Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hey, Where's Her Hand?!

Good on the BBC. Despite 25 official and many online complaints, they are going about their business with kids' TV host Cerrie Burnell.

The silliness is uncannily like our Mad Dad's protests and court cases. For both the Beeb and Lexington schools, it seems some parents just won't or can't talk with their kids about the real world. They want the outside to lie down, be quiet and stay hidden.

In Burnell's case, her sin was not being in a legal same-sex marriage. Rather, she was born without a right wrist or hand.

Personable, bright and nice looking, she has had a long time to be comfortable with her disability. She's been a professional actress as well as BBC presenter. She says kids come to her on the street and ask.
"I would always take the time to explain to a child. All they want is an explanation. They want to know 'What's that?' and 'What's happened?' and 'Why are you different?' And then they will move on."
A minority of parents are not that cool though. Some "expressed concern that Ms Burnell's appearance was 'scaring' children. One father said he feared it would give his daughter nightmares and a mother said her two-year-old girl could not watch because she thought the presenter had been hurt."

So there we are back in Lexington. One pair, then a second, claiming that early-reader books were forcing, forcing they say, them to mention to their kids that same-sex marriage was legal in this state. They might even have to say that some classmates came from homes headed by two fathers or two mothers.

This is not hypothetical to me. I have three children and have faced many decision points of what to tell them about what when. I have a bit of advice for the Lexington and British parents — tell your kids simply and straight about realities they will encounter. It is ignorance, not knowledge, that breeds fear and confusion.

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Penny Unwise

By shielding Massachusetts drivers/voters from a 19¢ gas tax hike, some legislators have taken to sounding like Newt Gingrich Republicans. According to the Globe, some demand offsetting reforms before they'll buy in.

The present 23.5¢ tax is middling for the nation. This would shoot Massachusetts to the top, at least until other states adjust to their own financial crises with various tax hikes.

Chief chest thumper so far is Sen. Steven Baddour (Methuen-D), co-chair of the Transportation Committee. "It's much too high, particularly in light of the state of the economy. I'm not prepared to have a conversation on revenues until we have a conversation about reforms. And if that means holding revenues hostage to reforms, that's what I'm going to do."

More will look to the chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, Steven Panagiotakos (Lowell-D). He said it would be tough to ask for the full 19¢ — "These are difficult times."

The economics are very different from the simple-minded I'll-save-the-taxpayer calls though. Consider the opening to Gov. Deval Patrick's announcement on this and related legislation, "Our transportation system--roads, bridges, rails--has been neglected for over 16 years. For years, both government and the public have deferred the difficult decisions, foisting debt and crumbling roads on to the backs of future generations. Because of this neglect, our system is at a physical and financial breaking point."

Legislators here have crafted long, well-paying and powerful careers through playing the game Patrick calls them on. Election after election, they reminded voters they promised, and delivered on, no new taxes. The visceral and primitive thought me keep money generally worked. Meanwhile the essential repairs and improvements climbed and climbed in cost. Years of small illusory savings were really high-interest loans.

We should not now listen yet again to the legislators who got us into the gigantic money mess. If some lose their next reelection bids, it should not be for 19¢. It should be for the billions of dollars they have wasted in playing the no-taxes game.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Potent Playthings for Plain People

Lest we fall into wondering how evolved humans are, consider whether we can differentiate between toys and tools. If our job lets us use the tools on and around others, are we reasonable and kind?

Taser® weapons (there are several other manufacturers of conducted energy devices) have been in the news for the past several years, but the because-I-have-it mentality was first clear to me during a chimney fire. We called the fire department when we heard the huge whoosh. When they arrived, four of Boston's biggest slicker wearers pushed into the house, each with a gigantic red ax.

They fairly giggled and salivated as they rubbed their hands on the wall of the stairs, the one where the chimney ran. When it got hot, they were ready to break it apart. Hell, they seemed to live for this moment.

Much to their obvious disappointment, the creosote buildup was not that severe. The fire burned intensely, then less so, and the wall never got hot. They were ready though.

Still caressing their axes, the guys left looking sad indeed. Another tool was wasted that evening.

We see a step up on this with the Jaws of Life® and similar hydraulic devices for car wrecks and the like. There are a few cases where these are misused on undamaged cars where the injured person could have safely and more quickly stepped out or even on the wrong car, but the rescuers just had to use the toy — and ruin the car body.

This tool though has a much better claim on saving lives than most such toys. Originally designed to save racetrack drivers where seconds really do count, the Jaws really are the best solution when the dashboard is crushing someone's legs or the doors are inaccessible and the roof is the only way in.

On the other hand, we not supposed to ask:
  • Did every second really count in this case?
  • Did the victim suffer longer and lie at greater risk while the rescuers retrieved, hooked up and used the machine instead of extracting the victim?
  • Does the shock of the grinding, metal peeling and removal through the jagged opening worsen the victim's state?
  • Most important, could the victim more safely and quickly been taken from the car manually?
It's hard to tell when overkill (and undertraining) come into play with Jaws. They are widely used by EMTs, firefighters and others, volunteer and professional, with varying degrees of tutoring and guidelines. We can be damned sure that some of them are like the firefighters with their axes. There are too many boring calls and not enough where they can use their toys.

