Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rapidly changing attitudes on marriage equality

One year ago, in United States v Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled that parts of DOMA were unconstitutional, and the dominoes started falling.   

In a 5-4 decision, SCOTUS agreed that Ms. Windsor, who was legally married at the time of her partner's death, should have been eligible for the same marital deduction that heterosexual couples get on their estate taxes.

Instead, because DOMA did not allow the government to recognize same-sex marriages that were legally performed, Ms. Windsor had to pay over $363,000 in taxes that a heterosexual surviving spouse would not have owed.    This SCOTUS decision changed that == and it has had a cascading effect on trials all over the country.

Since that decision exactly one year ago, 22 court decisions favorable to marriage equality have been made and not a single unfavorable decision.   Concomitantly, public attitudes are rapidly changing.   Now at least 50% in each of the four geographic regions of the country favor marriage equality.

Northeast:   68%
Midwest:      59%
West:             59%
South:           50%


Refuting Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter gets paid a lot of money to offend as many people as possible.   Most of the time, I ignore her, but her anti-immigrant rant against U. S. interest in soccer struck a new low.  

She used up a whole column on (bogus) reasons why Americans hate soccer, then culminated it with the declaration that any apparent increase in Americans watching soccer is only due to all those immigrants who have come here since "Ted Kennedy's 1974 immigration law."   And then this outrageous proclamation:
"I promise you:  No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer."
 In fact, I am one of the millions who has found a new interest in soccer in the appeal of the current World Cup games.   Ratings show that we Americans are watching the World Cup at near record numbers.   More signed up to watch ESPN's online streaming of the U.S.-Germany game even than signed in to watch the latest SuperBowl.

Besides, I can refute Coulter's lie simply with my own personal geneology:

I have three great-grandfathers, plus one great-great grandfather, who were born in the United States of America.    Moreover, my granddaughter is a huge soccer fan.   Being my granddaughter means that her great-great-GREAT-GREAT grandfather was born here.

So there. 


Friday, June 27, 2014

Bravo, Obama ! ! !

John Boehner claims that he is going to sue President Obama to compel him to enforce existing laws.   This is about the president's use of executive orders, which Boehner claims is exceeding his constitutional authority.    In fact, Obama has issued fewer executive orders than either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.   But never mind the facts.

President Obama called it a campaign ploy and a stunt, and he said:
"I'm not going to apologize for trying to do something while they're doing nothing. . . .  "What I've told Speaker Boehner directly is, if you're really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, why don't you try getting something done through Congress?. . .  The majority of American people want to see immigration reform done. We had a bipartisan bill through the Senate. And you're going to squawk if I try to fix some parts of it administratively that are within my authority, while you are not doing anything?"
 Bravo, Obama ! ! ! 

When one branch of government paralyzes another branch and makes it impossible for it to function in its constitutional duties, there has to be some remedy.


SCOTUS ignores the real world

In several important recent decisions, the Supreme Court seems oblivious to the effects in the real world of their decisions.    It is of course a matter of debate whether such consequences should be considered or whether the constitution should simply be interpreted for what it says -- and let the chips fall where they may.

I may be at the opposite end of the spectrum from "origionalists" and "strict constructionists," like Scalia and Thomas;   but my common sense tells me that the highest court in the land should consider the effects of its decisions on the welfare of the people and the country, at least in a general way.

I don't mean that any time someone's life is going to be made harder, that decision should go the other way.   Obviously there are constitutional principles that must be upheld.   But where there is clearly leeway to interpret -- and stay within those general principles -- I believe the consequences on society should be taken into account as one factor in the decisions.   As I recall in her confirmation hearings, Justice Sonya Sotomayor said something similar.

Some of the recent troubleing decisions I have in mind are:    Citizens United and the more recent extension that are having a devastating effect on our political system;   the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the consequences of which are being demonstrated all over by states passing laws to limit the voting of their opponents' presumed supporters;  and yesterday's ruling that abolished the buffer zone around abortion clinics that required protestors to stay 25 feet from the entrance.   The court says that the streets are a prime forum for the exercise of free speech, actually citing that the protestors in question are simply some citizens wanting "to have a quiet conversation" with other citizens -- a perfectly reasonable exercise of free speech.  

