

The only thing to do was sit on the front porch and read while enjoying the fine weather. I considered using my netbook, but its battery was low. The power came back on a couple hours later, just as I was ready to leave for my time at the Ruth Ellis Center -- after I had opened the garage door by hand.

I'm thankful that when the power was cut the programs I was using had backup versions of what I was working on. Power has been consistently on recently, so I haven't been saving as frequently as I should. But it's not like I didn't have warning the power might be cut -- the crews lounged around the circle in front of my house all morning and by the time they got down to business they had a half-dozen trucks filling the circle.

While I was in the back yard I took a few pictures. The redbud is in bloom.

And the crabapple is too. I'm quite pleased because it doesn't bloom every year (and I have no idea why).

Alas, I missed taking pictures of the azalea and the star magnolia.


Just a few days ago the National Organization for Marriage didn't seem to be all that concerned that Rhode Island passed marriage equality. Even so they were raising money to hold the line at the next state. I commented that NOM had better act fast because Delaware was set to vote.

And so they did. They're the 11th state to approve marriage equality. Now please compare the state flag in this image (then scroll down to the photo of the signing ceremony) with this one.

And Minnesota is hard on Delaware's heels. The House passed the bill 75-59 (it was expected to be the tough chamber). The Senate will take it up perhaps on Monday.

NOM did fight hard in Minnesota last fall, failing to get a gay marriage ban into the state constitution. One can hope with this state voting for equality NOM will no longer be viable.

And Illinois is waiting in the wings.

I had reported that Pat Brady, chair of the GOP in Illinois, supported marriage equality and other GOP leaders tried to oust him and failed. Well, a second attempt succeeded.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Another pastor on trial

At General Conference of the United Methodist Church last year the big prohibitions against gay people were left in place. After that, many (perhaps most or all) of the American bishops said that church trials of pastors who perform same-sex weddings don't help the denomination and they would do all they could to avoid another one.

Alas, another one is coming soon. Rev. Dr. Thomas Ogletree will soon be on trial for performing the wedding ceremony for his gay son. Never mind that Ogletree is 79 and retired. He is the highest profile pastor so charged -- he was the dean of Yale Divinity School and a veteran and scholar of civil rights struggles.

The conservative side says Ogletree fosters confusion of what the church stands for and has undermined the covenant of accountability between pastors. Clarity and accountability are more important than grace, peace, and love? Apparently so.

No need for so much austerity

Back at the start of 2010 a couple economists, Professor Carmen Reinhart and former IMF member Ken Rogoff, published the paper, Growth in the Time of Debt. One of its key conclusions is that:
economic growth slows dramatically when the size of a country's debt rises above 90% of Gross Domestic Product, the overall size of the economy.
Naturally, the 1% were delighted with that finding. It justified forcing drastic cuts in gov't spending (where have I heard that before?). Never mind that such cuts forced austerity on the rest of us to our detriment (just ask a Greek). Cuts now would insure a more robust economy when the debt level dropped.

And the 1% is delighted because smaller gov't means lower tax rate for them (and fewer gov't officials nosing into their business). Besides, they aren't affected by austerity. They don't use gov't services -- public schools, public transit, public parks -- and resent having to pay taxes for them.

As part of his graduate studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Thomas Herndon was given an assignment of replicating the results of a recent economics paper. He chose the big one by Reinhart-Rogoff. But there was a problem -- Herndon couldn't get his numbers to match. Naturally, he figured he goofed somewhere but neither he nor his professors could find the problem.

So Herndon wrote to the authors. They eventually gave him the spreadsheet they used for their calculations. And that's where Herndon found the error (actually more than one). Oops. Three years of legislated austerity based on a sloppy spreadsheet. This article explains it in more detail. And for you diehard researchers, Herndon's paper is here (I didn't read beyond the abstract).

So when a rich person says "We know what's good for you (because it is good for us)," be very skeptical. Especially since the media isn't.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Who to believe?

In some cases, I'm really behind. This article appeared in Newsweek three issues back. I think I read it a week ago and finally getting around to writing about it.

What does North Korea want? B.R. Myers says the goal is to reunite the country under the dictatorship of the North. This is what justifies their huge investment in the military.

After spending so few words to summarize the article, why would I bother to mention it?
I want to ask the question: How do I, a general reader, verify a story like this one? Why should I accept this scenario rather than some other? With the amount of intelligence I have access to I can't answer that question.