I'm Shocked, Shocked

Surely the Taser is currently the worst. Other tool/toys as simple as a firefighter's ax share traits and trigger our reptilian brains. Yet, this carries its great power with our constabulary.

Search online for a string like taser excessive force and retrieve a frightening set of mayhem, lawsuits and death. Cops accused of abusing people with Tasers often escape civil and criminal punishment as they do for other accusations of brutality. Increasingly though eyewitness accounts and even the police video show differently.

Like James Bond, our cops are at least theoretically licensed to kill. With a badge and gun, they have the authority of law and use it wisely or poorly every day. Now with Taser weapons, some just can't seem to control themselves.

"Tasers are not the 'non-lethal' weapons they are portrayed to be," according to Angela Wright, Amnesty International researcher and author of a report on resulting abuses and deaths. "They can kill and should only be used as a last resort."

The report has data and conclusions from 98 Taser-case autopsies. Nine of 10 victims were unarmed and "many did not appear to present a serious threat." Many received repeated and prolonged shocks, far, far beyond the theoretical 5-second cycle.

"The problem with Tasers is that they are inherently open to abuse, as they are easy to carry and easy to use and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button, without leaving substantial marks," said Wright.

Here in Massachusetts, Taser use is getting overdue scrutiny too. According to the Boston Globe, we see the predictable disparity in use from one police department to another. Overall, there was a four times increase in Taser incidents September 2007 over 2008.

One department, Fall River far led in Taser use. The reaction of the chief there says much:
"I would credit the Taser with preventing injuries to officers, suspects, and innocent civilian bystanders," said Fall River police spokesman Sergeant Paul Gauvin. "I would also credit the Taser with bringing quick resolution to events as they escalate."

"In each and every one of these cases, the Taser was used appropriately," he said of his department's use.

In Fall River, police used the stun guns in 45 incidents in the latest 12-month reporting period, compared to eight in the previous 24 months. During the more recent 12 months, the Tasers were fired 117 times - indicating multiple shocks on several suspects.
He epitomizes the first-responder attitude, which includes:
  • Every second counts and is the difference between life and death!
  • If a single life is saved, this will be worth every penny!
  • How do you know this wasn't necessary to save a life?

They may have seen too many police and medical shows. Or they may suffer the same delusions as flight attendants. Daydreams, plus tools, plus authority equal the life of a petty superhero.

We undoubted live in a culture of cowboy cops. Taser technology did not create the culture and is not even its worst expression.

A truism is that we all want to feel safe. We want to be able to trust our police and not have to worry that one or two or five of them may flip out at a traffic stop or sidewalk encounter.

You can certainly understand how comforting a Taser may feel to a cop. The ability to down someone from up to 35 feet away (100 feet with the shotgun version) does sound like it would provide extra safety to police in threatening situations. However, and it's a big old but, how the hell can they get by with multiple, successive 50,000-volt charges on grounded and handcuffed suspects? How can their superiors and even judges let them slide when they so clearly let their emotions take over?

If legal history works here, we're likely to see local and state reviews of policies, regulations and laws. As more people or their estates win lawsuits or are successful in prosecution, the cop-is-always-right attitude will prevail less frequently in such cases.

Meanwhile, the question arises throughout the nation, who are you to second guess the police? In the face of obvious abuses, it our obligation to do so. A little oversight and some firm rules/consequences are in order. New toys cannot become new abuses.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Equality: Be Nice or Be Had?

South Carolina still seems to be no place for the impatient. That would include Laurel and an anonymous commenter as well as me.

The pointed and succinct replies to the NYTimes op-ed are clear enough. The proposal there was that a tasty offering of federal status for civil unions and same-sex marriages as states allow will make for happy (and quieter) multitudes.

Laurel —I'd agree to it if it applied to married heterosexuals too, and their marriage was only valid in the states that recognize ssm or civil unions. deal? thought not. i see absolutely no reason to create a whole new relationship system when all we need to achieve the same ends is repeal DOMA.
Anonymous — Separate is not equal. Why should we accept a second class style of marriage "lite"? The fundies get to discriminate, and they don't have to extend equality to LGBT's who wish to marry. What the hell would we get out of this so-called "compromise"?
These are spot on. They also brought up recollections of the 2006 DOMA-amendment battle in South Carolina.

Here though, battle is much to dramatic a term. Fact is, as in the post at the time, nothing is gained by making nice to those who demand to harm you and your fellow citizens. Historically, there have been many times and there are still places in the world where, as the Greeks used to say, it does not profit to kick against the goads. That was where the repressive sorts were so powerful that any action or word against them would only increase the oppression and decrease any freedom or breathing space.

Begging for respect and legal crumbs does not produce good results.

Three years ago, I read of, spoke with and exchanged email with equality sorts in South Carolina. I have family connections, attended college and worked newspapers there. Yet, even knowing the culture, I was impatient, much more so than those GLBT advocates I came across.

For example, consider the view of the chair of the S.C. Equality Coalition. , Linda Ketner at the time. Campaigning, oh so gently, against a DOMA amendment, she said, "We are conservative in South Carolina but we are fair. And this is not fair." Figuring they needed half a million votes to keep defeat the amendment in November 2006, she added, "if each one of those voters gets one family member, friend or co-worker to vote against, then we win. I think we have a chance."

