Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mitt Romney: Un-American?

To hear the right-wing describe "average Americans," one is amazed that they would support Romney at all. This is regardless of his stances on various issues... Or, one might more accurately say, his various stances on the same issue.

Multiple Cadillacs. Multiple homes. Hobnobbing with billionaires he can truthfully refer to as friends. Independent wealth. An effective tax rate almost equal to the capital gains rate. A willingness to portray himself as something he is not. Offshore investments. The list goes on...

To say that Romney is part of the 1% is an understatement. He's so far away from the "traditional" definition of American (yes, the tie-in with "traditional marriage" is intentional) that it is a wonder that people think of him as American beyond his citizenship and residency.

This isn't a question of despising him for his financial successes, it's not about envy, it's not about wanting to tax him into poverty. This is about being able to relate to the average person on the street. He can't, because he isn't. Not any longer. All that stopped for him a long, long time ago.

Electable? Maybe in a different year against a different opponent.

Relatable? Not a chance in several hundred million.

Remember, he's been campaigning continuously for 5 years. In 2008, he put tens of millions of his own money into his campaign. Then we had a huge market crash. Anyone in a traditional investment vehicle saw losses between 25% and 50%. And still he reported relatively astronomical (primarily passive) investment income in 2010 and 2011.

The guy hasn't been a "traditional" American for well over 20 years.

You can tell by listening to him talk.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Church and State - Quick Notes

People of faith or no faith at all: welcome to be politicians.

People of faith or no faith at all: welcome to be judges.

People of faith or no faith at all: welcome to be law enforcement professionals (elected or otherwise).

People of faith or no faith at all: welcome to be staff members, assistants.

People of faith or no faith at all: welcome to be political advisors.

People of faith or no faith at all: welcome to be activists.

In short, anyone, regardless of faith position, welcome to serve the country in any capacity.

- - - - - - - - - -

People of faith: not welcome to force your beliefs on others, in any way, nor to discriminate against anyone because of their faith or lack thereof.

People of no faith at all: not welcome to restrict the free exercise of religion, nor to discriminate against anyone because of their faith or lack thereof.

In short, the Golden Rule applies, as always.


Oh yeah... Religious institutions: not welcome to influence elections or legislation unless you go ahead and pay taxes. We don't like subsidizing organizations that are dogmatically obliged to discriminate against anyone, let alone people that don't recognize your absurd beliefs.

OK... Understood?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rick Santorum on JFK's speech about separation of church and state:

“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up.”

A portion of the speech in question:

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him."

Hey Rick, it's not a question of people of faith having no role. It's a question of keeping faith out of legislation, of preventing religion from being forced on non-believers. Is this so difficult to understand? You, who practically accused Obama of being a closet Muslim, or at least an inauthentic Christian (whatever that means), who rails against Sharia law, really need to understand the problems with such double standards.

When a religious politician starts going on about the moral decline of America, claiming that it is under attack by satan, calling for the imposition of faith-based legislation that discriminates against consenting adults merely because of how they prefer to spend their intimate moments together, the double standard is so obvious that's it is actually laughable.

The simple fact is that you can't have it both ways. Judges are "activist" when they disagree with you, but just fine otherwise. It's OK when it's your religion that is being forced on the public, but if some other group disagrees with you, they're destroying our society. "Because I said so" works fine when you're dealing with a petulant child; it has no place in American politics.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Same Sex Marriage Ramblings

Recent decisions in California on Prop 8 and DOMA, as well as passage of bills in Washington and Maryland are reasons for cautious optimism. Referenda by voters have a history of going against same sex marriage legislations, but the courts have almost always found in favor of it.

The fundamental question the courts have considered is whether anti-same sex marriage efforts can withstand "rational basis" scrutiny. Each opinion rendered has extensive discussions and explanations of the relevant impacts of rational basis, as well as relevant precedents. As with many terms that have specific connotations in law, rational basis is often misunderstood.

Basically, rational basis scrutiny looks at the issue of whether a particular piece of legislation, or popular referendum, has a rational basis in isolating a particular group (in this case, same sex couples) and thereby denying them benefits from members of the rest of society who are similarly situated. The idea is that if a legislature or a majority sees fit to withhold benefits from a particular group of citizens (a designated "class"), said withholding must have some rational basis in terms of being reasonable under the law.

Majority or not, legislature or not, laws which discriminate against one class (another word with rather specific connotations in law) in some way must meet certain standards of review, all of which come under the "rational basis scrutiny" heading.

Tradition, history, and precedent do not carry as much weight as other factors. When the government or a group of people attempts to justify discrimination, it is not enough to say, "it has always been this way." With regard to same sex marriage, it certainly holds no water. The usual comparison is miscegenation: the fact that, for centuries, interracial relationships, let alone marriages, were frowned upon for all sorts of reasons, did not prevent the Loving v. Virginia ruling. The fact that dozens of other states had similar laws on the books also did not carry weight.

In the case of same sex marriage, we typically hear three basic arguments: the procreative, the traditional, and the alleged danger to opposite sex marriage one. All three fail the rational basis test, especially when you're talking about using them as a basis for withholding employee health benefits, as in the recent Golinski ruling that struck down Section 3 of DOMA.

The procreative argument basically says that the purpose of marriage is the production and rearing of children in a stable family environment. This fails because there is no data to suggest same sex couples are any less successful at either of these activities. Note that the procreative argument also fails rational basis because neither fertility nor age are factors in whether states recognize marriages as being valid. Both types of couples can and do adopt, use IVF, or import their partners' children from previous marriages.

The traditional argument claims that marriage has always been understood to be between opposite sex partners. This argument fails rational basis because there are plenty of precedents to the contrary, and courts have even gone so far as to call out a certain hypocrisy when the Bible is used as a justification: the Old Testament is replete with examples of polygamy and even includes several marriages which would clearly be incestuous under US law.

The final typical argument is that same sex marriages somehow threaten opposite sex marriage, either by degrading the institution or by diluting its social importance. This argument is even flimsier then the tradition one: claiming that allowing same sex couples to marry somehow affects the integrity of preexisting opposite sex marriages is universally laughed out of court. Courts often point to divorce rates as evidence of how allegedly important marriage is to our society; if it was so vital that any given pair of people, same sex or opposite sex, stay married for the rest of their lives, surely states or their majorities would have long ago made it much more difficult to divorce.

There are certainly other issues that have arisen in the past, and will come up in the future. But my point here is to sketch a brief outline of rational basis, and the ways in which it is generally applied to same sex marriage prohibitions or limitations.

The bottom line is that if you're going to craft a voter referendum against same sex marriage, take the time to hire some legal experts to write language that actually has the slightest chance in he'll of withstanding rational basis scrutiny.

Step one: stop relying on the same old arguments that have failed multiple times in the past. Come up with something new... something that might be slightly persuasive.

Oh wait, that's right! Here's me writing about reason, and rationality... I'd nearly forgotten... Arguments against same sex marriage and the equal provision of rights and benefits can't be persuasive, rooted as they are in intolerance, bigotry, and hypocritical religious nonsense that has no place in our system of laws.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

CNN Debate Arizona

I would call Romney the clear winner; I would say Ron Paul is the most enjoyable to listen to; I would say Newt Gingrich has his points, but the $2.50/gallon gas pledge is inane and I'm really curious about his statement that he supported a line item veto (for Clinton? Really? I could be wrong, but...); I would say Santorum was off-balance and a bit out of his element - definitely the young guy at the table.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

98 out of 100 Doctors Agree: You Need Chemo. Fast.

Let's say you have some form of virulent cancer.

Let's also say that you are a generous person, the sort who agrees to be an organ donor. So instead of going to a private doctor for your prognosis, you head over to a world-renowned cancer training institute, where young oncologists are being trained. The idea is to help those young minds hone their skills by dealing with yet another real patient.

