Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

“Christian” Hate-Speech & Inciting to Violence Returns

Those items to the left, along with T-shirts and bumper stickers with the same slogan seem like more American civil religion, right? Remember all the “Prayer groups for the President” during Bush’s first term?  Wrong.  Psalm 109: 8 reads “May his days be few and may another take his office!” It is one of the imprecatory or cursing psalms.  Written by someone persecuted by one of the wicked kings of Israel, this Psalm asks for Divine Violence against the person “prayed for.” In other words, these cute teddy bears, buttons, etc. are calling Pres. Obama a “wicked ruler” like one of Israel or Judah’s wicked rulers and asking for God to smite him dead!

Look at the verses that follow: May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.  May his children wander about and beg, seeking food from the ruins they inhabit.  May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruit of his toil.””  It goes on in this line.  Toward the end, the Psalmist says why he is so angry at the ruler he is cursing in prayer:  Because he has favored the rich and not the poor.  Well, I’m one who doesn’t think Pres. Obama has yet done enough for the poor, but American Christians have not prayed for the deaths of Presidents Reagan, Bush I, or Bush II, who all did so much damage to the poor in this country. 

Is it appropriate that we urge American Christians to pray cursing psalms?  Is that the kind of praying for enemies that Jesus encourages in the Sermon on the Mount?  I want us to share the Psalmist’s passion on behalf of the poor and the Psalmist’s fearlessness of those in high places–rather than cringing toward those in authority–but I find the violence in the heart displayed in this psalm to be exactly what Jesus was AGAINST.  And it leads to actual violence.

There are people out there who have mental problems–and many have guns.  What if Christians who don’t like a certain president, encourage this kind of hate and then someone decides to HELP God “honor this prayer” –to become a self-appointed instrument of God in smoting this president or another?  I think all those involved in making or marketing this kind of garbage, and every preacher who does not denounce it (especially preachers who do not like the current president), will have blood on their hands if someone attempts to assassinate Pres. Obama based on this Psalm.  Conservative Christians especially say that Muslim leaders do not do enough to denounce violent Islamic extremism (the Islamic leaders I know spend HUGE amounts of time denouncing such and trying to get rid of it). So, they need to be held to their own standards.   This is trawling for “Christian” terrorism and should not be tolerated.

Lest someone think that my concern stems only because I voted for this president, let me say this: I refused to speak in 2005 at a peace rally that included the leadership of a secular peace organization known as A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) because ANSWER is actually a front group for an oldline Marxist organization that hates Israel (NOT just Israeli policies–ANSWER denies Israel’s right to exist at all!) and they passed out signs saying “Draft the Bush Twins.”  I did attend some mass rallies that ANSWER also attended (you can’t predict who else will show up), but I denounced their signs and brought my own with better messages–and I wrote about why such signs were not helpful, no matter who made them.  Everyone knew and still knows that I consider George W. Bush to deserve a trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity–but I denounced hate speech by some on the left against him and his family at every turn.

This is ALWAYS wrong–and it is especially dangerous in a society like ours with a long history of political violence.  The pulpits that either encourage this or are silent about it are no different from those that encouraged or were silent about the violence against civil rights workers in my childhood.

Time to be counted. My conservative Christian friends:  If you do not speak out against this, you are no worse than the hatemongers who stir up terrorists.  There are times when silence equals complicity and this is one of them. Speak up–no matter how you feel about this president.  In fact, the MORE you dislike him and the more your church knows that, the MORE you need to condemn this violent “praying.”  It is an abomination before God.

