Thursday, November 5, 2009

As Maine Went

Yes, I am disappointed that Maine voted down keeping the marriage equality law that was passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor last May. Any time a referendum that limits the rights of people gets a majority of the vote, I’m disappointed.

Beyond the analysis of who voted for or against the measure and what part of the state they lived in, one of the questions that arises is whether or not such a question should even be put to a popular vote. Are there some rights that are so fundamental that leaving them up to the whims and the machinations of the campaign trail puts them in danger? Do you really think that the people of Kansas would have repealed state laws that allowed school segregation in 1954? What would the state of civil rights be if, in 1964 and 1965, Congress had not passed federal legislation that established fair housing and voting rights and had instead left them up to the states? Would Virginia have repealed their miscegenation laws without the ruling from the Supreme Court in 1967? Would women have the right to vote had it been left up to the states like it was in 1920 before the passage of the 19th amendment?

The response of a lot of people is that the voters should have the final say, and if they pass a referendum, that’s it. That is a noble sentiment, but that’s not the system we have. We have a representative democracy; we elect people to go to the city council, the county commission, the state house, and the United States Congress to do our business for us and to do more than just be a rubber stamp. And we have an equal part of our government in the judiciary that oversees whether or not the laws that are passed by the people or the legislature are fair or are equally applied. Just because a majority of voters cast a vote for an issue doesn’t make it right; our history is replete with unjust laws that have been voted through. Case in point, Colorado’s odious Amendment 2 that “would have prevented any city, town or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action from recognizing gay citizens as a Protected class.” It took a Supreme Court ruling in 1996 to say yes, indeed, in some cases, gay citizens have the same rights as everyone else and can sue for discrimination. In short, the voters can — and have — made mistakes. They can be swayed by emotional arguments that have no bearing on the law, and as is the case of marriage equality, fear and loathing of Teh Gay isn’t far beneath the surface.

The opponents trot out the old canards such as the “slippery slope” that same-sex marriage leads to all sorts of iterations of marriage, including polygamy; except that even someone whose only legal education is watching re-runs of Law & Order knows that a contract can be legally limited to the number of people in the contract. If the state wants to say only two people can be married to each other at one time or set an age limit to the parties involved, that’s legal. What should not be legal is limiting the parties based on something that is innate such as gender identification or race.

They claim that people will be able to marry their dog. However, in order to have a valid contract, both parties have to be able to understand the terms of the contract and sign it. If you can find a dog that does understand the terms of the contract and can write his or her name, then getting married would probably not be a priority; you’d have a talking dog with opposable thumbs, and your next stop would be David Letterman.

They say that allowing same-sex marriage would require that schools teach about all the aspects of said marriage, complete with descriptions of intimate behavior. But since the contents of the public school curricula are left up to the state and local school boards and there are likely very few of them that already teach the granular aspects of heterosexual marriage to elementary school children, the chances are remote that the passage of marriage equality would require the overhauling of school curricula.

They claim that marriage equality would force churches that are doctrinally opposed to such unions to perform them or face legal action. But since churches are already free to not perform marriage ceremonies for straight couples that are not part of their congregation — for example, the Roman Catholic church can refuse to marry a man and a woman if either one of them is not Catholic — then they are perfectly within their rights to do the same for a same-sex couple. Besides, having the blessing of a religious ritual is not a prerequisite for a valid marriage. All you need is a license and witnesses. The rest is, so to speak, icing on the cake.

The most insidious argument is that somehow same-sex marriage is a perversion of “traditional marriage.” Yet they never tell you what tradition they are talking about. Marriage throughout the ages has been more of a business deal, and to read about it in the Old Testament, it was between a man and as many wives has he could afford to accumulate. In the biblical tradition, fathers sold their daughters off to their friends as a trade-off for real estate (which led to the old Henny Youngman one-liner, “I got a dog for my wife. Best trade I ever made”). Arranged marriages were the norm for all classes of people — where do you think King Henry VIII got his first wife? — and in some cultures, they still are. The idea of a marriage based on love alone is both a modern and Western invention that is out of step with history and tradition; it’s only Christian chauvinism and capitalism that makes it an inviolable tradition.

