Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Beginning Of The End

Looking at some of the reactions to the Supreme Court’s non-decision on marriage equality by the anti-equality folks — outragejudicial activism by unelected judges, a violation of God-given rights, and so on — tells me that the battle for same-sex marriage is coming to the end the way I thought it would: by the slow inexorable march, state by state, court battle by court battle, until finally the freedom to marry is as ordinary as any other exercised right.

The losers are outraged because they believed that they had the right to encode their bigotry and religious prejudice into law.  They also have gone over the top because they hear the distant approach of oblivion.  It won’t happen overnight; history tells us that overcoming pride and prejudice (h/t Jane Austen) takes a long time.  But they know the jig is up and the anti-gay movement will in time become as relevant and forceful as the temperance movement.

This may not be the solution some of us wanted: a firm holding from the Supreme Court that the Fourteenth Amendment, contrary to Sen. Cruz’s assertion, does guarantee equal protection under the law and that marriage, established as a fundamental right in cases going back generations, should be available to all citizens regardless of genitalia.  Those who criticize the Court for not taking up the case should understand that in order to do so they had to have conflicting rulings: a ruling for and a ruling against.  So far no federal bench has sided with the anti-same-sex side, therefore there’s no decision to make, and they let the lower courts rulings stand.  In baseball, it would be called a walk-off: there’s no need to have the final out when the winning run has scored and the other team has no more at-bats.

They’re going to go out in the same way they came in, though.  They will grift the foolish and the fearful of their money and hope to hang on to their cash while desperately finding some other line of work.  They know that the lies they tell and the fundamental misstatements about the make-up of our government are meant only for their pigeons.  They carry on about “unelected judges,” knowing full well that the federal judiciary doesn’t face the voters for a very good reason: they — at least it is to be hoped — should not be swayed by political or financial ambition (even if that concept has been put to the test by the current Supreme Court).  Judicial activism is clearly in the eye of the beholder.  These same people praised the genius of the Court when it decided that corporations themselves can hold religious beliefs and that a checkbook is the same thing as a soapbox; two decisions that legal scholars of every stripe agree were outside the scope of the original cases.  And while appealing to heaven and the Almighty make for some thunderous rhetoric and get the money flowing, using a religious argument to enforce an untenable violation of the Constitution should automatically disqualify it from consideration.

A federal court could rule against marriage equality and that could set up a hearing before the Supreme Court.  But yesterday’s move basically opened the door and hundreds of couples have already tied the knot in places such as Virginia, and Utah (!); states that up until yesterday morning did not have marriage equality.  Even the losers concede that undoing those bonds would be impossible.

This is not the end.  Florida still has the ban — for the moment — as do nineteen other states.  But it is only a matter of time, and I’m not talking years.  It will be months, perhaps weeks now.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Athesists Need Not Apply

Via TPM:

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court gave its blessing to local governments that want to open their public meetings with religious prayer.

It was a victory for the town board of Greece, N.Y., which stressed that it was fighting not just for Christian prayer but for the right of all people express their views regardless of their faith. In a 5-4 ruling along ideological lines, the Court ruled against the Jewish and atheist plaintiffs, who argued that the practice violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Less than four months later, the town of Greece has adopted an invocation policy that excludes non-religious citizens and potentially shuts out faiths that aren’t well-established in the town, according to a top secular group.

Seeking to “avail itself of the Supreme Court’s recognition” that government prayer is constitutional, the new policy restricts opening remarks to “assemblies with an established presence in the Town of Greece that regularly meet for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective.”

Translation: atheists and agnostics need not apply. And unless the board clerk decides that your faith has an “established presence” in the New York town of fewer than 100,000, you may not deliver an invocation.

I realize that it takes a lot of study of the law and you really have to be good at it to get appointed to the United States Supreme Court, but if the five men who ruled in favor of the town Greece didn’t see this coming, then they’re idiots.

Of course there’s always the possibility that they knew that this would happen but ruled in favor anyway.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fits The Description

Thirty years ago Beverly Hills Cop was a laugh-riot of a comedy with Eddie Murphy as a hip Detroit police officer working with the uptight white cops in the ritzy L.A. suburb.  The premise was that a black man would completely discombobulate the force and create plenty of fun moments on the screen.  What a hoot.

