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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Some thoughts about Phil Robertson and freedom of speech

I am assuming that, if you are reading this, you are aware of the controversy regarding Phil Robertson (of A&E's "Duck Dynasty".  If not, try reading this article (or this one) or go to almost any news site and you'll probably find an article about it there.  Before I express my views, I wanted to provide a link to a blog post that, I think, sums things up pretty neatly.

Basically, Mr. Robertson gave an interview to GQ magazine where he talks about his show, homosexuals, African-Americans (in the pre-civil rights era), and other things.  I have never seen the show (nor in all honesty do I care to), so I have no idea who this man is nor, prior to this article, did I have any feelings about him one way or the other.  His comments were, well, let's just say they were not too kind nor were they terribly surprising.

Before I say anything else, it must be noted that, as a private company, A&E is not bound by the limits of the Constitution.  The Constitution, which sets up the government and gives us freedom of speech, does *NOT* apply to private companies.  *PERIOD!*  But, let's set that aside for now because otherwise this would be an incredibly short blog post.

Just as I cannot say that I was surprised at his comments, neither was I particularly shocked at the protests to his suspension by A&E.  You are getting the standard cants about "freedom of speech" and how conservatives are being bullied and what not.  There's even a petition and a Facebook page to bring him back.  My personal favorite is this blog post which says that he was suspended "for agreeing with the Bible".  Please note the utterly deceptive wording.  This wording suggests that he agreed with the Bible and was suspended for that reason, as opposed to being suspended for publicly stating beliefs that are considered offensive to a great many people and which were utterly ignorant.  Two very different things.  The problem is that the second one does not fit into the far right's story about how Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs by the evil homosexuals and their ally, the equally evil liberal media.

First, I want to note that any linking of the suspension and "freedom of speech" is specious at best and downright dishonest at worst.  No one, repeat *NO ONE*, is denying Mr. Robertson his freedom to say what he wants to say or believe what he wants to believe.  One very important fact being lost here is that freedom of speech is in no way, shape, or form equivalent with forcing people to listen or to provide you with a podium from which to state your beliefs.  Also, Mr. Robertson is an employee of A&E and as such what he says reflects on the company.  So, when he spouts off with ignorant remarks that reflect poorly on the company, they have every right to suspend him.

Second, freedom of speech and association (also granted by the first amendment) runs both ways.  Just as each person has the right to express themselves, other people have the right to refuse to listen or to refuse to associate with you.  The fact of the matter is that, as a corporate entity and hence legally a person, A&E has the right to disassociate itself from Mr. Robertson or anyone else who spouts off with ignorant views (or any other ones for that matter).

Third, freedom of speech is not absolute and does not protect people from the consequences of their actions.  If you say something that is controversial (like the Dixie Chicks about President Bush), you will experience backlash.  People protesting what you say is *NOT* abridging your freedom of speech, just as a company suspending you for publicly saying ignorant things is not abridging your freedom of speech.

Finally, I have to say that the more I hear from the far right and the more of their fulminations I read, the further away I am driven, as I suspect are other people.  I do not know about anyone else, but I get very tired of all of the whining and complaining that is constantly being heard from that corner of the world.  Not everything is a conspiracy against their narrow-minded views of God or the world.  Sometimes, people say stupid things and get punished for them.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Some thoughts on the polygamy decision

I assume you've heard about the decision from a court ruling parts of the Utah law banning polygamy as unconstitutional.  I recently saw this article on Facebook and was reading the comments, some of which seemed pretty weird.  I want to address the decision briefly and then talk about some of the comments.

First off, rationally speaking, there is no reason for the government to recognize same-sex marriages and not polyamorous or polygamous marriages.  Most of what I would say about the decision I said in this post, so I won't repeat it here.  I think it suffices to say that I think the decision was the right one.

I know there are a lot of people out there (including many of my friends) who are going to insist that marriage is solely between a man and a woman.  I understand the assertion, however I cannot see a rational reason to limit marriage to solely heterosexual relationships.  I am sure that someone would bring up the Bible, however that argument will not fly with me.  It is not that I am rejecting the Bible, rather I am trying to say that since we do not live in a theocracy, no religious text or teaching can or should be used as the sole basis for a law.  Show me, using non-religious arguments, why marriage should be limited and if I agree, I will change my mind.  I am sure that this stance will outrage some people, but it is the only stance that makes sense to me.

In some of the comments, people were saying that they knew that the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decisions from last year would inevitably lead to this sort of decision.  I would totally agree.  A court decision opening up civil marriage to same-sex couples would logically (and rightly) lead to this sort of decision.  Most of the other comments were religious inspired objections, which are invalid when applied to civil laws.  While I am not arguing that religion has no place in public life, since we do have a separation of church and state, religious laws *CANNOT* be the sole basis for civil laws.  Period.  Now, I am sure someone would point out that the Bible forbids murder and other crimes, however these crimes have also been crimes in areas which were not affected by the Judeo-Christian tradition and therefore the Bible is *NOT* the sole basis for these laws, hence my argument still holds.

The remainder of the comments were from someone who is a libertarian, but sure sounds like a social conservative.  Basically the comments said that once same-sex marriages became legal, the homosexual community would then persecute those who disagree with them.  Given the events with the baker in Colorado saying that he must make cakes, I can see the concern being warranted.  I am of two minds about this decision.  On the one hand, forcing someone to serve something that goes against their deeply held religious beliefs is wrong.  There are other bakeries who could have served the couple if needed.  On the other hand, the bakery owner's decision was discriminatory and could be seen as akin to refusing to serve an interracial couple or people in a similar situation and as such is illegal.  This is a question where my mind and my feelings are evenly split, so I have trouble making a decision.

The last of the libertarian's comments said that the decision was liberal, not libertarian and that libertarians, while believing that what you do in the privacy of your own home is your business, do not support same-sex marriage (or polygamous unions) because they are a push for special rights.  First, most libertarians I know support same-sex marriage.  In fact, if you go to the Libertarian Party's homepage and do a search for "marriage", the press releases support marriage equality.  Second, I am baffled at how anyone can argue that a push for *CIVIL* marriage equality is a "push for special rights".  There are no "special rights" being asked for.  All that is being sought is for same-sex couples to be on the same plane as different-sex couples.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Some thoughts on Evangelli Gaudium and Rush Limbaugh

On November 26, Pope Francis released a apostolic exhortation entitled Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospelread it here) which was received by some as a radical document.  In fact, Rush Limbaugh devoted a portion (not sure how much off hand) of his November 27, 2013 show to the document.  He (laughably) called the Pope a Marxist and said other things. I'll get back to this a little later.  I did want to post this link which is a reply to Limbaugh before I gave my thoughts about the exhortation and Mr. Limbaugh.