This symplistic characterization completely ignores the serious, dangerous, murderous mobs that have become these "free speach" exercisers whose gorilla tactics include physically blocadeing the entrances, forming human walls of screaming people with intimidating signs, trying to induce fear and guilt into those seeking abortions.  And this does not even address the actual murders of doctors that have been conducted at abortion clinics

If I am not mistaken, John Roberts wrote all of these decisions.  Although Scalia and Thomas are more reactionary, Roberts seems the most blithely oblivious, at least in the wording of his opinions.  While Scalia and Thomas may be scathing, Thomas seems blandly blind -- and thus -- maddenly clueless to the real world effects.

And now we have their latest concerning the president's power to make recess appointments.  True, it was a narrow decision in that it doesn't take away the power to make recess appointments.   But it interpreted the case in point as not truly a recess.   In fact, it was a political ploy by the Republicans, specifically and for no other reason but to thwart the president's power to make appointments.   They held sham sessions every three days, with only one member present, and claimed that they were not on recess, even though everyone else went home for a long summer vacation.

The reality SCOTUS ignores here is the obstructionism of the opposition party in Congress that is paralyzing the Executive Branch by refusing to consider the presidential nominees.  Making recess appointments is the only way he could get anyone appointed -- and then the Republicans were blocking that with a sham manipulation of the rules.   And now SCOTUS has said the good guys have to stick to the letter of the law no matter what the bad guys do to interfere with their doing their job.

Legal scholars -- and obviously the liberal justices, since this was a 9-0 decision -- would say that they are not oblivious to the effects but that there are other laws to deal with these bad consequences, even though congress may not yet passed them, nor is likely to in this congress.

Still, this rates a huge BAH   HUMBUG !!!!     And a pox upon them all.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Megyn Kelly steps outside the FoxNews stereotype

Last week, Megyn Kelly interviewed Dick Cheney on Fox News.    But it wasn't the typical soapbox that the former VEEP -- and Fox viewers -- have come to expect when they tune in to Fox News.

It's not the first time Megyn Kelly has shown a bit of independence in this hot house of conservatism.  If you remember on election night coverage in 2010, Karl Rove refused to believe that the network had called the election for Obama.   Megyn, anchoring the show, didn't run with Karl's disbelief.   Instead, she walked, microphone in hand, back to the room where the numbers crunchers were working to check it out with them.   So she's got a bit of independence that's not common at that network.

So here's the challenge she put before Dick Cheney after he and daughter Liz had published that WSJ op-ed which included the line, referring to President Obama:  "Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many."
"Time and time again, history has proven that you got it wrong as well in Iraq, sir. You said there was no doubt Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. You said we would be greeted as liberators. You said the insurgency was in its last throes back in 2005, and you said that after our intervention, extremists would have to 'rethink their strategy of jihad.' Now, with almost a trillion dollars spent there, with almost 4,500 American lives lost there, what do you say to those who say you were so wrong about so much at the expense of so many?"
That would be strong stuff coming from Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, but this was Fox News. Cheney was apparently non-plussed because he flubbed her name.  But he managed to say this: 
No, I just fundamentally disagree, Reagan — I mean, Megyn."
The interview then proceeded with easier questions;  and this week, Fox News made it up to Cheney by giving him a sweetheart interview with Sean Hannity who praised him and all but licked his boots.

Wall Street Journal readers were not so apologetic.   In fact, of the letters to the editor they chose to publish (and responsible newspapers usually choose a relatively representative sample), five out of six pointed out that that phrase actually applied to President Georgia W. Bush and the neo-con architects of the Iraq invasion -- which was the point Megyn's was making to perhaps the most powerful proponent of that invasion.

That was the response from the readers of this center-right newspaper.  More liberal media have begun to ridicule the by-now cartoonish copy of himself that the VEEP has become.   Liz is either too loyal to her father, or else too blind to see that the family would do him and his legacy a kindness by discouraging him from speaking out any more.

But my Schadenfreude inner self enjoys every minute of the public display of his decline into irrelevance.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

And now Indiana has marriage equality; Utah upheld on appeal

The dominoes continue to fall.    Another federal judge has struck down Indiana's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional.   That continues the unanimous agreement among some 18 or 20 federal and state judges who have made decisions favorable to marriage equality since the DOMA law was struck down by SCOTUS.