Yeah, well, here we are today in 2014, but it’s not so funny when you see that a black man walking down the street in Beverly Hills can still get busted for walking down the street.  It happened to Charles Belk.

It’s one of those things that you hear about, but never think it would happen to you.

On Friday afternoon, August 22nd around 5:20pm, while innocently walking by myself from a restaurant on Wilshire Blvd, to my car up LaCienega Blvd my freedom was taken from me by the Beverly Hills Police Department.

Within seconds, I was detained and told to sit on the curb of the very busy street, during rush hour traffic.

Within minutes, I was surrounded by 6 police cars, handcuffed very tightly, fully searched for weapons, and placed back on the curb.

Within an hour, I was transported to the Beverly Hills Police Headquarters, photographed, finger printed and put under a $100,000 bail and accused of armed bank robbery and accessory to robbery of a Citibank.

Within an evening, I was wrongly arrested, locked up, denied a phone call, denied explanation of charges against me, denied ever being read my rights, denied being able to speak to my lawyer for a lengthy time, and denied being told that my car had been impounded…..All because I was mis-indentified as the wrong “tall, bald head, black male,” … “fitting the description.”

I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know at the time that I was a law abiding citizen of the community and that in my 51 years of existence, had never been handcuffed or arrested for any reason. All they saw, was someone fitting the description. Doesn’t matter if he’s a “Taye Diggs BLACK”, a “LL Cool J BLACK”, or “a Drake BLACK”

Mr. Belk was released six hours later thanks to the intervention of the NAACP attorney who got the police to finally review videos of the robbery and decided that oops, they had the wrong man.

Welcome to post-racial America.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Short Takes

First of 300 military advisers on the ground in Iraq.

Thad Cochran wins run-off in Mississippi.

No-Fly List process deemed unconstitutional.

Two dead and 10 injured in shooting in Miami.

Verdict in British phone hacking scandal.

Bite me — Italy loses to Uruguay in a strange match.

R.I.P. Eli Wallach, 98, actor on stage and screen for over 60 years.

The Tigers beat the Rangers 8-2.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Down The Hatch

Last week Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was warning us that the Democrats were going to repeal the First Amendment with another amendment governing campaign finance.  But perhaps he’d better keep his eyes on one of this fellow Republicans.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said on Monday that if the Supreme Court rules against Hobby Lobby, which sued the federal government to block Obamacare’s contraception mandate, he’ll propose a constitutional amendment.

“I hope the Supreme Court doesn’t screw that up is all I can say,” Hatch said about the Hobby Lobby case during a Memorial Day speech in Wood Cross, Utah, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. “Because if they foul up the First Amendment again, we are going to have a constitutional amendment. And I believe I can put one on that everybody in this country, except the nuts, will support.”

Mr. Hatch is worried that corporations won’t be able to impose their own religious views on their employees without amending the Constitution.

Huh?

If being against the idea of an employer forcing his or her religious belief on employees and dictating the terms of their health insurance based on religion makes me a “nut,” then count me in, along with the guys who wrote the First Amendment in the first place.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

He’s On To Us

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told some folks that Democrats are trying to repeal the First Amendment.

Cruz was speaking to pastors at a Family Research Council conference when he warned that Democrats were moving to quash political speech and “muzzle” pastors and their communities, according to video of a portion of Cruz’s speech posted online by Right Wing Watch.

“I’m telling you, I’m not making this up,” he said as the audience offscreen gasped. “Sen. Chuck Schumer [D-N.Y.] has announced the Senate Democrats are scheduling a vote on a constitutional amendment to give Congress the plenary power, the unlimited authority to regulate political speech. Because elected officials have decided they don’t like it when the citizenry has the temerity to criticize what they’ve done.”

Cruz was referring to a proposed constitutional amendment from Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) that would reverse recent Supreme Court rulings invalidating campaign finance limits, including Citizens United and McCutcheon. Schumer said the Senate would vote this year on the constitutional amendment, which seeks to capitalize on the unpopularity of the Citizens United decision in an election year.

Rats.  Now we’ll have to come up with some other plan to keep the Koch brothers from buying the next election.

