Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mob rule comes to Salt Lake City

That's what you'd think, given the reaction to the reaction to the passage of Proposition 8 in California. There have been excesses, like the mailing of white powder to Church headquarters. There have been absurdities, like the flaming Book of Mormon left outside a ward building.

Though these acts should be condemned by anybody with a conscience, the bulk of the anger from defenders of traditional marriage* seems directed not at such anti-democratic bullying, but to the organized protests that are not only pro-democratic, but the funnest part of living in a democracy.

I went to the second protest yesterday, held outside the City-County building, across from the main library. The protest was well attended, 100% peaceful, and 90% civil. The remaining 10% was out at the crosswalk connecting City-County to Library Square. That's where the two counter-protests clashed with the pro-gay forces who were itching for a confrontation.

Smartassery ensues. People, is this the sort of public discourse Thomas Jefferson had in mind? Really, if he'd seen this video before sitting down to pin the Declaration of Independence, he could have saved a lot of parchment.

King George,

We've decided to make George Washington supreme dictator for life.


TJ & Crew

P.S.: kthxbai

What frustrated me more than anything was the basic premise of the counterprotest, which boiled down to a few salient points, which I'd like to engage here. I'm sorry if I misrepresent these positions, but hey, I tried to get some more nuanced explanations from the lady in the Youtube video, and got only a splitting headache for my efforts.

The people voted, you're just being sore losers.

Now, as someone who believes gay marriage is in fact a civil rights issue, and agrees with the California Supreme Court's ruling that "civil unions" are not an acceptable substitute, I reject the notion that civil rights are subject to a vote. Alabama shouldn't be allowed to decide whether the Book of Mormon should be offered in public libraries. Massachusetts** shouldn't ask the voters whether they think Republicans should be given the vote. The Constitution sets firm limits on how much respect should be given to "the will of the people".

But the impression I got from the counterprotest was that they thought our protest was an anti-democratic attempt to overturn the vote. That's one of the things I couldn't get Loud Angry Woman to address: how exactly would that work? Nothing I saw at the protest could have or should have coerced a single person to vote against their conscience the next time arount.

One of the contras did express the sentiment that he would have been perfectly happy had the vote gone the other way, and that he wouldn't have raised a word in protest. Which is almost certainly false, though he may have believed it. People invariably believe themselves to be more fair-minded and principled than they actually are. Uhhh, except me?

The LDS Church is being unfairly singled out.

So why is the LDS Church being "singled out"? After all, other religious organizations supported Proposition 8 as well, and Mormons themselves make up a small fraction of California's population (less than 2%, the actual margin of victory).

The New York Times gives a few reasons. According to Prop. 8 proponents themselves, Mormons contributed about half the total "yes" money. Alan Ashton (grandson of David O. McKay and cofounder of WordPerfect) alone donated $1M to the Yes campagin. To be fair, another cofounder sent a million dollars to the No campaign. LDS members also constituted an amazing 80-90% of the early volunteers for the campaign.

So for those who ask why the first protest was held outside Temple Square, rather than the Catholic church three blocks east, well, there's your answer. It may be -- as some argue -- a political miscalculation. But the argument that the LDS Church did nothing to paint a target on their own backs is hogwash.

One man, one woman.

Marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman with a multi-millennial track record for societal stability, they say. What we actually have is a multi-thousand year history that includes concubines, harems, mistresses, underaged marriage, forced and arranged marriages, homosexual affairs, moratoriums on interracial marriage, divorces, ritualized non-monogamy, and Britney Spears. See the Daily Show clip below.

This isn't to object to marriage or the people who use it. But the myth of stability is just that, a myth. There is no one thing that "marriage" has ever signified. It doesn't mean that you're in love. It doesn't mean that you're raising children, or trying to have them. It doesn't mean that you're monogamous, or even that society expects you to be. The French love their mistresses. The ancient Greeks considered dude-on-dude sex a normal part of social life. In some Native American and Pacific Islander tribes, extramarital sex hardly raises an eyebrow, even if that brow belongs to the other partner.

The question is not, will same-sex marriage destroy or degrade society. It won't, and those who claim so have to avert their gaze from the litany of ways in which marriage has already been modified by society. The real question is, are homosexuals part of the human condition? Is Adam's love for Steve as deeply felt and as worthy of respect as the marriages we already validate? I say, absolutely, and to deny marriage to same-sex couples shows profound disrespect for their basic human dignity.

Civil unions are enough

I don't agree, but I think I'm persuadable on that point. But if civil unions are in every way the equal of marriage, if the difference is about the labeling rather than the product, then why all the sound and fury? The question is mostly directed to opponents of same-sex marriage, because they're the ones most likely to offer it. If I can name a laundry list of rights that marriage confers -- from hospital visitation, to inheritance rights, to the right to make medical decisions, to protections in the event of the dissolution of the relationship, and on and on -- and in every case you say, "Yes, they should have that," then who cares what it's called?