As for same-sex marriage being a “perversion,” that’s based on the theory that being gay or lesbian itself is a perversion, and that, above all, is the unspoken truth of the matter. All of the previous arguments are just excuses; a lot of people still have to overcome their own ignorance and homophobia before they can objectively look at the idea of applying all of the laws, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship including marriage to all citizens. When it comes right down to it, no one has yet put forth a valid reason for denying marriage equality — or all of the other rights that are by law denied to gays and lesbians, such as child adoption in Florida — to the LGBT community other than the arbitrary canards listed above. Not one. And yet they are able, by lung power and fear-mongering, to get voters to pass laws that do exactly that.

What the election in Maine proved is that even in a state that is known for its practicality and common sense, people can be swayed by lies, misinformation, and religious dogma. It should be obvious that the next recourse has to be through the courts and a chance to make the case for marriage equality based on the facts, not on the emotions. While same-sex marriage has an 0-31 record at the hands of the voters, it has prevailed in the courts in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Iowa and made into law. The opponents claim that “activist judges” are making up the law and imposing their will on the people; they should only interpret the law as it is written. Well, here is how the law is written:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

If it is activism to live up to the simple precepts of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, then let us make the most of it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mr. Smith Goes to Asheville

Congratulations to the Liberal Coalition’s own Gordon Smith, aka Scrutiny Hooligans, who won his election for city councilman of Asheville, North Carolina, yesterday.

If you’ve been following Gordon’s excellent adventure through the Friday Blogarounds, you know it’s been a pretty wild ride for him, and I wish him all the best for him and his constituents.

By the way, taking a note from the movies, starting out as a city councilman was how Vice President Nance (Ben Kingsley) in Dave got his start. Who knows…?

Make Of It What You Will

Yesterday’s election results brought good news and bad news for Democrats and Republicans, LGBT’s and their opponents, and the winners will try to make as much of their wins while the losers will try to shrug them off.

The wins by the Republicans in the governors races in Virginia and New Jersey were not unexpected; Virginia switches back and forth between the Democrats and Republicans without regard to national trends or pundit pronouncement; this is the state that gave us Douglas Wilder, the first elected black governor, and it also gave us George “Macaca” Allen. Jon Corzine was behind in New Jersey almost from the moment he announced for re-election, and his campaign ads against Chris Christie, making fun of his weight, didn’t do anything to help. And the closely-watched election to fill the vacant House seat in New York ended up handing the seat to Democrat Bill Owens after the Republicans and the Conservatives beat each other up. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to being very disappointed with the outcome of the same-sex marriage bill in Maine, but that’s counterbalanced with the result in Washington state where the civil unions bill survived.

The news analysts are all saying that this election was a warning to the Democrats: it’s not 2008 any more. No kidding; I don’t really think anyone in either party ever thought it really still was 2008. Off-year elections are lousy predictors, and I remember a lot of people on the left trying to make what they could out of similar elections after they got their asses handed to them in 1972 and 1980. I don’t think it’s going to mean a whole lot to the 2010 election where all of the House and one-third of the Senate will be up for election, but that won’t stop the wise, the sage, and the Villagers inside the Beltway from picking up that meme and going to lunch on it for the next year.

If there is a message for anyone, it’s that the people, regardless of their party, are expecting results, not stump speeches, so now that you’ve had your fun, get back to work.

Short Takes

Election Results: Bob McDonnell (R) wins Virginia; Chris Christie (R) wins in New Jersey; Bill Owens (D) wins in NY 23, and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi (D) wins in another special election to fill another House vacancy in California; Equality loses in Maine, but wins in the state of Washington, and Kalamazoo, Michigan passes a gay-rights law. Michael Bloomberg gets his third term in New York City; Thomas Menino gets his fifth in Boston, and Tomas Regalado wins in Miami.