The campaign drew on successes in places like Massachusetts and Maine. GLBT individuals and couples outed themselves to friends and coworkers. Some went to possibly accepting events, such as screenings of Brokeback Mountain to hand out political literature. The very polite idea was that they were nice people deserving fair treatment.

Come November, the amendment squeaked by roared into law with 78% of the good citizens' support.

Begging for respect and legal crumbs does not produce good results.

The locals there may still hold that there was nothing to be gained by being confrontational or demanding. They might contend that the result would have been the same, plus the pro-equality types would have steeled the dislike and distrust from the anti folk.

We can't disprove that negative. However, we know that making kissy face did not work.

Instead the coalition is nibbling on the large anti-gay/anti-SSM wall. They cite:
  • A February ordinance passed in Columbia (the capital city) prohibiting housing and public accommodation discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. "The ordinances passed unanimously."
  • Passage of a code change "to provide that a person who possesses a valid health care power of attorney form shall be permitted the hospital visitation. "
  • "In partnership with local, state, and national organizations, SC Equality led successful efforts to demand that the Lexington-Richland District 5 School Board continue their policy of non-curricular clubs, allow the existence of the Gay-Straight Alliance and to implement training for school personnel regarding anti-gay harassment."
Those in such GLBT and equality-hostile or indifferent places note that you can't understand their struggle unless you live there. Yet, I do not buy into making nice as the only or even the best way to make substantive improvements.

Regardless, to the larger issue, we must not extrapolate the make-nice attitude beyond those states and cities where the equality forces feel that is still the best course. On the national front, our moderately progressive new President has some catching up to do.

Barack Obama needs to become clearly aware that marriage LITE is too LITE and in fact dishonest. Are we about fairness and equality, as he says? If so, the way is clear.

I stand with Laurel and Anonymous. Spending even a short visit in a hut on the road to equality when there is so far to go won't serve well.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

SSM Ceasefire in Times

A Rodney King-style can-we-get-along-moment happens on today's NYTimes op-ed, A reconciliation on gay marriage. The pair issues a sweetly grandiose and optimistic claim that their proposal "could give each side what it most needs in the short run, while moving the debate onto a healthier, calmer track in the years ahead."

They use the ploy of natural enemies together — David Blankenhorn (president of the Institute for American Values) Jonathan Rauch (guest scholar at the Brookings Institution). The former wrote and the "The Future of Marriage" and the latter "Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights and Good for America."

The nub of their cudgel of compromise is:
It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill.
Neither author is a hardliner. Even Blankenhorn is one of those few spouting calls to strengthening marriage who means it. He doesn't necessarily figure that means hampering and harming homosexuals. He's a big-picture guy.

The proposal may cause quizzical looks from marriage-equality champions. The good guys basically would give up nothing other than keeping a civil tone. Despite the extreme emotional alarms and outright lies from anti-SSM folk, religious freedom — even to overt discrimination — are well protected by both federal and state laws, amendments and regulations.

In Vermont's nine years of civil unions and Massachusetts' five years of SSM, the rolling-eyed panic over religious persecution from equality is so much dry-ice mist. The closest we've come is religious business components that want it both ways. Here, Catholic Charities wanted to keep the federal grants rolling into their adoption facilities, but didn't want to obey the rules about not discriminating. Too bad for them. Yet, any part of their church or its businesses that does not receive government gifts can do their nasty stuff.

Local clerics in several states fairly wrinkled their robes crying they were forced to stop all adoption. Horse feathers!

I can't see any GLBT or equality organization or activist objecting to spelling out religious exemptions in the most specific term. I think those will be almost entirely unnecessary. Yet, emotionally, if it would help the anti-SSM side feel they had gotten something — So there! — no harm.

The op-ed is short. It's worth reading.

The authors clearly would like to send the phalanxes on both sides of their battlefield home for a rest, apparently figuring that the remaining consensus will come later rather than sooner and without the posturing as well as with it.

I can't see those who would repeatedly lie about SSM and SS couples and SS adoption playing the get-along game. Yet, they may in the mid-term have no choice. In the breathing spaces with financial rescue and war extraction, our new President will eventually spend more time on domestic issues, including this one. He could well favor such a proposal. It is tepid and painless to equality advocates and not very painful to others.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Worms Crawl In

You want green? How 'bout those green burials?

What, you say they're illegal in Massachusetts, which is why we don't have that option. You say wrong.

The cemetery (public as well as private) and funeral businesses refuse to offer the choice. There is no law and in some places a simple, easily overturned local ordinance would be the only impediment.

Don't take my word. Come to Cambridge to Mount Auburn Cemetery's Story chapel. At 1 p.m., Mark Harris will talk about his research on and the status of green burials. He wrote Grave Matters: A journey Through the Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial.

We can pretend that if we have an embalmed corpse, a metal casket, a cast liner, and then a durable gravestone, we provide some eternal presence. Of course, in our heart of hearts we know that at best those wasteful and expensive symbols for those still alive will last a hundred or maybe a thousand years. In Earth time, that wouldn't be a single Cheerios in the cereal box of eternity.