First off, nothing in this document was particularly radical if you are in the least bit acquainted with the social teaching of the Catholic Church.  The Church has always taught, in line with what both the Old and New Testaments teach, that one obligation of all Christians is to care for the poor and weak among us.  In the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded to care for the poor and widowed (see the book of Ruth). In the New Testament, Jesus often speaks about the need for the care for those who are not as well off (see the parable of the rich man and Lazarus for one example).

Second, Evangelii Gaudium does not deal exclusively with social teaching.  The Pope also deals with church organization, evangelization, enculturation, preaching, ecumenism, and inter-religious dialogue as well.  The document (which is approximately 50,000 words or 224 pages) is nothing new in any regard.  Rather, it is a restatement of old teachings and ideas by a pope who is very focused on social justice and equality.

I had a chance to read the exhortation over the past week and wanted to offer up my own thoughts on the controversial portions.  I am deliberately not going to quote directly from the exhortation, but will instead write a little bit of what I thought about what Pope Francis had to say.  After that, I will compose a short reply to Mr. Limbaugh's laughably pathetic attempt to critique what the pope had to say.

The most quoted parts of the exhortation are from the section entitled "The Social Dimension of Evangelization" (paragraphs 176-258). With a total of 288 paragraphs, this is approximately 28.5% of the total document.  In this section, Pope Francis expounds upon the reasons why we should care for the poor, downtrodden, and powerless.  There are some practical reasons (potential radicalization of the poor) but mostly he talks about how Christians are called to care for everyone among us.  He condemns unrestrained capitalism because it reduces people to commodities and things, thereby diminishing their individual dignity.  This section is the only one Mr. Linbaugh talks about, so I will discuss him at this point.

Mr. Limbaugh says, "If it weren't for capitalism, I don't know where the Catholic Church would be.  Now, as I mentioned before, I'm not Catholic. I admire it profoundly, and I've been tempted a number of times to delve deeper into it. But the pope here has now gone beyond Catholicism here, and this is pure political."  If the first point weren't so sad, I would be laughing really hard right now.  To say that the Church would be no where without capitalism is a statement that is beyond ridiculous.  The Church depends as much on capitalism as I depend on a gynecologist; in other words, not at all.  The Church predates capitalism and has opposed capitalism's excesses for over a century.  As for the last part about the pope going political, the statements that the pope made are (as noted before) a retread of older Catholic social teaching and there is nothing political about it.  As far as the American political spectrum is concerned, the Church lands on different sides of the fence depending on the issue.

Mr. Limbaugh's main problem is that he has a simplistic black and white view of the world.  You are either for the free market, conservative, and "godly" (these quotation marks are mine, not his) policies that he espouses or else you are a socialist/communist/Marxist.  There is no in between for him.  If you think I am exaggerating, please read this:

                                  Now, by the way, in fairness to the pope and in
                                  fairness to the Catholic Church, I will admit that
                                  communism years ago was much easier to see and
                                  identify than it is today. And the obvious evil that was
                                  communism was easy to see. Soviet-sponsored
                                  communism, the gulags, the First World military with
                                  the Third World economy, the blustery behavior of
                                  Soviet Communist Party bosses, the constant Soviet
                                  expansionism into Cuba and Sandinista land and
                                  Nicaragua and everywhere.

                                  Communism today is much more disguised.

                                  Communism today, in large part, is the Democrat Party.
                                  Communism today is in large part the feminist movement.
                                  Communism today is found in most of the AFL-CIO-type
                                  unions. As such, it seems just a political point of view. It's
                                  just an alternative political point of view. It's just the
                                  Democrats, and it's a much tougher thing to identify and
                                  target, because it can be your neighbor. It's not some foreign
                                  country easily identified as "the Evil Empire." Communism
                                  has a much different face today.

                                  Identifying it is, I think, much more difficult today and takes
                                  much more guts to identify it today than in the past.

I don't know about you, but this really scares me.  I don't think I am exaggerating much when I say that this is on the verge of McCarthyism.  In this blog entry, I talked about the danger posed by this sort of uncompromising, myopic point of view.  The sort of thinker who requires a Great Evil in order to validate themselves as part of a Great Good is not someone who is amenable to logical arguments.  Rather, Mr. Limbaugh expounds his ideas with great fervency and expects people to simply follow along with them.  In answer to this, let me provide this link to an article about distributism, which is based on Catholic social teaching and stands in opposition to both capitalism and socialism.

Mr. Limbaugh other main problem is that he has no grasp of Catholic social teaching.  Rather, he simply views this through a political prism without grasping the idea that the Catholic Church cannot be defined by modern political ideologies.  It predates them, and to a large extent, actually transcends them.  To try and analyze the writings of the pope in a political manner is guaranteed to cause problems for the translator.  This has been a part of the problem that many people (myself included) have with the American bishops.  They seem (stress *SEEM*) to want to yoke the Church to the Republican Party or to a conservative ideology which does not work at all.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

On racism....

Saw this article in a Facebook post and I had to reply.  I do ask that before you read what I have to say, please go read the article itself.  I am going to be honest and say that I think that while the point of the article is understandable, the author is using words in a certain specific sense that differs from the common usage. i am specifically talking about the term "racism".  In the article, she says

                                  [r]acism exists when prejudice+power combine to form
                                  social constructs, legislation and widespread media bias
                                  that contribute to the oppression of the rights and liberties
                                  of a group of people. Racism is systemic, institutional, and
                                  far reaching. It is the prevalence of racism within social
                                  structures and institutional norms, along with implicit and
                                  explicit enforcement by members of a group, that allows
                                  racism to run rampant and unchecked.

This definition of racism is what most people (myself included) would define as institutional racism. defines racism as:

                                  1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the
                                      various human races determine cultural or individual
                                      achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own
                                      race is superior and has the right to rule others
                                  2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or
                                      fostering such a doctrine; discrimination
                                  3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races

The author is defining racism using only the second definition, while ignoring the other two.  I would argue that this is problematic if only because in her article, she discounts instances of racism that do not exist on an institutional level.  Basically, her argument is that unless there is an institutional component, there is no racism.  So anyone who is white cannot (by her definition) experience racism because there is no power structure to enforce prejudice against them.

I am not going to argue that there is no institutional racism in the United States, nor am I going to argue that a white person experiences racism in the same way that a a member of a minority group would experience racism.  However, racism is real and does exist against white people by individuals within minority groups.  When one person beats another because of their skin color, that is a racist action no matter what the color of the attacker's skin or the color of the beaten's skin.  To argue differently is incredibly wrong headed and quite offensive.

I do want to note that I am not saying that the author would condone that sort of action.  But given her argument and her narrow definition of racism, someone could logically come to the conclusion that if an African-American shot a white person because of their race it is not racism whereas if the same white person where to have shot the African-American person for the same reasons, it would be racism.  that does not make any sense unless you are using her incredibly narrow definition of the word racism, which pretty much runs counter to every dictionary definition I have checked.

While I do think that the author has a point that the experiences of racism as experienced by people of different races is very different and that we, as a people, need to learn to listen and work to eliminate racial prejudice whether it is on an individual or a systemic level.