By the time one or more of these case are taken up by the Supreme Court, it may be a foregone conclusion.   It's unlikely that the swing vote of Anthony Kennedy would buck this unanimous trend from lower courts.   And, anyway, Kennedy has been the leading voice who wrote two of the most important majority opinions in earlier landmark gay rights caases.


Update 2:00 pm:    The 10th Circuit of Appeals has upheld the lower court decision that overturned Utah's gay marriage ban.

Another bridge scandal for Chris Christie -- and this one might involve a crime

Chris Christie has a remarkable talent for keeping his scandals separate and going -- like a master juggler with 10 balls in the air at once.   Then he drop one, and then another;   and it becomes clear as a pattern of behavior on his part.  

You almost have to admire the way he held that 2 hours press conference last year, declaring his innocence on the George Washington bridge closure and feigning "sadness" that someone on his staff would do such a thing, knowing all the while that he had done something that might really bring him down, involving another bridge, the Pulaski Skyway bridge.

In fact, this one might even involve criminal activity, because it involves fraudulent information about a bond sale to pay for major repairs to the Skyway.   Investigations are underway by the Manhattan District Attorney and by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Pulaski Skyway connects two cities wholly within New Jersey:   Newark and Jersey City.   It  has nothing to do with New York.   But Gov. Christie wanted to be known for getting the state budget under control.   In fact, soon after he came into office, he cancelled plans for major work on the Lincoln Tunnel, which connects New Jersey and New York City, and diverted those funds to other projects.

Now, faced with necessary repairs to the Skyway, Christie got creative.   Through Bill Baronie, his appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he brought great pressure on the Port Authority to provide the funding for the bridge, even though it has nothing to do with New York.

At first, the Authority refused, and its lawyers said it would not be legal.   It's not yet clear how he prevailed, but eventually the Port Authority caved in to Christie's pressure and agreed to allow bonds to be sold.    In order to justify it as a Port Authority project, the description for the bond sale called it "Lincoln Tunnel Access Infrastructure Improvements."

But the Skyway is 9 miles from the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel -- way across a large urban area that in no way is an access route to the tunnel.    And that is what makes it possibly fraudulent.

Christie is like that master juggler -- keeping all these balls up in the air.   But they're starting to fall, and even he can't keep up the act much longer.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

We need a debate on gun violence that respects facts and empirical data

Guns -- and especially guns in schools -- is a subject that arouses such strong feelings that reason and logic get completely lost.   We need to have a national debate that respects facts and empirical data.    Two points to back that up:

1.  In 1996 Republicans in Congress did the NRA's bidding and essentially shut down the CDC's study of gun violence by eliminating 96% of the funding that had previously been allocated f0r it through the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.    In January 2013 President Obama issued an executive order, asking the CDC to review the current evidence and asked congress to allocate $10 million for further study.   It's unclear as of this writing whether anything has come of that.   Even if it does get things going again, we have lost two decades of time that could have continued the studies CDC was doing before the NRA got its way.

2.  There is ample evidence that strongly supports NOT arming teachers to prevent school shootings.    The president-elect of the National Association of Secondary School Principals is opposed, saying:  “We would be asking school officials, trained as educators, to make a quick transition from teacher to SWAT member, arrive on the scene, assess the situation, overcome the severe nervousness that naturally accompanies a deadly force incident and take immediate action before blood is shed. . . .  It’s a bit more than you can cover in a typical teacher in-service.”     A mass shooting at the Empire State Building a few years ago resulted in several bystanders being wounded by shots fired by policemen -- policemen who had been through the rigorous shooting training at police academy, not the few hours that they are giving teachers in public schools.   Handling shootouts in crowds is a very difficult task, and it's not for amateurs.

And yet, the Missouri Legislature passed a bill permitting trained teachers and school administrators to carry concealed weapons in school.  And some school districts have begun programs to train teachers, who will then be given permits and expected to respond to shooting situations.

This is not a good idea.   Just as the facts show that, when there is a handgun in the home, an innocent member of the family or a visitor is much more likely to be shot by that gun than is an intruder, it's quite likely that innocent people rather than shooters will be hurt by poorly trained teachers.

Yet, despite ample evidence, the NRA and many many gun rights supporters simply ignore the evidence.   It's like talking to a stone wall.    If we could have a debate by designated debaters from both sides, widely televised, where the experts could challenge each other, and a skilled moderator who would keep the debate focused on points that could be backed up by facts -- then a we would at least have all the evidence laid out in public.