I can only contrast that story with another. Though I know this second story was aired on NPR I didn't think to write about it until I read the story above. So I don't have a link.

The NPR piece was also a commentary of North Korea. It said the North's leader was not insane enough to risk his own life (and perhaps those of his inner circle) by actually starting a war with the South and America. Instead, he has found intermittent saber rattling as a good way to extort much needed food for his country from America and the rest of the world. It is a con game that has worked quite well over a few decades.

Which scenario is closer to the truth? For me personally it may not matter. For those where it does matter they have much better intelligence and access to scholars.

Cut business tax, no new jobs

Robert Kleine used to be the Treasurer of Michigan. He wrote a commentary for last Sunday's Free Press (yeah, I'm that far behind). He says reducing business taxes in the state by $1.7 billion hasn't created any new jobs -- which was the reason to pass that bill. His reasons:

* To replace the lost revenue to the state (or most of it) income taxes were raised. That reduced disposable income and lowered demand for goods and services. It is that demand that drives employment.

* Most business sectors aren't sensitive to tax changes. If a flower store moves from Ann Arbor to Indianapolis for better taxes they won't be selling to Ann Arbor residents anymore. And another store will. Taxes do affect manufacturing, but only 18% of the tax relief went to that sector.

* Business taxes are too small to make enough of a difference to influence what a business does.

* The state's job losses at the start of the Great Recession were because the auto industry crashed, not because the tax laws had businesses paying too much.

Let's use the money we now give to businesses to rebuild infrastructure. Gov. Snyder has been calling for increased infrastructure spending but the legislature can't seem to find the money. But spending money on infrastructure will increase jobs.

Deal breaker

The immigration bill is back in the news. Congress has returned from a break and it looks like the Senate takes up immigration next.

When Obama outlined his version of the bill a couple months ago it included gays, specifically that a gay citizen is able to sponsor a non-citizen partner or spouse for a green card. But that small provision is missing from the bill written by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight." Why? Because the GOP has declared that provision to be a deal breaker. Include it and the whole package is dead. That view has been stated by Marco Rubio, the senator of the Gang of Eight who has been quite visible pushing the bill.

The response from some gay rights groups: Really? The GOP is crawling all over this bill to regain standing with Latinos after their disaster last November and a whiff of gay taint is enough to toss away that goal? The GOP hates gays that much? Hey, guys, gay equality is not the hot-button issue you're portraying it to be. Don't blame us for your dysfunction.

Some suspect the GOP is hoping Latinos will blame gays for the failure instead of blaming the GOP. Others note gay inclusion might not matter if the Supremes rule in our favor in June.

Not that big a deal

The marriage equality bill in Rhode Island sailed through its final House vote (getting more yes votes than the first time through). Gov. Lincoln Chaffee had a big signing ceremony on the Capitol steps. The law becomes effective on August 1.

The National Organization for Marriage, the big guys on the anti-gay side have been strangely silent and saying such things as "Rhode Island is not that big a deal." As in what would you expect from a solidly blue state in New England? Also strange, they are not calling down wrath on the various GOP legislatures who voted for equality. They are asking their donors for money to hold the line in the next state. Hurry, Delaware will act soon.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Banks get paid first

Something going on every night this past week. The usual bell choir rehearsals on Monday and Tuesday. Church meeting on Wednesday. On Thursday off to see the simulcast of the taping of the NPR show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me which was a lot of fun (though one ponders those familiar radio voices go with those faces?). And an orchestra concert last night. This morning was another bell rehearsal (concert tomorrow). And a People's Assembly this afternoon. I took notes (I'll have to remember to take pen and paper next time).

The assembly was held at Central United Methodist Church in Detroit. We were welcomed by Ed Rowe who said the meeting was very much the business of the church. I like his concept of church.

The first program host was Debbie Johnson. She characterized the current state of things as a war having been declared by the rich on the poor.

The first speaker was Helen Moore, an attorney and public education advocate. She talked about how education is set up so that "No rich child left behind" -- all others made ready for prison. The Detroit school system has been devastated. When the residents fight back (and win court cases) the law changes and they must start over. She handed out a fact sheet about the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), the current darling of Gov. Rick Snyder. This is a school system created out of the "worst" 15 schools in Detroit and Snyder is hot to take it statewide, to take over failing schools. But, according to the fact sheet, the teachers are inexperienced (those who bother to stay), lesson plans are revised for special needs students without parent consultation, the buildings have a high rate of violence with insufficiently trained staff to counter it, the students aren't learning, and the money to pay for it all is being sucked out of the regular Detroit Public Schools.