Friday, October 25, 2013

On the assimilation of non-mainstream groups....

While on Facebook the other day, I saw a post in a group asking why gay men should work so hard to get society to accept them.  The questioner asked why gay men don't just insist on being accepted as they are rather than looking for approval from society.

When I first saw the post, I had a sort of "Duh!" reaction in that I was like, "Of course people want to fit in!"  But then, I thought about it an realized that I hadn't really thought about *WHY* people should work hard to fit in.  Instead, I just took it for granted that people would want to.  I've been thinking about it and wanted to write down some of my thoughts.

Before the thoughts, I do want to say that these thoughts can really apply to any group outside of the mainstream of society looking for acceptance, not just gay men.  I will use that group since that is who was asked about and of course some of the particulars will change depending on the group, but I think that the broad strokes are universally applicable.

First off, the question posed had a faulty premise.  The question assumed that we have an "either/or" situation.  Either gay men are accepted or they remain themselves.  I reject that premise.  There is no reason why it cannot be both, at least in the United States.  I will say that the writer was from a Pacific island, so there may be cultural differences that militate in favor of an "either/or" situation rather than a "both/and" situation.

If you study history and movements for acceptance throughout (Western) history, you will notice that there are some patterns that emerge.  I do want to stress that this is all based on the Western experience and may or may not be applicable to non-Western civilizations depending on cultural variables and situations.  I think they are universally applicable, but I could be wrong.

When a new group emerges, the first impluse of the mainstream society is generally to suppress, or at the very least challenge, it.  After all, that which is new is also scary and a possible threat.  As such, it needs to prove itself.  The initial members of the group have to fight hard for acceptance and to gain a bit of a foothold in the society.  Once the foothold is gained, the following generations work to increase that acceptance.  If the group moves slowly and proves their worth, the acceptance tends to come more quickly.  If the group moves too quickly and tries to make too much change too quickly, society pushes back and acceptance is that much harder to achieve.

The thing about acceptance is that it changes both the group being accepted and the group accepting it.  Neither can survive the acceptance unchanged.  This is true on the individual level and on the societal level.  Think about it.  How many times have you met someone and it has made a difference in how you think, react, believe, or in any other way?  The only way to avoid change is to completely isolate yourself from any other person or group, and even then change will tend to happen, only much slower.  So the idea that a group can force another group to accept them "as they are" and expect to remain unchanged (implied in the question) is unrealistic.

At the same time, it is important for societies to respect the individual groups for who they are and allow them to retain their uniqueness while it is also important for members of the groups to realize that they need to make certain accomodations to the society as a whole.  There may be practices that need to be curbed (not eliminated!) or toned down in public to facilitate the assimilation process.  I know that there are going to be people who disagree with me here, but I believe that if a group is looking to assimilate themselves into the larger society, they need to be willing to move at the pace dictated by the society with a periodic push if necessary.

Now, everything I have written above was written with the premise that assimilation is desirable.  However, the questioner was wondering if assimilation is desirable, so I want to address that question now.  I think that assimilation is desirable if only because making a group a part of the larger society makes it harder to do things to the group.  The degree of assimilation also matters.  If a group manages to completely assimilate itself into the mainstream of society, it suffers less afterwards.  If the group only partly assimilates, then they are more likely to suffer aftereffects.  It also matters how much change the society is expected to take at any given time.

A society is like a living organism, if you try and force too much change down its throat, it will choke and there will be problems.  Part of the problem in the US today is that many, many groups have tried to force lots and lots of change on the United States in too short a period of time and the society has not had time to assimilate one change before having another forced upon it.  Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that all of the changes are bad.  But, as with any living organism, change needs to be gradual in order for it to have the greatest effect.

The larger problem with the United States lies in the Western conceit that Judeo-Christian culture is the pinnacle of human culture and that all others must adapt themselves to it rather than vice-versa.  There is also the tendency (at least in the US) to look at anything which is Judeo-Christian in origin as "the right way" and "the way things are supposed to be" and to automatically reject anything that disagrees with it as being completely wrong.  This makes the assimilation of any group outside of the mainstream problematic at best and impossible at worst.


Friday, October 18, 2013

On marriage...

Chances are that I am going to catch some flack for this, but I felt compelled to comments on this article which I saw on a friend's Facebook page.  The article is entirely too long for me to respond to the whole thing, so I will not attempt to.  Rather, I want to reply to some parts of it.

First off, the article gives a very good summary of the Catholic belief regarding marriage.  The Church teaches that marriage is a sacrament with dual purposes.  A valid marriage must be between one man and one woman and must be ordered towards procreation.  If procreation is not intended by a couple, than the Church does not view the marriage as valid.  Therefore, a homosexual couple's marriage cannot be valid in the eyes of the Church because it does not fulfill either of these purposes.  Also, a marriage must be entered into freely (a coerced marriage is inherently invalid) and the couple must be faithful to each other.  In addition, unless the marriage was invalid for some reason, divorce and remarriage are not allowed.  Therefore, the Church can declare a marriage invalid (and therefore never a true marriage) if these requirements are not met.

All of that is very logical, but there is a major issue that arises from it.  This definition is religious in nature and, as such, cannot be applied generally in the United States.  The Founding Fathers (wisely) chose to not allow the state to form an official religion, thereby avoiding the interreligious and sectarian strife that so marred the Old World at that time and earlier.  What this means practically is that the United States has set up a dual track for marriage.  If a couple is so inclined, they can be married in a religious ceremony.  However, to enjoy the civil benefits of marriage, the couple must apply for and obtain a marriage license.  My youngest brother was married in a civil ceremony and not a religious one.  My sister married a pagan and they had two marriage ceremonies in order to accomadate both of their religious beliefs.  My point is that marriage is no longer solely a religious concern and, as such, cannot be limited by the beliefs of one religion.

After all, the United States is a pluralistic and secular nation.  By that I mean what I said above, there is no official religion for the country.  While a majority of the country is religious, there are a wide variety of different religions and there are also many people who are either agnostics or atheists.  This means that no one religion can (or should) dictate how the country defines a public institution such as marriage.  In a similar manner, the government cannot force a religion to accept a definition of marriage that differs from the one that the religion recognizes.

For civil purposes, there is no reason not to recognize a same-sex marriage.  After all, there are many benefits (tax, inheritance, health, etc.) that come from being married.  To deny these benefits to a same-sex couple is a matter of injustice in a civil sense.  In a religious sense, there is a different story.  Since each religion can define marriage on its own, different religions will allow different people to be married.  Some religions will marry same-sex couples and others will not.  There is nothing wrong with this and there is no legitimate reason for the government to force a religion to marry people if the marriage is counter to the religion's beliefs.