November 21, 2009 Posted by | prayer, U.S. politics, violence | 2 Comments

Against Conventional Political Wisdom: Ruminations

  • Conventional Wisdom (CW): The Republican victories in the governor’s races in NJ and VA prove that Democrats are in real trouble in next year’s mid-term elections and will probably lose over 20 House seats and lose the Senate altogether.  Umm, sorry, but no, it doesn’t.  VA: Almost all the issues were local and VA just followed it’s historic pattern of electing governor’s from the party NOT in the White House–a tradition dating over 4 decades, now.  I think Creigh Deeds (D) could have bucked that trend, but, for reasons I can’t fathom, he ran a terrible general election campaign after running a fantastic grassroots, come from behind, primary against the better-monied, better-connected, Terry McCauliffe.  NJ: Corzine was in trouble even before Obama was elected. The only thing which made this a real race was the ethics problems (possible illegalities) of now gov-elect Christie. NJ voters picked the guy they hated least.  Now, that doesn’t mean that Democrats won’t face some serious challenges in ’10, especially if the economy is still sluggish. The president’s party traditionally loses seats in the mid-term elections–only 3 times since the Civil War has that not been the case.  But, if the Dems can show the American people that they are fighting hard for them and doing their best to lower unemployment, then the losses need not be high–and the GOP problems recruiting will help.  I see no way for the Republicans, even if ’10 is a good year for them, to net the 11 seats it would take to reclaim the Senate Majority, but it will be hard for Dems to keep the supermajority of 60.
  • CW: Obama’s in real trouble since his polling numbers have now dropped below 50% approval rating.  Since WWII, every president except Eisenhower fell below 50% at some point in his first year in office.  Ronald Reagan, who was reelected in the largest landslide ever in ’84 (I hate writing that, but, unlike the rightwing, I live in REALITY), tied Obama in waiting until month 10 before falling below 50%. George W. Bush fell below 50% approval in 4 months, until 9/11 artificially sent his approval ratings to c. 90% for months.  Bush was below 50% in January of ’04 and became the first incumbent pres. since the Civil War to win reelection when starting their reelection year below 50%.  So, Obama’s current dip does NOT mean that he’ll lose in ’12.  It does make it harder for him to advance his agenda through Congress, but if gets meaningful healthcare reform signed before Christmas, his approval rating (and that of the Dems in Congress) will rise again. If he passes healthcare reform, some other key legislation, and doesn’t escalate Afghanistan, signs a nuke-cutting treaty with Russia, and makes progress on climate change at Copenhagen, then I will be very surprised if he doesn’t start the New Year with about 55% approval. If he and Congress can pivot to work hard on jobs, jobs, jobs, early in ’10, then expect his political capital to grow again. And the same polls showing the pres. below 50% approval rating still show him doing better than all 4 of his most likely GOP opponents, so it’s WAY too early for GOPers to celebrate.
  • CW: If the President begins to drawdown troops in Afghanistan, he will commit political suicide.  Really? LBJ found just the opposite: escalating an unwinnable and increasingly unpopular war is the path to political suicide.  The American people are war weary. If Obama leads to a way out of Afghanistan that shows he remains serious about terrorist threats, but realizes that there is no military solution to Afghanistan, he will reinspire the young–key to his reelection and to his party’s continued success.  In this case, the right thing is also the politically smart thing.
  • CW: Sarah Palin has alienated enough of the Republican establishment to make sure that she is never nominated by that party for president.  Don’t be so sure.  She is the most charismatic figure of the GOP’s (shrinking) increasingly far-right base.  Primaries are dominated by the true believers of each party. When I think of her likely competition:  Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Charlie Crist, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee, I think Palin’s has a better than even chance of being the next GOP presidential nominee.  That said, I think her chances of winning the White House are very slim.  She alienates independents and you can’t win the White House without them.
  • CW:  The economy will ruin Democrats’ chances in 2010.  It certainly could. The CW is not completely off-base here.  People vote their pocketbooks and high unemployment is the biggest obstacle Democrats have next year.  BUT:  The GOP losses in ’06 and ’08 were so large, and their current divisions so wide, that they do not seem poised to capitalize on this.  And, if the Democrats are shown to be working hard on the unemployment problem, even if the results are slow or modest at first, then they can climb the steep hill in ’10.  The real challenge will be one of perception:  For good reasons, many who voted Democratic in ’08, now believe the Democrats have worked harder to save Wall Street and big corporations than they have to help the poor and working classes.  Obama and the Congressional Dems made a huge mistake early this Spring in trying to calm anger at the bankers and investors, instead of channeling that anger constructively.  So, many turned the anger away from the bankers to the government–and this is politically dangerous to the majority party.  From now to next November, the people need to see the president and Congressional Dems as ON THEIR SIDE and FIGHTING for them. Economic populism is strong again and it will either work for the Dems or burn down their house–no in-betweens.  If they can win the perception battle and frame the issues their way, coupled with the weakened state of the GOP, then they could defy the odds in ’10 as they did in ’98 when CW predicted a GOP landslide, but the Dems made gains in the House and actually won a slim majority in the Senate.  Then, if, as I believe the economy recovers for most people by 2011, expect 2012 to be a good year for Obama and the Democrats–and that could be true even if ’10 proves a good year for the GOP. (We saw that during the last recession of any depth, ’79-82.  Reagan lost badly in the ’82 mid-terms, but by ’83 the economy was improving nicely and so in ’84, he was able to pronounce it “Morning in America,” and ask “Are you better off than four years ago?” and win the largest landslide victory in U.S. political history.)  The 2 issues that could save the Democrats in ’10 are JOBS, and immigration reform.  EVERYONE favors job creation. And Republican opposition to immigrants, especially Latinos (fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S.), is killing them.
  • CW: Republican presidential hopes will be better in ’16 than ’12.  True.  Since the end of WWII, the U.S. has seldom allowed one party the White House for more than 8 years.  And never more than ’12. So, if Obama’s popularity is high in ’16 and the Dems have a good candidate, they could hold on to win a 3rd term–but that person is very unlikely to be a two termer.  But there are too many unknowns between now and ’12, never mind now and ’16 or ’20. 
  • CW: The violent rhetoric and actual political violence in America is unprecedented.  No.  Actually, eras of rapid social change have USUALLY been accompanied by hatred, fear, and violence on the part of sizeable minorities.  I’m old enough to remember the Civil Rights era (though too young to have participated) and the amazing victories were accompanied by bombings of churches, assassinations, riots, and some of the worst public hate speech ever.  This doesn’t mean I don’t worry. I do. I worry about assassination attempts on Pres. Obama and others. I worry about domestic terrorism–connected to MANY religions, including the right wing of Christianity, or to secular ideologies–not just to fanatic versions of Islam.   We need to work against this–but I think we’ll survive it as we make social progress.

November 20, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | Comments Off on Against Conventional Political Wisdom: Ruminations

Endorsing Mike Slaton for KY House District 41

Having  just moved to our first home, I am not certain that I am still part of District 41, but I want to endorse Mike Slaton of Phoenix Hill in the May 2010 Democratic primary.  He’s a true progressive and we could use more in Frankfort.  A Louisville native, he is a B.A. (cum laude) in History from the University of Louisville, and works for Louisville Metro Parks, coodinating volunteers.  He formerly worked for the Fairness Campaign, a Louisville organization which advocates for justice for LGBT folk.  He and his partner just purchased their first home in Phoenix Hill and this is Mike’s first campaign for elective office.