Let's also say that this school has 100 qualified instructors, each with dozens of years of experience both studying and treating all sorts of different varieties of cancer.

Now that we've set up the scenario, let's walk through your procedures: you're tested, probed, scanned, X-rayed, analyzed, stuck with needles, etc. etc., until every possible diagnostic has been run. The doctors now have reams of data on you: blood cell counts, T-cell numbers, X-ray results, lymphatic system data, MRI images, all the good stuff.

Privately, you meet with the 100 doctor instructors. 98 of them agree on the diagnosis: you have a particularly rare stage 4 cancer which is growing quickly and threatens death within one year if untreated. They point to all the data, show you the scans, show you the numbers, translate all the terminology into language you can understand. Of the 98, none argues with the diagnosis; nor do any argue with the prognosis, which is chemotherapy and radiation treatments which will be debilitating and painful. You are informed that, even with the Chemo, your chances still aren't 100% due to the nature of the cancer. However, your chances are very good, because although this particular cancer is rare, it is well-understood.

The 98 doctors disagree somewhat on your chances of survival, and on some of the basic strategies of the chemotherapy. Some would prefer to see more radiation, for example. Some would like permission to use experimental techniques as part of a promising study. A few of them are also pointing to other lifestyle factors that you might consider changing (perhaps you smoke the occasional cigar, or maybe you like scotch a bit too much for them). There is no disagreement on the diagnosis, however: you definitely have this particular cancer, they tell you, and you definitely would benefit from the suggested therapies, regardless of the specifics.

The two other doctors, however, see things differently. One questions the methodology of some of the testing, claiming that only through further diagnostics, and only by looking at things over a longer period of time, can he be sure that the diagnosis is accurate. To this doctor, of course, if the diagnosis is wrong, the prognosis is misguided as well, so he recommends that you go through exactly the same battery of tests again. He would also like you to come back in 6 months and again in one year, without any treatment of any sort in the meantime, repeating all those tests twice. Then, and only then, would he be willing even to speculate on your condition.

The other doctor claims that this type of cancer can actually be helpful and healthy, arguing that it is perfectly natural, and pointing to your present state of health as evidence that you have nothing to worry about. This doctor doesn't see a need to look at the data beyond using it to bolster his argument that because it has happened before and that others have survived it previously leads him to think that you will survive it as well. He ignores the fact that previous survivors underwent chemotherapy and radiation to treat it. He also ignores the fact that this cancer has killed other victims, too, in spite of being treated similarly. It's a bit random and out of our hands, he explains.

What would you think of the two remaining doctors? What would you decide to do? Would you decide to go with the 98, if for no other reason than because those other two doctors just don't make any logical sense? Is this a situation where the majority opinion would hold sway merely because it was the majority, or would you also be looking at 8 dozen highly trained oncologists who agree 100% on the diagnosis but have a few differences of opinion as to the prognosis?

If you feel inclined to listen to the 98, you have the type of mind which would believe in anthropogenic global warming and feel inclined to take some steps at least to slow the process down. You might also support policies whose aim is to mitigate our use of fossil fuels, install scrubbers on coal-fired power plants, require packagers to be mindful of excess packaging materials, and so forth.

If you feel inclined to trust either or both of the other two doctors, you have the type of mind which would probably be a climate change denier. You would look with suspicion on scientific data, always having the idea in the back of your head that it is somehow a hoax, scam, fraud, or other such dastardly plot. You would look on images of the Arctic sea ice over the last 30 years and conclude that nothing is changing, or that if it is, it is a perfectly natural cycle that we couldn't change if we wanted to. You would believe that tens of thousands of scientists in dozens of different fields, all over the world, were taking part in some sort of coordinated conspiracy to defraud wealthy nations of their largesse in a final grab at world domination. Every "independent" review of any data sets would be highly suspect in your mind, especially if the review concluded that the data was accurate.

In short, if you feel inclined to trust either of the two remaining doctors, you are an idiot.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Tweet of Which I Am Proud

My tweet:
@jjauthor @PeterLaBarbera If you despise women, think of them as breeders without brains, humans without rights, you might be a conservative.

In response to:
@jjauthor: If you despise the rich even though they pay your share of taxes for schools, roads, parks, the military & the poor; you might be a Liberal! [RT'd by @PeterLaBarbera]

You know, I'll just bet that precisely the same indignation over the word "despise" that occurred to me, occurred to my counterparts, though for different reasons: it's not that we liberals "despise" the rich for anything, let alone the responsible ones who actually pay their taxes. It's that we despise the system that creates them and the politicians who are thereby purchased.

It is (for me, at least) analagous to our views on religious people: liberals don't "despise" religious people; we despise them when they try to legislate their self-interpreted, self-contradictory morality on everyone else, trampling and ignoring history, reason, law, and constitutionality in the process of forcing women to undergo unnecessary, invasive, and ethically questionable medical procedures while simultaneously intimidating members of our esteemed medical profession.

We despise them when they hypocritically claim to be pro-life but behave as though this really means anything to them only until birth. Evidently, they don't seem to give a damn about children except for purposes of taxpayer-funded religious or pseudoscientific indoctrination, until they are of military age.

We despise them when they so obviously ignore some parts of "holy scripture" in favor of others by enacting and advocating for regressive, punitive, damaging pieces of legislation that serve to disenfranchise minorities, establish second-class status for whole swaths of the population, and invasively and tyrannically attempt to dictate what I as a consenting adult am or am not allowed to do with other consenting adults.

Peter LaBarbera and his ilk enjoy projecting their myopic views of OWS onto every single person that disagrees with them, displaying willful ignorance of the true meaning of those protestors and their aims. Hence his enthusiasm for the notion that liberals "despise the rich."

I have ready examples of every single one of my assertions about conservative legislative efforts, both at the state and federal level. I have dozens of tweets, blogs, radio shows, and interviews of LaBarbera and his comrades praising Santorum's misogynistic rhetoric and calling for a return to the days when women were thought of as little better than cattle to be bred for calves and milk. From polygamy to slavery to the mandate to marry my dead brother's wife and get her pregnant ASAP--whether I was already married or not--the bible and its fundamentalist expositors have shown time and time again that their barbaric proscriptions and prescriptions have little place in a society that fancies itself "the greatest nation on earth."

Peter Gleick vs. The Heartland Institute

Wow. Just... Wow.

Prominent climate scientist Peter Gleick admitted that he used "someone else's name" to obtain "additional materials" directly from the Heartland Institute (HI) to corroborate internal documents that were sent to him anonymously. These documents, and their corroborating confirmations, conclusively establish that HI is designing education programs whose clear intent is to undo science by casting aspersions on decades of climate research across dozens of interrelated fields in an attempt to sow doubt on the science surrounding climate change and its potential impacts on our planet.

Let's watch the Right avoid all appearance of being morally relativistic, while being trapped in a morally relative situation.

Without having all the facts about how, specifically, Dr. Gleick used someone else's name to obtain those confirmations--from HI itself, I remind you--it is clear that there was at least an ethical problem here. Whether it amounts to actual malfeasance (did Dr. Gleick commit identity theft when he used "someone else's name"?) will undoubtedly come to light.

We do, however, seem to have all the relevant facts about HI's role here. Do not forget that. They are there for the reading. This is not Julian Assange getting classified documents from an "eyes only" or a "top secret" military source and then releasing them by the thousands to the Internet as a whole, potentially endangering deep-cover operatives in hostile environments. This is a private entity which confirmed their veracity directly, regardless of what prompted them to do so.

Courts frequently go back and forth about expectations of privacy. In general, it is understood that an individual in a public space has no reasonable expectation of privacy from, say, having their picture taken, or even being filmed extensively. If the person involved was asked beforehand, and gave their consent to the photos or the filming, they are being pretty silly if they complain that the photographer introduced himself or herself as a "reporter from AP" instead of "paparazzi from Us Weekly."