The article also addresses the sociological implications of marriage.  I am not familiar with the literature, so I will remain silent on most of it, but there is one thing that I need to reply to.  The article talks of the "traditional" meaning of marriage is that of one man and one woman.  While this is generally true, particularly in Judeo-Christian influenced cultures, there are enough glaring exceptions to give one pause.  There are many cultures where a man or woman can marry multiple people and where, in fact, this practice is undertaken particularly by the rich.  After all, the richer you are, the more wives (or husbands) you can support, thereby making multiple spouses a status symbol.   The article does note that there are people who favor marriage to multiple partners, a view which is not incompatible with history.  While it may be looked upon as odd, if every member of a group freely agrees to be married, there is no reason (in a civil sense) to deny them the right.

That being said, I do think that we need to come up with a definition of marriage that will make sense.  I believe that in a civil sense, the following requirements make sense:

[1] The marriage must be entered into freely by adults.  Arranged marriages, marriages obtained through coercion, or marriages involving minors (with the exceptions listed below) would not be valid.
[2] As a corrolary to number 1, a marriage involving a minor would only be valid with parental consent and if the minor clearly and without coercion agrees to the marriage.  Parental consent can be avoided if there is a legitimate and demonstrable concern that obtaining their consent will cause harm to come to the minor.  In that case, the court will appoint a suitable guardian who will ensure that the rights and concerns of the minor are being looked after properly.
[3] If there is to be a marriage with more than two partners, then each member of the group must freely and without coercion agree to the union.  Without that consent, the marriage would not be allowed.
[4] A religion would not be required to marry anyone when their religious beliefs are against the marriage.  This would be a rule with no exceptions and there would be no civil penalties attached to any religion or church that refuses to marry people due to their religious beliefs.

I think that these requirements make sense and should be enough to protect religions and preserve their autonomy.  They will also allow the government the flexibility to recognize a variety of different marital arrangements while simultaneously protecting people from being exploited or forced into a marriage that they do not want.

Any thoughts?


[Added October 21, 2013]

On my drive home after writing this, I was considering the multiple partners aspect of this and felt that I wanted to write a little more about it.  Basically (as far as I know), there are two main views (not sure if this is the right word) at play here.  The first is polygamy which is when one person is married to multiple people of the opposite sex.  When it is one man and multiple women it is called polygyny and when it is one woman and multiple men it is called polyandry.  The second is polyamory which is when a person has deep, intimate (although not necessarily sexual) relationships with multiple people.  This can take the form of a group marriage or polygamy of some sort or it could be a less formal relationship.  The thing is that in order to engage in a polyamorous relationship, one must practice radical honesty.

Polyamory is distinct from swinging or some open relationships because it is not about sex, rather it is about forming deep emotional bonds with multiple people with the knowledge and consent of your partner(s).  Now, it is possible for these relationships to be either same-sex or opposite-sex and it is also possible for these relationships to be sexual, it would depend on the rules as agreed to by the partners in the relationship.

The relationship between this and my earlier post is that the writer of the article mentioned above was worried that if same-sex marriage was allowed could it be used to allow for polygamy or polyamory?  To which I ask, why not?  If it is purely a civil matter, if all participants are freely consenting adults then it doesn't matter.  Also, as I said above, throughout history polygamy of one sort or another has been the norm.  Monogamous relationships have historically been mainly an obsession of the Judeo-Christian European world.  Is it wrong?  No.  But it is also not the worldwide, traditional version of marriage and should not be painted as such.


[Added October 28, 2013]

Saw this article over the weekend on and thought it was interesting.  Quite relevant to what I added to this post.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Democracy's inherent weakness...

There is much to admire about democracy.  Allowing people a direct say in how their government is run is in many respects a good thing.  That being said, there is a weakness inherent in democracies that must be acknowledged because it can (and has) caused the downfall of democracies in the past.  That weakness lies in the human tendency to view the world in us v. them terms.  The other problem is that a democracy can also give rise to one of the most dangerous types of people: the demagogue.  Both of these problems have been on display over the past few years in the U.S.

I have spoken in the past about the Tea Party and the danger it poses to the U.S. because the members of the Tea Party refuse to compromise (there was a wonderful opinion piece about this recently in the Washington Post).  The far right (and to an extent the far left) in this country has come to view the world in a massively oversimplified way and have allowed themselves to be snookered by demagogues who come along and tell them how the country is going to sink into a socialist morass because of (pick an issue).  The Tea Party has come to view the world through the lens of good v evil with the Tea Party being good and therefore all who do not agree with them are evil.  And yes, that is as dangerous as it sounds.  When the world is views through this sort of oversimplified lens, it is very easy for people to lose sight of the fact that the other side of the debate may in fact have a point and that the members of the other side are human.  Dehumanizing the opposition is an incredibly dangerous step because by dehumanizing someone, you have made it ok to do whatever is necessary to stop them.

This sort of attitude also makes it ok to take whatever steps are necssary to accomplish your goals.  After all, if you are on the side of good, whatever you do is in the service of all that is right and good and therefore it is acceptable.  If people are made to suffer, it is for their own good and will make them better people.  After all, the other side is evil and is aligned with all that is wrong with the world, so your duty must be to resist this with every bone in your body.  This type of view also makes it very easy to fall into a sense of self-righteousness and arrogance (trust me, I actually went there when I was in college!).

Look, I am not saying that the Tea Party is evil, in fact I honestly think that most of its members honestly feel that they are doing the right thing and are operating out of what they consider a place of compassion.  The problem is that their view of the world is so myopic that they don't consider the impact that what they do has on real people.  Principles are wonderful things, but they shouldn't come at the expense of living, breathing people.  Abstract notions must take a back seat to actual people.

Throughout history, demagogues have posed a danger to republics and democracies, which is why the Founding Fathers wisely put barriers in place in order to contain the shifting passions of the populace and the damage that these passions may cause if a demagogue were to come along and use them for his/her own ends.  By diffusing and decentralizing power, the Founding Fathers tried to ensure that it would be harder for a single person or group to seize too much power.  From having the Senate selected by the states to having the Electoral College and not a direct vote select the president to having the courts be independent of popular whims, the Founding Fathers did what they could to ensure that the United States would not suffer the same fate that many other republics throughout history had.  From the late Roman Republic and other republics, the Founding Fathers saw that a single person (or a small group of people) could manipulate the populace to ensure that they get power and thus destroy the very republic that set them in place.  In modern days, look at Hitler and Mussolini.  Both of them were legitimately elected to power and then, through demagoguery and other methods, managed to destroy their republics and replace them with dictatorships.

If you are thinking that I have a bleak view of the common human, you would be correct.  I have read too much history and seen too much to trust the common person too much.  I know that there are good people out there, but when you put people into a group, their brains fly right out the window and they go along with what their peers want.  They often fail to consider things reasonably and instead they just react.  We all know how dangerous that can be.