The traditional form of nearly all cultures was to wrap the corpse and put it in the ground or a cave to dissolve, to return its elements. Really, the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out. That seems what we should all want.

My wife and I would like the idea of snuggling down into the earth. That was very real to me last week as I went into my first surgery and first general anesthesia. Hell, people die on the operating table!

We do no have the option citizens do in Maine, California, South Carolina and elsewhere. Hmm. Our advocates are the soft-spoken Funeral Consumers Alliance of Eastern Massachusetts.

They are nice folk, but we all have that limbo problem. There are no laws preventing green burials in the commonwealth. Individual cemeteries would have to offer or be started to offer them.

I suspect Harris will speak of the funeral biz' tactics of saying terrible things will happen if they don't pump poisons into our corpses and don't bury is in the full armored vehicle of death. They even say without the concrete grave liner, it's hard for the lawn-mowing crew. Somehow people managed on this planet for thousands of years and even learned such incredible engineering feats as piling extra dirt on top to allow for settling.

It appears we're going to have to ask for the option. We're going to have to say we don't want to bury high-carbon footprint caskets and trappings, along with highly-toxic embalming fluid. We're going to have to say we'd like to go out naturally.

I'll be there on March 21st, likely still on crutches or walker.

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Anti-Truth Squad Back for Parents

Get your wooden stakes, as I've noted here many times, the parents-rights hounds are relentless. They are trying yet again to expand laws to keep our kids ignorant and confused.

The current attack is the one they promised last fall, a bill to muffle teachers, censor book lists, and bully school boards. I'm still a bit feeble, so I would point you to the excellent report on the newest version in today's Bay Windows by Ethan Jacobs.

Be aware though, that the parents-rights folk will not stop until they push their anti-gay/anti-same-sex marriage rules on the nation. They seem to exist in small, vocal numbers in every state. Massachusetts is higher profile than most, but we are not the only target by any means.

If you have tried to avoid them, it's too late. They are in your face. You might also check my series starting here.

  • They want legal strictures on what teachers can say, even in passing or answering a child's question.
  • They want the schools to get opt-in forms for any student who might be exposed not to sex education, but to any mention of homosexuals or same-sex marriage.
  • They want to tell the schools what to teach and what they can have in their libraries.
  • They want to remove their own parental responsibility to help their kids understand the world in context.
In their world, kids would not learn that there were homosexuals. Likewise, they would not hear of same-sex marriages in a state where they have long been legal.

In some ways, they are simply laughable. Anyone who wants to remain that ignorant of their neighbors and world is comic. Yet, they want to force that on their children and on all the other children and families of the community.

We have to ask whether we want to raise a generation who can think about the real world, or one that gets only the information the parents want them to have. Do we want the most extreme of us to censor curricula for all of us?

It is sad indeed if people want to keep their own kids ignorant. It is tragic when they want to force that on all.

Losing in one or two or ten legislative sessions and courts after another has not stopped these people yet.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

This Blog Delayed

I have been unable to blog and will have a very infrequent posts for another week or so.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Bishop Clarifies SSM for All

Bishop Gene Robinson's crisp, reasoned call for passage of same-sex marriage in New Hampshire was brilliant. Testifying before his state's Judiciary Committee on February 5th, he brought everyone who heard knowledge and clarity.

The remarks are below. You can view and hear them on the video clip here. Earlier post on the testimony, pro and con SSM, is here. The bishop is shown in an image from the diocese's site.

Without drama or hyperbole, he both explains why SSM is right and answers the questions while deflating the myths based on emotion. Again, brilliant.

My name is Gene Robinson. I am a citizen of Weare, and I serve as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Last June, my partner of 20+ years, Mark Andrew, and I were joined in a civil union, for which we are very grateful. I am here to ask your support in making the promise of “equality under the law” a reality in New Hampshire by allowing us to translate that second-class status into the civil right of marriage.

Since January 1, 2008, some 600 civil unions have been enacted. Think about what you were told 18 months ago by those who wanted you to be fearful of this action. Has western civilization as we know it come to an end? Has your marriage to your opposite sex partner been undermined – in any way – by my professed love for and commitment to my partner? Has the family been eroded as a cornerstone of our society, or has it been strengthened by the solemn and genuine commitments taken on by gay and lesbian couples in this state? Does any reasonable person believe that these 600 committed couples threaten the State or the society or your marriages in any way?

The fears were unfounded. It turns out that you were right to do what you did. Now it is time to finish what you started, by making our relationships equal in the eyes of the law and in the minds of the public by granting marriage equality under the law to ALL the citizens of New Hampshire.

Let me briefly speak to two concerns you might have, especially as it relates to people of faith.
First, those who would continue to discriminate against some of our citizens would tell you that we are changing the definition and meaning of marriage. They are absolutely right! But what they are WRONG about is in claiming that marriage has always had only one meaning up until now! Marriage for men in the Old Testament included multiple wives, not to mention concubines, if you were wealthy enough. Marriage until the Middle Ages was all about property, legitimacy of heirs and inheritance rights – so decidedly so, that common people and serfs on an estate were not even encouraged to be married, since there was nothing to inherit anyway! While marriage has served many purposes historically, including procreation, we have never prohibited from marrying those unable to procreate, either because of infertility or advanced age. Just forty years ago, we changed the definition of marriage to include people of different races – a change in definition that allowed Barack Obama’s parents to be married. The definition of marriage has always been evolving, and the inclusion of same gender partners is simply the next logical revision in that evolution.