As such, HI deserves no sympathy whatsoever, and would appear to have no case to make against Dr. Gleick. Presumably they have looked through their electronic records and tried to figure out who "someone else" was in the aftermath of having their reckless, irresponsible, anti-science strategies exposed for all to see. Regardless, they themselves provided the confirmations. One could argue that this was a rather interesting application of the scientific method: when in doubt, seek more data... preferably from a primary source.

Just as the Right didn't give a damn about who leaked Media Matters' internal white papers regarding their Fox News strategy, they shouldn't really be yelling all that loudly about the HI incident merely because the culprit outed himself.

However, as with jobs and economic data, if there is any way they can twist evident facts and trends to make it look like they were right (har har) and Obama was wrong, we will see them do everything they can to turn the focus away from a multi-million dollar group that explicitly intends to misinform science students for political reasons, to questions about Dr. Gleick's self-admitted ethical (and possibly legal) misadventures.

Their abject and embarrassing failure with the whole "climate gate" emails is a great example of the scientific illiteracy they so proudly wear as a badge of honor. I don't see why this will be any different, except for the fact that there isn't currently a worldwide climate change conference to undermine like there was back in the Copenhagen days.

Ain't moral relativism a grand thing in politics?

UPDATE (02-22-2012): To make a hollow laughing sound... It appears that there is a concerted effort to deflect attention from HI's strategy by assaulting some of the documents themselves as forgeries. There are various people out there who are clumsily analyzing one particular memo as "looking like" it was written by a climate change supporter who was trying to act like a denier.

Excellent. Really top-notch there. Since that memo came from HI, according to Dr. Gleick, and since he is the sole source on it, this angle of attack is an attempt to focus the attention not just away from HI but onto Dr. Gleick as both an unethical guy AND a fraudster. Our right-wing friends sure do know their Orwell.

I'd just like to remind everyone of the "climate gate" dynamics: several stolen emails from a cache of tens of thousands, taken out of context, hyped into the troposphere and repeatedly misinterpreted were used to undermine a global climate meeting. The problem for the Alex Jones of the blogosphere was that the underlying interdisciplinary science did not change, and even since Copenhagen has been further buttressed with new data. The planet is warming. The vast majority of scientists believe human activities are increasing the rate of warming, if not mostly to blame for it. The ramifications are known. Sea levels are rising. Weather is becoming more volatile. Ice sheets and glaciers are melting. Arctic sea ice is thinner than ever before. We are in a feedback loop.

The HI incident demonstrates the counter strategy: kill the messenger, distract from the main issue, and whatever you do, don't talk about the actual science.

What Would Happen If...

Some random ideas here... Just musing a bit.

What would happen if we...

...suddenly implemented a universal healthcare system based largely on those in Sweden, France, Canada, UK? And by suddenly, I mean that we put everything in place: price controls, universal coverage, different hospital rules, both pre- and post-natal care, maternity/paternity leave, etc. Sure, implementation would obviously take time - but assuming the implementation was reasonably responsible (say, phased in over 5 years) what would happen?

Do you think the world would end?

Do you think jobs would be lost or created?

Do you think that we would start to see savings immediately, or over the medium term?

Do you think that we would need to subsidize drug makers as well as insurers in order to help cushion them during these changes? If yes, do you think that said cushioning would be more, or less, expensive then the effective subsidization in which we currently engage?

Do you think such a health system would be more typical of the self-titled greatest nation on earth?

And, of course, why or why not?

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Evening Thoughts

I watched some of my favorite movies again! Really nice to revisit some of my favorite characters: Jack Ryan & Marko Rameus in Red October; Matt & Christina Drayton in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner; various iterations of James Bond.

I read a few decent op-eds in the Washington Post & New York Times.

I am somewhat consoled as the Republicans continue to fracture, both in message and mission. I am still amazed that Boehner retains his Speakership, given the dismal performance of 2011, the popularity of Congress, and of course the evident continuation of last year's standing orders to avoid any semblance of working with Obama to achieve almost anything.

I am also consoled to hear that the economy continues to show positive signs in most domestic sectors, including housing starts, jobless claims, and consumer confidence. My main point of caution for 2012 is from abroad--it seems clear that in the same way that the ripple effects of the Great Recession struck Europe shortly after us, those same ripples will inevitably flow back in our direction.

Whether those ripples will be strong enough to flatten our positive trends, or, worse, push them negative, remains to be seen. Like many, I have high hopes that we will see enough resilience that, at least for the purposes of the 2012 elections, there will be little ammunition for Obama's eventual opponent to fire.

In general, I am optimistic. I believe that many on the Republican side, in spite of their passion, are coming to grips with the idea of just giving 2012 a pass, with an eye to the 2014 midterms, and some fresh face or other in 2016.

I also really hope that the Democratic presidential campaigns of 2016 will take serious note of the form and silliness of the current Republican ones. It would be tragic if the left allowed what should be a robust and lively debate of ideas to morph into the ideologically inane circus the Republicans have served up thus far. Such campaigns degrade the office of the President, divide voters, make us look foolish in the international community, and of course don't help to accomplish anything beneficial for the country.

In the 19th century, we had the Know-Nothings... In the 21st, we've seen the Do-Nothings.

Let us hope that this group, too, will be as short-lived.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Guess who's coming to dinner - the movie

Mandatory viewing. Say it with me.

Even 45 years later, the attitudes are still with us. Maybe not in racial terms, but certainly in tolerance terms.

From anti-miscegenation to anti-marriage equality... They are still with us.

I really hope the next 45 years will evince a far faster rate of progression.

Mandatory viewing. Really.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Personhood in Virginia... Doctors, Be Very Afraid

Virginia is trying to get clever.  Very, very clever.

Virginia's House of Delegates has already passed, and their Senate is currently considering, bills (House Bill No. 1 - in two parts: Part I & Part II) which include the following language, providing that unborn children have all the rights of post-natal Virginians, and amend the state's wrongful death statutes. They seem to cover all the bases in their definition, too:
As used in this section, the term "unborn children" or "unborn child" shall include any unborn child or children or the offspring of human beings from the moment of conception until birth at every stage of biological development.
I'll assume that "moment of conception" means "moment of fertilization." I'll assume that "offspring" is some ultra-specific synonym for "developing zygote/fetus." This post primarily examines the implications of the wrongful death statute alterations.

Wrongful Death: A Primer

A wrongful death is a death which results from negligence, a wrongful act, or a default of action by a person, corporation, ship or vessel. Not all wrongful deaths are prosecuted as murders; the state does allow for the possibility of tragic deadly accidents that weren't the fault of any particular person, but (for example) shoddy engineering (an escalator motor in severe disrepair goes haywire and pulls several people into the mechanism), poor maintenance (a tour bus company didn't maintain the brakes on one of its buses, resulting in a deadly accident), or manufacturer negligence (such as when pharmaceutical companies distribute medications with suboptimal dosages). Any of these can be held liable under wrongful death statutes.

The purpose of wrongful death statutes is to spell out the circumstances under which people or entities can be sued for damages by the relatives, spouses, or proper representatives of the person(s) who were the victim(s) of the wrongful death(s). Virginia House Bill No. 1 amends the existing language to include unborn children as permissible victims for the purposes of the statute. Thus, the relatives, spouses, or proper representatives of unborn child who is determined to have died as the result of a wrongful act, neglect, or default of action of a person, corporation, ship, or vessel, now have standing to sue for damages. Previously, these provisions applied only to post-natal human beings.

Mississippi Redux?

So, what does this revision to the wrongful death statutes do, exactly? And how does it differ from the failed personhood effort last year in Mississippi?

The present Virginia bill differs crucially from the Mississippi personhood initiative. There, any woman who used any form of birth control which prevented implantation, or who had had an abortion performed, could have been prosecuted for murder, or at least as an accessory to murder. The doctor could have been prosecuted as well. Theoretically, it would even have been possible to prosecute the doctor's staff members or suppliers. Fortunately, the Mississippi intiative failed to pass, for these and other reasons, by a fair margin.