In other news: More violence in Afghanistan.

Iran’s supreme leader rejects talks with U.S.

Retail sales were up in October.

Healthcare reform may not happen this year.

Climate change legislation might happen this year.

Don’t plan on taking public transportation in Philadelphia.

This attorney in Fort Lauderdale is going to need a lawyer.

China gets a Disney World.

Election Night 2009

Results are trickling in, but so far it looks like Virginia has elected Bob McDonnell (R) as the next governor, and New Jersey’s race between incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D) and Chris Christie (R) is too close to call. The race in NY 23rd has between Doug Hoffman (C) and Bill Owens (D) had some moments of craziness today.

At this writing (9:21 pm ET), the polls have closed in Maine but it’s too soon to know if Question 1 — the vote on rejecting marriage equality — will be defeated.

As Steve Benen reminded me, there are more elections going on around the country, including mayoral elections in New York City, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Toledo, and here in Miami (I didn’t vote because I don’t live in the city of Miami). And there are five other ballot measures on gay rights in the country outside of Maine.

It looks like it will be a long night, and while I generally don’t do open threads like other blogs, if you, dear reader, have news on local elections to report, feel free to share that in the comments.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

As Maine Goes…

Most of the attention in today’s elections has been on the governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey and the GOP purification rite in the NY 23rd. But there’s also a referendum in Maine that could decide the fate of the same-sex marriage law that was passed by the legislature earlier this year. It’s on the ballot because the same anti-marriage equality gang that overturned Prop 8 in California last year decided to bring their carpetbags to Maine. It will be interesting to see if Mainers, who are known for their independence and shunning of outside interference, will go along with the idea of taking away a right that was granted by their elected representatives.

The ballot question — Question 1 — is a bit confusing: “Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?” Therefore, a “Yes” means No to marriage equality, and a “No” means Yes. If the referendum loses, Maine will become the first state in the union to allow same-sex marriage by popular vote; all of the other states have instituted it through legislation or court ruling.

Nate Silver, who has become the guru of American polling, predicted yesterday at his blog FiveThirtyEight that Yes is a 5-2 underdog, meaning that it will lose and marriage equality will stand in Maine. Given Mr. Silver’s track record — he nailed last year’s elections within a hair — there is reason to hope that Yes on 1 will go down in flames. Unlike California, this time supporters were not caught unprepared for the onslaught of fear-mongering and distortions about the horrors of allowing two people to commit their lives and property to each other regardless of their gender, and the proponents of overturning the law basically recycled the same crap-filled ads they’d run a year ago; it was almost as if they didn’t really notice where they were. Mainers don’t cotton to out-of-staters coming in and telling them what to do and how to think; in fact, most people really don’t like that, regardless of the issue.

This is the one election outcome I will be watching.

Short Takes

It’s Election Day — They’re voting in Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Maine, Washington state, Ohio, and Miami, and probably a lot of other places, too.

Obama warns Karzai to not be so corrupt.

“Talk to ME” — North Korea wants direct talks with the U.S.

Ford surprises Wall Street with a profitable 3rd quarter.

Manufacturing was up in October in the US, which is a good thing for the economy.

Bill Clinton is golden in Kosovo.

What do you do with an old jetport site?

Money Back — FPL is ordered to speed up refunds.

The Series: Phillies stay alive to beat the Yankees 8-6.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

The off-year elections tomorrow have sailed beyond mildly interesting into the the land of quantum politics where the rules of conventional-wisdom tea-leaf (and tea-bagger) reading don’t apply and where every little move of the polls becomes a statement of national import for the mid-term elections next year and somehow a reflection on the presidency of Barack Obama. Is the fall TV season really that bad that people have to find something else to entertain them?