It’s ironic that Sen. Cruz would bring this up in front of the Family Research Council, a group whose very existence is founded on the belief that certain people don’t deserve all the rights guaranteed under the Constitution and who raise a shitload of money to advance their point of view.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Slow On The Uptake

A group in Texas that advocates “open carry” of guns encouraged its membership to walk into restaurants with their weapons.  Other than assuring that they’d get frontsies at the order line, it went over like a ham sandwich at a Seder.  A number of restaurant chains, most recently Chipotle, told their customers to stay away if they insisted on packing.

Well, Open Carry Texas and other muzzlestrokers have issued a non-apology apology and told their members to not scare the shit out of people in restaurants because it’s bad P.R.

Looking back, it has become clear that there is one area in which we have gotten the most resistance and suffered the largest setbacks: open carry of long arms into private businesses. This is not a new phenomenon. Early on, because of our efforts, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) sent a message to all TABC licensees warning them about allowing our members to open carry into their businesses. This resulted in places like Smashburger asking us to leave our guns at home. Since then, Starbucks, Wendy’s, Jack In The Box, Applebees and most recently, Chipotle have come out asking we not carry our firearms into their establishments.

[...]

Whereas, our mission is to get open carry of handguns passed in Texas, we must once again adjust in a way that shines a positive light on our efforts, our members, and our respective organizations. We have decided the prudent path, to further our goals, is to immediately cease taking long guns into corporate businesses unless invited.

You have to give them a little credit for at least getting the hint.

To paraphrase the saying about religion, guns are like penises: It’s fine to have one, fine to be proud of it, but it’s not a good idea to whip it out in public and start waving it around.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Peak Eich

The story of Brendan Eich and his resignation from Mozilla over his donation to Prop 8 has gotten to the point of internet infinity: where the story itself has been put gently aside so that we can all discuss various bloggers’ and columnist’s reactions to it.

If you feel compelled to follow along with them, be my guest.  I’ve said what I have to say about this particular story for now.  What is being lost in the fog is the movement towards equality — not just marriage equality for which Mr. Eich bid against in California and found himself held accountable for it — for one community is a movement for all people, not just those of us who are currently defined as less than full citizens by a majority of states.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Find Another Baker or Florist

The veto of the anti-gay law in Arizona may have settled the issue for the moment in that state — although bigotry always needs feeding and I’m sure the proponents of the law are planning a comeback.  But the people on the losing end of it are still saying that the law was not really that big a deal and that if there are businesses like bakers or florists who don’t want to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony, you can always find another one who will.

That’s not the point.

Aside from the practical matter that not everyone lives in a place where you have a lot of bakers or florists to choose from, the idea of having to choose where to shop shouldn’t be based on a social policy — separate but equal — that was supposed to have been killed off sixty years ago.  It is, in the words of the United States Supreme Court, inherently unequal.  It doesn’t work for public education, public accommodation, or city planning, and it shouldn’t work for catering and decoration.

More to the point, though, is why should the burden of proving to be worthy up to the customer?  No one should have to prove anything to a business other than their honest ability to pay for the services purchased.  Anything else is a big mistake.

The only time that anyone should have to find another baker or florist is when the first one has gone out of business because they’re bigoted assholes and no one — gay, straight or anything — doesn’t shop there anymore.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Special Rights

Paul Waldman has a good piece in The American Prospect on the folks who are demanding special rights for themselves.

Up until now, the distinction between religious practice and the things religious people do when they enter the secular world has worked pretty well. Anti-discrimination laws don’t mean that a rabbi has to conduct a wedding for two Baptists. Religious organizations can hire only people of their own faith. But once you enter into other realms, like commerce, you have to obey the laws that govern those realms.

If we grant religious people the kind of elevated citizenship conservatives are now demanding, where the special consideration given to religious practice is extended to anything a religious person does, the results could be truly staggering. Why stop at commerce? If things like employment law and anti-discrimination laws don’t apply to religious people, what about zoning laws, or laws on domestic abuse, or laws in any other realm?

The supporters of these laws, and of Hobby Lobby, argue that religious people shouldn’t have to put aside their beliefs when they act in the secular world. “It’s alien to me that a business owner can’t reflect his faith in his business,” said one Republican Arizona legislator. But when your business puts you in contact with people who don’t share your faith, putting aside your religion is precisely what you have to do, if “reflecting” that religion means violating the law.