In Virginia's case, however, we find the following curious language:
Nothing in [the wrongful death section] shall be interpreted as creating a cause of action against a woman for directly or indirectly harming her unborn child.
O...K... Then what is the purpose of the bill, really? Is the Virginia law being extra careful to avoid the aforementioned negatives which helped defeat the Mississippi effort? This language would at first glance seem to be an affirmation of a woman's right to use the contraception of her choice, because she is specifically exempted from liability for any wrongful death action (for example, one brought by the father of the child on the grounds that he should have been informed prior to the abortion of their child).

N.B.: Keep in mind that the Mississippi bill had been brought before the people as a referendum vote, so in terms of advancement and final passage, the Virginia bill is relatively young. In Virginia, as in Mississippi, there are mechanisms that could allow for a similar popular vote approval process before implementation.

Let's explore this language a bit, and see if we can determine through inference what the actual implications might be. In this way, I hope to home in on the true purpose of this bill, the insidiousness of its implications and effects, and the blatant intimidation of doctors that will result.

Consider how interesting this disclaimer is: by carving out such an exception, this section would theoretically nullify the bill to the extent that a woman's use of contraception couldn't be held against her. That's good news, right? She retains relatively unfettered control over her personal health and/or family planning choices in terms of contraception, right?

If the state, for whatever reason, saw fit to subpoena her medical records, and found that she was pregnant on May 15th, but later was prescribed an abortifacient, then under this law a "person" would have been murdered. Who, then, would be the correct target for wrongful death damages suits under this law? Since the mother herself is exempted, the only possible targets would be the doctors or the corporations who manufacture and distribute contraceptives or abortifacients which in some way act on post-fertilized eggs.

More later... any comments or feedback would be greatly appreciated, but understand that they'll get deleted once I put this up as a final post.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Answer for ProfMTH

Hi Mitch,

Can't do this as a video response at the moment, so please take this as a draft of the script I would have used:

You ask in your video "Catholics, Contraception, and Conscience (Some Questions)" whether four hypothetical religious conscience objections are similar to the "religious liberty" objection to the HHS rule regarding the mandatory provision of contraceptive coverage by all employers (since revised to shift the requirement to insurers rather than the employers themselves).

The four examples you posit are:

Muslim women objecting to a prohibition on full or substantial facial coverings in public;

Santeria churches objecting to a prohibition against the slaughter of animals for a purpose other than that of food production;

Jehovah's Witnesses objecting to the prohibition of the offering for sale of periodicals by persons under the age of 14;

Native Americans' objection to the prohibition of ANY use of peyote, currently classified as a Class I controlled dangerous substance, in spite of their ritual use of it in certain religious ceremonies.

I see two reasonable distinctions between the contraception ruling and the four you cite: medical necessity, and the definition of contraception itself.

I will begin with the latter: the fact that a medical preparation or device results in the partial or complete inability of a woman to get pregnant, either through chemical or mechanical means, does not warrant the conclusion that its only purpose is that of contraception.

For example, various hormonal therapies have what could be termed a "contraceptive side effect" in that the alteration of hormonal balances can often result in lack of ovulation, an inhospitable environment for implantation, or "weakened" eggs that might be incapable of being fertilized. Is every hormonal therapy therefore a form of contraception? Was the prescription written in order to act as a contraceptive? The regulation of a woman's muenstral cycle, or the use of hormone therapy following certain surgeries are perfectly reasonable and recognized medically necessary applications of said therapies. The fact that they have a "contraceptive side effect" does not, de facto, make them contraceptives. Similarly, while cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy often lose a great deal of weight and hair, this does not, de facto, cause us to think of it primarily as a weight-loss or depilatory therapy.

Thus, for me, the issue is one of medical necessity, not side effects. In consultation with her doctor, a woman may have any number of choices of therapies for any number of medical conditions. A drug such as Accutane (indicated for the treatment of acute acne) has recognized, substantial contraceptive side effects, the packaging itself contains a huge number of warnings, a female patient must fill out all sorts of releases and acknowledgements, and is advised in the strongest terms not to get pregnant during a course of Accutane therapy. See, for example, the iPledge Program.

Is this treatment of acne, therefore, a form of contraception? Scientifically speaking, I cannot deny that it is; nonetheless, in terms of medical necessity and legality, I see no legal or moral roadblock to using Accutane in consultation with one's physician, in spite of its potential to devastate a pregnancy. Yes, it is often covered by insurance.

Medical necessity is a matter for the woman and her doctor to determine. A responsible physician will frequently recommend birth control to a woman who has a history of difficult pregnancies and who does not wish to subject either herself or a future fetus to the agonies and risks that, for whatever genetic reasons, pregnancy would impose.

A sexually active woman who is not prepared to have children, or who wishes to wait, or who is in an occupation where a pregnancy may compromise the safety of the people around her (say, a woman in the military), would be perfectly within her rights to seek out an appropriate form of birth control. The exact form would of course be based on her medical history, family history, and lifestyle. Isn't this what we have doctor-patient privilege for? It is for those two people to consult, review the situation, and settle on the appropriate approach.

If she works at a Catholic university, I don't see any reason why the revised HHS rule shouldn't be adequate. Her friend who works across the street at a law office could theoretically be covered by exactly the same insurance program. If their medical cases were similar, they would receive similar advice from their doctors in spite of the religious views of either employer.

In the same way that I don't tell my employers whether I am on a medically necessary therapy, since it has no effect on my productivity... it is also none of their business. It is between my doctor and myself.

These two issues, to me, distinguish the contraception ruling from the four hypotheticals you cite. I refrain from commenting on them directly beyond pointing out that none of the four are behaviors with recognized scientific or medical merit; those four groups are enjoined to act in those ways for reasons of faith, not medicine. Lumping them together with the contraception ruling reminds me of the fundamental error that Lee Doren made in his contraception video in which he says that, because condoms are a form of contraception, everyone in America therefore already has access to contraception, so the ruling itself is pointless.

We can already see that the Catholics themselves are divided: for example, the Catholic Health Association is fine with the revision, but the more doctrinal Conference of Catholic Bishops is not. Furthermore, this has been tested at the state level several times and has failed (see the Catholic Charities et al cases in California and New York). Over two dozen states currently have such conscience clauses on the books, and things seem to be working out reasonably well. It certainly hasn't affected the number of Catholics who actively use contraception, and that is probably the most embarrassing thing for Rome at the moment.

Lastly, please keep in mind that the ruling requires access to birth control--it doesn't mandate that anyone use it. This is in stark contrast to your four examples, each of which stems from a religious/faith-based mandate.

I look forward to your feedback. Thank you for the video, and take care!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Those Pesky Jobs Numbers

It never ceases to amaze me...

Two years ago, these same BLS/jobs stats were being used as fuel for a "failed stimulus" talking point. One year ago, these same stats were being used to claim that things weren't improving fast enough, or (more significantly) that they would have improved FASTER if the stimulus and other measures hadn't been passed in the first place.

Three years ago, the talking point was also that demand-side economics would, inevitably, be an utter failure. One year later, the slowly emerging recovery was called anemic, and CPAC/tea party fools were calling for all stimulative measures to be stopped, again based on these numbers. One year after that, the blame for undeniable positive trends was put on those who had tried to keep the stimulus small; the extension of the Bush tax cuts, or something, ANYTHING other than the stimulus.

Now, the assault is on the stats themselves. Or the methodology. Or the notion that they are intentionally skewed as part of a deliberate disinformation campaign.

I don't have a problem with genuine debates about economics, nor do I have a problem giving both sides credit for successes, especially when there actually is bipartisan compromise which leads to positive results, as there was during the passage of the stimulus in the first place.

