Monday, March 30, 2015

Welcome to Indiana - Turn Your Clocks Back 60 Years

The State of Indiana is a quirky place.   One of the state's better known eccentricities is the fact that different counties used to have  different time zones.   Up until 2006, some parts of Indiana observed daylight savings time, and others did not.

Then there is  the state of affairs in Gary, IN.  One of Indiana's better known cities.   Made famous in  Meredith Wilson's classic American musical "The Music Man",  singing about Gary, Indiana  gave a very young Ron Howard his first moment of stardom in the 1962 movie adaptation.

 Fast forward to 2102, Gary Indiana has become the subject of Russian Television  (RT) documentaries on urban blight,  and the failure of the American economic model, and by extension  , the  American Dream. Even going so far as to draw comparisons between Gary, Indiana  and  the ghost town around the  Chernobyl nuclear accident evacuation zone.

A place that proudly extols its social conservatism, Indiana has a "abstinence based " approach to sex education, and education on HIV prevention is practically non-existent, with the reason being Indiana Conservatives say,  HIV is a "gay disease". So it should come as no shock that Indiana, this past week,  had to declare a public health emergency, due to a massive spike HIV infections in one county. The increase stems from intravenous drug users sharing contaminated needles. Indiana's Republican Governor, Mike Pence, a long time opponent of HIV Prevention and education programs like needle exchanges, suddenly reversed that position when he found his state staring an epidemic in the face.

One might think,  that with all these challenges on his plate, Governor Pence would have enough to keep himself  busy.   Apparently not.   

You see, many conservatives inside the national Republican Party  loooovvveee Mike Pence, and  they reallllyyyyy want him to run for President in 2016.    They see him as one of the few Republican Governors who hasn't yet completely destroyed his own state.   He is a clear social conservative,  he is a strong opponent of women's rights to control their own reproductive health,  he clearly is against "the gays", he has a college degree and great Presidential  candidate hair!

So like many GOP Governors who are toying with the idea of challenging Jeb Bush's long march to the Republican Presidential nomination,  Pence knows he needed to throw those same social conservatives a bone to chew on, to keep his name on their "dark horse / dream candidate" wish lists.

Sadly for Pence,  Indiana doesn't have any cases of voter fraud he could  use to pass new laws to prevent African-Americans and Latinos from voting.  So he needed a different crisis.   One that would give  conservatives even more reason to rally to  the dream of Mike Pence as their standard bearer.   Unlike Michigan,  Indiana doesn't have a lot of Muslims, so  the "Islamo-facist" boogey-man wasn't going to work, so who's left?   

Social conservatives have felt rather bruised and battered over the past few months.   The remarkable advance of marriage equality  across the US, in conjunction with the expected US Supreme Court ruling legalizing same sex marriage nationwide, later this Spring,  has given the anti-LGBT conservative right wing  little cause for joy  lately.

Yet some states have  flirted with an idea of how to strike back at the advance of LGBT rights.  It is ironically, not a new  tactic.   Back 60 years ago,  states opposed to ending racial segregation used this same argument in their bids to halt the advance of civil rights for people of color.    The argument of  "Religious Liberty."

It is the claim that  If you don't let people  discriminate against certain groups  in public accommodation,  it is  a violation of freedom of religion.  Because  their  religion says those certain groups  are icky, and going to hell

Mike Pence's flip flop on needle exchange is potentially a big problem for him politically with social conservatives.   He desperately needs something he can point at to shore up his now slightly damaged right wing bona fides.    Oh, wait...that's right,  Just attack the Gays!  But call it protecting religious liberty.
It is something of a tradition for Republican Governors with Presidential ambitions, to at some point throw their own states under the bus.  Meaning they will invariably do things that will clearly harm their own states economically,  but will potentially woo conservative GOP primary voters  or campaign donors elsewhere.    Be it  Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's attack on Unions,   New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's sweetheart-deal of a  get away with pollution-free card for Exxon,   or,  Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's... well entire record.

As the backlash against Indiana has grown, the usual suspects have slithered out from underneath their rocks to claim that Indiana is being "bullied by intolerant liberals".   And that  this  law is not about denying rights but protecting the rights of "people and families of faith".  Saying this new law in Indiana is not about discrimination against LGBT people is such an obvious lie as, to be laughable.   It is no different  from states  in the 1950's and 60's who claimed racial discrimination was a protected religious belief.  

(hat tip to Matt Baume over at HuffPost).

In 1946, Mississippi Governor Theodore Bilbo wrote, "[p]urity of race is a gift of God ... And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed."

One of Bilbo's gubernatorial successors added that "the good Lord was the original segregationist."
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court went even further: "[t]he natural law which forbids [racial intermarriage] and that social amalgamation which leads to a corruption of races, is as clearly divine as that which imparted to [the races] different natures."

Lambda Legal breaks down the lies coming from Gov. Pence
Governor Pence continues to deceive the public about this deeply flawed law. Let's clarify a few things.