And second, the thing I most want you to remember from my testimony is this: religions and people of faith have nothing to fear from this bill. Indeed, many congregations (including those here in the Diocese of New Hampshire) already celebrate and bless the uniting of two people of the same gender in love, responsibility and mutual commitment. Permitting two people of the same sex to declare their love for one another and to assume the responsibilities of civil marriage will affect religion in no way.

House Bill 436 makes very explicit the continuing right, that no religious organization or clergyperson is “obligated or otherwise required by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage” in violation of their First Amendment freedom of religion. No denomination or faith tradition will be required to approve of the marriage of two same-gender citizens.

Let’s be clear. Civil marriage is a civil action, which has gotten confused in our society only because clergy have been permitted to act as agents of the State in signing marriage licenses and thereby enacting civil marriages. The State affects a civil marriage. Churches, synagogues and mosques may pronounce God’s blessings on these marriages, if they choose, but civil marriages are still bona fide marriages even if they are not presided over by a member of the clergy. All the rights, privileges and responsibilities of civil marriage pertain even if there was nothing religious involved or intended. This is clearer in countries like France, where everyone is married at the mayor’s office; then those couples who are religious and desire a blessing, go to their place of worship for such a service. Civil marriage is a civil act – proven by the reality that when a marriage comes unraveled, the couple doesn’t go back to the church or synagogue where the service was performed to dissolve that marriage, but to the State and its Courts. Holy Matrimony, that is, affirming the vows made in marriage in the presence of God and God’s Church, will remain undisturbed or changed in any way. And no denomination or faith tradition will be required to approve of the marriage of two same-gender citizens.

As a religious person and a Bishop of the Church, permit me to ask my religious colleagues who might object to marriage equality, is it right to force our religious beliefs on the rest of the citizens of the State? Just because my particular faith does not bless such marriages, does that mean that this civil right to marriage should be denied to citizens of New Hampshire? Just as we cherish our rights as religious people not to be infringed upon by the State, so the State should not be infringed upon by the particular beliefs of the Church!

One purpose of the State is to protect, equally, all of its citizens, no matter their religious beliefs. Later today, you will consider making sure that our transgender citizens are protected from violence and discrimination – a bill I support wholeheartedly. And in this bill, you are merely giving all of our citizens the same and equal right to live productive lives in stable and recognized marriages. Equal protection under the law is the dream and promise of America.

There is hardly a more oft-repeated phrase in the Old and New Testaments than this: “Be not afraid.” Ladies and gentlemen of the Judiciary Committee, don’t let the religious opponents to marriage equality you will hear from today and in the days to come make you afraid to do what is right. As Americans, we are promised equal protection under the law and the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Be not afraid” to make this equal protection a reality for ALL the citizens of New Hampshire.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Show Time for the Elephants

Well, well, routed and impotent Republicans, it looks like Prez Barack will squeeze out a half to three-quarters stimulus measure. As the nation clings to, what is that word, hope?, the national GOP is trying to Limbaugh us into oblivion.

Obama apparently gets it now. Republicans in Congress and in the national party will have to walk the streets wearing their signs of shame. With the duplicitous help of too many Democrats while the GOP owned all three branches of government, they have ruined our economy, subverted our Bill of Rights, and plunged the world into a financial abyss.

Now is the time for the new President to be the adult. He has to play both cards as needed.

First, there's the nuclear option to cut off debate and stop a minority of obstreperous Senators from screwing the nation. Second, there's allowing filibusters to show who's willing to destroy the United States.

If Obama uses these two as needed, the games will stop.

Nuclear background. Even Wikipedia has brought clarity to the often mentioned en passant nuclear option. Its great recap of this arcane procedural ploy includes:
The Nuclear Option is used in response to a filibuster or other dilatory tactic. A senator makes a point of order calling for an immediate vote on the measure before the body, outlining what circumstances allow for this. The presiding officer of the Senate, usually the vice president of the United States or the president pro tempore, makes a parliamentary ruling upholding the senator's point of order. The Constitution is cited at this point, since otherwise the presiding officer is bound by precedent. A supporter of the filibuster may challenge the ruling by asking, "Is the decision of the Chair to stand as the judgment of the Senate?" This is referred to as "appealing from the Chair." An opponent of the filibuster will then move to table the appeal. As tabling is non-debatable, a vote is held immediately. A simple majority decides the issue. If the appeal is successfully tabled, then the presiding officer's ruling that the filibuster is unconstitutional is thereby upheld. Thus a simple majority is able to cut off debate, and the Senate moves to a vote on the substantive issue under consideration. The effect of the nuclear option is not limited to the single question under consideration, as it would be in a cloture vote. Rather, the nuclear option effects a change in the operational rules of the Senate, so that the filibuster or dilatory tactic would thereafter be barred by the new precedent.
The straight forced filibuster is both slower and nastier. The cinematically educated immediately think of the 1939 Frank Capra classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In it, the Jimmy Stewart character filibusters to collapse for the most moral and noble of causes. In the case of the current Senate, Republican filibuster would be reveal the basest and most ignoble of ruses. They would be displaying power under regressive Senate Rule 22, regardless of the harm to the country and world.