The weirdest case is the Congressional race in upstate New York’s 23rd district where what should have been a footnote has become a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party both in New York and across the country. You probably already know all the details about who’s running — Bill Owens is trying to become the first Democrat to win the seat since before the Civil War and Doug Hoffman is the Conservative Party candidate who doesn’t even live in the district and doesn’t really know squat about what’s going on in Watertown. Dede Scozzafava was the GOP candidate, chosen by the local Republicans to win the safe seat until Mr. Hoffman started attracting the far right noisemakers in the GOP. It became a pissing contest between the likes of Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Sarah Palin, Fred Thompson, and a whole host of other ideologues (people who had one thing in common; they were all losers) who were dragging the party to the right and accusing Ms. Scozzafava of being the most liberal of the three candidates on the ballot.

Ms. Scozzafava suspended her campaign on Saturday and endorsed the Democrat. The right-wing blogosphere went nuts — not really a news flash there — and now the polls indicate — for what it’s worth — that Mr. Hoffman has the lead in the race. Meanwhile, the pundits are all trying desperately to glean what a Hoffman win will mean for the future of the GOP and take on some collateral damage in the bargain; Frank Rich came in for some nasty snipes from the right because of his “hissy fit” over the election and his prediction of doom for a party that is intent on turning even further to the right. (You can pretty much tell that you’re getting into silliness when pundits start picking on each other.) Meanwhile, Ross Douthat tries to be the sage in the room when he looks at the larger picture of what third-party candidates can bring to a race and how they add “substance.” If by “substance” he means they provide a thorn in the side to the other parties, then he’s probably right… until they damage the chances of the candidate he’s pulling for. Then it becomes a “stunt.” (I wonder if he thought Ross Perot brought substance to the 1992 presidential election.)

The NY 23rd is overshadowing a bunch of other off-year elections, including the governor’s race in New Jersey where the polls are close for the race between incumbent Jon Corzine (D) and Chris Christie (R) and the governor’s race in Virginia where it looks like Bob McDonnell (R) will beat Creigh Deeds (D). The interesting thing is that in the Virginia race, Mr. McDonnell, a product of the Pat Robertson alternate universe, is campaigning as a moderate and has not attracted the passion of the far-right. But there are also several other elections that could be of interest beyond the bells and whistles in New York, including the mayoral race in New York City and the fate of gay rights in Washington state, Maine, and Kalamazoo, Michigan.

And overshadowing all of these elections is, of course, Barack Obama. The president has had a hand in all three of the elections getting the headlines: he’s been campaigning for Gov. Corzine in New Jersey, his political advisers have distanced themselves from the faltering Mr. Deeds in Virginia, and of course there wouldn’t have to be a special election in New York if the president hadn’t appointed Rep. John McHugh (R) to be his Secretary of the Army in the first place. So whatever happens tomorrow, the results will be the most important election ever for the president; if Doug Hoffman wins, the legacy of Barack Obama’s presidency will be consigned to the ash-heap of history. Or something.

The safest prediction is that after all of Wolf Blitzer’s breathless coverage tomorrow night (and the special music written just for the occasion), the results will be microanalyzed to the point of disorienting obsessiveness and whoever wins will have their day in the glare; Mr. Owens or Mr. Hoffman will then become the most junior member of the United States House of Representatives and promptly vanish like a puff of smoke. A month from now neither of them will be able to get a pundit to pay attention to them unless they streak the House floor, and all of the considered opinions and tweets will be forgotten.

Well, since everybody else is going to do the pundit bit, I’ll give it a shot. If Mr. Hoffman wins, the onus will then be on the Republicans to prove that what they did to both him and Ms. Scozzafava is not an outlier. One election — local or national — doesn’t make a movement. If the far right and the tea-baggers want to really prove that they have taken over the GOP, they’re going to have to do what they did in NY 23 again and again in districts that are far more diverse and larger, and they’re going to have to appeal to more than just cranky white guys who think Sarah Palin is hot and Glenn Beck is the reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson. But as a lot of people have learned, politics is a lot like show business: the hardest thing to do isn’t getting to Broadway; it’s getting back there again and again, and most important, be better than you were the first time. (Just ask Neil Simon.) The toughest thing for the insurgent right may be for them to win NY 23rd so they can therefore prove that they’re more than just the outsiders clamoring at the gates. Once they get in, they’re going to actually have to do something more than just win an election. That’s not a lesson entirely lost on President Obama, either.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Short Takes

Drop-outs — Abdullah Abdullah quits the runoff race in Afghanistan; Dede Scozzafava, the Republican in the three-way race in NY’s 23rd district, quits that race; and Gavin Newsom is out of the race for governor in California.

