Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ignorance is us . . .

Playwright-performer Dan Hoyle has created a solo performance-piece, "The Real Americans," based on impressions of characters he encountered in a cross-country road trip through small town and rural America.  It sounds like a sort of present-day version of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town."

Out of this material, Hoyle embodies these ordinary Americans who speak in telling one-liners.  Although the lines selected for quoting in a New York Times review (March 19, 2014) portray a certain bias against uneducated, southern conservatives, the article also states that Hoyle "encountered plenty of kindness on the road," and that "he found undereducated white men furious at their own marginalization."

Here are a couple of choice lines -- whatever the bias of the reviewer picking these out, which of course resonates with my own bias:

"If somebody wants to be stupid, that's their right."

"Can't nobody take away a man's ignorance from him, can he?"

The reviewer also comments that the show is at it liveliest when Doyle takes on a few black voices, including one of the president delivering a pep talk to the playwright who is discouraged about the state of our country.

Hoyle's performance has a limited run at an off-Broadway theater in the Village.   Let's hope this isn't the end of his show.   Perhaps a national tour?


Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist has died

Is it ever ethical to celebrate someone's death?   I didn't feel like celebrating when they killed Osama bin Laden, as merciless and destructive as he had been.   I just don't ever really feel good about someone's death.

The last time I had to face this was when my long-time foe in psychoanalytic circles died.  Psychoanalyst Charles Socarides held tightly to his view that homosexual men are seriously disturbed individuals but can be cured;  he later got into anti-gay advocacy, even opposing the decriminalization of sodomy and claiming that the "homosexual agenda" would destroy America."   It was a relief when he was gone, but actually his effectiveness in organizations that mattered to me had long since evaporated.  Time and enlightenment had passed him by.

Fred Phelps occupied a place that was a bit different.   He's the one who created a cult -- which masquerades as a church but turns out to be mostly made up of his own brain-washed extended family members -- that proclaimed to be Christian, but seemed to have only one message:   "God hates fags."

For years this little band was an obnoxious nuisance in downtown Topeka, Kansas, where they maintained a noisy protesting presence -- shouting loudly at passersby about the evils of homosexuality and God's hatred of all of America because of it.   The city even tried to shut them down through a noise ordinance, but several of the Phelps kids became lawyers and are reportedly very smart.   Margie Phelps argued one case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and won her case based on the right to free speech.

It went beyond being a nuisance and became an outrage when they figured out they got the best publicity for spewing their hate when they picketed national figures' funerals.   This started when they showed up at Matthew Sheppard's funeral with their vicious signs, proclaiming "Matthew is burning in hell" because of his homosexuality.

But then they branched out beyond gay people and picketed funerals that might attract media coverage -- including, most reprehensively, soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.   The signs there would read "Thank God for dead soldiers," the idea being that God was punishing America for its tolerance of homosexuality.

In recent years, their effect has been neutralized by local supportive crowds forming human chains to block the view of mourners from their demonstrations.     As a result, they often just get back in their cars and leave.   The counter-protests went beyond gay activists.  The extremity and insanity of the Phelps' antics brought out supportive straight people as well.   And a federal and 40 state laws were passed to limit demonstrations at funerals.    Some gay activists even began to say that Phelps actually helped their cause in the end.

Daughter Margie told the AP that her father has died in a hospice at the age of 84.   His illness and death are shrouded in mystery, although it is known that he was moved to a hospice for his final days.   Not all family members have stayed in the cult, and some have leaked out information that Fred himself had been excommunicated from his own church but provided no details.

So -- I guess my feeling is that it hardly matters to me that Fred Phelps is dead.   His time had long passed, and the forces of compassion and progress had already left him in the dust bin of history.   

In the long and broader view of a movement's history, one can even see him as a tool of eventual progress in gay rights.   The blatant cruelty of his message and his tactics brought a lot of people to realize how toxic hatred is -- and they began to fight back against the hatred and the cruelty on behalf of the victims.

It really illustrates the opposite of the parable about no one standing up against intolerance, as each group is exorcised -- until there's no one to stand up for you.


Friday, March 21, 2014

And now Michigan . . . makes ?

A federal judge today struck down Michigan's state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, saying that it violates the equal protection right in the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

I honestly have lost count, these state bans have been falling so fast.   Some of them are on appeal, others will be appealed.  Some states' attorneys general are not going to defend their laws on appeal;  some of those states will hire outside lawyers to do so.    There is a lot of gray area right now.

However, one thing is very clear.   No federal judge has yet upheld a state ban.  Every one that has been ruled on in federal courts has been over-turned.   The list includes Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, and Michigan.    A federal judge in Kentucky ruled that the state must honor the rights and benefits of marriage for those who have been married in states where it is legal.