To be honest, I don't really have a solution because I do not think that there really is one.  Ideally, I would like to see some of the safeguards that the Founding Fathers put in place restored, but I do not think that will happen.  People have come to associate some of these safeguards (rightly or wrongly) with reactionarianism and wouldn't stand for them.  I do hope that we take the time to consider some things before we plunge headlong into change.

My biggest worry is that the courts will become elected positions, a move that would be disasterous on an epic scale.  In order for a court to function properly, it *MUST* be protected from the shifting passions of public opinion.  That is not to say that the courts should completely ignore the public, but the courts must be free to make unpopular decisions if those decisions are in fact in the best interest of the nation/state/city/municipality/etc. as a whole.  At the same time, we must have a way to remove people who are clearly unfit for the bench whether it be from illness, mental capacity, or other such measures.  That is why the Founding Fathers set in place measures such as impeachment, to ensure that there was a way to discipline judges if need be.  But impeachment should be used rarely and only if there is no other recourse, not as a weapon that can be unsheathed at any point.

I am not saying that the Founding Fathers or their ideas were perfect (can we just talk about slavery?), however I do think that they do have some very good ideas that deserve a second look.  While their ideas are by no means a cure-all, they will be helpful (I think) in making things run a little more smoothly.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

On celebrities coming out...

Ok, so not political in the general sense of the term, but since it doesn't really fit anywhere else, I wanted to put this here.

I want to start by saying that this post is prompted by this article in which Lucas Cruikshank came out as gay.  Having never seen or heard him, I had no clue, but from the article, it seems that people weren't at all surprised.  And that is pretty cool.  What is not so cool were some of the comments to the article and it is there that I want to focus the bulk of this post.

But before we can look at them, I do need to address the issue which prompted the comments, namely Lucas Cruikshank outing himself.  We live in a time where more and more people are feeling comfortable coming out of the closet.  And this is a good thing.  Not because it promotes the "gaying up" of America or any nonsense like that, but because it shows that we are (slowly) becoming more tolerant of people of different sexual orientations and they feel that they can be themselves in public.  A lot of people wonder why people feel the need to come out, and in a sense I agree.  It is not really a matter that the public needs to know about, however it is helpful to other non-famous people who may be struggling with whether or not they should come out of the closet and be themselves.  Having good role models is always a wonderful thing.  Also, as a more diverse group of people reveal themselves as LGBT, it helps to broaden people minds as to what exactly it means to be LGBT.

Coming out of the closet is not an easy choice.  Even though I have known that I liked guys since the first time I saw Top Gun and paid more attention to Tom Cruise than Kelly McGillis, I never really thought about what that meant.  It wasn't until college that I really started to realize what my feelings meant and I fought them for years.  It was only after college when I met my first openly gay man (I actually knew several in college, but I did not know they were gay!) that I felt comfortable taking the first, tentative steps to coming out.  Even after coming out, it took me years to really accept myself and what it meant for me to be gay.  To be honest, it is still a work in progress, but I have come a long way since I came out.

To straight people who wonder why we feel the need to come out of the closet, please note that American culture assumes you are straight unless you say otherwise.  People often ask, "Straight people don't announce themselves as straight, so why do gay people feel the need to announce that they are gay?"  and seem to chalk it up to stereotypes of gay men as drama queens or some sort of evil agenda.  Also, look at the struggle that LGBT individuals have had to go through to get to where we are.

In the book The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society, noted historian Arthur Schlesinger talked about how as new immigrants arrived, they would celebrate their history in such a way as to build themselves up.  The LGBT community, although not an immigrant group, can be viewed in much the same way.  We are struggling to achieve equal rights and look to role models for purposes of emulation.  It helps to build self-esteem and encourages a sense of community.

Another point to consider is the suicide rate among LGBT youth.  Also, consider how many times you have heard of someone being beaten or killed merely because of their sexual orientation.  Again, here is where acceptance is a good thing.  As more people accept people who come out of the closet, we will (hopefully) see a decrease in both the murder and suicides of LGBT people.

My final point is that sexual orientation is unlike most other groupings of people.  Unlike skin color or the sex of an individual (both of which are readily apparent to the naked eye), sexual orientation is not always so obvious.  Yes, there are some individuals who are very obviously LGBT, but there are many who are not.  So, coming out of the closet is the easiest way to let people know that you are LGBT and thereby serve as a role model for others who need it.

Ok, so I strayed a bit from the comments, but I hope this proves to serve as food for thought and possibly for a good conversation, even if it is off this blog.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Is the United States a theocracy?

In short, the answer to this question is no.  According to theocracy is defined as:

                     the·oc·ra·cy  [thee-ok-ruh-see]  Show IPA
                     noun, plural the·oc·ra·cies.
                     1. a form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the
                     supreme civil ruler, the God's or deity's laws being interpreted by the
                     ecclesiastical authorities.
                     2. a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission.
                     3. a commonwealth or state under such a form or system of government.
                     [see this page] says

                     Taken literally or strictly, theocracy means rule by God or gods and
                     refers primarily to an internal "rule of the heart", especially in its biblical
                     application. The common, generic use of the term, as defined above in
                     terms of rule by a church or analogous religious leadership, would be
                     more accurately described as an ecclesiocracy. [link added]

Wikipedia also notes that "[h]aving a state religion is not sufficient to be a theocracy. Many countries have a state religion without the government directly deriving its powers from a divine authority or a religious authority directly exercising governmental powers." (see this subsection)

Basically, in order for a government to be a theocracy, the government must claim that it receives its powers directly from God and the rulers are also the head of the church.  The United States in no way, shape, or form falls within this definition.  I will not deny that many leaders in government are influenced by their religious beliefs or mention God frequently [particularly (but not exclusively) in the right wing of the Republican party], however this is not enough to classify the US as a theocracy regardless of what atheists or secularists would have you believe.

A part of the problem is that the word, like many words, is being misused by people on an epic scale.  People are trying to make the word "theocracy" mean that any influence on government by religion makes a government theocratic.  What they fail to appreciate (or completely and purposefully ignore) is the idea that people's personal and religious beliefs are going to affect how they govern.  This is natural and not some vast conspiracy aimed at making everyone follow a particular religion.  I will not deny that there are people who allow their religious beliefs to influence them in inappropriate ways (see this story), but these instances are not some scheme to force people to become Christians anymore than issues like universal health care or reasonable gun control are a part of some massive conspiracy to strip people of their rights.

This issue is a part of a larger problem that I have talked about before.  People today are having a much easier time finding a group of like-minded people and blockading themselves within these groups.  This tendency has always been around, but we now have an easier time doing it because of the internet and social media giving more and more people a platform from which they can pontificate and make assertions that may or may not be groundless.  When people form these little groups, they fall prey to groupthink and self-reinforcing thoughts where any incident can be fit into an overly simplistic paradigm or worldview and any incidents which do not fit in the same can be ignored or misconstrued.  People no longer take the time to think about things before they react.  Rather, they put their first thoughts out into the world and these thoughts are often based on incomplete or incorrect information or (even worse) are based on pure emotionalism with no evidence of rational thought.