But when one very vocal part of one side just moves the goal posts every time their talking points fail, I am obliged to point this out after I finish chuckling to myself.

If the stats were good enough for the Right to use as ammunition before, then they're good enough to use as evidence of a gradual, positive trend now.

And if you think for two seconds that a bad jobs number, such as the one from July last year, won't be hailed by the Right as evidence of a "new recession signal" or some such nonsense, then you truly are a conservative at heart: if the stats are good for Obama, there's something amiss; if they're bad for Obama, suddenly all the math is beyond scrutiny.

It's the anti-climate change playbook with different chapter headings, but the same essential strategy which relies on deliberate disinformation, denial, and intellectual vacuity.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Religious Liberty or Imposition of Dogma?

This is really simple.

The Administration's rule on contraception coverage has the same language and same conscience exclusions as those in over two dozen states.

So is it a state's rights issue or not? No speaker at CPAC framed their objections as a state issue. When pressed, they are calling it federal overreach. OK, then it is federal overreach.

But wouldn't that imply that, therefore, states have the authority to mandate contraception coverage on their own? Evidently not, because the ONLY thing we hear is that this is one of a long, as yet uncited list of Obama assaults on religious liberty.

Therefore, as with most socially conservative positions held by our "friends" at CPAC, their arguments are motivated by dogma, not by constitutionalism. There is no alternative.

Therefore, as with most of their other arguments, they are blatantly unconstitutional.

So bite me, CPAC jerks.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Maryland SSM

I've watched the testimony proceedings pretty closely today, only missing around 25 minutes for a work call.

Every argument I've heard in favor of same sex marriage in Maryland has been coherent, heartfelt, and reasonable.

Every argument I've heard against it has been incoherent, logically improper, sometimes heartfelt, religiously motivated, and discriminatory. This isn't counting the ones that are just plain ignorant.

And I LOVE the ex-gay people. Even if they are being totally honest about their particular histories in "the gay lifestyle," and I think it is actually possible that some are, their conclusions don't make sense. Their arguments tend to be exactly the same as the other anti-SSM people, except the ex-gay people try to use their ex-gayness as some sort of invocation of authority.

If the argument is essentially the same, does it matter what your background is?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why I Blog About What I Blog About

I get asked every so often why I blog so much about gay rights, since I’m not gay myself. The first thing that goes through my mind is the following quote, which, while clumsy, pretty much sums it up for me:

“Just as you don’t have to be an animal to support animal rights, you don’t have to be gay to support gay rights.”
I have several ready answers, depending on my mood and the tone of my questioner:

- I’m an atheist, but I also blog about religion a great deal…
- I’m not a politician, but I also blog about politics a great deal…
- I’m registered independent, but I also blog about our political parties a great deal…
- I’m male, but I blog about women’s health issues a great deal…
- I can bloody well write about anything important to me.

I blog about things I care about, and I care about some issues more strongly than others. Some hit closer to home, some I'm more familiar with, etc.. In order to keep informed about said “pet issues,” I subscribe to and/or follow many different voices on both sides. As such, I’m able to watch what is going on and hopefully find some glimmers of truth, or at least fact, in the reporting I read.  After a relatively short amount of time, you start to recognize the different styles - Red State vs. National Review vs. WSJ, for example.

Now, back to the original question: Why gay rights?  Well, it is simple for me: I see gay rights as the main lever with which certain groups are currently attempting to force religious beliefs and/or practices on the society as a whole, in flagrant violation of a variety of Constitutional principles. Apart from the fact that I truly believe in equality, and that the government has absolutely no business dictating what two consenting adults choose to do to or with themselves, I believe this issue is the present-day frontier of the ongoing struggle for equality in my country.

I do not applaud every single thing that I see, nor do I see this issue as being black and white on many different fronts. I look at most things from a philosophical as well as practical standpoint - the ultimate aim is to achieve full equality of societal status and the corrolary privileges and rights that attend upon a federally recognized marriage. Although there have been some recent sucesses, and although we have come a LONG way even since the 90's, only the delusional would claim that the fight is nearly over.  There are 43 states to go, at a minimum.  We have hopeful signs like the various DOMA lawsuits currently working their way through the courts, and legislative victories like that in Washington State and the (hopefully) successful parallel effort in New Jersey.  The recent Prop 8 decision from the 9th Circuit is an example of a highly specific nuance with which I agree, but unlike many I don't feel that that particular decision would be the best to bring to SCOTUS.

All that nuance and cautious optimism aside, my sense of reason (if absolutely nothing else, and there is plenty of that) informs my support for gay equality under law.  Every argument against same sex marriage is motivated by religion and/or bias, and therefore improper and out of place in our system of government. Every argument in favor of unequal treatment under the law is also improper and hypocritical, and may also be overtly religious. No argument that I have ever seen against same sex marriage has ever completely avoided questions of faith-based belief, regardless of how vigorously the objection seems to be rooted in something practical like economics or social health.

When religious groups try to impose their narrow interpretations of the bible on the entire population, and particularly when they do this under the guise of “protecting” people from private, consensual behavior that does not affect them in the least, using fear, bias, and misinformation, they are intentionally doing exactly the same thing that prompted our forebears to sail across the Atlantic in the first place.

When such people don't even bother spending time fighting against gay adoption, visitation rights, surrogate parenthood, foster parenthood, or any other of a long list of rights and privileges currently enjoyed both by opposite sex and same sex couples in many states, you know that their true aim is to keep themselves from living in a society which sanctions marital & parental unions which their religious beliefs cannot tolerate.

Once upon a time, they fought against the granting of those rights and privileges, too - and lost. They have accepted those losses for the time being, and have instead focused all their energy on the same final frontier on which I focus: same sex marriage itself.  Not just civil unions or domestic partnerships, but marriages.  I think the Prop 8 ruling did a fairly good job of emphasizing the importance of "marriage" as both a label and a legal status. It throws into relief a significant subtext which seems often to have been overlooked; people seem to use the term "same sex marriage" without really pausing to think about all that the word "marriage" implies.

Anyway, this post is long enough, and I hope I've made some points for your consideration.  I will undoubtedly expand upon them in the future.  For now, I feel it important to include the following paragraph, at least for the sake of completeness:

Please note that I do not fight against their rights of free speech or expression. They can believe whatever they want, and speak about those beliefs freely. But the point at which they attempt to force people with different beliefs to comply is the point at which I take a stand, minor though it might be.

The Shame of Pennsylvania

Last month, because Pennsylvania apparently has no major issues to tackle, its House of Representatives unanimously passed a non-binding resolution (HR 535) which declares 2012 "The Year of the Bible."

Let's take a look at this... document, shall we?

WHEREAS, The Bible, the word of God, has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation and people;

First question: which version of the bible?

Second question: what "unique" contribution would that be? The bit where the founders looked to the philosophers of ancient Greece as well as the then-contemporary events of their time? The inherited distrust of theocracy that informed so many of their opinions and papers, ALL of which we still have available for study? The bit where none of the Ten Commandments were explicitly included in the Constitution? Please, Pennsylvania, DO tell us.

WHEREAS, Deeply held religious convictions springing from the holy scriptures led to the early settlement of our country;

Mainly, they risked life and limb on dangerous voyages across thousands of miles of ocean to get away from OTHER people whose "religious convictions" sprang from those same scriptures, and who felt it necessary to impose their "convictions" on others. Seriously, does the Pennsylvania House, as a body, need a remedial sixth-grade social studies class? Do you people know anything about the Penn family history?

And that's not even taking into account the fact that the future United States had already BEEN settled by nature-worshipping polytheistic peoples from Asia.

WHEREAS, Biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States;

Again, which teachings would those have been? I'll file this clause under "citation needed.". Hammurabi and Plato had more influence on our "civil government" than Yahweh and Jesus.