And all of that is in addition to 17 states and the District of Columbia where marriage equality has been made legal by either state courts, legislative action, or voter referendum.   

If all these recent decisions are upheld on appeal, then some 175,892,000 or 56% of all U. S. citizens will live in a jurisdiction with marriage equality

With each decision, it seems more likely that SCOTUS will take it up sooner, rather than later.


[NOTE:   This post was corrected on 3-22-14.  It was Kentucky, not Tennessee, that had a recent ruling over-turning the state's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal.   Same-sex marriage itself in Kentucky was afftected by this ruling.

Yes, yes !!! More of these, please.

Mainstream Republicans are running scared that the pattern of extremists winning primaries who can't win general elections will be repeated in 2014.   So scared, in fact, that some of their deep pockets money is going to fight these right-wingers in the primaries.   But lots more money is coming from the billionaire right-wing donors too.

At least one race so far looks to repeat the Todd Akins pattern.  Susanne Atanus won the Republican primary in Illinois' 9th Congressional District to challenge Democrat Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

Atanus believes that tornadoes, autism, and dementia are the result of God's angry punishment for abortion and gay marriage.

The Illinois Republican Party has condemned these comments and distanced itself from Atanus' candidacy.   What does this say about party unity when the Republican voters' choice is repudiated by the state party?

This one may be good for some damaging publicity as part of a pattern, but this was probably a safe Democratic seat anyway.  I doubt the Republican party wasted resources on trying to find and support a better candidate.

Let's hope this pattern gets multiplied dozens of times.  Then the Democrats could take back the House, hold the Senate -- and President Obama could have an easier time getting his agenda through Congress.

It's not a sure thing at all.   Unprecedented amounts of money will be spent on false advertising, painting Obamacare as the worst thing since Communism and condemning Obama for letting Russia run all over him.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Listen up, Hillary

Folks are trying to send Hillary Clinton a message.  Let's hope she is listening.   Better yet, let's hope that she learned from experience and has already made the decision on her own.

What's this all about?    Mark Penn, her disaster of a chief strategist for her 2008 campaign.

 David Corn's article in Mother Jones says that Penn's work on Hillary's campaign was maked by "hubris, lousy messaging, poor strategic planning, and legendary internal tensions -- including back-biting, leaks, and fierce inside politics.   He quotes Heilemann and Halperin's book about the campaign as saying "[T]he rest of Hillaryland detested Penn personally. They thought him arrogant and amoral, a detrimental force whose perniciousness was amplified by his inexplicably tight bond with the Clintons."

Penn had first worked to help revive Bill Clinton's political standing following the 1994 midterm losses in Congress and formed a close bond with the Clintons.   Penn, now a media strategist for Microsoft, recently had his power over their advertising budget removed.   Some see his reduced position there as a prelude to returning to the Washington 2016 political world.

What cost him at Microsoft was more of the same, apparently -- negative advertising against an opponent that just shows a mean streak.   I remember, back during Hillary's 2008 campaign, that my strong negative reaction to everything I knew about Mark Penn was one of the things that swung me to support Barack Obama.  The impression I got was making Hillary's campaign seem both disorganized, bumbling, and amoral -- all at the same time.

I thought then that, if this was Hillary's idea of the kind of staff she would choose to run the White House, I didn' want her.    So, even though I support her for president, I would have serious concerns if she turns to Penn again for 2016.   So do others.

Corn also quotes another Democratic operative who said Hillary would make a great president:   "I would do anything for Hillary. . . . Anything.   Except work with Mark Penn."'

Hillary, are you listening?


"The truth will out . . . " on Obamacare

It's about time for the tide to turn and for the truth to begin to seep out about Obamacare.

Former Senator Scott Brown, contemplating a run for the senate from his vacation home in New Hampshire (having bombed out in his native Massachusetts), was on the campaign trail in N.H. over the weekend, railing against the "monstrosity" that is Obamacare.

He said this while making a call in the home of a Republican state representative, Herb Richardson.  But Richardson spoke up and told Brown that the new health care law had been a financial lifesaver for him and his wife.

Richardsaon was injured on his job and dependent on workers' compensation payments.  He received about $2,000 a month -- but his health insurance under the COBRA plan cost $1,100 a month.

The Richardsons now pay $136 a month to cover them both.   "Thank God for Obamacare, chimed in Mrs. Richardson.

Senator Brown listened but reportedly said nothing further about it.


PS:   Enrollment has now reached the level (over 5 million) where officials say that the program will be sustainable. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Richard Jewell syndrome

Remember the terrorist bomb that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996

Security guard Richard Jewell spotted a suspicious backpack and cleared the area of most spectators before the bomb went off.