I will admit that I too fall prey to this sometimes, which is why I will often try and take time to think about something for a few days prior to writing or reacting to it.  The tendency mentioned above is exacerbated by, and contributes to, the increasing political polarization that I have written about before.  For some related blog posts go here and here.

So those are my thoughts.  Any other thoughts?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What is a RINO and how do we recognize one?

So, the other day on Facebook, I saw a meme about RINOs from a page called "The Republican Revolution," a group that demonstrates everything that is wrong with the current Republican Party.  The group is insisting on a ideological purity test that fits in with the Tea Party exactly and denounces anyone who strays in the slightest from this narrow-minded view.  This mindset, as I've said before, is self-defeating and is one of the things that has seriously hurt the Republican party over the past several years.

Now, before I go much further, I should really explain the concept of RINO to people.  A RINO is a "Republican In Name Only," aka anyone who is insufficiently conservative enough for the judgmental right.  It is an decently old idea going back to at least the late 90s (that's when I first heard it, but it seemed to have been familiar to people before then).  The idea behind this label is that the Republican Party *MUST* be THE Conservative Party and to deviate in the slightest from this is to commit political heresy.  In other words, only conservatives are allowed within the ranks of the Republican party.  If you are a mushy moderate or a loony liberal (yes, I have heard those labels and oh so much worse!) then you do not belong in the Republican Party.

I think the reason that this idea is self-defeating and stupid is self-evident.  By excluding wide swaths of people from the Party, these people are turning the party from a truly national party into a party which may very well make itself extinct.  A national political party needs to have room for many different types of people.  Given our governmental system, a political party which gives itself an incredibly narrow focus is going to run itself out of existence.  I would like someone to name me a party that was focused on one issue (or point of view) that lasted very long.  If you can think of one, please let me know.  I'll be waiting (but not holding my breath).

In the US, a successful and truly national political party is an alliance between different groups that share a common goal, i.e. a coalition.  These groups may not always get along, but they at least work together.  In the Republican Party, the Tea Party types are increasingly pushing out people who are do not agree with them on all issues, thereby causing a shrinkage of people willing to vote for Republicans and contributing to the idea that the Republican Party is the party of bigoted, homophobic, racist assholes.  That is not my Republican Party.

I hope you have picked up the idea that my title is slightly facetious and sarcastic.  What really annoys me about people like this is that they think that they have the right to decide who is and is not a "real" Republican.  They don't and I resent; with a passion that is almost holy in its intensity; the idea that somehow because you do not agree with the Tea Party that you are not a real Republican.  I am a Republican, but increasingly I am feeling isolated from the party I grew up in and was; until fairly recently; proud to be a member of.

The other thing that gets me is when people who are promoting the idea that the Republican Party needs to reexamine what it stands for are shouted down and denounced.  This, like the RINO idea, is indicative of a group that is becoming increasingly isolated and moribund.  I hope the Republican Party manages to recover itself and become the political party I know it can be.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Some thoughts on an article about ethnicity...

On Facebook, someone posted this link to an article written by a woman about how to inquire about ethinicity without "being an asshole".  I just wanted to share my personal thoughts and reactions to the article because it touches on several different issues.

First, I do not understand (at all) why inquiring about someone's background is at all offensive, unless it is followed by some sort of racist comment, joke, or something similar.  We live in a society where people constantly want to divide themselves up according to their ethnicity, sexual orientation, or some other factor.  Don't believe me?  Look at the clubs, groups, holidays, etc. that spring up based around an identity of some sort.  I have no problem celebrating different groups, but to then turn around and be all offended when people ask about these same groups is *EXTREMELY* hypocritical and nonsensical.  By asking where your family is originally from (ok, maybe not the best phrasing, but still) or a similar question, you are in fact honoring the person's background.  Is there anything wrong with that?  I think not!  Now, I will admit that there are people who ask these sorts of questions in order to make judgments, but it is unwise to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Also, the writer complains about her perception that these questions promote "othering".  I understand this complaint, and in fact am not fond of othering myself.  But, again, I think this complaint is unfounded.  By asking where someone is from, you are seeking to understand them and broaden your horizons.  Does it lead to some overgeneralization?  Yes, but any categorization will do that.  It sucks, but that is human nature.  I do look forward to the day where people won't just judge based on appearance or other external factors, but I do not know if that day will ever come.  Until then, the best way to combat prejudice is to help people see that "the other" is not so different from them which can only promote understanding.

I am definitely annoyed at the implication in the article that only white people ask these sorts of questions and then only of non-white people.  I have had people of many different ethnic and racial background ask me about where my family is from.  It is a good conversation starter, because it is entirely possible that there may be something in the backgrounds of both the questioner and the questionee that can lead to a great conversation.

At the risk of overgeneralizing, this article seems to come from a viewpoint that I find very annoying and problematic.  Basically the viewpoint is of someone who wants to celebrate their ethnic background, but only in their own way and anyone who is white (let's face it that is the only questioner she talks about) who asks these sorts of questions is an asshole.  So basically, whites are supposed to let people of other ethnicities celebrate their ethnicities while not inquiring about the ethnicities themselves.  It is an extreme double standard and, quite frankly, racist insofar as it targets people of a specific race.  Also, the viewpoint lumps all white people together while condemning white people who do the same thing.  Gee, hypocrisy much?

So, do we celebrate different ethnicities and seek to understand them or do we look at everyone the same?  These two goal are, in fact, mutually exclusive.  Either we acknowledge and celebrate the impact that different ethnicities have on us as individuals and as a society while acknowledging that we are all humans and worthy of respect or we act like everyone is the same.  Personally, I choose the first.  While I may not like everything about it, I do see it as having the best overall impact.

Friday, July 5, 2013

On the Voting Rights Act decision

On June 25, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Shelby County v. Holder which turned out to be an incredibly controversial decision.  Within a short time of the issuance of the decision, people were fulminating about how the decision would prove to be a setback for voting rights and implying that discrimination would once again run rampant.

The problem is that the decision is, in fact, a narrowly tailored decision that does make sense.  What the Court held is that Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (as reauthorized in 2006) was unconstitutional because the section relies on the formula that was enacted during the 1972 reauthorization of the VRA that has not been changed since.  The Court also says that

                    Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions. Such a
                    formula is an initial prerequisite to a determination that exceptional conditions
                    still exist justifying such an “extraordinary departure from the traditional
                    course of relations between the States and the Federal Government.” Presley,
                    502 U. S., at 500–501. Our country has changed, and while any racial
                    discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation
                    it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.

In other words, if Congress were to update the formula to address issues that exist now (as opposed to using the old formula), the new formula could very well pass constitutional muster.