On the issues:

  • Slaton advocates micro-loans to combat poverty in KY, community investing, and affordable housing.  He will demand that drug addiction be treated as a disease, not a crime.  He wants to tie prison terms to accomlishments like earning college degrees and he supports automatic restoration of voting rights for felons who have served their terms.  He also wants to end for-profit prisons in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
  • On social programs, Slaton wants to expand efforts to reduce poverty, reduce addiction, and prevent homelessness.  He wants to help veterans to return to civilian life, demand government be responsive to those who need it the most.  He brings the perspective that prevention saves lives and money.
  • Slaton opposes mountaintop removal and wants to reduce KY’s dependence on King Coal–pushing for more renewable energy.
  • He wants to bring the perspective that quality healthcare, decent jobs, quality education, and ecological integrity are human rights.

In the nearly 30 years that I have lived in Kentucky, I don’t think I have seen as progressive a politician as Mike Slaton in the state legislature.  He is young enough that he could one day be a U.S. Rep., state or U.S. Senator, or KY gov.  We need progressives in each of these positions, but I’ll gladly start with the state house.

His website is Mike Slaton for Kentucky House.  He also has a Facebook Fan Page.

I urge all residents of District 41 to vote for Mike Slaton this coming May.


November 19, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | 6 Comments

American Democratic Socialist Heroes

Yes, I’ve learned from Karl Marx.  Though never considering myself any kind of doctrinaire Marxist, I find Marx’s critique of Capital unanswerable, especially the alienation of workers from the fruits of their labor.  I’ve learned from heterodox, creative Marxists like Antonio Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse, the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School (escpecially Habermas), British Fabians and others.  But when I call myself a democratic socialist and think of myself as standing in the democratic socialist tradition of struggle for economic democracy to complement political democracy and for a free, non-racist, non-sexist, non-classist, ecologically sound, non-heterosexist society, it is primarily the home-grown American socialist heroes and heroines of whom I think.  Below are a few that have been especially influential and inspiring to me.  There is no order in the listing except who I think of first, etc.

  • Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926).  A prominent labor leader in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen in his youth, Debs founded the American Railway Union (1894), the Socialist Party of America (1901), and the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies) (1905).  He ran for president five times on the Socialist Party ticket, winning millions of votes, though never a single electoral vote. (The Electoral College and the filibuster in the U.S. Senate, are the two most anti-democratic features of our republic’s structure and both need abolishing.) A pacifist, Debs openly opposed U.S. entry into World War I which, because Congress had passed an Espionage Act which made any opposition to the war effort the equivalent of treason (a law which was clearly unconstitutional), landed Debs in prison for 10 years. He ran for president from prison and won over 2 million votes!  He was not pardoned and released until 1923, when Pres. Harding pardoned him as an old man.  His particular Socialist Party had since died, torn itself apart while he was imprisoned over support or opposition to the new Bolshevik regime in the USSR.  But Debs’ ideals of economic empowerment, organized working people demanding justice for their labor, and international movement of workers, opposition to war as a tool of capitalist oppression, and the dignity of common people live on.  Favorite Debs quotes include “While there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a “criminal element,” I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” 
  • W. E. B. DuBois (1868-1963). First African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard, DuBois was a historian, sociologist (including sociologist of religion), criminologist, civil rights activist, pan-Africanist, who flirted with Communism, but returned to democratic socialism.  He once ran for NY Senator on the American Labor Party ticket. 
  • Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (1830-1930). Labor leader and organizer famous for her slogan, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”  Considered the “Miner’s Angel” because of her strong advocacy for miners against exploitive bosses, dangerous working conditions, child labor, bad wages, poor benefits, etc.  Yes, she is the inspiration for the magazine, Mother Jones.
  • Jane Addams (1860-1935), Nobel Prize Laureate, who founded Hull House in Chicago and with it, social work in the United States.  An early feminist, she worked to end poverty in the United States and to advance the cause of women worldwide.  Also a pacifist, she was the founding head of the Women’s Peace Party and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
  • Norman Thomas (1884-1968).  Son of an Ohio Presbyterian minister, Thomas graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, before following in his father’s footsteps, graduating from Union Theological Seminary of NY and becoming a Presbyterian minister.  A pacifist, Thomas preached against the U.S. entering into WWI and became an early member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  He soon became a major leader of the Socialist Party of America and ran for president 6 times. 
  • Dorothy Day (1897-1980).  She flirted with Communism in her youth as a radical, anarchist, journalist, but after a conversion near the time of the birth of her only child, Tamar, she became a baptized Catholic.  Then, she co-founded the Catholic Worker movement with Peter Maurin, combining democratic socialism, pacifism,  with teachings of the Gospels and the Catholic social encyclicals.
  • Michael Harrington (1928-1989) , trained at Yale as a lawyer, this founder and chair of the Democratic Socialists of America (not a political party, but a movement), he was an early participant in the Catholic Worker movement, but lost his faith in God.  A writer, political activist, professor of political science, radio commentator, Harrington’s The Other America:  Poverty in the United States, inspired the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty.
  • A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979) was the head of the powerful Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a major labor and civil rights leader.
  • Pauli Murray (1910-1985) first African-American woman to earn a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School.  A civil rights activist, writer, poet, feminist, and one of the earliest women ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church.  Murray was always a democratic socialist.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), although never the Communist that J. Edgar Hoover and others charged him with being, was attracted to socialism and, after his visit to India in 1960, and  Sweden and Norway in 1964, became a democratic socialist in thought, though never part of any Socialist party or organization.
  • Cornel West (1954-), Professor of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Princeton University, and one of the great public intellectuals of our day.  Has been a co-Chair of the Democratic Socialists of America.
  • Gary J.  Dorrien (1952-) is an Episcopal priest, theologian, and Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary.  He is a strong advocate of economic democracy and historian of the Social Gospel and of socialism in the United States.
  • UPDATE:   I forgot to include:
  • Ella Baker (1903-1986), civil and human rights activist. Never part of any socialist party, she worked for labor and economic justice causes and shared socialist ideals and convictions.
  • A. J. Muste (1885-1967) began as a candidate for ministry in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) who went to Union Theological Seminary of New York. As a student he became involved in labor and social gospel causes and joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  Later pastored a Congregationalist church while working on labor issues–led to loss of his church. Temporarily, he lost his faith and adopted the Trotskyite form of Marxism.  On a visit to the USSR and then a meeting with Trotsky in the latter’s exile, Muste was dramatically reconverted to pacifist Christianity.  He became a Quaker and the Executive Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He joined the Socialist Party of America and campaigned for Norman Thomas. In retirement from the F.O.R., Muste went to work for the War Resisters’ League.
  • Bayard Rustin (1910-1987), gay African-American Quaker who was imprisoned for resisting the draft during WWII.  Former communist who broke with the Communist Party over Stalin and joined the Socialist Party of America.  Rustin was prominent in peace and human rights issues–and was the behind the scenes planner of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 