Next came Aliya Moore (don't know if related to Helen). She is a mother of a student in one of the more successful Detroit schools and one that serves special needs kids. It is being closed and students sent to nearby schools that are in worse shape and not set up for special needs.

Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman is the pastor of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit. He says that one of the ideas of Milton Friedman was Disaster Capitalism (though Friedman didn't give it that name). A disaster (such as Hurricane Katrina) is an opportunity to impose (perhaps through violence) restructuring on an economy (and you can guess, from Friedman's Libertarian leanings, who that would benefit). Wylie-Kellerman says that conservatives have expanded that idea -- no convenient disaster? Make one. A lot of Detroit's problems are manufactured.

A young man (a lot of people were delighted to see someone young) by the name of B. Anthony works with cooperative economics. He said that banks are a power and that he has been following the money. He finished with a rap on what the banks are doing to us and what we need to do in response. While he (and everyone else) spoke I was thinking about powers as oppressors (something I've been linking to frequently lately).

A young woman with the name At Peace has been working as a youth organizer. Teens are wondering how they fit into the world. She guides them into creating and performing songs as a means of taking charge of their lives and challenging powers. She sang one of those songs.

The second host was Andrea Egypt. She said the city was sucked into a predatory lending deal and city services were offered up as scapegoats.

A generous round of applause welcomed Vanessa Fluker, a people's foreclosure attorney. She reviewed the mortgage disaster -- predatory lending was pushed to minorities in which deals were designed to fail (documented by Sen. Carl Levin). The banks bet against their bad loans, crashing the economy and sending many mortgages underwater. In the deal the gov't worked out to bail out the banks, they get full price of the mortgage (plus fees) only if they foreclose on the house. No wonder there is no incentive to negotiate. These banks then don't pay property tax, they don't keep up the property (many times stripping it), and thereby crash the property values of the neighborhood. Investors buy up these houses for dirt-cheap prices and become landlords. The original residents are ruined. The gov't is perfectly fine with all this, including the judicial system. The solution: Take to the streets first. Then the laws will change.

JoAnn Watson of the Detroit City Council spoke next. She's quite the firebrand. She connected several problems together (I wasn't quick enough to list them all) and said it is all about the same people getting paid. The problem is much bigger than Detroit and much bigger than the current USA government.

Another firebrand and angry speaker was Abayomi Azikiwe. He is angry that the media has ignored that this mortgage mess has driven 237K people from Detroit -- that's one quarter of the population. He is angry that citizens overturned the Emergency Manager law and the legislature promptly reinstated it and made it so we can't overturn it. He is angry because many conservatives claim that workers and people of color are not able to govern themselves, so we had better take that away from them.

Michael Shane is part of the group that used Freedom of Information Act requests to look into Detroit finances. They had to go to court to enforce it and got 3000 pages. They know there is more hidden in the records and are prepared to sue to get the rest. Of course, the office to handle FOIA requests is understaffed. Shane readily admits he doesn't understand all the deals. He is fortunate a union (he wouldn't name which one) and a law firm volunteered services and accounting expertise to explain it all. They're still figuring it out, but what they've seen so far he says shows criminal intent. That law firm got involved because they expressed delight in suing the banks. The documents are at Detroit Debt Moratorium.(actually in a Google Docs folder so you must have a gmail account to see them).

Shane had a PowerPoint presentation, complete with charts and graphs. All those subprime loans (the heart of the mess) were popular with banks because they generated 8 times more profit than regular loans. But they're based on massive fraud (which, as mentioned, Levin documented -- you can ask Levin's office for a copy). But nobody has been prosecuted for those crimes. As Eric Holder has said, the banks are too big to jail. So, those fraudulent loans (and the incentives to foreclose) hit 67K homes in Detroit -- 20% of the total housing stock. These banks own so many homes they owe $57M in property taxes (though many times they evict then "forget" to fill out the paperwork for ownership -- can't be taxed for what you don't own -- creating a zombie owner that haunts the evicted party). These same banks put together a deal to help the city deal with the shrunken tax base. I can't tell you the details, other than to note Shane says it was fraudulent.