If Obama and the Democratic Senators made them show their colors once or twice, everyone would see their effete and destructive state. Many of those Senators would quickly crumble, knowing what it would do to their ability to hold office afterward.

If the Dems used the nuclear option, they could pass the necessary laws to start moving us out of the chaos we find ourselves in now. It would be faster, but the Republicans would have the option of spinning the results as some sort of perversion of process and democracy.

If they filibuster and have to backtrack and vote for the necessary shortly after, they will be crushed.

What is that the recent failed chief executive used to crow — bring it on!

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Vermont Panting Behind with SSM

Politically, Vermont seems an odd duck, including with GLBT rights. Rush. Sit. Rush. Sit.

Nine years ago, under orders from their Supreme Court, the legislature passed the first civil unions law in the nation. Today, the 150-member House is looking at a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. It started out great, with 59 co-sponsors. Lead sponsors were the two usual suspects, equality supporters Mark Larson and David Zuckerman of Burlington.

A similar bill will appear in the 60-member senate this session as well.

According to the AP, word from supporters is that the nasty, prolonged battle over civil unions is history. They don't expect that much struggle.

However, as in the rest of the region and nation, the economic chaos dominates the legislature in Vermont. As a result, equality supporters, including Speaker of the House Shap Smith, aren't sure there's the time for this bill. As he put it, "We're still trying to decide whether it's something that we would do this year."

The bill is H. 178., with the telling title An Act to Protect Religious 16 Freedom and Promote Equality in Civil Marriage.

It's pretty simple. For the clergy side, they can refuse solemnization of a same-sex marriage, claiming First Amendment rights.

The existing law defining marriage (Sec. 3. 15 V.1 S.A. § 8) replaces "one man and one woman" with "two people" in the "Marriage is the legally recognized union" start. Then there is some nice tap dancing about wherever laws, regulations and policies read bride, groom and so forth, think gender neutral. Then it strikes the civil unions section (Sec. 4. 15 V.S.A. § 1202[2]) working that excludes same-sex couples from marriage laws. Finally, it repeals the old definition of marriage in 15 V.S.A. § 1201(4).

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N.H. Loons Against SSM

Sweeping extremes of human intellect and emotion were fully exposed in the New Hampshire legislature yesterday. The public hearing on House Bill 436 also shows by the loon is so popular there. Apparently on the subject of same-sex marriage babble free is part of the state motto.

Real Stuff Links:
  • Excellent reportage from the Concord Monitor's Daniel Barrick is here.
  • The cogent and detailed arguments for SSM by Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson are in the video clip here.

The majority of testimony from the crowd of about 100 favored SSM, centered on comments from groups such as the state Freedom to Marry Coalition. I highly recommend Robinson's testimony, in the video link above. He succinctly covered theology and history, and his remarks would be a fine tutorial to those coincidentally or maliciously befuddled by wild claims about marriage in general and SSM in particular.

Please let me know if you run across a transcription. I would love to run it.

Those against SSM seemed to be an odd bunch by their testimony. Their remarks lacked both reason and compassion. For example:
  • Cornerstone Policy Research's founding board member Shannon McGinley tried the nonsensical and painfully literal, "One can believe in same-sex marriage. One can believe in the importance of a mother and a father for every child. But one cannot believe in both."
  • Stranger was a boat-GLBT analogy from the defunct Portsmouth Finsherman's Co-op's Michael Geanoulis. Stay with him as he claimed that his group's excluding sailboats from membership wasn't discriminatory. "(I)t was for the good of the group as a whole. Likewise, he said, forbidding homosexuals from marrying would benefit the bulk of society." I figure he whittled that to its dull point over a lot of ale.
  • The oddest may have been architect Tony Fallon's judgment that same-sex marriage beyond the existing civil unions would equal "a terrible breach of trademark and copyright." When Rep. Rick Watrous asked who owned the trademark on marriage:
"I would say the church," Fallon said.
"Which church?" Watrous asked.
Fallon paused for several seconds and then said, "The church of God. A variety of faiths have this trademark and copyright."
Against Robinson's clear, well-reasoned and undramatic testimony, the anti folk seem odd indeed. It is difficult to see how they can expect to be taken seriously with such emotionally based arguments.

The votes for SSM seem to be in the legislature, but the Gov. John Lynch is ambivalent about signing a law. This should make for a fascinating political spring in Concord.

For the anti-SSM and anti-GLBT folk, this whole change must be quite a shock. Last year, it was legalized civil unions, now there's a fair chance of what Robinson called "the next logical revision." While this is a libertarian leaning state, such relatively sudden equality stuns some.

Sure they want to say they are for live-and-let-live as well as equality. Yet, it was not at all long ago that they could and did defame homosexuals with impunity. Now they seem to be zipping right along to living free up there.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Palin Pounds Pathetic Bloggers

The came-up-short VP aspirant Sarah Palin has an annoyance — "bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie."

