Friday, June 15, 2012

Finding the right groove

President Obama may be finally finding the right groove for his re-election message.

Yesterday, in a speech in battleground state Ohio, he leveled with the voters on two points

1.  "If you want to give the policies of the last decade another try, then you should vote for Mr. Romney."

2.  "There is a stalemate in Washington over two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take.   Only you can break that stalemate."

Polls show that voters still blame Bush more than they blame Obama for the economy -- so pushing the first point is a winner.

The second point is equally important:  "Only you can break the stalemate."   Obama can't do it alone.  He must have a Congress that at least will get out of the way, compromise on the really important issues, and occasionally even cooperate.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

What a difference a year makes

This time last year, gay and lesbian members of the U. S. armed services dared not reveal their sexual orientation, because under DADT they would be subject to discharge.

Now, a year later, DADT seems dead as a doornail (whatever that means.)

The Pentagon has revealed that they are making plans for some sort of official recognition of its gay and lesbian members to mark June's designation as Gay Pride Month, just as it does for other religious and ethnic groups.

Think about it:   This would have been an unthinkable gesture in the very recent past.   And now being treated just like any other identity group seems so ordinary.   That's how fast things are changing.


Fired for being gay

You may not know that Georgia is one of 19 states that have no legal protection for gays in employment.   That means you can be fired in Georgia simply for being gay, and there is no legal recourse.

Every year since 1994, ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) has been introduced in Congress and has failed to pass -- because of opposition of conservatives, chiefly Republicans.   Thus there is no federal protection either.

Shorter University in Rome, GA has just fired a 50 year old librarian who had been employed for 14 years and who had tenure.   Technically he was not fired;  he simply had not completed "a valid fully-executed contract for continued employment."

The librarian had signed the contract but had redacted this one item in the Lifestyle Statement, which is now required of all employees as part of their contract:
"I reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality."
This lifestyle declaration also includes the requirement that employees be "Bible believing Christians" and that they belong to a local church.

The terse, two line letter to the librarian from the Provost simply said "Shorter accepts your resignation," even though in his view he had not resigned.  He just objected to part of the contract.    He was later told that in effect he had not renewed his contract because he had not returned "a valid fully-executed contract for continued employment."   It is notable that no second chance was offered, no offer to discuss the matter.

For over a century Shorter has been affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention, but it has only been since 2005, when the school lost a lawsuit over control of the Board of Trustee appointments, that the Baptist Convention gained a controlling number of the Board.   Since then there has been a radical shift toward more conservative policies.

The school's logo now says:   "Shorter University:  Transforming Lives Through Christ."  A new president has been appointed who is implementing new policies -- including that students may no longer sunbathe on the campus lawn.   Mozart's opera The Elixir of Love is banned because alcohol is involved in the plot.   Harry Potter novels may no longer be on curriculum reading lists.    A total of 62 faculty and employees have left -- many of them reportedly because of the changed direction.

It makes no sense.  "Transforming Lives Through Christ" -- and yet this has nothing to do with anything Jesus Christ ever is believed to have said, even by the ones who cite Biblical prohibitions;  they didn't come from Jesus.   In fact, in my opinion, this kind of exclusion and condemnation over "Biblical" adherence is antithetical to both the spirit and the words attributed to Jesus.

Shorter has long served as a small liberal arts college for students from Georgia, which make up about 90% of the student body.   Now I suppose we'll have to start thinking of it as Georgia's answer to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa (where Michele Bachmann got her law degree) and Pat Robertson's Liberty University in Virginia.

Who knows?  Maybe it will put Shorter on the map.   It seems that ORU and Liberty are on the obligatory speaking circuit for Republican presidential candidates.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

KKK wants to Adopt-a-Highway

The International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan has applied to adopt a stretch of highway in Union County in the Georgia Department of Transportation's Adopt-a-Highway program.   Under this program volunteer groups agree to clean and beautify state highway stretches in exchange for a road sign acknowledging their efforts.

This posed a dilemma for the Transportation board -- pitting first amendment rights vs seeming to endorse a KKK effort, albeit ostensibly one of good citizenship.   The KKK has threatened to seek help from the ACLU and sue on grounds of free speech and discrimination.