He goes on to note that ironically, the Religious Right has been claiming for decades that the gay community has been demanding “special rights,” including the right to have a job, to live in an apartment, get married, or collect tax benefits because they’ve been denied them based on their sexual orientation.  (Even if they were granted, they’d only be catching up to everyone else, so they’re not really all that “special.”)

Now the Religious Right is claiming their own special right to discriminate against other people not just in their churches but in their workplace, as if their faith was the shield against being held to the same standards as the lower forms of life who have not accepted Jesus Ronald Reagan Christ as their personal savior and insurance agent.

That’s not how it works.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Suddenly They Care

Back in 2005 when it was revealed that the Bush administration was conducting wholesale warrantless wiretapping, a lot of progressives and liberals were not happy about it.  But the Republicans thought it was just dandy; violating the 4th Amendment in pursuit of terrorists was absolutely necessary, and they let us know that with a full-throated defense of the practice at their RNC winter meeting in 2006.

“Do Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean really think that when the NSA is listening in on terrorists planning attacks on America, they need to hang up when those terrorists dial their sleeper cells inside the United States?” Ken Mehlman, then RNC chair, told the RNC gathering in his keynote speech at the time.

So now that we know that the N.S.A. was doing the same thing under the Obama administration, you would think that the Republicans would have his back.

Well, you would be wrong.

In a jarring break from the George W. Bush era, the Republican National Committee voted Friday to adopt a resolution demanding an investigation into the National Security Agency’s spy programs.

According to the resolution, the NSA metadata program revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is deemed “an invasion into the personal lives of American citizens that violates the right of free speech and association afforded by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.” In addition, “the mass collection and retention of personal data is in itself contrary to the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

So suddenly because there’s a Democrat in the White House — and specifically Barack Obama — the Republicans care about the Constitutional rights of Americans.

Okay, if that’s how they roll, I suggest that in order to make marriage equality the law of the land, President Obama should condemn same-sex marriage as abhorrent and an abomination.  We’d see Republicans tripping all over themselves to rush to the defense of couples who want to live their lives in peace regardless of their gender without interference from the state.  In addition, Mr. Obama should take up the mantle of the immortal Charlton Heston and stand up for unfettered gun rights.  We’d have gun control by sundown.

Friday, January 24, 2014

It Didn’t Work

All that N.S.A. hay-baling of data, phone records, and whatever else they did was a waste of time and illegal.  That’s according to the panel that looked into it.

An independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the National Security Agency’s program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down.

The findings are laid out in a 238-page report, scheduled for release by Thursday and obtained by The New York Times, that represent the first major public statement by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress made an independent agency in 2007 and only recently became fully operational.

I have yet to hear a plausible reason that this approach works better than tracking down a single suspect or group.  Going fishing with huge nets might get what you’re after, but you have to sift through all the other garbage floating out there, and, to carry on the metaphor, you might kill some vulnerable species like dolphins.

I doubt that this report will get much attention from the White House other than “Thanks, we’ll get back to you.”  Just a hunch.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Yes, Virginia

Via NPR:

Virginia’s new attorney general has decided to switch sides in an important case that is challenging the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.

In an interview with Morning Edition‘s Steve Inskeep, Democrat Mark Herring said his office will no longer defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

“As attorney general, I cannot and will not defend laws that violate Virginians’ rights,” Herring said. “The commonwealth will be siding with the plaintiffs in this case and with every other Virginia couple whose right to marry is being denied.”

Herring was sworn in just days ago after , an election that also ushered in Democrat Terry McAuliffe to the governor’s mansion. Herring is taking over for Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican who ran and lost a bid for governor on a Tea Party platform and was a staunch defender of the gay-marriage ban.

Herring said as he came into office, he asked his staff to review Bostic v. Rainey and, after careful consideration, he came to the conclusion that the ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

Expect the howls of outrage and the sadz from the usual suspects.