These are but a few of the many key thinkers and activists in the American tradition of Democratic Socialism.  I place myself with the experimental, non-dogmatic, pragmatist and pacifist strand of this heritage.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | biography, economic justice, heroes, labor, poverty, Religious Social Criticism, social history, U.S. politics | | 7 Comments

The Struggle for Marriage Equality: A U.S. Update

I have made clear my support for marriage equality.  But this is not a post making the argument for legal recognition of same-sex marriages.  This is simply a report on the state of the struggle as of November of 2009. 

Hawai’i.  In 1993, the Hawai’ian State Supreme Court rules that the state law limiting civil marriage to heterosexual couples is unconstitutional unless the state can show (1) compelling state interests for the discrimination of same-sex couples and (2) that the limitation is narrowly drawn so that other rights are not impacted.  This case causes such panic that the U.S. Congress passes the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which forbids federal law from recognizing same-sex marriages–and any couples married in states which do recognize such from receiving any of the federal benefits which are given heterosexual married couples.  This “preemptive strike” was designed by the Republican controlled Congress to cause problems for Pres. Bill Clinton (D)’s reelection campaign against Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS), since it was presumed that Clinton would veto the legislation.  Instead, on 21 Sept. 1996, Pres. Clinton signed DOMA into law and went on to defeat Dole in November.  On 03 November 1998, Hawai’i voters amend their state consitution to allow the Hawai’i state legislature to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. In light of this, the Hawai’ian Supreme Court dismissed the suit challenging that law on 06 December 1998–so it was never decided whether the law would have been unconstitutional or not.  As of this writing, there have been no further efforts by marriage equality advocates to change the laws in Hawai’i in their favor and marriage remains reserved for opposite sex couples in the Aloha State.  Hawai’i has recognited “Reciprocal Benefits” for same-sex couples, having some of the legal recognitions of marriage, since 1997.

Massachussetts.  On 18 November 2003, the MA State Supreme Court ruled that banning same-sex mar riage violated the state constitution.  On 17 May 2004 same-sex marriage became legal in MA.  There was an abortive attempt in February 2004 to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but it was never completed and there have been no further attempts.  The experience in MA seems to show that acceptance of marriage equality by a majority of the general public takes about two (2) years.

California.  California began recognizing same-sex Domestic Partnerships in 2000. At first these Domestic Partnerships had only a fraction of the legal rights of civil marriage, but they were expanded over time.  The mayor of San Francisco began offering same-sex marriage licenses in 2003 until the courts stopped him and ruled those marriages invalid.  29 September 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) vetoes a legislative bill to legalize same-sex marriage. He vetoed a second such bill on 12 October 2007.  15 May 2008, the Supreme Court of CA rules that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.  Gay and lesbian couples begin to get married on 16 June 2008.  04 November 2008, CA voters pass Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that amends the state Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage–it takes effect 05 November 2008 and marriage licenses to same-sex couples cease that day. A legal challenge to the law, claiming that this is more than an amendment, but a major revision of the Constitution (and thus cannot be enacted by simply ballot measure) is rejected by the CA Supreme Court (26 May 2009)–but the Court says that those marriages performed in the few months that same-sex marriage was equal will continue to be valid.    11 October 2009, CA Gov. Schwarzenegger signs into law the recognition in CA of same-sex marriages performed in other states.  Currently, marriage equality advocates are debating whether to try to repeal Proposition 8 in 2010 or wait until 2012 when electoral turnout will be greater because of the presidential election.  The 2012 date would give both advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage more time to mobilize supporters and try to change minds.