The Board has nevertheless turned down the request.  Today, the AJC printed the following letter from me to the editor: 
Here would have been a way out of the dilemma arising from the KKK's application to participate in the Adopt-A-Highway project ("KKK group seeks Adopt-A-Highway OK,", June 11).   It honors first amendment rights and gives the KKK a chance to implicitly recant its racist past.  

Allow the group to adopt this stretch of highway and rename it something like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway or the Rosa Parks Highway.  Consider the image of the KKK cleaning up a road named for an African-American civil rights icon.
 I don't claim credit for the idea, which I first heard about when Missouri faced a similar dilemma with the KKK several years ago.   I'm not sure of the outcome there.  There is a Rosa Parks Highway in Missouri, but it doesn't say whether the KKK sponsors its cleanup.

A spokesman for the KKK group said, "We just want to clean up the doggone road.  We're not going to be out there in our robes."   But Rep. Tyrone Brooks, head of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials urged rejection of the application, claiming that it would make the state complicit in helping "a domestic terrorist group" to rehabilitate its name and build membership.

This probably won't be the last we've heard of this.   Look for a court case, which the ACLU will likely join.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Krugman is right

The Repubicans didn't lose a nanosecond in pouncing on Obama's unfortunately worded line:  "The private sector is doing fine."    Paul Krugman, with his usual clarity, points out what Obama meant -- and Obama was exactly correct.   What he obviously meant is the important message that needs to be out there.   Instead we get headlines screaming about "Obama's gaffe" from even the liberal media.

"The truth is the private sector is doing better than the public sector, which is not well enough. . . The real story of this economy is that cutbacks at the public sector are what's hurting the recovery."
Krugman continued.
"By this point in Obama's presidency, if we had normal public sector job growth, we'd have 800,000 more people -- firefighters, schoolteachers, police officers. Instead, we've got 600,000 fewer. So right there it's like 1.4 million jobs we should have had in the public sector and of course those would translate into more private sector jobs too -- so that's what he was trying to get at."
The facts are that the private sector has gained about 4.2 million jobs since early 2010, while there are 607,000 fewer people working in government jobs due to cutbacks in state and local budgets -- exacerbated by Republican-forced cutbacks in federal assistance.

But Romney and the Republicans, of course, took political advantage and made much of saying that Obama is "out of touch."

He's not out of touch.  But he did screw up in the way he tried to make his point.  This worries me.   We can't afford for him to bungle the message.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Small signs of hope for Obama's re-election

Although national polls show a close race between Obama and Romney, their significance is dulled by two facts:  (1)  It's still almost five months until the election;  we've had no conventions and no debates as yet.   (2)  There is a different story when you look at individual states and electoral totals.

Huffington Post keeps a daily map of states according to whether they are in a candidates' column (> 6% in polls), leaning to that candidate (4 to 6%) or battleground states (< 4% difference).

A couple of the states keep moving in and out of battleground status, but the ones in play seem to be:   Colorado, Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, Florida.   Right now Ohio is battleground but just  last week it was leaning Obama.   Missouri is currently leaning Romney but last week was battleground.   So it's a moving target but these are generally the states in play.   Add to that Arizona (leaning Romney), Nevada, Michigan, and North Carolina (all leaning Obama) as possibly also movable.

As it stands today, giving the "leaning" states to that candidate and not assigning the 6 battleground states, Obama has 270 electoral votes (the required number to win) and Romney 191.

So, in order for Romney to win, he would have to take all of the battleground states (CO, IO, OH, NC, FL) plus one of the states that is now leaning to Obama -- perhaps Nevada or Virginia or Michigan.

That's a pretty tall order -- but it could happen.   Because if the tide turns against Obama (like a further economic downturn or a terrorist attack), all of those states in play could quickly shift.

On the other hand, here's another hopeful sign.   In some of the battleground states, the job situation is improving more than the national average.  Ohio, for example, has an unemployment rate (7.4%) that is significantly lower than the national average of 8.2%.    Florida is still above the average at 8.7%, but it has been steadily dropping for a year now.

A lot can happen between now and November.    But these factors seem more important than a national popular vote poll this far out.