As Mr. Herring notes in the interview, Virginia has been in the battle over marriage equality before.  In 1967, the state was on the losing side of Loving v. Virginia, the case that put an end to bans on interracial marriage.  The Supreme Court declared that marriage is a fundamental right and that to deny it to couples based on their race was a violation of the Constitution.  At the time, the losers were certain that allowing interracial couples to get married would destroy traditional marriage and make a mockery of the institution.  Sound familiar?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Teach Your Children Well

Ironically-named South Carolina state Sen. Lee Bright is challenging Lindsey Graham in the GOP primary.  He has a novel idea on how to protect schools.

Appearing on Fox News Radio’s The Alan Colmes Show, Bright expanded on his proposed bill to create high school courses on how to use a fire arm by agreeing with Colmes that the government cannot legally restrict gun ownership on school grounds:

COLMES: So [teachers] shouldn’t have machine guns?

BRIGHT: I would think a teacher protecting a school grounds should be able to carry whatever she can carry legally.

COLMES: So should machine guns be legal to carry?

BRIGHT: The Second Amendment is pretty clear. It says the right to carry arms should not be infringed.

[...]

COLMES: So you should be able to have any gun you want?

BRIGHT: Well, I don’t see how the government can regulate it.

By that logic, the sale and distribution of child pornography should be perfectly legal because the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….”  Sounds pretty clear to me, and there are no exceptions listed.  So therefore laws against kiddie-porn are unconstitutional, right?

Actually, the Second Amendment includes the term “a well-regulated militia,” so yes, the government can — and does — regulate the right to carry arms, including machine guns.  Even Antonin Scalia thinks that regulating the sale of guns or use in schools is well within the Constitution.

In any case, it sounds like this genius needs a refresher course in high school civics and history before he starts telling schools what to teach about guns and how to use them.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday Reading

Here, Boy — Ian Haney-Lopez at Salon reports on how Ronald Reagan turned the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon and George Wallace into the mainstream dog-whistle of the GOP in the 1980′s.

Why did Ronald Reagan do so well among white voters? Certainly elements beyond race contributed, including the faltering economy, foreign events (especially in Iran), the nation’s mood, and the candidates’ temperaments. But one indisputable factor was the return of aggressive race-baiting. A year after Reagan’s victory, a key operative gave what was then an anonymous interview, and perhaps lulled by the anonymity, he offered an unusually candid response to a question about Reagan, the Southern strategy, and the drive to attract the “Wallace voter”:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N—, n—, n—.” [Editor's note: The actual word used by Atwater has been replaced with "N—" for the purposes of this article.] By 1968 you can’t say “n—” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut taxes and we want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N—, n—.” So anyway you look at it, race is coming on the back burner.

This analysis was provided by a young Lee Atwater. Its significance is two fold: First, it offers an unvarnished account of Reagan’s strategy. Second, it reveals the thinking of Atwater himself, someone whose career traced the rise of GOP dog whistle politics. A protégé of the pro-segregationist Strom Thurmond in South Carolina, the young Atwater held Richard Nixon as a personal hero, even describing Nixon’s Southern strategy as “a blue print for everything I’ve done.” After assisting in Reagan’s initial victory, Atwater became the political director of Reagan’s 1984 campaign, the manager of George Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign, and eventually the chair of the Republican National Committee. In all of these capacities, he drew on the quick sketch of dog whistle politics he had offered in 1981: from “n—, n—, n—” to “states’ rights” and “forced busing,” and from there to “cutting taxes”—and linking all of these, “race . . . coming on the back burner.”

When Reagan picked up the dog whistle in 1980, the continuity in technique nevertheless masked a crucial difference between him versus Wallace and Nixon. Those two had used racial appeals to get elected, yet their racially reactionary language did not match reactionary political positions. Political moderates, both became racial demagogues when it became clear that this would help win elections. Reagan was different. Unlike Wallace and Nixon, Reagan was not a moderate, but an old-time Goldwater conservative in both the ideological and racial senses, with his own intuitive grasp of the power of racial provocation. For Reagan, conservatism and racial resentment were inextricably fused.