Before I go any further, I want to explain what exactly is at stake here.  Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act contains the formula which determines if a jurisdiction is subject to preclearance.  Any covered jurisdiction (using the now unconstitutional formula) has to submit any changes in voting laws to the Department of Justice or to a three judge panel to be approved prior to that change being enforced.  Preclearance was deemed to be necessary due to a historical pattern of discrimination in these areas against minority voters.  Any law which was deemed to have an adverse impact on minority voters would not be approved.   Basically, this was intended to prevent these jurisdictions from attempting to circumvent the law.

Note that preclearance itself was not declared unconstitutional.  That being said, preclearance cannot be applied at the current time due to the lack of a formula by which to decide which jurisdictions are covered by preclearance.  In other words, Congress must come up with and pass a new way to determine which jurisdictions are still discriminating against minorities in order to have those jurisdictions subject to Section 5 (i.e. preclearance).

Despite all the fulminations and complaints about this decision, it is not the harbinger of a resurgence of discrimination.  Rather, the Court has given Congress a clear path by which to allow section 4(b) to pass constitutional muster, namely rewrite the formula to apply it to today's problems rather than to the problems of 40 years ago.  Given the extensive nature of the hearings as described in the dissent, this should not be difficult to write, although it may be difficult to pass due to the polarized nature of the current Congress.

So, is this decision the horrible decision worthy of all the flak it is getting?  I think not.  It is, in fact, a well reasoned and very reasonable decision.  I just wish that people would actually read these decisions before demonizing them.  Or is that too much to ask?

Friday, June 28, 2013

On judicial decisions and political philosophy

In my earlier blog post about the two same sex marriage decisions (see here), I excoriated Justice Scalia's dissent in the Windsor case.  I wanted to explain my reaction a bit more than I did there.

Basically put, the job of a judge is to expound on the meaning of the law.  While personal political philosophies are going to have some influence on any decision given that one's political philosophy shapes one's worldview, this philosophy should not completely overwhelm an objective analysis of the case.  In a similar way, a historian should never allow his/her personal preferences to color the way that he/she looks at history (or at least as little as possible).  For example, while I disagree with what Justice Alito said, his dissent falls well within the bounds of judicial interpretation.  Justice Scalia's, on the other hand, reads like a pamphlet written by a political partisan.

Lest anyone think that this is solely influenced by my own opinion on this case, I also disagree (as I mentioned in the same blog post) with the dissents of Justices Brennan and Marshall in Gregg v. Georgia and with the reasoning by Chief Justice Earl Warren in Brown v. Board of Education.  While I do agree with the results of Chief Justice Warren's decision, his reasoning was based on sociology and not on legal reasoning.  Like Justice Scalia in Windsor, Chief Justice Warren allowed his personal beliefs to dictate his decision rather than allowing the law to do so.

Part of the problem here is that some people want the world to change too quickly rather than allowing change to come in a more gradual manner.  Change is never easy for anyone to accept, and if it is forced onto people, it becomes even harder to accept, particularly if the change is a massive one.  Change is not always good (no matter what some people say or seem to think) and by forcing change, it causes people not ready for the change to react badly.  If something is right, it will come to be accepted by people if it comes properly.

On the same-sex marriage decisions...

On Wednesday, I posted some preliminary thoughts about the two same-sex marriage cases that had been decided by the Supreme Court.  The two cases were Hollingsworth et al v. Perry et al and United States v. Windsor et al.  Hollingsworth dealt with whether California's Proposition 8 was constitutional.  Windsor dealt with the Defense of Marriage Act (hereafter called DOMA .  What I propose to do today is to briefly summarize each case and examine the Court's decision as well as important points from the dissent.  I will end with some of my personal thoughts on the cases.  I will start with Hollingsworth and then move onto Windsor.

Proposition 8 was passed in California in 2008 to overturn a California Supreme Court decision (In re Marriage Cases) that said that the limitation of marriage to opposite sex couples was a violation of California's Constitution.  Since Proposition 8 was a constitutional amendment, it had the effect of enshrining the idea that same sex couple could not marry into the California Constitution and thereby inculcate it against challenges under the California Constitution.  After this, a suit was brought against Proposition 8 under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the US Constitution.  The district court judge issued a decision that Proposition 8 was a violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Constitution.  California officials decided not to appeal the decision, so the sponsors of the proposition decided to appeal the decision themselves.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the California Supreme Court if the sponsors had the standing to continue the appeal.  The California Supreme Court said that the sponsors did have standing and so the Ninth Circuit Court heard the case and affirmed the decision of the District Court.  After this, the sponsors appealed to the US Supreme Court.

The idea of standing is an important one in US courts (I am not sure about other countries though).  Under the Constitution, courts can only hear a case if there is actual injury involved.  The injury need not be physical, it can be legal, financial, or anything else which will actually harm the party involved.  In other words, the courts may not issue advisory or speculative decisions unrelated to actual cases.  In this particular case, since the officials involved in the enforcement of Proposition 8 declined to appeal the decision overturning it, the sponsors of the proposition asserted that they had the right to appeal the decision.  The Supreme Court (in an opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts) ruled that they did not have this right.  While they could appeal in California courts, they could not appeal the decision in federal courts because they could not show that they were actually harmed by the decision since their injury was generalized and not specific to them.  Therefore the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court was vacated and remanded for new decision.  In other words, the Ninth Circuit Court has been ordered to issue a new decision saying that the sponsors of Proposition 8 lack standing and thereby upholding the decision of the District Court declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional.  In doing so, the Supreme Court made no decision on the merits or lack thereof on the proposition itself.

The dissent by Justice Kennedy argued that the Court should have respected the California Supreme Court's decision regarding standing and ruled on the merits of the case itself.  Justice Kennedy said that the Court should defer to the state courts when it came to rulings regarding state laws as is has done in the past.  Justice Kennedy fears that this decision could lead to an erosion of the primary reason behind the initiative, which is to "'adopt constitutional amendments or statutory provisions that their elected public officials had refused or declined to adopt'" (p. 6 of the dissent)  since the public officials, who were evaded through the initiative process, could simply refuse to defend the law in court.