Connecticut.  Connecticut passed a Civil Unions law in 2005.  On 10 October 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that discriminating against same-sex couples in civil marriage violated the state constitution.  The court ordered the legislature to legalize same-sex marriage.  12 November 2008, same-sex marriages began in CT.  23 April 2009, Gov. Jodi Rell (R-CT) signed into law the statutory recognition of same-sex marriages previously recognized only by court order.  On the same day, Gov. Rell signed a law that would convert existing same-sex civil unions into marriages beginning 01 October 2010.

Vermont.  On 20 December 1999, the VT State Supreme Court rules that denial of benefits and rights “incidental to marriage” to same-sex couples violates the states “common benefits” clause.  In response, the VT legislature created a same-sex “civil unions” law  in 2000 which grants same-sex couples the legal and civil rights and benefits of marriage, but without the name “marriage.” This civil unions law is signed by then-Gov.  Howard Dean(D-VT)–who later wishes he had pushed the legislature for full marriage equality.  The experience of VT with civil unions–and of many residents going to nearby MA for marriage ceremonies–over a 5 year period, leads for a strong push for same-sex marriage recognition, but this is opposed by Gov. Jim Douglas (R-V).  On 06 April 2009, the Vermont General Assembly passed legislation recognizing same sex marriages, but this was vetoed the same day by Gov. Douglas.  On 07 April 2009, the Vermont General Assembly overrode the governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority.  On 1 Sept. 2009, same-sex marriages began in Vermont.

Iowa.  On 03 April 2009, the Iowa State Supreme Court declared that civil marriage could not be restricted to heterosexual couples and, thus, recognized the legality of same-sex marriage.  An attempt to repeal this decision is underway, but amending the state constitution is not easy in IA.  An amendment must pass both houses of the state legislature two consecutive years running and then be confirmed by popular ballot.  Democrats currently control both houses of the state legislatur and the leadership has vowed to prevent any such legislation from reaching the floor. If the Republicans were to win back both houses of the state legislature in 2010, they could not introduce legislation to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage until January 2011. It would have to pass both chambers in 2011 and 2o12 and then be sent for ballot ratification. So, the earliest a repeal of marriage equality in IA could occur would be 2013 and marriage equality advocates are hopeful that state residents will be “used to” same-sex marriage by then and not go along with repeal.  The longer the law is on the book, the greater its chances for permanence.  As of 27  April 2009, same-sex marriages have been legally performed in IA.

Maine.  In 2004, Maine adopted a Domestic Parnerships law that granted same-sex couples some of the rights and benefits of marriage.  06 May 2009, Maine Gov. Baldacci signed the Marriage Equality Bill which would have allowed same sex marriages to begin on 11 September 2009.  However, Maine law allows for a People’s Veto by ballot initiative.  That initiative, called Question 1, hired the same firms that successfully repealed CA’s marriage equality through Proposition 8.  But marriage equality advocates were confident that they could defeat Q 1–and, initially, on election night 03 November, it looked like Marriage Equality won, but as the night wore on, the People’s Veto won 53-47%.  Thus, same-sex marriage was repealed without ever taking effect in ME on 03 November 2009.  Marriage Equality advocates are not sure where to start next in ME.

New Hampshire.  Same sex civil unions are legalized in 2008.  On 23 March 2009, the NH House of Representatives passes legislation recognizing same-sex marriage.  29 April, the NH Senate passes same-sex marriage with minor amendments designed to protect the religious liberty of churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. which have religious objections to same-sex marriage.  06 May, the NH House concurs with the amendments of the senate and the bill is sent to Gov. John Lynch (R-NH).  Lynch had previously said he would veto such legislation and there are not enough votes to override, but the amendments lead him to reconsider.  Lynch says he will sign the bill with a few further protections for religious liberty and outlines them.  On 03 June 2009, Lynch signs same-sex marriage into law–effective 01 January 2010.  There is an attempt at repeal in NH both by legislature and by ballot–they cannot start until 01 January 2010.  Because the law was passed so narrowly, nothing should be taken for granted.  Whether NH’s marriage equality law stays past January 2010 is yet to be decided.

New York.  New York passed legislation in 05 that recognized same-sex Domestic Partnerships with limited rights.  In 2007, New York’s State Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages performed elsewhere must be recognized by New York.  On 12 May 2009, the New York State Assembly (lower House) passed a law allowing same-sex marriages in New York and sent it to the New York Senate.  The New York Senate has 32 Democrats and 30 Republicans and it would take 32 votes to pass same-sex marriage.  The Senate has vowed a vote on the bill before the end of the year–presumably the delay is because they are currently 2 votes short. If the law passes the Senate, Gov. David Paterson has promised to sign it–has, in fact, been a strong champion of marriage equality.  Gov. Paterson faces a tough re-election fight in 2010 and it is not clear if any successor would sign the bill, so marriage equality advocates are pushing hard for passage this year.  Ballot initiatives are illegal in New York, so repeal would be more difficult–and the fact that NY already recognizes same-sex marriages performed out of state argues for the staying power of marriage equality if it can clear the senate this year.

New Jersey.  New Jersey legally recognized same-sex civil unions beginning in 2007 after the NJ Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to all the legal benefits of marriage.  Momentum has been growing for full marriage equality, but, originally advocates had not planned to initiate legislation until early 2010.  However, the defeat of incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) by Atty. Gen.  Bob Christie (R-NJ) on 03 Nov. ’09 has led to a hurried run at the legislature.  Corzine is a GLBT advocate, whereas Christie has already promised to veto any such legislation.  NJ opinion is about evenly split.  If NJ passes same-sex marriage this year, Corzine will sign the law.  If not, they either have to wait until Christie is defeated, or build up enough support to override his veto. 