In the early 1960s, Reagan was still a minor actor in Hollywood, but he was becoming increasingly active in conservative politics. When Goldwater decided to run for president, Reagan emerged as a fierce partisan. Reagan’s advocacy included a stock speech, given many times over, that drummed up support for Goldwater with overwrought balderdash such as the following: “We are  faced with the most evil enemy mankind has known in his long climb from the swamp to the stars. There can be no security anywhere in the free world if there is no fiscal and economic stability within the United States. Those who ask us to trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state are architects of a policy of accommodation.” Reagan’s rightwing speechifying didn’t save Goldwater, but it did earn Reagan a glowing reputation among Republican groups in California, which led to his being recruited to run for governor of California in 1966. During that campaign, he wed his fringe politics to early dog whistle themes, for instance excoriating welfare, calling for law and order, and opposing government efforts to promote neighborhood integration. He also signaled blatant hostility toward civil rights, supporting a state ballot initiative to allow racial discrimination in the housing market, proclaiming: “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so.”

Reagan’s race-baiting continued when he moved to national politics. After securing the Republican nomination in 1980, Reagan launched his official campaign at a county fair just outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, the town still notorious in the national imagination for the Klan lynching of civil rights volunteers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner 16 years earlier. Reagan selected the location on the advice of a local official, who had written to the Republican National Committee assuring them that the Neshoba County Fair was an ideal place for winning “George Wallace inclined voters.” Neshoba did not disappoint. The candidate arrived to a raucous crowd of perhaps 10,000 whites chanting “We want Reagan! We want Reagan!”—and he returned their fevered embrace by assuring them, “I believe in states’ rights.” In 1984, Reagan came back, this time to endorse the neo-Confederate slogan “the South shall rise again.” As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert concludes, “Reagan may have been blessed with a Hollywood smile and an avuncular delivery, but he was elbow deep in the same old race-baiting Southern strategy of Goldwater and Nixon.”

State vs. Family — Leonard Pitts, Jr. on life vs. death decisions.

Marlise Munoz was 33 when she died.

She was at home when she collapsed from an apparent blood clot in her lungs. It was an hour or more before her husband Erick found her. He says doctors pronounced her brain dead, though. John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, citing privacy concerns, has declined to confirm that diagnosis.

It is, at any rate, nearly a month and a half since this happened, yet Marlise remains hooked up to life support. Her mother wants her removed. Her father wants her removed. Her husband wants her removed. He says his wife — like him, a paramedic — specifically said she never wanted to be kept alive by artificial means.

But the hospital has refused the family’s requests, citing a Texas law that prohibits taking a pregnant woman off life support. And Marlise, the doctors found, was 14 weeks along.

As it happens, this family’s plight is the inverse of another which has recently transfixed the nation. Marlise’s family wants her removed from life support, but the family of 13-year old Jahi McMath fought to keep her attached. McMath was declared brain dead by a hospital in Oakland after complications from surgery to remove her tonsils. This triggered a legal struggle that was resolved last week when the hospital released Jahi to the coroner and the coroner released her to her mother’s custody. Jahi is now receiving “treatment” at an undisclosed facility and her family says her condition is improving.

It seems unlikely. The cessation of neurological function is not some “technical” death. Experts say that in such cases, the brain liquefies, which would seem to be about as dead as you can get. So one suspects Jahi’s family is simply seeing what it needs to see.

That said, who can blame them? Who among us has the right to foreclose their prayers or the wisdom to draw some hard and fast line beyond which faith becomes foolishness and steadfastness an excuse to ignore reality? Who among us in the same situation would want somebody to substitute their judgment for ours — particularly if that somebody was some politician who’d never met us or our loved one?

This is what makes the situation in Texas particularly galling. Why is the state — not a doctor, not a faith leader, but the state — interposing itself in one of the most wrenching and intimate moral choices a family can ever make? What gives it the right?

News to Him — Andy Borowitz has the latest from New Jersey.

TRENTON (The Borowitz Report)—At a hastily called press conference today, Chris Christie revealed that he only became aware that he was the governor of New Jersey in the past seventy-two hours.

“Unbeknownst to me, some people I thought I could trust were secretly working to elect me governor of this state,” a visibly stunned Christie told reporters. “I have acted swiftly and fired them all.”

While asserting that he had terminated all of the people who were involved in the scheme to elect him, he said that, if he finds additional conspirators, “I will deal with them accordingly.”