WHEREAS, Many of our great national leaders, among them President Washington, President Jackson, President Lincoln, President Wilson and President Reagan, paid tribute to the influence of the Bible in our country’s development, as exemplified by the words of President Jackson that the Bible is “the rock on which our Republic rests”;

Irrelevant. Many public servants have been religious to whatever extent, certainly some more than others, and our Presidents are no exception. Except for Jefferson. And Adams. And the other Adams. And Madison. Lastly, it seems that the PA House is just as wrong as Jackson was (although I give Jackson credit for at least accurately calling us a Republic).

WHEREAS, The history of our country clearly illustrates the value of voluntarily applying the teachings of the scriptures in the lives of individuals, families and societies;

Oh, does it now? I could go on about this clause for hours, but I'll confine myself only to the issues of Old Testament polygamy, the stoning of virgins, child and animal sacrifice, whatever the HELL is supposed to be going on in Revelations, and of course all the things we can learn about god from his attitudes and behavior.

Golden Rule? Maybe. But I'm quite confident these people are picking and choosing just like EVERYONE does.

WHEREAS, This nation now faces great challenges that will test it as it has never been tested before;

Yup, people who aren't willing to use their sense of reason to come to reasonable compromises, like our ever-exalted Founders did, bring this line out every single election year.

WHEREAS, Renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through holy scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people;

No one looks at the Bible without interpreting, and no interpretation is infallible, despite what the pope claims. Even self-proclaimed literalists can't come to an agreement on the true meaning of many passages. Arguably the single most important story in the Bible, for these guys anyway, is the Passion of Jesus. Even THAT has gaping holes in its chronology from version to version and from gospel to gospel.

therefore be it RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives declare 2012 as the “Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania in recognition of both the formative influence of the Bible on our Commonwealth and nation and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures.

Dear Pennsylvania House Of Representatives,

I don't live in your state, but if I did, I would be vocally embarrassed, angry, and disappointed. You have taken the legislative time, at your taxpayers' expense, to draft, introduce, debate, and pass this resolution. I'm sure there is a good procedural reason why a resolution such as this is "non-binding," inasmuch as you would all probably prefer, deep down, that it be mandatory.

Your unanimous contempt for all non-believers and any other people who don't think of the bible as their god's word is shameful. This resolution is shameful. There are citizens dying on your streets because their public servants have failed them, either through lack of funding or lack of caring. There are teachers and children in your schools who daily struggle to do the best they can in spite of your refusal to fund them. You yourselves get automatic pay increases every December, and have one of the best tax-funded insurance plans in the country. You regularly pander to corporate donors while refusing to increase taxes even a small amount to help cover some of the most basic infrastructure, education, and law enforcement improvements that your own experts have been begging you to enact for years.

You are an embarrassment to your State and our nation, its founders and history, and I believe you should immediately at least apologize as a body for this staggering piece of unconstitutional hypocrisy, if not retract it entirely.

I know you won't do that, because such an acknowledgement of the historically honest areligious foundations of this country would be startlingly out of character for a body that does everything it can to protect their reelection odds while simultaneously doing as little as possible to do the real backbreaking work that is incumbent upon them.

I will be printing out copies of this resolution and using them to line our cats' litterboxes. It really is the best I can do.

Very sincerely in disappointment, sadness, regret, and anger,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

God Lives... In Crux?

According to Proponentsists at the University of Special Astroreligious Studies in Sydney, Australia, the definitive location of Heaven has been discovered. Apparently, it lies along a path roughly perpendicular to our orbital plane from our sun through Crux, a southern constellation whose six stars are featured on various national flags such as those of Australia and New Zealand.

"As we know, the self-styled "one and only" God, Yahweh, claims Heaven as his permanent residence," lead researcherist Bradley Dunthinkin stated in the press conference yesterday afternoon. "If you'll recall, a God can only legally claim residency if he or she spends at least 75% of his or her "Earth time" in a given metaphorical location. Based on our Biblically based, unalterable, eternal truths, such as Yahweh preferring the smell of various cooking (i.e., roasting in sacrifice unto Him) meats, He undoubtedly also has preferences of where He spends his holidays. Being a God who originally manifested Himself in the warm climates of the Middle East, we can safely assume that He prefers to holiday in the warmer regions as well."

As such, we can now positively state that God divides his time between Crux and Cassiopaea, spending roughly nine months (September-May) in the former, and the remaining months in the latter.

Representative Chris Pitts (R-NJ), long known for his timely and relevant legislative efforts, has therefore introduced H.R. 1337, a Bill which would require all members of American sports teams to be more aware of Yahweh's exact location when thanking Him for taking an interest in their games by gratefully pointing down during the so-called "Crux Months," but up during His time in Cassiopaea (no disrespectful pun intended).

This Bill would of course affect all sports, but some would find their players completely changing their previous affectations. Known colloquially as the "Tebow Reverse," H.R. 1337 would require all professional preseason football participants to point up when they make a good play, later switching to down when the regular season starts. Baseball would have a similar mandate, although those athletes would typically point down only during the playoffs.

Hockey and basketball players would have it easiest, being allowed to point down in thanks during their entire regular seasons. Only the best teams would be permitted to point up, as a result of God's springtime (in the northern hemisphere) migration.

The Bill in its current form places no specific requirements on amateur, collegiate, or lower-level athletes, such as pee-wee teeballers. However, it is likely to be the first of a series of legislative initiatives which Rep. Pitts says will be "designed to get America's highest visibility athletes actually pointing in the right direction" when thanking God for His help with their latest layup, snapshot, interception, home run, or other activity which was so obviously the explicit will of God in retrospect.

Yahweh was unavailable for comment, as usual, but Congressman Pitts claimed that his local pastor was "quite certain" of God's approval, and apparently recommended the adoption of an "up for Winter, down for Summer" Olympic Games Amendment.

The Bill is expected to garner strong support in the House, but Senate democrats are likely to block it on procedural grounds. "Representative Pitts is a good man, and I've had the pleasure of working on a variety of issues," said an Senate source who preferred to remain anonymous. "But you know, but there's just no dealing with some people here in the Senate on issues which are clearly important to the American people. We might be able to get it done if we can figure a way to attach it to a payroll tax-cut extension."

White House spokesman Jay Carney called the Bill "an interesting idea" in principle, but said the Obama Administration hasn't "had a chance to look at its effect on job creation."

A prominent House staffer joked, "I'd be surprised... [here pausing for a few moments]... I would be astounded if this ever got an up or down vote on the Senate side. Har har."

We will be following the Bill's progress in the coming months, and we'll be sure to keep our readers updated.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Straight "Marriage" - Let's Talk About Sex

Professor Patrick Lee of the very Catholic Franciscan University of Stuebenville argues both here and here that "true marriage" derives its primary value, both to society and its participants, from vaginal heterosexual intercourse.

Making what I'll refer to as the "modified pro-procreation" case against same-sex marriage, Prof. Lee's philosophical and mental gymnastics are impressive. Calling marriage an "irreducible human good," which is "intrinsically linked to procreation," he comes across as sometimes conflating heterosexual intercourse with marriage itself. Surprisingly, said intercourse doesn't need to be successful in the baby-making department. As long as the intercourse is vaginal, and 'twixt a man and a woman, it's all good. Although he doesn't say one way or the other, I think we can safely assume that experimentation with toys and different positions is also all good.