Secretary of State Clinton pushes Palestine and Israel back to talks.

Goldman Sachs made out like bandits on the housing collapse.

Gov. Crist is losing popularity among his fellow Republicans here in Florida.

Six Gitmo detainees take up residence in Palau.

Is signing a petition protected under privacy rules or not?

World Series: Yankees 8, Phillies 5; Yankees lead 2-1.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Short Takes

Busted — Iran’s secret nuclear facility gets the attention of the U.S., France, Britain, and everybody else.

The G20 agrees on tighter rules for financial institutions and executive pay.

No Kidding — The Baucus healthcare reform bill may be just a first draft. (BTYFO.)

The number of Democrats in the Senate is back to 60 as Paul Kirk is sworn in.

Poor Man’s Glenn Beck
Toledo Blade columnist Jack Kelly finds a link between Hugo Chavez, Barack Obama, William Ayers, and the ousted president of Honduras. What an ass.

Read all about it — How newspapers help recent arrivals cope with life in South Florida.

Tropical update:
TD 8 isn’t coming anywhere near South Florida.

R.I.P. Alicia de Larrocha, pianist.

Tigers lose to the White Sox and narrow their lead.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Temp

Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts has, as expected, appointed Paul C. Kirk to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Mr. Kirk, a longtime friend of the Kennedy family and onetime special assistant to Senator Kennedy, is scheduled to take the oath of office on Friday and serve until a special election on Jan. 19; he has pledged not to run in the election. He said on Thursday that he would keep the late senator’s staff in place.

Good luck.

Recycling the Lies in Maine

The anti-marriage-equality folks in Maine are so desperate to sell their homophobia that they’ve brought in the same people who ran the Prop 8 in California. And they’re using the same commercials that include the lie that allowing same-sex marriage in Maine would mean that schools would be required to teach kids about gay marriage.

It goes without saying that Maine does not force school to talk about marriage equality, in fact they don’t have to talk about marriage at all. Dirigo Blue got a comment from the Maine Department of Education Comunications Director David Connerty-Marin:

“I cannot comment on Massachusetts education law or decisions made by local school districts in Massachusetts. Here in Maine, our Learning Results standards and education regulations make no reference to the teaching of marriage in any way. So a change in Maine’s laws or definition of marriage places no requirements on local districts regarding whether or how they teach about marriage. Such curriculum decisions are strictly local. Before or after passage of the gay marriage law a district could choose to teach about marriage or not, and to teach about it in any way it deemed appropriate. It simply is not governed by state education law.”

Not only that, the person in the ad, Charla Bansley, is not your average mom; she’s got a long record of wingnuttery on her resume. That’s not to say she’s not entitled to voice her opinion on whatever she likes. But it makes you wonder why the people behind Yes on 1 would go to such lengths to conceal her identity. It’s like they don’t want the citizens of Maine to know… or they think they’re too stupid or unengaged to care.

Short Takes

Obama at the UN — His speech seemed to go over pretty well.

Sen. Paul Kirk (D-MA)? — It looks like an associate of the late Sen. Kennedy will be named to replace him temporarily.

Hopeful signs for an AIDS vaccine.

No Cuts — Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) tries to reassure seniors that there won’t be cuts to Medicare Advantage.

Meanwhile, the GOP is being very ponderous in discussing the Baucus bill.

The White House considers several options in Afghanistan.