The city has been taken over by an Emergency Manager. The law installing him says (1) the city must live within its means, (2) the banks get paid first, and (3) the EM has authority to rip up all existing contracts (such as with unions). This is a recipe for sucking all remaining value out of Detroit. It means there is money only for paying the banks. The city would have enough money for everything that's needed if it didn't have to pay these fraudulent deals.

Though the EM is forbidden to prosecute those fraudulent deals, the unions and lawyers are not. They're still building the case. Unions and other financially messed up cities are paying close attention, and helping out where they can.

Yesterday, Roy Roberts, the second Emergency Manager for Detroit Public Schools (not to be confused with the EM for the city), has resigned. The district's finances are better than when he started 2 years ago, but still not balanced. Shane says that departure was prompted by a comment Roberts made, that Roberts was hired specifically to "blow up the district and dismantle it." That leaves behind charter schools (for profit) and the EAA to educate Detroit's kids. Now remember that comment about, "No rich child left behind."

Something for your calendar: Detroit Eviction Defense has convinced leaders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to come to Detroit to see the damage they've done, then face the people. A People's Hearing will be on Monday, May 20 at 4-6 pm at UAW Local 600 Hall, 10550 Dix Ave at Wyoming, Dearborn.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Win a trip to Washington

The 14th Congressional District in Michigan is one of the gerrymandered marvels of the last redistricting efforts. This particular one is about 80% Democratic, in spite of including the upscale neighborhoods of the Grosse Pointes and West Bloomfield, because it includes large chunks of Detroit and Pontiac. The current representative is Gary Peters who looks likely to run for the Senate seat to be vacated by Carl Levin. Which means the 14th District seat will be open. Michigan Radio political commentator Jack Lessenberry puts it this way:
But eventually, someone will run, and I thought I’d let you know about this now in case you’ve been wanting to go to Congress.

All you’ll need is to be a Democrat, be able to come up with over a million dollars in funds, and campaign like a maniac for the next 15 months. If you win, you will get to go to Washington as a very junior member of a largely powerless minority party.

And, in two years, you’ll get to campaign for your job all over again. There are some who think life can’t possibly get any better than that. As the comedian Yakov Smirnoff used to say … What a country.

Who is being bullied?

Michigan Radio has done a series (is doing? -- don't know if there is another part coming) on gay rights issues in Michigan. Yesterday's segment was on housing discrimination. Yes, it is still legal in Michigan to refuse to sell or rent housing to a gay person. In cities with such laws gay people don't always know they are supposed to be protected. The laws are rarely enforced. So landlords, real estate agents, and bankers assume (mostly correctly) they can discriminate as they please.

Some cases do come to light because the members of the Fair Housing Center pose as (or really are) gay or lesbian couples and ask to rent or buy a home to see the reaction of the parties involved.

Today's segment boiled down to something simple: Legislators have been refusing to include gay people in the state's civil rights laws because that would mean that gays would "bully Christians."

It was fine weather in Michigan today, so I pondered this issue on my morning bike ride (I was on my bike!). Is that an accurate claim? Yes. There is a case in Washington state where a florist is being prosecuted for refusing to provide flowers for a gay wedding. Washington does include gays in their civil rights law and the law is much older than their marriage equality law.

Isn't it absurd to think that Christians feel bullied considering what gays have gone through -- and usually at the hands of Christians (or those inspired by Christian teaching)? Yes. But a round of Oppression Olympics isn't all that useful.

Are Christians violating some of their basic teachings when they refuse to provide services for gays? A qualified yes. They are violating the commandments about loving your neighbor and that one should refrain from judging. I would say they even misinterpret their doctrine when they say vile things about gays.

But, alas, the doctrine of some Christian denominations (the ones that would describe us as bullying them) do strongly condemn homosexuality. And they see providing flowers for a gay wedding to be equivalent to being accomplices of a nasty crime. Why should they do that?

Isn't this reasoning used to deny rights to gay people the same reason used to support Jim Crow laws in the South? Yes.

I enjoyed the rest of my ride -- lots of flowering trees and shrubs in full color -- before showering and meeting my friend and debate partner for lunch. He made short work of my rambling thinking. Yup, same reasoning used against blacks, Jews, Native Americans, Irish, Asians … the list goes on. The law is quite settled. If you open a business you are a public entity and must accommodate all of the public. This demand that businesses must not discriminate is one of the bright lights of our country.