DOMA was a law passed in 1996 in response to a decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court (Baehr v. Miike) holding that the state had to show compelling reasons to defend the denial of marriage licenses to same sex couples.  DOMA had three parts.  The first part was the title, the second part said that no state could be required to recognize any marriages that are legal in other states if they are illegal in that state, and the third part said that the federal government would only recognize opposite sex marriages for federal purposes.  In 2007, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were married in Ontario, Canada.  New York law recognized them as a married couple due to a New York law stating that if someone was legally and validly married elsewhere, then that marriage would be recognized by the state.  In 2009, Spyer died and Windsor applied for an exemption from the federal estate tax as Spyer's spouse.  She was denied this benefit under DOMA and she paid the tax, but appealed the decision.  The Obama administration, viewing DOMA as unconstitutional, refused to defend it in courts, but continued to enforce its provisions.  A group of congressmen (Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group [BLAG]) defended DOMA's constitutionality in the courts.  The district court ruled Section 3 unconstitutional and the 2nd Circuit Court agreed.  Before the Circuit Court heard the case, Windsor applied for a writ of certorari from the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court (in a decision written by Justice Kennedy) held that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional because it violated the Fifth Amendment.  Even though the decision did not explicitly apply it, the decision did note that DOMA violated the principle of federalism as well.  Federalism is that idea that the federal government and the state governments each have separate spheres of power as well as having overlapping powers.  Marriage has always been the bailiwick of the states.  What DOMA did was to impose a two-tier system onto certain states which recognized same sex marriage.  For state law purposes, same sex couples would be recognized and would receive the same benefits as opposite sex couples.  However, for federal purposes these same couples would not be extended the benefits, a clear case of the federal government overreaching its authority and imposing its will on an area which has traditionally been left to the states.  This two-tiered system discriminated against same sex couples and therefore violated the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

In his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts argued that the Court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case because of the fact that the Obama Administration agreed with Windsor.  Therefore, there was no question to adjudicate and no jurisdiction.  In a separate dissent, Justice Scalia argued that there was no jurisdiction, however since the majority had issued a decision on the merits, he issued his own.  He said that Court did not have the power to invalidate DOMA.  In a third dissent, Justice Alito argued that the Court had the standing to hear the case due to the participation of BLAG.  He also argued that Section 3 of DOMA was valid and that the Court should not impose its views on the country.

First, some thoughts about Hollingsworth.  This decision is limited solely to California insofar as marriage is concerned.  Regarding the issue of the initiative, I believe that Justice Kennedy's fears are misplaced.  Since this decision is about standing in the federal courts, it will not impact the state courts which are free to use other definitions of standing.  While I sort of wish that the Court had ruled on the merits, I do see the wisdom in their approach.  Trying to make too much of a change too quickly causes great conflicts and the Court was obviously looking to avoid that problem at this time.

Second, some thoughts on Windsor.  I must confess astonishment at Scalia's dissent.  Up until now, I have held the dissents of Justices Brennan and Marshall in the Gregg v. Georgia to be among the most inane and nonsensical dissents I have read from the Supreme Court.  With this decision, Justice Scalia managed to surpass them.  To assert with a straight face that the Court cannot overrule DOMA is breathtakingly dishonest and (quite frankly) stupid.  There has been a long history, going back to the Founding Era, of the courts having the ability to rule on the constitutionality of statutes passed by Congress.  Alexander Hamilton proposed it in the Federalist Papers and Chief Justice Marshall enshrined it as a constitutional principle in the case Marbury v. Madison.  So long as the case before the Court is properly adjucated, the Court has pretty much unfettered power to rule an act of Congress (or a state) as unconstitutional *IF* that law is being used in the proceedings.  Justice Scalia's dissent reads like a political pamphlet written by a member of the Tea Party and not as a legal decision from a judge.  Frankly, I am astonished at how far Justice Scalia has fallen.  He has always had an acerbic wit and pen, but to blatantly argue from political (as opposed to judicial) principles is just beyond the pale.

I have more respect for Justice Alito's dissent.  While I disagree with his decision, I think it came from the same place as the Hollingsworth decision, a desire not to create a conflict that would damage the nation and the Court.  From what I can see, I think that Chief Justice Roberts wrote his dissent with the same concern.

I do also want to note that the decision of the Court does not force any state to recognize same sex marriages preformed in another state.  As much as I may despise Justice Scalia's dissent, he does have a point when he says that this decision creates a new two-tiered system, this time between different states.  That being said, I think that the Court did the right thing in not forcing all states to recognize same sex marriage.  Firstly, that issue was not before the Court in this case and so the Court rightly did not address it.  Second, since the issue of marriage licenses is a state issue, the Court does not have that power unless a constitutional amendment of some sort passes.

Sometime over the next couple of days, I intend to look at the VRA case from earlier this week and write about that.  Until then, let me know your thoughts.  Thanks!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Some preliminary thoughts on today's SSM SCOTUS decisions...

In the interest of full discolosure, I have not yet read the decision for either Hollingsworth et al v. Perry et al (the Proposition 8 case) or United States v. Windsor et al (the DOMA case).  I just wanted to make some preliminary comments based upon some news reports.  As such, these comments are subject to revision after I have a chance to read and digest the decisions for myself.

In Hollingsworth, the Supreme Court held that the petitioners lacked the standing to sue and therefore upheld the decision of the district court to overturn it.  What happened here is that the state refused to defend Prop 8, so a group of citizens got together to defend it.  Therefore, they could not sue in federal court.

In Windsor, the Court said that the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was unconstitutional because it discriminated against same sex couples in denying them government benefits.  What the case does not do is force states to recognize same sex marriages.  It does, however, require the federal government to recognize same sex marriages for the purposes of tax benefits, Social Security, estate purposes, etc.  Basically, this ruling is saying something I said earlier (see my October 28, 2012 and October 17, 2012 posts) about civil marriage.  It is Justice, pure and simple.

I also intend to read about the VRA case from yesterday.  Based on what I read about it, the decision is not nearly as bad as people fear.

Friday, May 31, 2013

On Civil Dialogue

I know that it is something of an obsession of mine, but uncivil dialogue in any sphere really gets on my nerves.  This is particularly true in the political (or religious) sphere where people are more apt to be very dogmatic.  One aspect of civil dialogue that I feel is particularly important is relevance and language.  Let me explain.

Today, I was on Twitter retweeting a tweet from Pope Francis.  It was something about God's love (don't exactly remember the details).  Anyway, I accidentally hit the button to view the conversation and saw a bunch of really rude replies like "You killed my vagina." and "Stop molesting kids."  I've noticed things like this any time there is a news article about the Catholic Church.  Actually, I could look at almost any news article and predict some posts that will always be in the reply section.  If President Obama is mentioned, there will be some right wingers railing about his policies even if the policies being mentioned have nothing to do with the article.  If President Bush is mentioned, there will be left wingers talking about how he should be tried for crimes against humanity or similar things.  Again, this is regardless of whether or not the article in question has anything to do with the posts.  If there is an article about a natural disaster, it is virtually guaranteed that there will be a deeply religious right winger saying how it is God's punishment for this or that.  And the list could keep going on....

I have nothing against personal beliefs, but there is a time and a place for everything.  I don't know about anyone else, but I get so incredibly sick of these sorts of things.  People on the left, your rants against religion like the ones mentioned above are the reason many on the right talk about demonic influence in how the right is attacked.  People on the right, the attribution of any natural disaster to a Divine Chastisement is the reason alot of people (and not solely on the left) don't take religious people seriously.

Just think about what you write in replies to articles or tweets or whatever and ask yourself if it is really necessary.  Just because you can do it doesn't mean that you should do it.  Always follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  And remember the second greatest Commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Debate charitably and honestly and maybe, just maybe, you can help make the world a better place.