Alas, it won't happen.   Not in my life time, I'm sure.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Another GOP intra-party fight

The more the Republicans fight among themselves, the better it is for the Democrats.   Now -- in addition to differences about immigration and the splits between social issues Republicans, Libertarian Republicans, and establishment Republicans -- we can add foreign policy to the list of intra-party disagreements.

The crisis in Iraq is prompting open discussions about who's to blame and what should be done?    Send troops back in?   Air strikes? 

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) takes a strong non-interventionist stance on Sunday's CNN "State of the Union."    Saying that militarily we could go back in;   we have the military might and power, he said.   But, as president, Paul says he would not send troops.   He elaborated:
"But the country as a whole has to decide, do we want to send 100,000 troops in? Are we willing to have 4,500 young Americans die to save a city like Mosul that the Shiites won't even save, that they have fled?" 
Paul also responded to critics who say that President Obama should have taken action to overthrow Assad in Syria, saying we need less involvement in the region, not more.
"We went into Libya and we got rid of that terrible Qaddafi, now it's a jihadist wonderland over there. . . .There's jihadists everywhere. If we were to get rid of Assad it would be a jihadist wonderland in Syria. It's now a jihadist wonderland in Iraq, precisely because we got over-involved. . . . 

"You have to ask yourself, are you willing to send your son, am I willing to send my son to retake back a city, Mosul, that they weren't willing to defend themselves?  I'm not willing to send my son into that mess."
Ex-Veep Dick Cheney, speaking on ABC's "This Week," disagreed:

"Rand Paul, with all due respect, is basically an isolationist.  He doesn't believe we ought to be involved in that part of the world. I think it's absolutely essential. One of the things I worried about 12 years ago -- and that I worry about today -- is that there will be another 9/11 attack and that the next time it'll be with weapons far deadlier than airline tickets and box cutters."
I'm not a Rand Paul fan -- nor a Dick Cheney fan -- far from it.    But it is good that there is disagreement within the Republican party over these issues, which means we might even have a meaningful public debate about our place in the 21st century world.   

President Obama has tried to initiate that with both words and actions (sometimes inaction, which has brought sharp criticism from the war hawks and neo-cons).    But Republicans have mostly just criticized him.   Now, with Rand Paul's opposition, it might elevate the discussion above the knee-jerk Republican criticism of anything Obama does.   It might just provoke the kind of discussion that the country needs. 


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Parsing the lie

[This post is from the 2012 presidential campaign.   I reprint it now because this is one of the old tricks that needs continual exposure.]

Ohhh, so clever !!!   Most politicians do it;  some are better at it than others.

You tell the literal truth, but take it out of context -- or put it in a context that seems to make it mean what you want it to mean.

The most blatant example in this campaign came when the Romney camp picked words out of an Obama speech that made it seem he had said the exact opposite of what he did say.   In fact, in this particular instance, he was quoting someone from the McCain campaign.   The Romney folks then lifted the words of the quote, omitted the "to quote the McCain camp," and had Obama saying the words as if they were his own.

Did Obama actually say those words?   Yes, of course.   But I argue that this is just as much a lie as if they had twisted his actual words to mean the opposite.   After all, if you take a dictionary and edit it just the right way, you can make it say anything you want.

Now comes the example of Paul Ryan's acceptance speech and his "lie" about the closing of the GM plant in his home town of Janesville, WI.   Here is what Ryan said:
"My home state voted for President Obama. . . .  When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory. . . .  A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant.  Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: 'I believe that if our government is there to support you...this plant will be here for another hundred years.' That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight."
Do you think Ryan was trying to make you think it was Obama's fault that the plant closed?   Of course he was.

Democrats reacted with outrage and cried "Foul !"  Even the pundits said Ryan was distorting.   Because the Janesville GM plant closed operations in December 2008 -- weeks before Obama took office.  George W. Bush was president when it closed.

But did Ryan actually say Obama was responsible?   Read it carefully, parse the sentences.   No, he didn't.

Ryan may have lied in other parts of his speech -- the part about Obama's supposed removing the work requirements for welfare recipients.   But this one passes for literal accuracy -- but doesn't pass the smell test for a lie.

So, I say, a lie by any other name may smell as foul.