Final thought: Same-sex marriage is inevitable. The repeal of Proposition 8 is inevitable, and I would bet a good sum of money that it won't last beyond the 2012 election. I base this on a couple of factors. First, in the 2000 election, a similar repudiation of same-sex marriage passed in California by 60%, not 52%. Younger voters are replacing older voters and people are getting more used to the idea of civil unions (which California still offers), so the electorate is slowly getting on board with the idea. Yes on 8 was headed for defeat before a well-funded misinformation campaign got it back on track.

Once it's repealed, and once gay marriages have been a part of everyday life for a few years, and once the states offering it fail to catch fire or get struck by meteors, I think the fear that drove the Yes on 8 campaign will dissolve away. Other states will begin offering it, and similarly fail to feel the brunt of God's wrath. I figure by 2020, something will happen on the federal level, at least to the extent of forcing states to recognize marriages from other states.


It's all good, but the "definition of marriage" starts around 2:30.

** Man, I can never spell that one right.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Why I love FOX News

About 6:30PM MST, Brit Hume described the Alaska Senate race by saying that Ted Stevens was convicted of seven counts of "failing to file proper disclosure forms."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reason #17: For America

Tomorrow is the election. In a few hours, polls will open, Americans will get up, cut themselves shaving, shove burnt pop-tarts into their faces as they rush out the door, and -- while hopefully wondering why we insist on doing this ritual on a Tuesday -- hit the polls. So while I wanted to make some narrower points, this seems like a good time to get all expansive and reflective.

I like to think of myself as an idealistic curmudgeon. Just ask me; I can give you a dozen highly plausible ways that our society as we know it could achieve catastrophic failure. This brings me no small measure of discomfort, and not just because several of those scenarios lead to my own horrible mutilation. The sadness comes from thinking about the unimaginable loss, not just of lives, but of hopes and possibilities.

Things feel dark right now. I can say, without feeling like I'm exaggerating in the slightest, that the next generation is about to inherit a nation in decline.

Our physical infrastructure is eroding away, as is our sense of pride. In short, America needs a revival, maybe even a resurrection. I believe Barack Obama could bring that about.

We need concerted action right now. A McCain presidency would almost certainly preside over a congress with an even stronger Democratic majority than it has now. It's a recipe for gridlock, and four more years of inaction on some very critical problems. We can't wait another four years to tackle global warming, or to start revitalizing our energy grid, or to get health care to the uninsured.

Obama, if elected, can move much more aggressively. Not just because he has the numbers in Congress, but because he's run a much more positive, unifying campaign than his opponent. He's been selling hope while McCain has been selling mostly Obamaphobia, and destroying his bipartisan cred in the process. So McCain will have a tougher time convincing those who didn't vote for him to follow his plans.

To put it more bluntly, Obama will be able to lead this country, to bring us together in a common cause, in a way that McCain cannot.

Well, I've run out of steam, before I could build up to a decent finale. had a much better idea: a reprint of Henry V's St. Crispin's Day speech. Talk about uniting in a common cause.

We few, we happy few. Vote Obama.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Reason #7-16!


I assumed that nobody would notice if I stopped. I was getting busier, and my interest in the project was waning. But I got an actual complaint. Perhaps I should be flattered.

So, to catch me up, I need nine more reasons to vote for Obama. Here we go.

#7: Health care. Obama's plan is simply better. McCain's ideas appear to be nothing but warmed-over Bushonomics. The primary effect of his tax credits will be to push millions of people out of employer-based coverage and into the individual markets. Now, employer-based coverage is a weird artifact of World War II price controls, and is by definition not portable between employers. In the long term, that system has to go. But the individual market has much higher administrative costs (19% as opposed to 10% for employer-based coverage (or Medicare's 3%)).

#8: Tax policy. Yes, I know that the Right is talking about Obama and his "economy-killing tax increases." Poppycock and hornswaggle, I say. Clinton raised taxes, and the economy did fine under him. Bush cut taxes, and the economy tanked. Economists can bicker and argue over how taxes affect the broader economy, but the correlation is muddier than the screaming punditry dares to acknowledge. Obama's current plan does nothing more than reverse a narrow subset of the Bush tax cuts, returning them to a level that suited the economy justfinethankyouverymuch a decade ago.

As to the claim that increasing taxes on the wealthy is "redistributionist," so what? As Warren Buffet once said, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." The last eight years have seen stagnant or declining wages for most of us, and vast rewards reaped for the wealthiest. That picture is real, and it's an affront to any definition of fairness.

#9: McCain's campaign has gone 100% negative. It's true that Obama and McCain are spending about the same amount on negative campaigning. But Obama, thanks to vast sums of money from ordinary Americans, has about three times as much to spend on advertising. On a related note, because individual contributions under $200 aren't reported, McCain's campaign ominously refers to them as "undisclosed contributions", as though to insinuate that Obama is being financed entirely by bin Laden himself.

More startling are the things McCain has been *saying* in his negative ads. When a program to teach young children to protect themselves against pedophiles -- a program supported by the Illinois PTA -- gets twisted into "comprehensive sex ed for kindergarteners," a very disturbing line has been crossed.