Washington, D.C.  In 1992, Domestic Partnerships for same-sex couples were recognized in the District of Columbia. Over the years these have been expanded ever closer to those of heterosexual marriage.  D.C. recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.  A bill to legally perform same-sex marriages in the nation’s capital cleared a key committee 4-1 this past Tues. ’10 Nov. 2009.  It is due to be voted on by the full city council on 01 Dec. and 10 of the 13 council members are co-sponsors of the bill, so passage is assured.  However, there may be a ballot initiative for repeal here as in ME.

Washington (state).  Domestic partnerships were approved in 2007 and expanded step-by-step until they now are civil marriage in all but name.  On 03 November, Washington residents voted by ballot initiative to keep this “all but marriage” law.  If the pattern of acceptance holds, Washington state will be ready to recognize same-sex marriages by 2012–especially if the legislature votes before then to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

In 2004, as part of the effort to “re”-elect Pres. George W. Bush (R), who was in a very tight race with Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), Republicans pushed to drive up the conservatives at the polls by placing ballot initiatives in key states that would ban same-sex marriage constitutionally.  Between ’04 and ’08, over 20 states adopted amendments banning same-sex marriage.  Now, 2 of the states that banned same-sex marriage by constitutional amendment in ’04, are reconsidering.

Oregon.  Oregon was one of many states in ’04 which voted to amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but, unlike some other states (e.g., Kentucky), OR did not ban civil unions or domestic partnerships, too.  In 2007, the OR state legislature passed legislation banning discrimination against LGBT persons and also allowed same-sex couples to register as domestic partners with limited benefits.  Marriage equality advocates are building on this base and are working for consciousness raising throughout the state in advance of plans to attempt to amend the state constitution, again, granting marriage equality in 2012.

Michigan.  Michigan was another of the many states which used ballot referenda to amend their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage in ’04.  But Speaker of the House Pro Tem (State Rep.) Pam Byrnes made good on a campaign promise last year and in June 2009 introduced an amendment to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage.  If the bill receives 2/3 support from both the state house and state senate, then it will go to voters for repeal in 2010.  I expect it to be a very close vote.

There are also civil unions or domestic partnerships in Nevada, Maryland, Colorado, and Wisconsin–which makes each of these states likely to be the next frontiers in the struggle for marriage equality.

In June, the Respect Marriage Act was introduced into both chambers of the U.S. Congress. If approved, the Respect Marriage Act would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and allow the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in the states that have them.

With the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, I understand why marriage equality advocates are reluctant to challenge DOMA or state laws banning same-sex marriage in federal court.  I would like to see a friendlier Supreme Court makeup, first.  But it seems to me (a non-lawyer) that a good legal case can be made for ruling that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.  1) Loving v. Virginia (1967) struck down state bans on interracial marriage–bans which, at that time, still existed in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Loving v. Virginia established that marriage is a natural right and that customs and prejudices cannot restrict the liberties of two people seeking the bonds of marriage.  Now, to date, that has only been applied to heterosexual couples.  2) Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that same-sex couples have never been recognized as marriage.  They compare it to other cases in which the courts have forbidden the relationships to be recognized as valid marriages:  cases of incest, or of an adult marrying a minor, or of bestiality.  But in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the Supreme Court struck down the so-called “sodomy laws” of the various states–private homosexual acts between consenting adults cannot be made illegal.  Yes, there is far more to marriage than sexuality, much less sex acts, but this decision suggests that the Court already recognizes a difference between same-sex adult couples and the illegitimate relationships which opponents would use as an analogy: incestuous couples, liasons between an adult and a minor,  liasons between a human and an animal, etc.  If the law already distinguishes between same-sex couples (whose liberties to be a couple cannot be infringed) and other non-heterosexual couples (whose liasons can be declared illegal), then it seems that the argument made in Loving v. Virginia for heterosexual interracial marriages should apply to same-sex marriages.  3) The argument that marriage must entail the possibility of progeny fails on several counts–a. We would not marry any couple where the woman was past menopause or the man had any reasons to be infertile if the possibility of children were definitive of marriage.  b. Just as heterosexual married couples can adopt children or (now) use hi-tech means to become pregnant or hire a surrogate, so those options are also open to the same-sex couple, so that even if we consider children to be a usual component of marriage, same-sex couples are not thereby prohibited.   4) The argument that heterosexuality is a traditional component of the definition of civil marriage is irrelevant since definitions of marriage have changed over time.  Once marriages had to be arranged–and girls were married at ages we would now consider to be child sexual abuse.  Once interracial marriages or marriages between persons of different religious persuasions were considered null and void, but now they are not.  There is no reason that marriage cannot now evolve to include same-sex marriage.

If the Supreme Court were to rule in such a fashion, all the current state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage would be struck down.  Depending on how fast the makeup of the court changes, and who is confirmed (and how quickly) in judicial openings, I would think that such a ruling might occur sometime in the next decade–prior to 2020.  That’s my best guess.  In the meantime, the state-by-state struggles continue.