Christie struggled to explain how he remained in the dark about being governor, a position he has held since 2010: “I guess I’m just not much of a detail person. People think I’m a micromanager. I’m not. If a bunch of people are going behind my back and plotting to make me the governor, that’s not the kind of thing I pick up on.”

Reflecting on his reaction to the news that he is the governor of New Jersey, Christie said he felt “angry, embarrassed, and humiliated, but mainly just sad.”

“It’s sad that this was allowed to happen,” he said. “It’s a sad situation for me and for New Jersey.”

Doonesbury — Coming up short.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

War Dispatches

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty.  And now because it’s been fifty years, the sages and pundits are assessing how it went.

The usual suspects — the GOP and conservatives such as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio who think the way to end poverty is pray harder and be born white and able-bodied — are claiming the war was lost and that we should never have fought it in the first place.  Facts prove otherwise; and while it hasn’t been the dream envisioned by LBJ and the people who truly wanted to end poverty, it’s certainly better than the alternative.  From Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast:

You may have seen the big Times piece Sunday that looked back over the half-century war on poverty, kicked off by Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 State of the Union address. The article noted that in terms of health and nutrition and numerous other factors, the poor in the United States are immeasurably less immiserated today than they were then. But it did lead by saying the overall poverty rate in all that time has dropped only from 19 to 15 percent, suggesting to the casual reader that all these billions for five decades haven’t accomplished much.

What’s wrong with thinking is that we have not, of course, been fighting any kind of serious war on poverty for five decades. We fought it with truly adequate funding for about one decade. Less, even. Then the backlash started, and by 1981, Ronald Reagan’s government was fighting a war on the war on poverty. The fate of many anti-poverty programs has ebbed and flowed ever since.

But at the beginning, in the ’60s, those programs were fully funded, or close. And what happened? According to Joseph Califano, who worked in the Johnson White House, “the portion of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in this century.” That’s a staggering 43 percent reduction. In six years.

The war on poverty then lost steam in the 1970s. Some of that was Johnson’s fault—money that might have been spent fighting poverty was diverted to bombing and shooting the Vietnamese. Some of it was the fault of liberal rhetoric. Johnson and others would speak of eradicating poverty, and of course eradicating poverty is impossible, and when it didn’t happen, conservatives were able to say, “See?” (Democrats ought to have learned their lesson along these lines; Barack Obama made a similar mistake in 2009, vowing that the stimulus would keep the jobless rate under 8.5 percent.) And so the public started electing politicians who told them poverty couldn’t be cured by government but only by pulling up one’s bootstraps and friending Jesus more aggressively.

Despite the best efforts of the Republicans, the Great Society programs have chalked up major successes.  Schools have improved immensely for all children, including those with disabilities, and programs such as Medicare and Medicaid have saved thousands of lives.  (And they work.  Just try taking Medicare away from the most ardent Tea Partier and see what happens.)

The political problem is that Americans don’t know about or focus on these successes. They just know that we tried, and poverty still exists. Thus has the “war” frame ended up being extremely handy for conservatives, who will always be able to point to the existence of poor people and therefore to make the claim that the whole thing has been a failure. That is why Rubio can say what he says in his new video and have people who don’t know any better nodding their heads in agreement. And it’s why Ryan can prattle on as he does about government and dependency. I can assure you that when both unveil their specific policy platforms later this year, they’ll consist of a mix of things that a) already exist in some form; b) have been tried and proved tricky to implement; c) sound good in theory but will be woefully underfunded; or d) have been studied to death, with findings suggesting their impact will be minimal.

One problem with the War on Poverty was branding.  Calling it a “war” made it binary: wars are either won or lost, and putting the effort to relieve the situation in those terms made it simplistic… and easy for detractors to attack when there were the inevitable failures or shortfalls.  At the time, though, labeling it as a war was good P.R.; the United States was less than 20 years from the victory over the Axis in World War II and we were eight months away from the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that would drag us into the first war we would lose.  So calling it the War on Poverty sounded good, and if they had had such things as focus groups back then, they would have found that declaring a war on something sounded like a good thing.  (Of course, so did “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”)

If we are to raise people out of poverty and hopelessness, it should be done not as a war but as an effort by all of us to overcome inequality on all levels, be they economic or social barriers.  It should be part of our goal as the Constitution states:  “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  Ending poverty goes a long way to accomplish all of those, and fifty years later, we are that posterity.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Catching Up

A couple of news items that came across the wires in the last couple of days might be of interest.