Gov. Pence myth: SB 101 is just like Illinois law that then-State Senator Obama voted to support.

Truth: Gov. Pence fails to point out that Illinois has robust non-discrimination clauses in its state Human Rights Act that specifically protect LGBT people. Indiana does not. This matters because those seeking to discriminate in Indiana may claim that the lack of a state wide law barring sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination means that there is no compelling state interest in enforcing local ordinances providing such protections.

Gov. Pence myth: This law only reinforces established law in Indiana.

Truth: The language in SB 101 is so broadly written that someone can sue even without their religious beliefs having actually been burdened simply by claiming that is 'likely' to happen.

Gov. Pence myth: SB101 is just like federal law that President Clinton signed 20 years ago.

Truth: SB 101 is substantially broader than the federal law. The federal RFRA can only be invoked against government action. SB 101 goes much further, inviting discrimination by allowing religious beliefs to be raised as a defense in lawsuits and administrative proceedings brought by workers, tenants and customers who have suffered discrimination. In addition, SB 101 makes it easier to claim a burden on religious freedom than the federal RFRA by defining the 'exercise of religion' as 'any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.'

"If Governor Pence meant it when he said that SB101 isn't intended to allow discrimination against LGBT people, then why were amendments designed to make that explicit repeatedly rejected during the legislative process? If he truly means what he says, then he and the legislature should work together to add this language: 'This chapter does not establish or eliminate a defence to a claim under any federal, state or local law protecting civil rights or preventing discrimination.' And the Indiana government should include gay and transgender people within Indiana's protections from discrimination."

SB101  It is unconstitutional, and un-American.    It will do nothing but wreak economic damage on the State of Indiana  and for what?  A thinly veiled attempt to keep the social conservative love affair with Mike Pence alive.

The debate over the Indiana law has clearly shown one thing.   Right wing social conservatives truly believe the United States Constitution only applies to them.   

They see equal treatment under the law for people they don't like, as discrimination against them.     Think about that for moment.  These are people who think that  if anyone different from them is  given the same rights, not more rights, not different rights, not special rights.  Just the exact same rights as they have, that is somehow an attack on them.

Funny enough there is a word  in the dictionary that means exactly that...

bigot: noun big·ot \ˈbi-gət\  : a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dear Republicans, Behold Your Future!

Texas Senator, and Tea-Party nutcase, Ted Cruz's announced yesterday that he is running for president.

I was going to write a fairly detailed analysis of just how nutty Cruz is, breaking down each of his main platform points and then comparing and contrasting them with , you know... reality.   But as I started to write, I realised I just don't care. Ted Cruz in all his glorious wackjob-ness is the embodiment of just why the Republican Party cannot be taken seriously, on any issue

There once was a time, when the United States had two political parties that articulated arguments for their respective political and governing philosophies. Where America's national political discourse was a wide open marketplace of competing ideas.

Contrasting views on the role and scope of Government, were debated side by side along with questions of America's role in the world, and our duty and obligations to own people at home.

It was a time when leaders like Eisenhower, who had seen the horrors of war first hand cautioned us all against seeing war as just another factor of an economic equation.    Where leaders like Nixon, yes,  Richard M. Nixon, even with all his personal faults, sins and demons,  knew America could not  achieve lasting peace and security without actually sitting down and talking with our adversaries.   Where leaders like Gerald Ford,   didn't just wave "country first" around on banner, but rather lived that ideal,  fully aware of what it would cost him politically.
It  was a time when leaders like Ronald Reagan, could sit down with a leader like Tip O'Neil.  Understanding that  the heat of political differences can be  the furnace from which broad workable solutions for the country as whole, could be forged.    And it was a time when a leader like George HW Bush understood that a Superpower must live the example of  just use of .military might.   Where military force  is  used within the confines of, and with the justification of,  international  law.
Now?  The once Grand Old Party gets Ted Cruz. 

America should have a robust debate on the costs of, and access to Health Care and Health Insurance. Yet how can you have a debate on the issue of health care reform when the GOP go-to talking point is to claim that prohibiting insurance companies from dropping you because you got sick, is worse than slavery, or the holocaust ?

You can't. So it comes as no surprise that when pressed to answer what they would do in place of the affordable care act, NONE of the GOP would-be Presidential contenders including Cruz, are able to give even a coherent answer.

 America should have a robust debate on the nature and scope of our role on the world stage. Yet how can you have a debate on how best to ensure national security,  when the GOP's reflex reaction to America engaging with other nations, is to all but commit treason. Sending letters to foreign leaders to undermine US foreign policy for the sole purpose of trying to politically damage the President of the United States?

You can't. So it comes as no surprise that when pressed to explain how they would ensure peace and security, we have a cast of chicken hawks, all to eager to start yet another war,  that none of them, nor their sons and daughters would ever dream of actually fighting in.
America should have a robust debate on taxation, and how we as country can best live within our means. Funding both our obligations and our aspirations. Yet how can you have a debate when the GOP's only economic model is to insist that Robin Hood in reverse will somehow help everyone?  