November 12, 2009 Posted by | civil liberties, courts, democracy, family, GLBT issues, homosexuality, human rights., U.S. politics | 15 Comments

Obama’s Heroes Would Not Approve of His War in Afghanistan

Thanks to Derrick Crowe of Rethinking Afghanistan and Return Good for Evil for this video.

We have to speak truth to power–always. In season and out, regardless of change of administrations.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, foreign policy, nonviolence, peacemaking, U.S. politics, war | 11 Comments

Book Review: We Who Dared to Say No to War

WeWhoDaredWe Who Dared to Say No to War:  American Antiwar Writing From 1812 to NowEd. Murray Polner and Thomas E. Woods, Jr.  Basic Books, 2008.

I have just read a public library copy of this gem and it is on my Christmas list for my own copy.  High school and college courses in U.S. history should use this as a supplement.   Beginning with the War of 1812, the editors collect writings against war during every war fought by the USA:  The Mexican-American War, the U.S. Civil War, the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Iraq and the “War on Terror.” 

A major strength of this collection is the ideological range of the selections.  One editor, Murray Polner, comes from the liberal end of U.S. politics (he leans toward democratic socialism). The other editor, Thomas Woods, Jr., is a strong conservative (libertarian).  But, popular myth to the contrary, war is not a “conservative vs. liberal” issue, but a moral issue that has been opposed on many different grounds. (Likewise, there have been both liberal and conservative militarists.)  Some of the writers collected here were against all war, but others wrote only to oppose particular wars. 

Here we find writings from the famous (Daniel Webster, Henry Clay,  Transcendentalist-Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, Abraham Lincoln (while a U.S. Congressman–against the Mexican-American war), Alexander Campbell (founder of the Disciples of Christ), William Jennings Bryan, Helen Keller, Jane Addams, Eugene V. Debs, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Daniel and Philip Berrigan and others.  But we also find writings from those who are nowhere near as well known, such as Jeanette Rankin (Republican Representative from Montana, first woman elected to Congress and only member of U.S. Congress to vote against entry into both WWI and WWII), John Randolph, Church of Christ minister David Lipscomb, Russell Kirk, Elihus Burritt and others.

I am not certain why the editors began with the War of 1812 rather than the U.S. Revolutionary War (or some of the wars during the Colonial period), nor why the Korean War was omitted, but this is an amazing collection that shows that anti-war speeches and writing is a thoroughly American tradition.  A nice bonus is a comilation of “Great Antiwar Films” described and rated one to 3 stars by historian Butler Shaffer.  Scenes of anti-war protest from every period of U.S. history are illustrated by a great selection of photos scattered throughout the volume.  A great bibliography finishes out the fine volume.

The reading can be depressing since it shows how seldom peace folk have been able to stop the war machine.  It is depressing to realize how many times the press abandoned its duty to uncover propaganda and lies–this cheerleading in place of investigation did not start with the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. (In fact, it is bizarre to find that many of the same bogus arguments were given for invading Canada in 1812 as were given for invading Iraq in 2003.)

But this collection need not be read in such depressing light.  Those who are against war, especially in time of war, often feel isolated and the drumbeats of militarism and shrill cries of their neighbors claim that they do not love their country.  The warmongers try to claim the heritage of the nation for themselves.  A collection like this shows that anti-war feeling and action have a strong claim to the central American tradition.  Protest, agitation, resistance are all part of the warp and woof of this nation (and doubtless of many other nations, too).  Learning this history empowers ordinary people to join in the antiwar tradition–and can work to change the nation from its embrace of a culture of imperialist warfare to a culture of peacemaking.  A war-state undermines democracy and liberty, but working against war strengthens a democratic republic.

It’s now on my Christmas list–put it on yours, too.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, books, citizenship, democracy, Iraq, just peacemaking, peace, politics, social history, terrorism prevention, U.S. politics, violence, war | Comments Off on Book Review: We Who Dared to Say No to War

How U.S. Americans View the World

Americans' world

September 16, 2009 Posted by | humor, U.S. politics | 13 Comments

Obama Speech Effect


September 7, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | 6 Comments

Brief Reasons Why Obama is a Centrist: Maybe Even Center-Right

To many of my readers, especially overseas, this heading will seem obvious. But I am sharing this in a link on Facebook. I am trying to get beyond the bubbles that the internet and cable news puts people in, especially in the U.S.  Too many people on the Left never read or listen to what those on the Right are saying, and vice versa. So, we have a situation in which most progressives and liberals in the U.S. are currently VERY frustrated with Obama and consider him too cautious–and U.S. conservatives are completely unaware of this. I was just told by two of them that they had never heard ANYONE call him “centrist” before. To them, he is a far left socialist.  To anyone who has studied comparative politics, that’s ridiculous. It shows that they don’t know what a socialist is.

So,  bear with me, Gentle Readers. I will return this weekend to more uplifting topics. But let  me try to get a reality check going and see if I can cut throught the fog created by Fixed Noise/Faux News, Rush Limbaugh and all his imitators, etc.

Why would I call Obama “centrist,” maybe even “center right?”  Well, let’s look at him on the issues.