Among my areas of profound ignorance is celebrity gossip. My wife at least reads Parade and can say, "See, if you'd read Parade, you would have known..."

Well, today I learned about what Gov. Sarah Palin learned. In a gossip/20-questions style LITE pseudo-interview, she talked mooseburger, lip balm and more.

The piece is by Esquire articles editor Ryan D'Agostino and appears in the 2/16 issue. In a whispering, snickering sort of way, it is quite a rest from the likes of the Financial Times and Nation. It's more of that toilet reading, short and light.

There is a little there there with her. At the top was, "A courageous person is anyone who loses a child and can still get out of bed in the morning." However, mostly she shows the accuracy of her name, which means princess in Hebrew.

She brushes against the fantasy that the GOP screwed her over, maybe robbing her of her reasonable chance to win. Likewise, old and new media are just so unfair. She really does love to kill big mammals and make chili with the parts. She doesn't "go anywhere without Carmex." She and God have a running conversation, at least one-way.

If you haven't had enough Alaska folksy, click on over. She's got it for ya.

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New England Marriage Quickies

Over at BMG, Laurel has an important blast — New Hampshire will start debating marriage equality with a public hearing today, 2/5 at 1 p.m.

Up in Maine, the vastly diminished Christian Civic League (a.k.a. Maine Family Policy Council) will try to stop same-sex marriage efforts up in Augusta, Sunday the 15th. The rally will have Mike Heath and the same tired people (including Family Research Council Prez Tony Perkins) who failed to turn back gay-rights protections and failed to pass a DOMA amendment there.

You must get a ticket from your church office and you must present the ticket for admission (right!) if you want to attend and get "Informed on the dangerous attempts to target Maine with the homosexual agenda."

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Good Riddance to Corporate Foolishness

La fin de la stupiditĂ©? Peut-ĂȘtre.

Could the earnest new President stop the foolishness of our worship of our American princes? Could the almost inconceivably huge failures of competence by CEOs and financial pros snap us out of worshiping, obeying and grossly overcompensating these clods?

Today showed one step toward bringing us as a nation into the light. Barack Obama put modest limits on compensation of heads of failed companies getting federal bailout funds. Granted, to us lesser mortals, such terms as keeping a cash payment to a managerial deficient below half a million dollars seems neither cruel nor fierce. Yet this class of American aristocrat is accustomed to being treated with fealty.

How did we in this allegedly egalitarian nation come to this turn? We create our princes (with a tiny number of princesses). We structure our taxes and compensation so that they in turn pass their power and wealth to their own wretched offspring, regardless of ability or temperament. Even worse, no matter how badly and how long they mess up, we reward them with money and the message that we cannot survive without them.

Coming through American Management Associations, Inc. Magazine and the business press, I have been stunned by the self-delusion and mass delusion that has brought us to this disaster, this crux. Of course, we focus on emerging stable from this financial collapse. Yet, on the other side, we shall head for another if we do not deny our artificial princes.

The should be absolutely no doubt now that:
  • The typical business leader is neither magic nor wise, rather likely marginally competent.
  • Absurdly high pro athlete salaries provide much higher returns to their team owners than most CEOs do to their companies.
  • Board directors paying huge packages to CEOs and COOs is a CYA move, not a guarantee of success.
  • Structuring compensation to reward big shots when stock price and profit margins plunge is asinine.
Not only do these petty princes have no clothes, they are pissing on the carpet.

Mediocrity trumps meritocracy.

Truth be told, rationalizing our economy and corporate governance goes against human nature as well as our own spotty American culture and history. We may like to brag about simultaneously breaking with colonialism and monarchy. Yet, we understandably feel the very human need for stability and parent figures. We have transferred our Tory leanings toward making a destructive set of petty royals.
Disclaimer: I have written considerably about management and was the editor of a big McGraw-Hill handbook on boards. I can go on at some length about these topic, but won't, at least here.
The short of it is that the business chiefs and financial machers who bungled into the current chaos are of our own creation. We treated them like royalty and they believed it. Boards, shareholders, bureaucrats and plain folk needed to believe that the best of us rose like froth on the cappuccino. With the best of us in charge, all would be well, the meritocracy would make the corporations, our economy, our nation, our world work as they should. We would prosper.

The bitter and inescapable facts now confront us. As with politicians, a few CEOs are extraordinary in their perception and decision making. Alas, the vast majority are frauds, just plain folk in expensive clothes.

This delusion plays out at much lower levels as well. Up here, we pretend that a Harvard Business School MBA shows you're smart and means you will do well for any company who hires you to be boss. This same shabby drama plays out in different places and at many levels. In smaller economic ponds, the pretense remains that the children of the wealthy and the legacy graduates of whatever local university has prestige are vastly superior.

Plain folk in expensive clothes.

Another truth to be told is that far too many marginal minds fit those scant criteria. Whether it is running corporations or writing books, the most talented and brightest are far too often not in charge or not allowed to contribute. We end up working for, using the products of and reading the output from the okay. Mediocrity trumps meritocracy.