You can't. So it comes at no surprise that the GOP Presidential contenders embrace the idea that giving the wealthiest of Americans massive tax cuts, and then having everyone else bear the costs for those giveaways,  is a path to magical economic prosperity.  In spite of  clear, irrefutable historical and mathematical proof to the contrary.

So  as the nonsensical , fact free rantings of  Texas Senator Ted Cruz, get their 15 minutes of  fame, I urge my republican  friends to take good  hard look.    This is  your Party's future.   As the  tea party faithful scream about "wanting their country back",  when will you finally  stand up and take your Party back?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Republican Party's Gay Addiction...

A key moment from Ang Lee's Oscar winning film "Brokeback Mountain" is when  the character of Jack Twist (played by Jake Gylllenhal ) expresses his frustration with the limitations of his secret relationship with Enis Del Mar (played by  the late Heath Ledger).  The tension boils over and he exclaims how he wishes he was able to end the relationship but can't. 

In the run up to the 2016 Presidential Election,  the Republican Party is deep in the throws of their own Brokeback  (Anti-Gay)  romance,  In this case, it is a deep rooted need to embrace homophobia and anti-gay politics that the GOP, despite  many in the party wanting to , just can seem to quit.

In the aftermath of their 2012 election defeats,  the GOP did some very  real soul searching.   In the. "autopsy" report issued by the Republican National Committee,  it seemed for a brief few days that Republicans had achieved  some clarity as to why they lost.    The report argued that the GOP needed to be a "big tent" and the politics of running against specific groups of Americans.  (Latinos,  Blacks,  LGBT, and poor people, etc..),  was not a recipe for future electoral success.  Well that clarity lasted about a week.

Soon  the GOP was soon back to claiming it was poor people and illegal immigrants wanting "free stuff" that propelled Democrats to victory.  Along with a clear Liberal agenda to "destroy the family" by supporting  not just Marriage Equality,  but  any sort of LGBT Rights.    

As the last two years have seen massive shifts in both public attitudes and actual laws regarding LGBT rights.  The GOP has flirted  with letting go of its almost pathological need to oppose civil rights for Gays and Lesbians.  Yet each time such experiments with  enlightenment  were short lived, when  howls of protest from the far right invariably would send Republicans scurrying back to the homophobic fold.

Just as the issues of abortion and tax cuts for the wealthy were litmus tests for Republicans in the 80's and 90;s. The issue of how much do you hate  the Gays,  and  want take away health care from poor people,  are the new standards  for differentiating  "true conservatives" from RINO's. (Republicans in Name Only).     Polling data,  US Population demographics,  and constitutional law all clearly indicate running against the. "Homo-facist Agenda" (as the far right lights to call equal rights for. LGBT Americans)  to be a losing issue outside  of  right wing the Republican base.  Yet like Enis Del Mar to Jack Twist,  the GOP just can't help themselves. 

The latest twist on this trend (no pun intended) comes from 2016 GOP Presidential hopeful,  Dr Ben Carson.    A qualified neurosurgeon,  Carson was being interviewed on CNN when the subject of Gay rights came up.    Carson clearly reading his "tea party wants to hear this___",  talking points,  responded that "absolutely"  being Gay or Lesbian was a choice.  He went on to cite prisons as proof of this.  Claiming that some people enter prison straight, and then are Gay when they get out.  Posing the question of what "happened" to them while in prison as proof that Homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle,  rather than a innate orientation.

Well when the reality based world responded with howls of laughter at what was either Carson's professed ignorance, or blind  loyalty to a talking point designed to pander to GOP primary voters,  Carson did the unexpected.     He effectively ended his Presidential campaign before it ever began, by doing the unthinkable.  He apologised.

By expressing just  a hint of moderation on the issue of  Gay Rights,  even  the suggestion he supports a more libertarian view that States should be free to make their own decisions on marriage equality,  Carson has ended what slight hope he might had of lasting even halfway through the 2016 GOP primary process.   The predictable outrage on the Tea-Bagging right over Carson's apology began this morning, right on cue.

The conventional wisdom on the American political right,  is that the RNC 2012 autopsy was flawed, and the real reason they lost was they were not conservative enough.  Consequently,  the 2016 Republican primary process will be a race to far right.  Most significantly  on social issues, Health Care  and  immigration.    The more pragmatic elements of the GOP are indeed hopeful that an expected  US Supreme Court ruling in June,  will settle the  same sex marriage  issue  for the country as a whole.  Yet that particular  hope is a false one.   

Just as Roe v. Wade did nothing to remove women's reproductive rights as litmus test (for both parties) in American politics.   A SCOTUS ruling granting nation wide marriage equality will only stoke the fires on the Tea-Party right to "take the country back",  and homophobia will remain a core addiction of the GOP, that try as some  Republicans might,  the Party  just can't seem to quit.