First, Britain tries to make up for a terrible wrong.

LONDON (AP) — Britain has tried to make good by one of its most famous sons, posthumously pardoning Alan Turing for a gay sex conviction which tarnished the brilliant career of the code breaker credited with helping win the war against Nazi Germany and laying the foundation for the computer age.

One author said he hoped Tuesday’s symbolic act — the famous mathematician committed suicide more than 50 years ago — would send a message to countries such as India and Russia, where gays can still be prosecuted for expressing their sexuality.

Others say the pardon doesn’t go far enough, noting that thousands of others shared in Turing’s humiliation in the years during which Britain criminalized homosexual behavior.

For lawmaker Iain Stewart, one of many who campaigned for the pardon, the act helped right a massive wrong.

“He helped preserve our liberty,” Stewart told The Associated Press. “We owed it to him in recognition of what he did for the country — and indeed the free world — that his name should be cleared.”

Not to be churlish or anything about the British authorities trying to right a massive wrong nearly 60 years after Mr. Turing committed suicide, but as I noted over at Rubber Hose, “posthumous pardons are like funerals: only the living appreciate them, and it’s an attempt to alleviate the guilt of having treated the person so rottenly during their life. In other words, cold comfort to the dead, and a free pass to those who hurt them in life.”

I wonder how much further along we’d have come in the digital age had Mr. Turing been allowed to continue his work with no regard to his private life.  More importantly, how much better his life would have been.

And somewhat related, the state of Utah is scrambling to try to put out the fire started last weekend when a judge ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage in the state violated the Constitution and hundreds of couples flocked to county clerk offices to get marriage licenses.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that gay marriages can continue in Utah, denying a request from the state to halt same-sex weddings that have been occurring at a rapid rate since last week.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ rejection of Utah’s request for an emergency stay marks yet another legal setback for the state. The same federal judge who ruled that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban violates gay and lesbian couples’ rights previously denied the state’s request to halt the marriages.

The appeals court said in its short ruling that a decision to put gay marriage on hold was not warranted, but said it put the case on the fast track for a full appeal of the ruling.

Utah’s last chance to temporarily stop the marriages would be the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s what the Utah Attorney General’s Office is prepared to do, said spokesman Ryan Bruckman. “We’re disappointed in the ruling, but we just have to take it to the next level,” Bruckman said.

The cat, as they say, is out of the bag.  It’s going to be very hard to stop the flood, and the justice who oversees the 10th U.S. Circuit is Sonia Sotomayor.  She can either issue a ruling or turn it over to the whole court for them to rule.  No matter what, a whole lotta couples in Utah are getting licenses and getting married.

By the way, who knew that there were that many same-sex couples in Utah?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Downside

It is a victory for civil rights and privacy that a federal judge has ruled that the N.S.A.’s collection of metadata on Americans’ phone calls is a violation of the 4th Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizure.

But it also makes a martyr out of plaintiff Larry Klayman, the right-wing nut who has called for the overthrow of the Obama administration and has been carrying on like a banshee in a hurricane about everything to the left of Attila the Hun since the Clinton years.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Civil Discourse

A group of gun safety advocates had a meeting at a restaurant in Dallas the other day.  Word got out, and here’s how some of the people who have a different point of view reacted.

open-carry-texas-moms-demand-action-gun-555x403

On Saturday, nearly 40 armed men, women, and children waited outside a Dallas, Texas area restaurant to protest a membership meeting for the state chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun safety advocacy group formed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

According to a spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action (MDA), the moms were inside the Blue Mesa Grill when members of Open Carry Texas (OCT) — an open carry advocacy group — “pull[ed] up in the parking lot and start[ed] getting guns out of their trunks.” The group then waited in the parking lot for the four MDA members to come out. The spokeswoman said that the restaurant manager did not want to call 911, for fear of “inciting a riot” and waited for the gun advocates to leave. The group moved to a nearby Hooters after approximately two hours.

Because the only part of the Constitution that really matters to them is this one.

NRA Constitution 01-04-13PS: I love the part about the gun guys retreating to Hooters.