  • Iraq. Most progressives and liberals are not (unlike me) pacifists, but they are very cautious about what conditions would justify military intervention.  Obama shares that. He opposed going into Iraq when it wasn’t popular to oppose that, in 2002.  However, most progressives for whom Iraq was a MAJOR issue in the 2008 election cycle (like myself) thought we were electing someone who would pull out the troops quickly, within one year. Instead, Obama agreed to the pull-out schedule already negotiated by George W. Bush with Iraq, the so-called “Status of Forces Agreement” which pulls out our troops slowly–so that they won’t be fully out of Iraq until 2011.
  • Afghanistan. Most progressives and liberals (and even a few conservatives like columnist George Will and former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), ) believe military escalation and counter-insurgency is a mistake that will backfire. We believe that  such a strategy of military force  in Afghanistan will turn it into another Vietnam War. We want major aid and diplomacy and the use of non-military tools in nation-building instead. Obama, however, has greatly increased the Afghan war–not a very liberal thing to do.
  • Gitmo. Obama is slowly closing the military prison at Guantanemo Bay, Cuba. But during 2007-8 even George W. Bush said he wanted to close it. (I think Cheney threatened him unless he kept it open,  but I may be just paranoid where Cheney is concerned.) A progressive, however, would want it closed immediately and all “detainees” either tried in REGULAR CIVILIAN courts or released. No third category. We wouldn’t try to turn the prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan into a substitute for Gitmo as Obama appears to be doing. The policies of detention without trial and of “rendition” to third countries are illegal and would stop.  For liberals and progressives, the issue is not just the Gitmo gulag but the illegal policy of indefinite detention without trial.
  • Progressives want everyone who participated in torture to be tried in a court of law, including those at the top. Obama just wants to stop the torture, but let the torturers and their bosses, including Bush/Cheney get away with it–indeed, Cheney,  who was hardly seen during the Bush years ,is on TV defending torture almost every night,  now.   A progressive would let him defend torture  from the defense table at his trial.
  • Progressives want an end to the civil liberties abuses of the Bush admin,–including the policies of warrantless wiretapping. They have continued under Obama and the Obama admin. has defended Bush policies in court.
  • On the banks. Progressives would have nationalized them temporarily, opened their books, cleaned out the bad assets at shareholder (not taxpayer) expense. Those guilty of criminal wrongdoing that led to the recession would be tried for crimes. All banks and wall street firms receiving any govt. aid would have had strict pay caps and any violations would be prosecuted. Obama stabilized the financial system in a way that helped Wall Street more than Main Street.  Centrist or conservative (following Bush), it was anything but progressive. And new laws and regs to keep the banking crooks from doing it to us again have yet to be put in place.
  • On people losing their homes. Obama pushed for refinancing–which has helped about 6% of people in trouble.  Progressives would have repeated the lesson of the Great Depression, bought up the mortgages by federal govt. directly, lowered interest rates and principle to new market value and had people pay off the govt.  This would also help banks be more liquid and get capital back into system, especially to small businesses.
  • On the stimulus. Obama got most of what he wanted from Congress–but it was too small, had too many tax cuts and didn’t get big ticket economic stimulus into the economy in a timely way.
  • On Israel-Palestine. Obama has been surprisingly firm with Israel on not increasing settlements, but has not really pushed hard for a two-state solution or for tearing down the apartheid wall eating up Palestinian land.
  • On the budget. Some good stuff in Obama’s budget, but true progressives would have cut the military budget by at least 20% (we spend more than the next 25 nations combined!), cut farm supports for millionair farmers (redirecting some away from agribusiness to family farms), ending all tobacco price supports. Progressives would have repealed the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy NOW, not in 2011, reinstituted the capital gains tax, the windfall profits tax, and the inheritance (anti-aristocracy) tax on incomes over 1 million.  Would have spent more on education and on green infrastructure (high speed and light rail, etc.) which creates new jobs and helps the environment at the same time.
  • On gay rights. Obama talks pretty progressive. He  opposes civil marriage, but is willing for that to be decided by the states. So, he favors repealing the federal “Defense of [straight]Marriage Act” (DOMA), and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But neither have gotten very far and Obama hasn’t pushed Congress. He favors the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act–but has not pushed Congress to get them to his desk. So far, the GLBT community and allies such as myself can see Obama talking progressively, but acting cautiously–a repeat of Bill Clinton.
  • On health care. Obama’s plan is nearly identical to one Richard Nixon proposed in 1974. It is NOT socialism, but “mild reform” as a friend of mine puts it. A healthcare bill that DOESN’T tick off the healthcare insurance companies, won’t be worth much.  Progressives would at least have TRIED to get a single-payer Medicare for Everyone system–then the public option that Obama wants would be the compromise.
  • On the Employee Free Choice Act, making it easier to form and join unions. Obama has promised to sign this, but hasn’t pushed hard for its passage.
  • Obama has not made eliminating poverty a major goal–just rebuilding the Middle Class. Progressives would put a major priority on elminating poverty and homelessness.
  • Most progressives are for ending the death penalty. Obama has never said where he stands on this. When in the Illinois Senate, he worked to reform its capital system, but not to eliminate it.
  • Most progressives would like to see some gun control, especially the reinstitution of the ban on assault weapons. Despite the rightwing’s daily cries of “Obama is coming to take away our guns,” there is zero evidence for this. Last year, when the rightwing Roberts Supreme Court ruled that gun ownership was an individual right, overturning 50 years of jurisprudence in that bit of “legislating from the bench,” Obama said from the campaign trail that he agreed with the decision. He nowhere lists any gun control efforts among items on his platform.

These items ought to show why I, and many other progressives, say that Obama is no liberal. At best he is a centrist.

He campaigned like he was Ted Kennedy. He has governed like he is a reincarnation of Gerald Ford.

September 4, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | 7 Comments