With multi-trillion dollar evidence of this compounded incompetence, this terrifying period offers our best shot at bringing some sanity to our system. We can't expect parents to stop giving their kids undeserved advantages — that is all too human. However, we can set legislative and regulatory requirements for corporations we help survive.

In turn, actions like Obama's today can catalyze a corporate culture shift. Boards and shareholders can learn that prudential behavior with corporate assets requires honest evaluation.

When it is plain that paying many millions, even hundreds of millions of dollars, in annual compensation does not ensure success, stop paying. You can't buy even short-term success from an artificial prince or pretend wizard. The goals of both regulators and directors must include:
  • Rewarding success, but not failure.
  • Maintaining a productive workforce that returns loyalty and keeps the smarts in the company.
  • Setting the shareholder expectation that prudent management never aims at short-term stock-price.
There's much more to good corporate stewardship, but those are sine qua non.

We'll all be discomforted short-term and mid-term. This is the ideal time also to be emotionally discomforted as consumers, investors, managers and directors. We must stop dreaming the fantasy that our demonstrably incompetent princes are worth what we have been paying them and how we have been treating them. Our directors as well as our President must be more demanding.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

SSM Symbols Hanging It Up

The pending Julie and Hillary Goodridge divorce is intellectually and emotionally loaded for many of us. For this blog, there is a bitter elegance. The wingers who wish ill on same-sex couples will have their take too. The tale also took me to one of my foibles.

Nearly a decade ago, I felt humiliated after I pumped some gas into a diesel VW. My family was staying at a gite in Aulnay de Saintonge in Western France. I drove the car within 100 yards of our place when it sputtered dead.

In retrospect, it was rather charming that the local garage/blacksmith towed the car in using one of his horses. The whole bill — tow and drain the tank — was about the equivalent of $40. That's a bargain for almost any car repair, but I was fretting.

I couldn't forgive myself until the middle-aged nanny brought me to the reality window. She cared for the children of the pompous British couple who owned the place and did not seem upset by any of their, or their guests', silliness. We had been there a week and had spoken with her numerous times. She apparently had taken my measure quite well. As I said how dumb I felt, she waited until I finished and said, "Welcome to the world. This shows you are as human as the rest of us."

Fair enough. That's also one message for the riven Goodridges.

It really is too glib to note that slightly over half of U.S. marriages end in divorce. Observation and that dreaded common sense suggest that SSM will have better durability, although we don't have enough data or long enough time to be scientific about it.

As much as wingers and fundies would wish for bad ends for gay marriages:
  • Many in the initial rush nearly five years ago were long-term couples, who had already worked through the abrasiveness and tedium that can come with being newly wed.
  • They were already in it for the long haul, as well as gaining tax and other benefits in Massachusetts if not from the feds.
  • They were not entering into an impulsive union.
As a long-term married guy, I would caution any couple that a lasting marriage takes continual work. Rarely, one spouse will sublimate the ego and do whatever it takes unilaterally to keep them together. I think in almost all cases, there's never ending tinkering to let the other person into previously private areas, to listen and show respect even when angry, and to hang in rather than walk when the other person is wrong and a jerk.

I have met the Goodridges at a couple of events, but just to greet them. I don't know either and have no insight in what led to 1) their marriage on the first legal day (May 17, 2004), 2) separation 26 months later in July 2006, or 3) last Thursday's filing for divorce.

Under five years is not a long run. It says something unspecified about their relationship, but nothing about either SSM or opposite-sex marriages. It forecasts nothing either.

Surely numerous academics and professional researchers are gathering stats on SSM and SS divorce. Almost as surely, they'll find lower divorce rates. That would surely gall the anti-GLBT folk. Yet, it also probable that if same-sex couples were denied the right to marry and lived as spouses for a long time with the sublimated desire to wed, their marriages would be more stable than the mean as well.

Of greater interest to sociologists should be whether homosexual couples begin matching straight ones in impulsive marriages. The stereotypes have long been the teens hot for each other's bodies, people meeting in bars or on vacation, or limerant types finding love at first sight.

As a symbol tied to the case that started SSM in this country, the Goodridges have carried an unfair burden. We watch them and even feel we know them because we know of them. Now, viewing them as just another couple whose marriage didn't survive long term, we can hope they do well by their 12-year-old daughter.

Another way to look at it is that of the odious head of the Mass. Family Institute, Kris Mineau. The Herald quotes him as pig piling on this with:

"Divorce is a very painful issue, but I also can’t help but reflect on the pain this couple has caused on the commonwealth and the nation to redefine marriage. And now they’re getting divorced? It doesn’t make a lot of sense," Mineau said.

"Obviously, they don’t hold the institution in very high esteem."

That should elicit thigh-slapping hoots, even from his anti-gay brethren. While they love to declaim SSM, marraige has been in decline in this country for many decades, long before civil unions and SSM. The MFI types seem powerless in trying to reverse the high divorce rates. While claiming they are pro-family and pro-marriage, they try to prevent a great source of marriages, adoptions and families. Indeed, whom, might we ask, doesn't hold the institution in very high esteem?

Goodwill to the Goodridges. We continue to thank them for carrying the load for marriage equality for so many.

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