Before my readers accuse me of creating a straw man argument, allow me to explain and elucidate, using Prof. Lee's own words. Let's begin with his assumptions, definitions, and basic arguments:

He sees marriage as being fundamentally a three-part arrangement, defining it clearly as follows:
"The traditional view of marriage is: the union of a man and a woman, who have consented to share their lives, on the bodily (sexual), emotional, and spiritual levels, in the kind of community that would be fulfilled by having and raising children together."
Acknowledging that there may be some disagreement, even among its proponents, on the definition of traditional "marriage," he sticks to his guns on this bodily-spiritual-emotional trinity, by saying that marriage is a "distinct type of community" with attributes not available to others:
"Alliances to raise children also are not necessarily marriages: a group of celibate religious women running an orphanage, for example, are not married."
I'm pretty sure everyone would agree on that, even given the fact that he deliberately avoids the use of the word "nun" because the idea of a Bride of Christ marrying a cadre of other Brides of Christ would be the most ridiculous scenario--can you imagine a polygamous orphanage/convent where all the kids suddenly had to switch from calling the women Sister to Mom? Anyway, back to Prof. Lee's distinctions:
"...plainly, same-sex sexual relationships are a different kind of relationship: they cannot become biologically one, nor is their relationship of the kind that would find its fruition in conceiving, bearing, and raising children together."
Please keep in mind that he's said that marriage is "intrinsically linked to procreation" as we watch him draw the line at heterosexual vaginal intercourse, and only there. He specifically avoids tying heterosexual intercourse, in and of itself, to child rearing in the context of the "bodily" third of his trinity. Marriage, although "intrinsically linked" to procreation, is "not a mere means to an extrinsic end" of childbirth, but is a special state through which "men and women are fulfilled." Read the following and see if you also see a logical breakdown here:
"[M]arriage is the kind of union whose fruition is procreation. It is the kind of union that would be fulfilled by having and raising children together; the union of the spouses is embodied, prolonged, and enriched by enlarging into family. Still, marriage is not a mere means in relation to procreation, but a sharing of lives (bodily, emotionally, and spiritually) that is good in itself—and so a man and a woman who have consented to such a multi-leveled union are genuinely married, and have an intrinsically fulfilling marital union, even if it turns out they cannot procreate together."
Did you catch it? Here it is again, with emphasis added:
"[M]arriage is the kind of union whose fruition is procreation. It is the kind of union that would be fulfilled by having and raising children together; the union of the spouses is embodied, prolonged, and enriched by enlarging into family. Still, marriage is not a mere means in relation to procreation, but a sharing of lives (bodily, emotionally, and spiritually) that is good in itself—and so a man and a woman who have consented to such a multi-leveled union are genuinely married, and have an intrinsically fulfilling marital union, even if it turns out they cannot procreate together."

This is whence my "modified pro-procreation" label originates: Prof. Lee is evidently arguing that straight marriage derives its "intrinsic" value from vaginal intercourse, and the fact that such intercourse might not be able to result in pregnancy, childbirth, and a family is no impediment to its importance to society. The state, he argues, has the right (and even the obligation) to promote and protect straight "marriage" because it is the ideal setting in which men and women can flourish and be fulfilled.

So... even if the "bodily" third can't produce children and a family, the fact that it is a vaginal "bodily" third is the key issue here for Prof. Lee. He acknowledges the existence of the "pro-procreation" argument, a reasonable objection which basically says that if marriage was all about having children, and therefore must be restricted to opposite-sex couples, why should the infertile, elderly, or those who don't want children at all be treated any differently than same-sex couples? To put it another way, because there is a population of people that meets all the requirements of traditional "marriage" save the ability to have children of their own, why should they be treated any differently under law than another population of people whose only difference is that their genitals match?

Typical (and reasonable) responses to the "pro-procreation" argument include questions of fertility, adoption, age, or divorce:

- If a couple is infertile, there are a variety of ways (IVF, surrogate mothers) through which they can still conceive children; unfortunately for traditional "marriage" defenders, the same science applies to same-sex couples. Infertility, while extremely difficult to deal with, doesn't have to be an impediment to having children.

- A couple can adopt more or less as many children as they wish, within certain guidelines; the same guidelines apply, in most states, to same-sex couples. I should also point out that single-parent adoption is legally possible, though less frequent. Marital status, therefore, is usually no impediment to having children.

- If a couple is just too old biologically to have their own children, they could also use surrogates or adoption as a means of creating a family, should they choose to have one. Age, therefore, is no impediment to adopting children and having a family of one's own.

- Divorcees with children often find themselves remarrying and bringing their children with them, if the children are still living at home; the same would apply to same-sex divorcees who already have children by whatever means.

Scenario one: in theory and in law, an infertile (or post-menopausal) twice-divorced heterosexual woman could marry a man with multiple children from multiple previous marriages. The couple could also adopt if they wished, while at the same time arranging for an IVF via a surrogate mother for another baby. This couple would presumably have a deep emotional connection, and could be as "spiritual" as they saw fit to be.

Scenario two: in theory and in law, an infertile (or post-menopausal) twice-divorced bisexual woman could, in certain states, marry a woman with multiple children from multiple previous marriages. The couple could also adopt if they wished, while at the same time arranging for an IVF via a surrogate mother for another baby. This couple would presumably have a deep emotional connection, and could be as "spiritual" as they saw fit to be.

Thus, these women would be doing exactly the same things. The one and only difference, apart from their spouse's gender, would be the sorts of sexual relations they would be having with him or her.

Given that society already allows all these things to happen--though not in all states and certainly not without substantial hassle--our esteemed Prof. Lee still holds to the idea that Tab P in Slot V is the ideal foundation not just of "marriage," but also of people's emotional fulfillment.

Professor Patrick Lee of Franciscan University of Stuebenville, when we machete our way through the undergrowth of your arguments, the fact that a given couple has matching genitals does not make it impossible for them to emotionally fulfill one another; further, a given couple's spirituality is a deeply personal matter for them which is no business of the state's either in terms of reinforcement or restriction; lastly, the fact that you admit that procreation, in and of itself, does not a "true marriage" make, is proof positive that it is irrational to presume that any sexual activities a given couple wishes to engage in have anything, anything to do with the strength, dignity, or social "fitness" of their marriage.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Obama is a Failure

Apparently, Barack Obama can't seem to do anything right wrong.

Thus far, he has failed to destroy the economy.  On the contrary, it is showing signs of having stabilized, if not having made at least a modest turnaround in the positive direction.  Good going, Mr. President.  You could have at least waited a few months before ramming through that inevitable failboat of a stimulus, but oh no, you had to get things done quickly, didn't you?  You just had to go to work right away, addressing the "dire" state of the economy shortly after taking office.

He has also failed to destroy our standing in the world, at least those parts of it which actually would consider thinking of us as a positive influence on the national stage.  Well done, BO.  Our international relationships, generally speaking, are pretty good right now, and some have even improved a bit.  So much for the promised Chamberlain-esque appeasement we were all looking forward to.

He doesn't seem able, or even willing, to allow the unemployment situation to worsen.  Rather, we've had at least 6 months in a row with substantial positive net job gains.  Oh, and those have been across a variety of sectors, too! Manufacturing, healthcare, service, technology... it's like he's not even trying!  That stimulus was supposed to fail, and now look where we are.  Like many others, I initially thought he was faking it, but obviously he wasn't, and now fewer of us are paying the price for that.

And don't even get me started on the whole "white culture" business... seems like all he cares about is black people everyone.  While from time to time he does manage to offend a substantial sector of the population (see recent HHS decisions in re: insurance coverage for contraception), overall his approval ratings have been on a steady upswing for months now, across many different demographics.  Sigh.

All this equivocating, all this failed leadership, all this manifest weakness, in spite of a Congress that doesn't seem willing to entertain even the slightest possibility of compromise on anything major.  This confuses me, because you'd think that if all his proposals were indeed doomed to fail, they'd go ahead and rubber stamp them just to abbreviate the pain and ensure that his will be a one-term presidency.

I know this all sounds depressing, and I apologize for being a Negative Nellie here.  But I have confidence in him, and I believe you should, too.  Between you and me, I think he's holding back, waiting to unleash his real "A" material until after the Republicans have selected the inevitable winner of the 2012 election.  Seriously - at this point, bring Michele Bachmann back.  Anyone would be worse better than Obama, and since he's making such a hash of things, anyone would be able to beat him in November.