This is very disturbing: “The FBI is investigating whether anti-government sentiment led to the hanging death of a U.S. Census worker near a Kentucky cemetery. A law enforcement official told The Associated Press the word ‘fed” was scrawled on the dead man’s chest.”

There really might be water in the moon’s Sea of Tranquility.

Three Broward County officials are busted on corruption charges.

The Tigers pounded Cleveland and still stay 2.5 games ahead.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Short Takes

Let it begin — The Senate begins debating Sen. Max Baucus’s healthcare bill.

Prove it — The White House makes it harder to classify state secrets.

Deadly weather — Nine people were killed in flooding in Georgia and the Southeast.

In the interim — Massachusetts passes the bill to allow a temporary appointment to fill Sen. Kennedy’s seat.

28.1 — That’s the percentage of people in Miami-Dade County who don’t have health insurance.

Bounced out — “Miami Beach mayoral candidate Joshua LaRose, creator of the Florida Billionaires Political Committee, has been disqualified from the race. The reason? His qualifying check bounced.”

R.I.P. Art Ferrante, of the 1950’s and ’60’s piano-playing hit-making duo Ferrante & Teicher.

The Tigers beat Cleveland to stay ahead of the Twins.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Short Takes

Iranians rally in the streets despite threats from the president.

45,000 — That’s the number of people who die each year due in part to having no health insurance.

He’s everywhere — President Obama hits all the major news shows this weekend (except Fox) and David Letterman on Monday.

Net neutrality may be getting some traction at the FCC.

Not so fast — Massachusetts Republicans put the brakes on changing the law to replace Teddy Kennedy.

Acne, hemorrhoids, and bunions — not all at once — can keep you from getting health insurance.

R.I.P. Irving Kristol; godfather of neoconservatism and father to William.

Tigers lose to Minnesota and their lead in the AL Central shrinks to 3.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

That Was Then

The Virginia governor’s race looked to be pretty much a pick-up for the Republicans with Robert McDonnell running far ahead of Democrat Creigh Deeds. Then Mr. McDonnell mentioned his 1989 graduate thesis from Regent University, and all of a sudden, it’s getting interesting.

In the thesis, “The Republican Party’s Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issue of The Decade,” McDonnell described working women as “detrimental” to the traditional family. He criticized a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing contraception for unmarried couples and decried the “purging” of religion from schools. He advocated character education programs in public schools to teach “traditional Judeo-Christian values,” and he criticized federal tax credits for child care expenditures because they encouraged women to enter the workforce.

Considering the fact that Regent University is Pat Robertson’s institution, Mr. McDonnell’s views are not that much out of line with the hard-core religious right views of the school; in one case he lumps gays in with “fornicators.” The Democrats have been quick to jump on the story and spread the word that Mr. McDonnell has some rather medieval views of the role of women and religion, and Mr. McDonnell has mounted an effort to disavow some of his views for fear of losing the moderate voters in Virginia.

In his call with reporters Monday, a calm and prepared McDonnell explained in detail how he feels about issues that include gay rights, abortion and women’s rights. He mentioned several times that on some issues he agrees with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), the state’s first Catholic governor, as well as with President Obama.

McDonnell said he still believes marriage should be limited to one man and one woman but thinks that discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation or marital status has no place in government or on the job. He said that he no longer agrees with what he wrote about women in the workforce and that regardless of his personal views, he “would follow the law,” as he did as attorney general.

What I want to know is why he feels compelled to moderate his image. After all, if you look at the GOP today — at least at the biggest mouths out there like Mike Huckabee — Mr. McDonnell’s views are pretty much in line with the party platform. And if I were a Virginia Republican, I’d wonder why Mr. McDonnell has suddenly decided to disavow his core values and gone all squishy-touchy-feely bleeding-heart liberal. Could it be because he realizes that it’s one thing to carry on like a hard-core right-winger when you’re hanging out with folks at Regent, but it makes it hard to get elected, even in Virginia?