Later, Jewell was falsely singled out as a suspect of having planted the bomb himself.  The news media focused attention on him, cameras followed him everywhere, police searched his home, and details of his private life were leaked (things on his computer, as I recall) -- and his life became a media circus.   He was eventually exonerated and sued for libel.

I wonder if something similar isn't now happening with the pilots of the Malaysian plane that's gone missing.   They naturally came under suspicion when evidence emerged that the plane's transponder and other systems had been turned off from someone who knew how to do this.

Their lives are now under intense scrutiny, even though there is absolutely no evidence against them, other than it seems a likely scenario to explain what is known.  But everything gets put under a microscope and distorted.  The pilot has been supportive of the opposition governmental policy -- but so what?  That's perfectly legal.  But then media reports have characterized him as having "fanatical" politics on the basis of his having worn a T-shirt that says "Democracy is Dead."

As a blog poster said:   That could be nothing more than was meant by Americans who said the same thing after the Supreme Court threw the presidential election to George W. Bush in 2000.

Not many people would like to have their every utterance, every email, every web site they visit, every opinion expressed, in whatever context -- blared across newspaper headlines.

I strongly support a free press.   I also deplore the unwarranted destruction of lives in the media race to get a news scoop, or be the first to come up with an explanation.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Our insane gun culture

States seem to be vying to see who can come up with the most outrageous new place that guns have to be allowed.  The Georgia House has passed and sent to the Senate a bill that would expand the right to carry guns in schools, churches, bars, government buildings, and even decriminalize carrying a gun into an airport.

In Florida, it is illegal for pediatricians to talk with parents about gun safety in the home.  I am not kidding.  Someone should challenge the free-speech constitutionality of that.

Even as worn down as I am by outrage fatigue with such madness, I found a new measure of it last week when President Obama's nominee for Surgeon General had to be put on hold because there were not the votes in the senate to confirm him.   There were six to ten Democrats who were going to join the Republicans in opposing him.

Why?    A good question.

It seems that he has made public statements of support for sensible gun control.   He might even wants to address gun violence as a public health issue!!   How is it not a public health issue?  As a HuffPost news item said:   You'd think wanting to do something about what kills 36,000 Americans each year would be a good attribute for the nation's top adviser on health matters.

But, no.   We have to protect our God-given Second Amendment rights  !!!   

Or, more to the point:    Some senators are too afraid of the gun lobby or of losing the monetary support they get from the NRA.


What now?

The people of Crimea have spoken, and 97% of them voted to become independent from Ukraine and join the Russian confederation.

Or have they?   Reports say that opponents stayed home and boycotted the referendum.   Other questions abound:

1.   Do the people and government of Crimea have the power to make this decision;  or is this an illegal act, as President Obama and others say?

2.  How could the referendum be considered legitimate when, essentially, it occurred at Russian gunpoint?   Having armed troops without insignia on their uniforms did not fool anyone.

3.  Will Russia now be emboldened to go after the larger Eastern region of Ukraine?

4.  How is this different from the way Hitler began to gobble up Europe in the late 1930s?

5.  How is this different from the way the Ukrainians overthrew their government and got rid of their president, who fled to Russia?

I don't know the answers.   But neither do Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who have many times over violated the once-held view that politics stops at the water's edge.   If we listened to them, we'd already be in war in several other countries.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Protests in Moscow

The Associated Press is reporting that tens of thousands of Russians were in the streets of Moscow protesting on the eve of the referendum in Crimea.   These are actually against their own government for its military-backing of the referendum

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched in central Moscow Saturday, a day before a Kremlin-backed referendum in Crimea on whether to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.

Russia has already established control over Crimea, and is threatening to move into the eastern regions of Ukraine as well.    The sizable protest in Russia that is cracking down on protest seems significant.   Not that it can stop the referendum today or have any significant influence over the course of events in the near future.

But it may be one more indication that Putin's increasingly thuggish and dictatorial directions are not going to be tolerated without protest.   One young man said:  "I love Ukraine -- it's Putin who needs war and an empire, not me."

It does make you wonder what Putin is thinking.  It has been suggested that what Putin wants is to restore the old Soviet Union.  He poured unprecedented billioins into the Olympics to show Russia to the world, hoping to refurbish an image -- and weeks later he invades another sovereign state that is reversing any good will he built up on the world stage.

We need an ally in Russia -- for dealing with Iran and Syria, at the least.  Russia is important and could be even moreso.    But Putin seems to need to flaunt his power at the West, rather than build a partnership.