After all, when we're willing to ignore months if not years of cumulative data that points to a thus-far successful recovery, and when we're willing to caucus for a candidate who is amazingly similar to Obama, and when we're willing to prioritize religiously motivated bigotry for the sake of garnering votes from people we'd otherwise avoid in private, and when our favorite talking heads can't even decide which disinformation is most important, anything is possible.  Right?

Let's be real about this.  We thought we'd elected a man who hated our country.  We thought we'd elected a man who didn't believe in the American Way.  We thought we'd elected someone who hadn't even been born here.  Well, dear readers, we have evidently been betrayed, and then some.

It took Bush the Younger almost 6 years to really get things to a good point.  There was solid momentum there, you know?  Think about it: By acting unilaterally and presenting the American people with bogus intelligence, we were entrenched in two wars with no end in sight for either, and we had alienated many of our pre-2K allies.  The housing bubble had finally burst in 2007, deleting trillions of dollars of value from of the American economy (we only discovered later how awesome the global shockwaves were going to be), and the enormous surpluses from the Clinton years had completely inverted into projected deficits for decades to come.  By the end of 2008, the unemployment rate was skyrocketing, and we were losing hundreds of thousands of jobs per month.  There was nowhere to go but down up.

The only thing we have to wonder is whether the Republican who takes the Oath of Office less than a year from now can get us back on the right track, and whether they can do it quickly.  The House of Representatives has been making a decent go of it, accomplishing extremely little in '11, but Boehner and Cantor can't do it all by themselves.  In retrospect, they probably shouldn't have spent the first three or four months of the year trying to defund Planned Parenthood, even though I agree on the importance of withholding basic healthcare services from millions of low-income women and mothers.

Capitol Hill needs real leadership from the White House, not this pretend nonsense.  The fact that the House is even considering an infrastructure bill, even a symbolic an anemic one, is proof positive that both Pennsylvania Avenue and the House has lost all sense of priorities.

I for one will be looking forward to the return of Tea Party-esque supply-side policies that do nothing but prop up the rich, continue to retard economic growth, increase our budget deficits, fail to address urgent projects at home, force our citizens into healthcare-related bankruptcies, enable corporations to abuse regulatory loopholes, stunt our children's educations, and gradually erode the foundations of that pesky wall between church and State.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Komen Get It

What does it take for an organization with national and international recognition to go from a relative high point of respect and support to a low point of rejection and bitterness?

Their spokespeople say it's just a policy decision based on [inaudible mumbling].

Everyone with 3 pennies of smarts is saying it's politics... Abortion politics, at that.

We are witnessing the backlash of one of the worst policy decisions of any non-profit organization anywhere, EVER.  Spend a bunch of years building up not just a brand but almost a way of life.  Establish one of the world's most recognizable trademarks: the pink ribbon.  Hold highly-attended, well-funded annual races "For the Cure."  Develop solid relationships with a variety of corporate sponsors and supporters.  [Act like jerks and sue other non-profits who also have similar events called "For the Cure", too, but I digress].

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has swiftly earned a mention, if not a chapter, if not their own book, in the literature on marketing and policy failures, over a measly $150,000.  Before this week, if asked about them, I would have mentioned the pink ribbons, the races, the shirts, and their awareness campaigns.  I really didn't know about their support of Planned Parenthood's breast cancer programs.  If I had, it would only have added to my general sense of, "those folks at Komen seem to be doing good work, when they aren't petulantly suing other non-profits like Coca Cola trying to protect its secret formula."

Let's see here.... immediate ramifications:

- Damage to their brand
- Loss of donations
- Huge swell of new & renewed support for Planned Parenthood
- Damage to their brand (it's serious, so it's in the list twice)
- Loss of donations (ditto)
- Resignations of high-level figures, several forced, several out of protest
- Possible splintering of the organization (we're already seeing individual chapters put up a fight)

What I'd like to know is, what in blazes happened around a week ago that could possibly have prompted such a stupid, reckless, self-defeating "non-political policy decision" from Komen?  Didn't they see what happened last year when Planned Parenthood was the red flag on the budgetary tug-of-war rope?  Did they not read the tons of research which was clogging the internet and showing everyone all the non-abortion services PP provides?  How could they possibly have failed to take into account the goodwill PP has rightly accumulated over the decades?  How could they ignore the fact that PP is the only source of medical care for millions of low-income women across the country?

Whatever the answers to these questions may be, the fact is that PP has raised more money this week in protest of Komen's decision than Komen typically gave them in a year.  Talk about being able to give Komen the finger.  In spades.  Now, PP having decisively shown that it doesn't need Komen, we'll see how this shakes out when Komen's management gets its collective head out of its ass and tries to kiss & make up.

If that isn't indicative of a failed "non-political policy decision", from within your own supporters, I'm at a loss to tell you what is.

If someone out there is keeping a list of Worst Corporate Moves of the 21st Century, I think we've found a strong contender for #1.  Let's just save time, put this in the #1 slot, and patiently wait for another example of astronomically huge boardroom stupidity.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The U.S. Constitution: Not Scripture

I always enjoy watching the far right wing's struggle to understand the simple (yet sublime) distinction between holy writ and our Constitution: the Constitution was designed to be changed.

It may very well be that the bible's authors were humble men who freely admitted to themselves that they didn't have all the answers. It may also be that they admitted this to their peers. It may even be the case that other writings of theirs, since lost to the ravages of time and humidity, reflected a genuine desire to reach a consensus in their communities, with an eye to avoiding dogmatism in favor of compromise. While there is as yet no evidence to support any of these possibilities, I for one certainly nurture a healthy skepticism on these matters.

Fast forward to the present day, read our Founders' papers with these maybes in mind, and I think you'll find all of them in evidence. We have reams of letters and exchanges reflecting a healthy sense of caution; a desire to establish a system of government founded on compromise and bipartisanship; and a humility that reflected an understanding of their fallibility. A quick review just of the evolution of the First Amendment displays all these qualities.

For these reasons, and others, they developed and refined a set of founding documents that reflect one of the most astounding legacies of the Age of Enlightenment. The Constitution is not a static, unchangeable set of rules for a nation. It rightly called a living document--mutable, with established (and onerous) procedures for amending it. By design, it is quite difficult to alter in substance, requiring as it does the approval of a large portion of not just the Congress, but also the states themselves.

We have seen it amended multiple times, and even seen Amendments reversed when it became overwhelmingly clear that the unworkable had to be undone (see Prohibition, for example).

We see NONE of these qualities in scripture. That is, if you don't take into account the committees which decided which writings were to be included, and of course the resultant book burnings, inquisitions, purges, executions, and other violence which is the inevitable result of people in power withholding knowledge from their subjects.

I laugh my ass off when I hear Tea Party idiots like Allen West and David Barton and Glenn Beck attempt to make the case that case law doesn't matter; that Amendments don't matter; that the Constitution represents what it clearly does not. From one side of their mouths, they speak of the Founders with almost idolatrous reverence, and then from the other side we hear statements, presented as historical fact, which directly contradict the Founders' own writings.

The Constitution can (and sometimes should) be changed, interpreted, and amended to deal with new issues, unforeseen consequences, and our developing understanding of the best ways in which to govern ourselves. In this alone, it merits more respect than any scripture of any religion ever produced by any writer. The best response any believer has been able to come up with as regards the more embarrassing verses is, "That was a different time and a different context."

Really? The inspired word of some omni(fill in the suffix of your choice) god can't stand up to the product of fallible men whose primary purpose was the establishment of a nation whose governmental authority resides within its own people?

Sounds to me as though we need better gods, not that we should foist failed dogma upon people who don't believe in them, in a country founded on the principle of freedom of thought and belief.

Next time you hear some Koch brother funded asshat talk about "going back to the original document" specifically to limit (if not destroy) our founding ideals and liberties, tell them to piss off.