I was horrified when I read about the "McCain fathered an illegitimate black child" rumor Karl Rove used against McCain in the 2000 primaries. It gave me a deep sympathy for McCain, and I thought such an experience would make him averse to those sorts of tactics. I was wrong, and that sympathy is now entirely used up.

#10: First Muslim president! Wooo!!!

#11: The environment. The environment is inextricably tied up with energy policy, and as I mentioned earlier, Obama wins hands down there as well.

#12: Foreign policy is supposed to be John McCain's strong suit, and the polls indicate that voters believe that. I think that will not be the case. Watching the debates, I didn't get the impression that Obama had any sort of foreign policy deficit against McCain. Also, McCain has made some pretty famous and repeated gaffes that make me wonder how well he actually understands the situation in Iraq.

The differences aren't a matter of competence so much as attitude. Obama has made it clear that he will rely more on skillful use of diplomacy. McCain derides Obama for this, trying to convince us that simply sitting down with other parties and listening to their positions should be a reward for good behavior, rather than just something we ought to do because it's in our own best interests.

Frankly, I've had enough of "tough foreign policy," and of its proponents. There is nothing more cowardly to me than someone who refuses to do the simplest, common-sense things for fear of looking weak

But there is another reason why I think Obama will have the better foreign policy. The world has been shocked and awed by our behavior on the world stage these last eight years. To the rest of the world, McCain appears to be a vote by the American public for a continuation of Bush's policies, an idea they find repulsive. Obama, by contrast, represents a sharp turn towards sanity, cooperation, and multilateralism. We can argue over whether this is in fact true, but when it comes to winning countries and influencing populations, Obama has a built-in advantage.

#13.0: Headsplosions!

#13.1: Rush Limbaugh's head will explode.

#13.2: Charles Krauthammer's head will explode.

#13.3: Ann Coulter's head will explode.

#13.4: Sean Hannity's head will explode.

#13.5: Headsplosions will stimulate the carpet cleaning business, and to a lesser extent the broader economy. We have to stimulate the economy.

#14: The return of regulation. The Bush administration has undermined the effectiveness of government at every turn, and for the most part they've done it without making even minor changes in the actual laws that the executive branch is supposed to, well, execute. Often, the administration has simply installed people as the heads of departments who don't believe in the missions of those departments. So we've ended up with (among others) an EPA that doesn't want to protect the environment, an ambassador to the U.N. who disagreed with the very premise of the institution, and a National Labor Relations Board that considers labor unions illegitimate organizations.

More often, the Bush administration has simply cut the budgets of the regulators to the point that they cannot effectively enforce the regulations. If McCain institutes his proposed "spending freeze," it will freeze the budgets of government programs like OSHA and the EPA at unacceptably low levels. But taking a broader view, I just don't see that McCain has enough faith in government, or its ability to act for the public good. The regulatory infrastructure that our country depends on has been degraded over the last several years, and is in desperate need of restoration. Barack Obama is the better candidate for that job.

#15: Obama is a rock star. He gives great speeches. He draws huge crowds. If you listen to the McCain campaign, these things are negatives. They're downright mockable, in fact -- though I don't see them criticizing Sarah Palin's ability to draw crowds in the tens of thousands. Governor Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan were actual actors before they turned their attention to politics. Having a president who can connect with people doesn't just make State of the Union speeches more engaging. Charisma can spur people to action, rally support, and lift hopes.

The first time I actually sat down and listened to Obama was when he was giving his speech on race, after the Jeremiah Wright thing. He blew me away, not just because he was eloquent, but because he used his eloquence not in the service of demagoguery, but to flesh out some very deep thoughts on race in a way that inspired and united, without ever losing sight of the complexities of the problems. He was so thoughtful, so averse to glittering generalities or simple solutions, that I thought there was no way in hell that he could win the nomination, much less the presidency. I assumed that people would go with the candidate who told them exactly what they wanted to hear.

I've never gotten the impression from Senator Obama that he has any intention of using words as a substitute for action, or that he's going to use his eloquence to pander to our conceits when we really need to hear hard truths. Obama has a knack for inspiring and moving people. Or, in a word, Leadership.

#16: Obama has a secret plan for getting us out of Vietnam. Or Iraq. Some country we shouldn't be in. There are several reasons for getting out of Iraq. First and foremost, we just cannot afford to stay. We've already spent $600 billion, and according to Nobel-prizewinning-yet-lefty-economist Joseph Stiglitz, the eventual total will be about $3 trillion. That would buy a heckuvalotta distressed mortgages. While that's mostly money already spent, the sooner we stop the hemorrhaging the better.

The other big reason for leaving: the Iraqi people want us to leave. Polls of Iraqi citizens indicate that Get Out beats Stay by about 4 to 1. Further, the Iraqi government has asked us to commit to timetables for withdrawl. McCain's claim that he'll stay "until the job is done" is not just misguided, but a slap at the sovereignty of Iraq.

Good enough, Jonathon? Well? WELL????